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We’re running out of water – but you can make a difference
Sydney’s water supply as of May 2006 was around 43 percent capacity. NSW has experienced a decline in rainfall in recent decades and, with the threat of climate change, this is not likely to improve. To make sure we have plenty of clean water for our future needs, all sections of our community need to start being more careful with water, using it more efﬁciently and reusing or recycling it. The good news is that, as a renovator, there’s a lot you can do to dramatically cut your water use at home. Greywater and water recycling systems, rainwater tanks and water saving devices are all available to make your home and garden water-efﬁcient and sustainable.
Using rainwater can reduce your water bills, as rainwater is free. In Sydney there is higher rainfall near the coast than in the inland catchment areas around our major dams, so it makes sense to collect water at your home. This also reduces the rain that goes into the storm water drains and into our waterways. Collecting rainwater allows you to be prepared for times of low rainfall, so you can still maintain your garden even if there are water restrictions in your area. You can use stored rainwater for outdoor use, or connect it for indoor uses such as toilets, washing machine or even as the water supply for the whole house. Sydney Water offers up to a $500 rebate to households installing a rainwater tank greater than 7000 litres and an additional $100 when the tank is connected to the toilet and/or washing machine. See http://www.sydneywater.com.au/SavingWater/RainwaterTanks/Rebates.cfm or phone 132 092.
Issues to consider
Contamination from pollutants found in roof and pipe materials, contamination from bird droppings, local pollution and organic material collected on the roof and breeding of mosquitoes in the water supply are all risks to be avoided. If you will be drinking the water an even higher level of ﬁltration and protection will be needed. To protect from contamination and mosquitoes ensure the following: Roof materials and paint should be chosen with care. Lead-based paints and tar-based (bitumen) coatings should be avoided. Be careful with asbestos roofs as there is the potential danger of asbestos pollution. Be careful with new cement used with roof tiles as new cement can leach lime and metal roofs may leach heavy metals. If your roof was painted with acrylic paint avoid the ﬁrst few runoffs, which can contain dissolved detergents and other chemicals. Galvanized iron, colourbond, zincalume steel, slate and clay/ceramic or concrete tiles are suitable roof surfaces for the collection of drinking water. Install a ﬁrst ﬂush device (water diverter) to reduce the amount of sediment and other materials entering the tank and polluting the water. Screens and gutter guards offer further protection by stopping insects and debris entering the tank. Most tanks are sealed to prevent insects and debris entering – ask your plumber to ensure all openings are covered or sealed. A backﬂow prevention value may be necessary in NSW to ensure rainwater doesn’t mix with the mains supply. Check with your plumber.
If you’re interested in installing a rainwater tank, ﬁrst contact your local council and water supplier (and the health department if you want to drink the water) to ﬁnd out which rules and regulations apply in your local area that could affect your decision. Many water suppliers and health authorities in Australia recommend you don’t drink the water you collect in a rainwater tank if you have access to mains water. But this is because no authority can guarantee the quality of the rainwater you collect as they do not want to take the risk of being responsible for any water contamination that arises. In reality there are numerous examples of homes and commercial buildings in both urban and rural areas that use rainwater for drinking. Provided you ensure adequate ﬁltration and comply with regulations it is possible to connect your whole house, including the taps, to rainwater. Before buying a tank ﬁrstly consider: What the water will be used for The size of your household, garden and roof area The annual rainfall in your region To get the most out of your rainwater tank, connect to at least one regular indoor use (eg. toilet ﬂushing, washing machine) and maximise the roof area that you can collect from. If you’re renovating and short on space, innovative solutions such as underﬂoor bladder tanks or small tanks connected in series can be used. Pumps are generally required for rainwater systems to ensure adequate pressure.
Cost of tanks varies widely depending on size, complexity, and material. Above ground tanks start at $250 for a 500 litre model, up to $2300 for a 9000 litre model (without installation). Choose a plumber who has experience in installing rainwater tanks. Greenplumbers is a national organisation of tradesmen who have undergone additional training in water efﬁcient technology, solar hot water installation and water and energy auditing. See www.greenplumbers.com. au to ﬁnd a registered Greenplumber near you. In NSW you can also ﬁnd a plumber with expertise in rainwater tanks, recycled water, greywater, aerated wastewater systems and solar hot water through the EnviroPlumber network – see www.enviroplumber.com.au or call Ph 8789 7000.
urinals. For a list of rated products from 1A to 5As see: www. shower and laundry rinse cycle. Kitchen wastewater is not usually included in this amount as it is heavily contaminated with food particles.wsaa. the majority of water use is outdoors. AAAAA Water Efficient Appliances When buying new water-using appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines look for the AAAAA water-rating system and choose the most water-efﬁcient you can. Uses of greywater depend on the type of system installed. Water Recycling and On-site Sewage It is possible to install a complete water recycling and sewage system on–site which can recycle greywater for home use and/or treat blackwater to a standard where the waste water can be used on the garden.greenhouse. The Sustainable House.acfonline. May 2006 .org. wood. Tips for Water Saving 1. choose the most efﬁcient dual ﬂush you can ﬁnd (at least AAA rating and preferably 4A) – 4A rated toilets use three litres for a half ﬂush and 4.au Save Water www. which is far less than an old-style cistern which uses eleven litres. 2.au/greenhome © Australian Conservation Foundation. See www. If using a GDD system do not store grey water.mulch protects your watered garden from evaporation by holding water in the soil. The type of soil in your garden can affect its ability to absorb greywater. Untreated grey water is best diverted from the bath. oils. Regularly check that the water recycling system is in good order and not leaking or unintentionally diverting water to neighbouring properties.Reusing Greywater Greywater is the domestic wastewater that comes from your bathroom. You can also ask at your hardware store for drip irrigation with moisture sensor controllers. Installation approval Ask your council if you require approval for these systems.au CSIRO House Water Expert http://awd. Dual-Flush Toilets When installing a new toilet. install a backﬂow prevention device to reduce the risk of cross connection between the greywater system and your water supply. GTT system collects. So a water-efﬁcient showerhead will save you up to ﬁfty percent on your water bill as well as save on hot water heating.highett. while standard ones use 15-30 litres. fats and other waste which can damage soil and plants. Learn how to maximise the beneﬁt of greywater for gardening by choosing your household laundry powder carefully. Aerator ﬁttings cost just a few dollars each from your hardware store. How much wastewater can be used as grey water? Approximately 61 percent of the total wastewater produced by an average household can be used as grey water. newspapers. efficient showers Choose only AAA rated showerheads – these use 7-9 litres per minute.au/hwe/ Michael Mobbs. Choice Books.com. 4. Clay soil absorbs water at a slower rate than sandy soil. Products currently covered by the scheme include: shower heads. If you are not replacing your old toilet. 1998 Green Plumbers www. This will reduce your water bill and dramatically reduce your water consumption. laundry and kitchen sinks. you can install a ﬂush regulator – a cheap device (around $10). Toilet wastewater is classiﬁed as blackwater and must be connected to a sewer or a treatment system. Rebate application forms are available in stores. During very wet weather grey water should be redirected to the sewer.gov.au/yourhome ReNew magazine. toilets. Installation of a greywater treatment system means you can reuse most of your waste water either on the garden or for toilet ﬂushing. tap timers and other devices to reduce water waste on the garden. This means that overﬂow cannot be directed down storm water pipes and cannot be stored like rainwater. For an example of such a system see The Sustainable House by Michael Mobbs. block pipes or pollute the soil. Learn which native plants will thrive best in the new soil conditions. so it’s good for the environment as long as you manage the risks and seek expert advice.au.csiro. Aerating taps cut wasted water in half Make sure all your taps have aerators installed – this cuts water use from taps by about half. Avoid detergents with sodium perborate. This is great for the environment as it maximises the reuse of water and avoids sending all your waste water and sewage to sewage outfalls in the ocean and harbour. However a grey water treatment system can collect kitchen waste water and recycle it. Each system as detailed in the table below offers different uses. GDD system basically diverts greywater (excluding kitchen wastewater) without storage or treatment. dishwashers. www. If you have clay soil do not apply greywater too quickly as it may run off the garden surface whereas sandy soils will absorb more greywater. Don’t use dirty nappy water on your garden. so it’s important to plant a water-efﬁcient garden with native plants and minimum lawn.com. showers. New homes in areas that do not already have a public sewage system commonly use these systems. It’s also important to take short showers – you can still use a lot of water under a water-efﬁcient showerhead if you stand there for too long! More Information Your Home Technical Manual www. Water-efficient gardens For homes with gardens. Make mulch from leaves. which uses no water at all. clothes-washing machines. 5. Illawarra and the Blue Mountains for purchasing a water efﬁcient washing machine. Another option is to get a compost toilet. System Types There are two main systems available Greywater Diversion Device (GDD) and Greywater Treatment Systems (GTS). straw or other just about any other organic matter. washing machine and dishwasher. Applicable uses of grey-water NonEdible Primary Secondary Lawn edible Toilet garden garden No No Yes Yes No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Treatment quality Cost Range including installation $400-$2000 $10.savewater. bark. beneﬁts and costs.lanfaxlabs. System GDD GTS When using a GDD system the quality of the greywater is improved by using a ﬁlter to remove material that may clog pumps. grass clippings.org.000 + Greywater and your Garden Learn how to best manage greywater in terms of where and when to use it in the garden. The regulator is insert in the cistern and allows you to ﬂush for as long as you press the button. Use low sodium (salt) and low phosphate laundry powder.asn.ata. and ﬂow regulators. The greywater system must have a valve or some other means to allow greywater to be diverted to the sewer during rainy weather when the garden is already wet. How to manage your greywater Greywater is different to storm water because it has been contaminated by household waste. 3. Washing your hands or rinsing veggies uses up to twenty litres a time so tap aerators will cut this to ten litres or less. Most greywater systems need to be ﬁtted by a licensed plumber except for simple diversion devices. These small shields inside the taps aerate the water to reduce ﬂow without losing water pressure. Avoid using untreated greywater on vegetable gardens if you’re going to eat the vegetables raw or lightly cooked.greenplumbers.cmit.com. This includes occasionally changing the subirrigation sites and not continuing to pump out greywater into already saturated soil. Short. Put mulch on your garden beds and cut water waste by seventy percent . The National Water Conservation Rating and Labelling Scheme is a voluntary scheme administered by the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA).5 litres for a full ﬂush. Alternative Technology Association. which enables you to easily identify and select water efﬁcient products. stores and treats greywater (may include kitchen wastewater) to a higher standard. taps. If you are going to use greywater to ﬂush the toilet. There is also a new $150 rebate available from Sydney Water to households in Sydney. au for a salt and phosphate analysis of laundry powders and liquids.au www. which is a bleaching agent and a source of boron. Using untreated greywater in your garden means you may need to cut back on the amount of fertiliser you use. which may reach toxic levels if it accumulates in one spot.
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