A Fresno homebuilder and a San Diego manufacturer are introducing a home water catchment and recycling system that takes do-it-yourself gray water irrigation projects to the next level.
Gone are buckets and small water-circulation pumps. Now, pipes incorporated into a new home carry shower and laundry water to underground storage tanks while a treatment system cleans it for landscaping use – not to drink.
Gary McDonald Homes is installing components of the Nexus eWater recycling system in all 44 houses at its new Copper Hill Estates in northeast Fresno. The first 12 homes sold will receive the entire system. The remaining houses will be recycle ready or outfitted with pipes and tanks, but buyers will have the option of adding the water treatment appliance at a cost of up to $7,500.
It’s pretty extravagant to use drinking water to irrigate landscaping, said builder Gary McDonald, the first to use the Nexus system in Fresno. The technology is being used by KB Homes in San Diego and has been installed in custom houses across the state.
We’ve been looking for every way we can to conserve water.
Gary McDonald, founder Gary McDonald Homes
“We’ve been looking for every way we can to conserve water,” McDonald said, “to make the maximum use of whatever we have available, and so that led us to the whole idea of ‘how are we going to have purple pipe-type water available for our own residents?’ ”
Gray water from homes in the Copper River Ranch development already goes through a tertiary sewer system to water the 18-hole Copper River Golf Course. Some cities like Clovis provide treated water for use along highway landscapes, in city parks and at Clovis Community Medical Center. Fresno has a sewer farm providing non-potable water for commercial and residential use and is working on a larger city distribution system.
But the technology to recycle water from a house is still relatively new and not used on a mass scale – yet, said Bob Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association.
The drought “has really accelerated the speed at which a host of manufacturers are trying to respond to the problem,” Raymer said. “You’re going to see, over the course of the next few years, a lot of manufacturers coming to the state with their product line.”
Nexus is a start-up home water and energy recycler whose founders are from Australia, where a decade-long drought fueled the need for water-saving solutions. The company developed the water recycling system after a change in the California building code in 2013.
The code, for the first time, created a category for water that can be treated at a home and reused for above-ground irrigation if the equipment used is certified, said Bob Hitchner, chief sales and marketing officer for Nexus. The company’s technology was certified by the NSF, a public safety and health organization, in February 2015.
Since the Nexus system is the first of its kind in Fresno, the city does not have a rebate policy in place for homeowners, but “we’re willing to have a conversation about it,” city spokesman Mark Standriff said.
“We’re always supportive of water conservation methods as long as they comply with local and state health and safety codes, and this underground recycling system seems to meet those standards.”
Two out of every three gallons of water can be treated and used for irrigation. The average occupant creates 30 to 40 gallons of water a day that can be recycled. A family of four can have up to 160 gallons of recycled water available for reuse.
Here is how the recycling system works:
A special set of pipes carry drain water from showers and washing machines to a 75-gallon in-ground collection tank. The water is then pumped into a treatment appliance that sits above ground, next to the house. Soap and solids are extracted and the disinfected water goes into a 200-gallon tank underground. The system costs about $250 a year to operate – less than a dollar a day, Hitchner said.
The recycled water is used to irrigate the grass, bushes, flowers and is safe to use on vegetable gardens. The water can even return into the house to be used in the toilet, although Gary McDonald Homes has not chosen this option, Hitchner said.
“About two of every three gallons first used indoors can be treated and reused for outdoor landscape,” Hitchner said. “In an area like this, where irrigation is so big, it is probably the biggest water savings that you can have.”
Installing the system into a new home is the most cost-effective solution. An existing house built on a raised foundation can be retrofitted for home water recycling, but there is no contractor in Fresno yet who can do the work, Hitchner said.
1,600 square feet of landscape can be watered a day with the water recycling system
The recycled water can irrigate about 1,600 square feet of landscaping a day, McDonald said. The homes at Copper Hill Estates will range in size from 2,864 to 4,194 square feet on lots between 8,715 to 18,226 square feet.
The system, which costs about $12,000 for the builder to buy and install, will add 10 percent to the resale value of a home, McDonald said.
“Most of the things that motivate me personally was just reading in The Bee about the drought and people who are willing to make great sacrifices and effort to keep their landscaping, primarily their shrubs and trees if nothing else, alive,” McDonald said.
“This seems to be just a natural step. … What else can you say, but this is the gold standard right now of water conversation for residents.”