Gray water, green living

  • Brian Moore

    Mark Skalny

Brian Moore


Conserving water by watering his garden with a homemade backyard shower and simple "gray water" plumbing.

"We think of the countryside as (the place to live) off the grid, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. I’d like to demonstrate that it is possible to leave a small footprint in the city."

Brian Moore once watered his backyard cottonwood tree with a garden hose. Now he waters the tree with his shower — while he’s bathing.

In a 1940s-era neighborhood about four miles from downtown Phoenix, Moore has retrofitted his home so that most of the water he uses is used again. The "gray water" from his washing machine and bathroom sink flows into his garden. His seedlings also get a drenching from the outdoor sink where he washes vegetables from his garden — as well as from the shower he built in his backyard.

Shielded from his neighbors by a cloth partition, Moore bathes on a platform he made out of a pallet salvaged from an alley. A hose with a spray nozzle, slung over a nearby tree branch, delivers a steady stream of water warmed by the desert sun. Temperatures in Phoenix allow Moore to bathe this way from May through October, but he’s considered installing tubing that would collect enough solar heat to extend his outdoor showering season by a month.

Moore estimates that he spent less than $50 and about 40 hours to replumb the house, which he has lived in for four years. With a little help from friends, he simply rerouted a few pipes, following state and county regulations that prohibit the "re-allocation" of bacteria-filled water from the toilet and the kitchen sink. He has been experimenting with his do-it-yourself gray water system for more than a year.

"We’re using the earth’s resources faster than they’re being replenished," says the elementary school music teacher and director. Moore grew up with good examples of thriftiness: When he was a child in New Jersey, his grandmother mopped the floor with used dishwater, and his dad, a sheet metal mechanic, built his own set of four makeshift solar panels to warm water in a homemade stainless-steel tank.

Moore trained to be a Benedictine monk in New Mexico, although he never took final vows. He says some of his friends call him a minimalist, while others wonder about his quality of life. Moore, however, says he’s very comfortable. "Some things I do take more time," he says — erecting and refolding his shower partition, for example — "but I don’t feel deprived."

Though Moore has yet to see a decline in his water bill, he says his solar set-up saves money on natural gas for heating the water. Pointing to Phoenix’s projected growth — some 4.15 million people total by 2010 — and the city’s dependence on the overused Colorado River, Moore hopes to encourage his neighbors to adopt similar water- and money-saving strategies. He spreads the word about sustainable water and energy use among his co-workers at St. Gregory’s Church and Elementary School, and through fellow members of the Phoenix Permaculture Guild. Living more sustainably makes sense, he says, because "drinkable water isn’t as abundant as we think."

The author writes from Paonia, Colorado.

May 07, 2007 02:02 PM

Gray Water Success in Montana

Gray Water systems in individual homes like this one were just made legal in Montana!  The S.A.V.E.Foundation, a non-profit based in Helena,  Montana, successfullypushed through legislation to allow these systems.  The law was
partially based on the Arizona law featured in this article. This legislation is a return to Montana's rural ranching past, when reusing water was a common sense issue in a state where water is at a premium.

S.A.V.E. is a down-to-the-earth non-profit focusing on connecting with citizens to teach conservation values and restore faith in the 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.  At the Montana Legislature this session, S.A.V.E. focused on gray water, dealing with electronic waste, and fuel efficiency.  Our efforts also made Montana the first state in the nation to legalize neighborhood electric cars.  More information about S.A.V.E. can befound on our website 

Jan 23, 2008 05:04 PM

This is a very good idea and can be implimented any where.  The State of Virginia, considered a leader in creating model laws, has taken all measures to controle these common sense ideas and made them illegal.  In Virginia, grey water is viewed as any water from your house roof, car, drive way, wash tub, or anything in your house discharged into the environment which must be directed and treated into an "approved" septic system.  Thus, the implimentation of these ideas are deamed illegal!  This law is as rediculous as making love only in the missionary position legal since most judges in this state could convict someone on charges which they brake themselves and also live in houses which allow rain water to flow straight from their rooftops onto their lawns! This eats me up since many state run septic systems discharge raw human excretum into rivers during heavy rains and this has been illegal for over 30 years.  There are many things we can do to better our environment and much FDA technology is available now.  I could not change the laws in Virginia by myself but shure can impliment my knowledge else where.  If anyone wants more info on helping the environment and find answers to a better septic solution then give me a buzz.  Lets work together to change laws which make no sense like the VHD grey water law in Virginia.  JP Blouin