Graywater appliance shows promise

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What John and Francesco have devised is about the size of a small chest freezer. Their prototype uses components (at least for the moment) typically used in swimming pool filtration systems.

I recently got to spend an afternoon in Carlsbad, Calif., with a couple of interesting guys, Francesco Dorigo and John Knepp, the two principles of Advanced Greywater Recycling Systems. John and Francesco want to market a residential graywater system as a plug-and-play appliance, and I think they can do it. These gents have the smarts, the knowledge and the wherewithal to pull it off.

Do you remember the maquiladora factories in the free-trade zones along the Mexican border? You don’t hear about them as often these days now that it seems that so much manufacturing has moved to China. That was Francesco back in the day. He’s been a manufacturing guy for a long time. More recently he made his money manufacturing plastic food for grocery store and restaurant displays. He bought apartment buildings as investment properties, which was great until he got the water bill.

Francesco asked his neighbor, John, for advice. John was trained as a physicist and he’s been manufacturing precision parts for decades. He started out as a car guy, manufacturing precision components for racecars. The four-mile long road course at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., is probably his favorite track in the country. After he got out of racing, he began manufacturing precision parts for spy planes. Believe me, he has some stories to tell.

So what to do about those water bills? Graywater recycling is not a new concept but doing it right and doing it economically remain challenging. Their idea is to make it an appliance. If the weather doesn’t freeze, such as in Southern California, the appliance can go in the back yard. In colder climes, it can go in the garage.

What John and Francesco have devised is about the size of a small chest freezer. Their prototype uses components (at least for the moment) typically used in swimming pool filtration systems. Water drains from the shower and washing machine and goes through a large pore filter to screen out the debris and then goes into a surge tank. The larger crud, such as washing machine lint, is sent back into the DWV. From there, the water in the surge tank is pumped through a finer mesh filter and a chlorinator and sent into a holding tank. The water is pressurized and sent to flush toilets and irrigate landscape.

If there’s too much graywater, it’s diverted to the DWV. If there’s not enough graywater, a makeup water line adds enough to flush the toilets. The unit can also be configured to use any other non-potable source, such as rainwater or surface water.

The prototype is set up next to Francesco’s house in Carlsbad and his landscaping looked pretty lush to me. The graywater is pumped continuously out to the irrigation system and the plants seem to like getting a little bit of water all the time. John and Francesco have found a vendor that’s selling what they think is the ideal distribution method, perforated tubing fastened in a flannel mat on 12-in. centers. The tubing saturates the flannel. The two have dug up a lot of irrigation tubing to see what’s happening and they discovered that plants grow roots in a layer on top of the wet flannel mat but they don’t penetrate either the mat or the tubing.

They’ve gotten their graywater appliance approved by both the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials and by the International Code Council. Now that the device is listed, Francesco and John are working with utilities such as the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power to get field test units in place. That will occupy them in 2013.

Francesco and John have the technical expertise, the manufacturing experience and the resources to commercialize the device. I have the feeling that they’re going to have to go shopping for a manufacturing facility in the near future.

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Bob Mader is the editor of CONTRACTOR magazine, Green Mechanical Contractor magazine, and Radiant Living magazine. He has been writing about plumbing, mechanical, green building and HVACR topics for...
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