Greywater Systems

cold weather greywaterMost people living in the average American household have no reason to contemplate the transfer, collection and disposal of the water that enters and leaves their homes. I certainly had never considered such things until Cedric and I went volunteering on organic farms. In the south of Spain, we spent time at Tierra Roja, a small olive farm where water is scarce for much of the year and any rain that falls is caught, stored and carefully used. They were watering their flower garden with the water from their sinks and showers so not a drop was wasted. It was the first time I’d ever seen a greywater system in action. As aquifers run dry and water becomes a scarcer resource, I see the proper recycling of it essential to transitioning our treatment of water to a more sustainable system and tiny house dwellers are on the front lines of this transition.

Living in a tiny house we have had to face the challenge of disposing Water systemour water safely since we weren’t hooked up to the city’s system. Our initial introduction at that farm inspired us to try a simple, DIY system that would use our greywater to irrigate a small garden. We took 1 1/2″ pvc pipe, attached it to the plumbing of the house and buried it in the garden. Since we didn’t put in a filter we did not put any solids of any kind down the drain. We also carefully chose our bath soaps, used homemade shampoos and biodegradable dish soap so as not to damage the soil, plants or watershed. I wish we had taken pictures of the process but all I have is the evidence in this picture of extremely happy banana trees!

The majority of folks don’t think twice about these things and it’s wonderfully convenient to not have to. However, I’ve learned a lot about sustainable water practices by living with this system and I prefer it to sending this precious resource to a facility with black water where it becomes much more polluted and takes a lot of energy to introduce safely back in to the water cycle. It’s also a major plus for dry environments that see little rainfall and who at times must rely on their aquifers for water, as we experienced in Spain.

woodchip biofilterTo sustain and maintain these deep fonts of water we need to replenish them. Allowing greywater to be filtered by plants back in to the ground recharges the aquifers and keeps them from drying out. Β The beauty of greywater systems is they can be incredible simple to construct, use and maintain. The collaborative group Greywater Action For A Sustainable Water Culture is an incredible resource not only for learning to construct and maint these systems, they also have a wealth of information on composting toilets, rainwater catchment and pedal-powered washing machines!


As we prepare to move La Casita once pumice wickagain, we plan to build a more elaborate system that can withstand the Vermont winters. The Greywater Action website also has great reviews of projects and useful tips for winterizing these systems. In the South it was much easier to manage it and although it will be more of a challenge it is another opportunity to learn and create a regenerative system. I’ll be posting details of our next greywater project Β so check-in with the tiny life over the next few weeks to see the details of construction!

branched drain

Your Turn!

  • Have any tips on water disposal in a tiny house?
  • How do you feel about the current disposal and treatment of water?
  • Do you think greywater systems are viable project towards changing how we think about water disposal?


  1. Fantastic link, thank you so much. The woodchip mulch basin is the pefect solution for my kitchen sink, much better than the dry well I was originally going to set up. Proper greywater disposal is a key element to managing our impact on the land and with a pond downhill from my place it’s doubly important to make sure nothing I do negatively affects the local groundwater. I don’t generate a consistently large enough greywater supply to maintain a pond system so simple DIY things that work at my level are good to find.

  2. NOTE – the dugout pond downhill from me belongs to a farm next door, the pond I don’t have enough greywater for would have been a wetland greywater disposal at my place.

  3. Getting ready to purchase property for my mini house. There are water and septic systems in place already, but looking at the grey water drain system you have here, it would be easy to go off the grid, at least as far as grey water is concerned…Do you use a composting toilet for the black?

    • I end up bringing this up every time this topic (wastewater/greywater /blackwater)comes up. I lived with a Sun Mar for several years, and switched to urine diverting toilet. The solid waste still gets composted, but it’s done outside. A much easier emptying situation – tie the biodegradable bag closed, snap on the lid, slide in the new bucket.
      The best part for a small house is that it is easy to save the urine, which is great for a garden!

    • Composting toilet for black and we just keep dry and wet separate.

  4. I have land and am putting a small (320 sf) cabin on it. It’s not hooked up to septic or county water yet, but it will be. Still, I want to recycle as much water as possible. I love the greywater systems and want to incorporate one into my plan somehow. I also plan to have rain barrels to catch all the water from the roof. The land is in an area where water isn’t generally a consideration (flooding is more of a concern) but why waste something so simple to recycle?

    • For those that don’t already have a septic system, you might consider a Watson Wick/Pumice Wick. It can be googled. There are substitutes for pumice if it’s not available in your area. Pay close attention to the size it needs to be scaled to projected water use. It uses grey and blackwater and you can grow any fruit or vegetable except root vegetables.

  5. I am living in a Tiny House in which there is no plumbing in the walls. I fill a water crock with 2 1/2 gallons of water every night. During the day, the used water falls into a “sink” of a 6″ deep white recessed tub that I can lift out of the counter and pour into our gardens after each use. Since I only use Baking soda as a detergent (yes, I wash my hair and bath with it, and brush my teeth with it), and usually follow my baths with a vinegar rinse, the water has no chemicals at all that would harm my veggies, and you should see the happy garden! Another thing that really boosts my garden is saving the first morning urine (urine is sterile)in a container, mixing with grey water, and pouring it into the garden. This adds much needed nitrogen and helps in the composting of my toilet.

  6. While only indirectly related to the issue of grey water disposal I’d like to remind people that you can do away with shampoo completely and therefore not have to worry about at least one potential contaminant.

    Think about it. Shampooing is a totally man made action. We use a shampoo to wash all the natural oils out of our hair, then use a conditioner to put them all back in, only with some extra ylang ylang and essence of beaver nipple. Surely if we needed those things in our hair we would have them naturally? Of course we would, but we don’t.

    I gave up using shampoo four years ago after having spent the first 39 years of my life fighting with either dandruff or greasy hair. There is an initial adaptation period of between 2 and 4 weeks where you hair may appear to be a little greasy while your body adapts to not having to restore the oils that were stripped out but once it regulates itself your hair becomes soft, shiny, full bodied and better than any shampoo has ever gotten it.

    I wash my hair every morning when I have a shower the same way I did with the same actions as when I used shampoo only now its just shower water. No matter what I’ve been doing, playing soccer watching TV, mowing the lawn, water gets it perfectly clean. In fact, during the 39 years of my life nobody said anything about my hair, not surprising because I’m a guy and we don’t talk about such things, but since going ‘poo free a few people have commented and asked what I’m using. I’ve converted a few friends over the last few years, men and women, with hair long and short and those that have stuck out the initial period have all stuck with it ever since.

    Give it a try, you might just surprise yourself, and reduce your greywater production in the process, not to mention saving all that ylang ylang and all those beavers πŸ˜‰

    • Not even homemade soaps? Just plain water huh?….I have slowly using up the products I have on hand, believing that the minimialist approach will at least leave my footprint a little smaller…so will give this some thought as I phase out the junk. I have very long hair, and it’s as you say, either fighting dandruff or greasy hair…thanks for sharing!

    • I stopped using soaps on my body a couple of years ago…ever since then I have not had any problems with the dry winter itch that I used to get every winter! πŸ™‚ I tried doing the baking soda and vinegar rinse on my hair but didn’t have good luck with that (I did it for over 6 months), so I went back to shampooing 2 times each week. I have never went with just water…I am willing to give it a try! Thanks for posting this.
      I figure once I do get into my tiny home this will be a huge benefit to our water system!
      Another side note: 1/3 c arrowroot powder, 1/3 c baking soda and 2 TBS coconut oil make a wonderful deodorant! πŸ™‚ Been using for over 2 months and no one complains about any odor! πŸ™‚

  7. We are taking it a step further and working on a platform to take grey water and make it potable – yes, actually processing the water and putting that water back into the house. We call is GREK 1.0 or Grey Water Recycling Experimentor Kit. We are looking for people to test this system and via open design hop to perfect the system. Imagine not needing a water company or well! Check it out at

    • Nice! I would definitely be interested in being a guinea pig!

  8. I myself often wondered why we are required to send all of our grey water to sewer processing plants or into a septic system. This water is perfectly safe, even with the soaps and shampoo, the ratio of water to soap causes the soap to be so diluted it doesnt cause a problem. Organic gardeners use soaps and oils to fight pest problems so this shows that these things do not effect the environment. Power to those who can think outside of the box, maybe we can save this world after all!

  9. Living alone and not bathing daily due to extremely dry skin, I have a very simple method of using grey water: I just carry out the dishwater in a bucket and irrigate plants in the front yard.

  10. Great article Andrea!

    Have you seen Janaia and Robyn’s conversation on grey water?

    Also, will Tammy and I get to meet you and Cedric at the yestermorrow event next weekend? πŸ™‚

    Cheers, L

    • Hi Logan! Thanks! I’m afraid I won’t be at the fair. I can’t afford it right now what with all the moving we’ve been doing and I contacted them to do a work trade but no one got back to me. It’s a shame…I’d love to be there! Thanks for the link!

  11. What about winter? We are in Minnesota and need a grey water system for below freezing. Thoughts? Do we just need to dig it deeper?

  12. Cold Water system for wintertime use, Do above in a tunnel Greenhouse and grow veggies there all year. Bury drums to hold water in below a sheltered frost level, or put insulation board around them to keep from freezing. These are basic ideas, will need you to build on them. Oh, and obviously your tunnel will want south sun exposure to keep it warm when sun is shining.

  13. Would like instructions on how to make the grey water “box” in picture at beginning of this post. Thanks.

  14. As a kid growing up in New Zealand I remember all the dish and bath water going on the vegetable garden in the summer, we were metered and droughts meant that you couldn’t waste water on plants so grey water was used. We were on mains water and sewage as we lived in the city but mum and dad were used to growing fruit and vegetables in the garden. Later dad worked in meat works (abattoir) and devised a system whereby all the waste water was reclaimed through an in-house sewage system (he was a world leader in sewage reclamation systems) and after cleaning – animal waste from both the pens and the killing/butchering areas – the sewage was turned into fertiliser and used to grow luxury crops like asparagus which added an extra income to the company. If people are interested I can probably find out more about the means he used, it was 30-40 years ago but would work just as well now.

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