Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A grey-water barrel in 15 minutes!

Last year, the City of Toronto sent every residential building a new garbage bin as part of a program to limit the amount of trash going to landfill. A side-effect of this program is that there are now thousands of obsolete garbage bins that we can't use. Well, we can't use them as garbage bins.

I spent 15 minutes and turned mine into a grey-water barrel. I'll show you how to do it. (Please also see the update I posted here.)

There are, essentially, three categories of water: clean, grey and black. Clean is what you drink. Black is what flushes down your toilet. Grey is the stuff that's somewhere in between: it's your washing-up water and bath water. My barrel will be getting water from the bath. That water is fairly clean. It contains some dead skin cells and some soap, but nothing toxic or particularly nasty. Good stuff to use on the garden.

I started this project with a fairly standard plastic garbage bin, the kind with wheels on the bottom and a lid held in place by two handles. There are no holes in the body, so it should hold water. The axle for the wheels runs through its own tube and not through holes drilled into the body of the bin, so no worries about leaks there.

For this project, I nipped over to the hardware store and bought a 1/2" ball valve and a 1/2" female-threaded brass connector. Really, there should be a simple screw-together plastic bung apparatus on the shelves with flanges on either side (put one piece inside the hole, screw the other into place and presto! a watertight bung!). Sadly, there wasn't. If you find such a thing, let me know, as it'll probably be better than my device.

The project also requires some teflon tape (it's cheap, and worth having on hand for minor plumbing repairs) and a bit of silicone (I had some left over from sealing leaks around a window). Unlike normal plumbing, the water in the barrel will not be under pressure.

First, place the male end of the joint on the side of the barrel, near the bottom. Trace around it so you'll know how big a hole to make. Then drill small holes all the way around. When you're done, the bits between the holes should be easy to cut with an Olfa knife.

I knew this project was on-track when the resultant hole looked like it had been chewed by hearty city mice. Don't worry, it needn't be pretty. This is, after all, a grey-water barrel. And the hole will look better when it's done.

Check that the male end of the connector fits snugly into the hole.

Next, wrap the male threads on the faucet in teflon tape, then screw it into the connector. The teflon tape provides a watertight seal.

Run a generous bead of silicone around the hole. This will provide the seal between the barrel and the connector. Insert the connector so that the valve points down (that is, so it'll drain properly when you stand the barrel up to actually use it). Run your finger around the joint to smooth the silicone. Probably a good idea to put a bead on the inside of the barrel, too.

And shazam! You're done. Now let it dry, then take it outside and test it for leaks, as I will do with mine in the morning.

***Note: The "indoor/outdoor" silicone I used proved to be a mistake. It wasn't water-resistant and broke down. A better caulk might have worked, or the faucet kit from Lee Valley (There's a link to it in the comments section). I later fixed the problem using nuts and washers, and wrote about it here.***


KarenInTo said...

Excellent idea, Craig. I have a couple of garbage bins left by the previous owners, and there's nary a raccoon bite in them...

In fact, the first place I looked I found a barrel tap:


Anonymous said...

How do you collect the water? Is that for a future posting?

This might make a good & cheap rain barrel as well. Or maybe I can use it to keg homebrewed beer. Hmmm.

Craig Saunders said...

Thanks, Karen. I should have checked the Lee Valley site. I'll probably pull out the one I installed at some point and replace it. But it'll do for now.

As for the water collection, it came up in a post a couple months ago (http://greentenant.blogspot.com/2009/01/water-on-brain.html). There's no easy way here, so I'll be scooping it into buckets and carrying it out to the back porch.

If my apartment were laid out differently, I'd rig a siphon hose through the bathroom window. I'm only planning to use bath water. Dishwater would have food particles that could attract rats. And I hate rats.

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