July 13, 2021

Book Review: Create an Oasis with Greywater

In a recent post, I shared Dan's latest project, the start on an idea we came up with years ago - a trellising shade and grape growing system that utilizes our laundry waste water. This prompted quite a conversation in the comments of that post, with a number of questions and concerns expressed. I can't answer those because I'm focused on meeting our goals in our context. But I can point you in the direction of some excellent resources that will give you the information you need to make a start on your own research and answer your own questions. 

Create an Oasis with Greywater: Integrated Design for Water Conservation

This book by Art Ludwig, plus his DVD, Laundry to Landscape, have answered our questions, addressed our concerns, and are helping us design a system that will enable us to be better stewards in our water conservation efforts. In this post, I'll tell you about the book. Here's what the author says about it.

"Create an Oasis with Greywater describes how to choose, build, and use 20 types of residential greywater reuse systems in just about any context: urban, rural, or village."
Art Ludwig, author
"What This Book Is About"

"How to Use This Book" and "What This Book Is About" introduce the subject matter. The book is geared toward helping the reader zero in on their personal goals, make an assessment specific to their property, and then design and implement a system that will best fit their situation.

Chapter 1: Greywater Basics. This chapter begins by defining greywater. Explains the differences between blackwater, dark greywater, clearwater, wastewater, and reclaimed water. It discusses what you can do with it and why it should be used, but also lists a substantial number of reasons when it shouldn't be used. The last section of the chapter introduces the reader to the elements of a greywater system.

Chapter 2: Goals and Context. This chapter helps the reader deal with the massive amount of information out there about greywater systems, especially, whether or not a greywater system is right for you. It offers clear-cut steps for analyzing one's goals, context (site, sources, needs, percolation rates, climate, etc.), and proposed site. A "site assessment form" worksheet in the appendix (and online here) helps the reader make a very thorough analysis.

Chapter 3: Design a Greywater System for Your Context. In chapter 3, the reader learns how to integrate a greywater system with their landscape plus other systems, how to address health considerations, and how to match greywater sources with irrigation and treatment or disposal areas. Includes general landscape design points and six factors for good natural purification of greywater or wastewater.

Chapter 4: Greywater Collection Plumbing. Discusses general greywater plumbing principles, planning for future flexibility, traps, vents, diverter and shutoff valves, surge capacity, easy maintenance and troubleshooting. Includes advice on choosing and finding parts, inspections, and when to get professional help. Lots of pictures, charts, and diagrams in this chapter.

Chapter 5: Greywater in the Landscape. This chapter details how to put greywater to work and how to handle it in the landscape. Discusses calculating the treatment/disposal area, greywater efficiency,  coordinating greywater with freshwater irrigation, and how to handle greywater when it rains. Discusses how to preserve soil quality, with a chart of key elements found in household cleaners. Also how to monitor and repair soil, and what to do about toxic waste. The section on plants lists possibilities for greywater reuse, as well as greywater treatment and disposal. Shows the reader how to build a mulch basin for greywater irrigation, with lots of illustrations.

Chapter 6: System Selection Chart. A 2-page easy reference chart for comparing simple, easy greywater systems, or complex systems.

Chapter 7: Simple, Easy Greywater Systems. Lots of ideas and illustrations in this chapter. Discusses direct landscape systems (such as a bathing garden), garden hoses, dishpan dumping, mulch basins, movable drains, greywater furrow irrigation, and laundry drums. It introduces the laundry to landscape system (which is detailed in Art Ludwig's Laundry to Landscape book or DVD).

Chapter 8: More Complex Greywater Systems. Covers effluent pumps, mini-leachfields, subsoil infiltration galleys, constructed wetlands, an automated sand filter system, a solar greywater greenhouse, green septic systems, and septic tank to subsurface drip. Lots of pictures, diagrams, and illustrations clarify the concepts.

Chapter 9: Branched Drain Design. How to improve the time-honored "drain out back" system with ways to split the flow (including a discussion and chart on parts), branching geometry options, cleanouts, inspection access, and rainwater inlets. The section on branched drain outlet design discusses free flow outlets, sub-mulch and subsoil infiltration, how to design for surge capacity, and outlet positioning. 

Chapter 10: Branched Drain Installation gets down to the nitty-gritty of installing a branched drain system. Covers checking the design, checking for buried utilities, digging trenches, connecting pipes and fittings, dealing with slope, and installing outlet shields. Final steps include testing the system, mapping it, and burying it. Also included are sections on branched drain maintenance, troubleshooting, and possible variations. 

Chapter 11: Common Greywater Errors. This very important chapter contains 20 common misconceptions about greywater and mistakes people routinely make. Each one explains problems that can result, preferred practices, and specific conditions for exceptions. 

Chapter 12: Real World Examples. Features six examples that are currently in use. Takes an interesting look at each user's goals, design and installation issues, costs and benefits, and opinion of the system after it had been in use for awhile. Pictures and diagrams help clarify the examples.

Appendices. Lots of helpful information in the eight appendices, including how to measure elevation and slope, cold climate adaptations, non-industrialized area considerations, plus pumps, filters, and disinfection.  

As you can see from scanning the chapter summaries, there are a lot of variables and a lot of options. So far, this is the best book I have found to explain them all. Dan and I have both this book and also the Laundry to Landscape DVD I mentioned. I trust the information because the author isn't trying to sell a pre-packaged greywater system. You can find some of the hard-to-find hardware at his website, but he isn't trying to guide the reader to buy what he prefers. He lays out all the options along with their pros, cons, and guidelines for choosing the best system for your circumstances.

Create an Oasis with Greywater is available at the author's website or at Amazon. Or, if you aren't sure that it deserves a place on your homestead bookshelf, request that your public library obtain a copy! That's the best way to get a hands-on look at a book, plus it becomes available for others to benefit from it too.


  1. What a fascinating subject! I can imagine this pairing so well with a permaculture landscape.

    1. Daisy, absolutely! Permaculture design starts with water and the goal keeping it on the property for as long as possible, using it as many ways as possible. So, a properly designed greywater system can help with that tremendously.

  2. Hey thanks for sharing I will definitely look into this. I will see if I can check in with my local library after the situation for the last 18 months we have lost so much tax base we had to keep the library closed the last time I checked because there was not enough to do anything other than employees for any essential office. and apparently I’m the only one here who thinks a library is essential office, open.
    If I can’t get it through them I will purchase it online because I’m really going to concentrate on that in the next year. Thank you for all your inspiration and all your hard work we owe you lunch!

    1. Goatldi, that is such a shame about your library. Ours closed during the 2-week flatten-the-curve campaign, but pretty quickly went to drive-by window service. Then opening with heavy restrictions. Of course, our state didn't close completely, so we've been able to maintain at least part of our tax base.

      This is definitely the kind of book you will refer to often, so I don't think it's a bad investment. Check out his website too; lots of free information there.

    2. The library is finally open! The big issue is we are the gateway to Yosemite National Park. Tourist from all over the world come year round. It is a huge part of our tax base. When the park closed multiple times a considerable amount was lost.

    3. I really feel badly for areas that rely heavily on tourism. They've taken a big hit and, thanks to the remaining scare mongers, seem to have uncertain future. I'm glad your library was deemed important enough to open! And I hope they have enough money in their budget to invest in a few important books!

  3. Awesome info! I am going to check out his web site. We are always wanting to learn how to become more efficient, and this is definitely an area to explore more. Changing the subject, how did the bread turn out? Have a wonderful week!

    1. Wyomingheart, I think Art has the most comprehensive information out there!

      I ground some flour and made pancakes first. I'm waiting for a sunny day to make the bread in my solar oven! Fresh homegrown wheat is always the best! Thanks for asking. :)

  4. Seems like a very thorough coverage of the issue Leigh. Thank you for the review!

    Out of curiousity, what did you find most useful and what did you find most surprising?

  5. TB, good questions! Hmm. I think the common greywater errors was extremely useful because he explained why certain setups weren't the best idea and also how to correct them. I think the thing that was the most surprising was the number of options. And basically, most of them are pretty affordable and simple. I was both surprised and pleased with that.

    1. That surprises me as well Leigh. I tend to associate such things with expense and complexity.

    2. I think it depends on where one looks for information. In the US, particularly, most of the information seems to come from folks wanting to sell a system plus installation. Many of the systems are quite complicated, which, I think, further discourages people from getting them. What I appreciate about Art's book, is that he takes it down to (safe and legal) basics. Then, depending on one's goals and current system, it can be customized in specific ways. I like the way he explains everything so you can see your options.


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