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Here’s a fact that might surprise you: You probably flush your toilets with water clean enough to drink.
While that’s an unappetizing thought, it’s also a tough environmental reality, given Colorado’s growing population (and corresponding demand for water) and the ongoing drought conditions, which squeeze the water supply. Up to this point, the majority of solutions for water conservation have been focused on efficiency—low-flow plumbing fixtures and high-efficiency washing machines and dishwashers, for example, and public-awareness campaigns to turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth. But a new pilot program in 40 homes in Denver’s Central Park neighborhood is testing the efficacy of a residential water-recycling system called Greyter Home, which could be a new tool in municipalities’ belts to save precious H2O.
The idea is simple: The system captures water from the shower and bathtub, cleans it via high-tech, proprietary, and patented filtration to an established third-party standard called NSF 350, and then provides clear, odor-free water for flushing toilets.
“Two showers a day is generally sufficient to meet the daily flushing needs for a family of four,” says John Bell, vice president of business development for Toronto-based Greyter Water Systems. (The company’s name is a play on “greywater,” the term for water collected from bathroom sinks, showers, bathtubs, and laundry machines and used for a second, beneficiary use such as irrigation or toilet flushing. It’s also a nod to the company’s mission of creating greater and more water-efficient communities.) Bell says the system saves up to 25 percent of a home’s water usage, which amounts to about 9,000 gallons of water for a family of four each year, and it also detects leaks.
In Central Park, Stacey Whiteside’s new home is part of the pilot program, which is driven by a partnership among Denver Water, builder Lennar Homes, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Greyter Water Systems, and Uponor, which is installing its Phyn leak-detection device. With two adults and two teenage girls at home, “we’re definitely high water users,” Whiteside says. The family had already signed a contract for the home when they found out about the pilot program, “so even though we didn’t choose the system, we think it’s pretty great,” she adds. The system—about the size of a stacked washer and dryer and installed in the basement—makes a humming noise when it kicks on, Whiteside notes. “But it’s not a distracting sound. I hear it and think, ‘Oh, the girls showered, and that water is being funneled to the toilets.’ It’s comforting.”
Because the system came with the home, Whiteside says she can’t quantify the savings on the family’s water bill—but even if she could, today’s water rates make it difficult to sell the system on ROI alone. While there are volume discounts for developers and builders, a single unit costs close to $5,000 plus installation. According to Mark Sales, Greyter Water Systems’ CEO and co-founder, the company currently focuses its efforts on new home construction and in areas where municipal water-conservation goals provide incentives for builders to adopt.
So, if the system works and water conservation is such a big deal in the Centennial State, why isn’t Greyter Home in every house in Colorado? It’s complicated. First, the state has an ordinance called Regulation 86 that governs greywater usage (and re-usage) in municipalities: It has to be adopted by each county, and currently, there are only four jurisdictions in the state where Reg 86 is approved. Denver is one of them.
Second, it’s tough to retrofit a home with this particular greywater-recycling system, so Greyter Home is marketing to builders and developers constructing new homes. Third, Bell says, utilities like Denver Water are “still working to understand the value proposition, how the technology performs, and what the savings are.” Once the pilot ends in November—though data will be collected over the next 24 months—Denver might see more movement on greywater recycling.
Still, the Greyter Water Systems team is hopeful that they’ve developed technology that Colorado and other high-water-demand places like Arizona and California desperately need. “[With this system], everyone wins,” Sales says. “Municipalities get to conserve water, the builder offers an innovative solution, and homeowners get ongoing savings.”