Homemade grey water recycling system shut down by city

A Calgary man has been stymied in his attempt to go green by recycling his own grey water.

Rules prevent homeowners from modifying plumbing to reuse water from tubs, sinks

Grey water system shut down by city

9 years ago
Duration 2:19
A Calgary man has been stymied in his attempt to go green by recycling his own grey water.

A Calgary man has been stymied in his attempt to go green by recycling his home's grey water.

Rob Avis, who is a mechanical engineer, modified the plumbing in his house so that water from the bathtub, washing machine and hand basins is sent through a filter containing wood mulch and out into the garden.

"And then we distribute it to the landscape, where any remaining nutrient in the water is dealt with by the biology in the soil," Avis said.

But after the system was operating for a few years, city officials got word and made Avis shut it down, he said.

"We got a notice in the mail to cease and desist, because we had modified the pipes in our home."

Grey water recovery systems are not approved for common use in Alberta.

Cliff de Jong, a senior special projects officer with the City of Calgary's building regulations department, said recycling grey water poses public health challenges.

"E. coli obviously would be the most prevalent of the issues. There's several other micro-organisms that are going to be present for sure," he said.

"The big sticking point though is going to be that maintenance," he added.

Province working on grey water regulations

The province is working on a set of standards, officials said.

"While we support the use of reclaimed water systems, right now we don't have any regulations or codes in place in Alberta to mitigate these risks, to make sure reclaimed wastewater is safe for home use," said Heather Kaszuba, a spokeswoman for Alberta Municipal Affairs, which regulates the design and installation of plumbing systems.

"And so that's what we're working on right now."

But Avis said grey water recycling is already happening in places such as Australia, California and B.C.

"I feel like the Alberta government doesn't need to reinvent the wheel. We can refer to what's working in other jurisdictions," Avis said.

Calgary building company Avalon Master Builders offers rainwater collection systems in its houses. The company will even rough-in grey water recycling systems so that homeowners can switch over if and when the province gives the go-ahead.

Chris Williams, the company’s general manager, outfitted his own house with a 14,000-litre cistern under his deck that collects rainwater.

It goes through a charcoal sock filter and UV light and is used for irrigation in the yard and to flush the toilets, he said.

Williams is not recycling grey water but when the government does come up with regulations for it he'll be ready.

"It's an important thing that we get to eventually because we will have water issues here," he said.

"We need to figure that out soon so that we can reuse that water that just essentially goes to waste."