Free Flushes?

Our development company has been a certified Built Green builder for several years, and we’re always trying to find economically feasible ways to add “green” features to our new construction.  “Economically feasible” to me means that while we’re willing to pay more to build in a more sustainable fashion, we’d like to be able to recover most of those extra costs in higher resale prices, or shorter market times.   

So when I read about a “greywater recycling” unit, I thought we should try it.  Here’s our first installation, in a stand-along townhome in Crown Hill — North Ballard:

This octopus-looking thing takes water from our two showers (the black pipe) and puts it into this 50 gallon tank.  There is a water supply that fills the tank if the level gets too low.  The city inspector scratched his head at this — first time he’d seen it — as did our plumber.  But now that we’ve gone through it once, hopefully the next ones will be easier to install. 

You can see the level of “grey” water in the picture, at about the 20 gallon level.  This water is pumped back into the toilets to use for flushing.  Flushing constitutes nearly 40% of domestic water usage, so in theory, this will reduce your water (and sewer) bills considerably.  And it’s just “light grey” shower water, which if you avoid shaving, toothbrushing, and any other debris-generating activities (not to get too graphic), should be 98% pure domestic water and a little bit of ivory soap and shampoo.  The feedback that I’ve seen from consumers is that they don’t notice that they’re flushing with anything different than normal “clean” water.  So when you do flush, it’s with water that would have gone down the drain after its first use, but you’re giving it a second life.

The cost, all in, is about $4500 (it would be much more expensive to plumb into an existing house).  This particular townhome is about 1750′, and is priced at $450,000 — not priced any higher than it would have been without this system, but our hope is that this is a feature that will set this unit apart from the competition.  We wouldn’t be able to justify this in a $300,000 townhome (not just b/c of the price point, but the $300k unit wouldn’t have enough physical garage space to fit the tank), but we’re putting them into about a dozen other units right now in Seattle. 

There are lots of green things that just can’t work in our spec houses — $40,000 solar arrays, for one.  But this system gives a lot of bang for the buck, and I think our buyers will really like it.