The Norman Transcript

April 22, 2014

City home first to include gray water system

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Neighbors are likely to be green with envy when Allen and Sallie Ahlert have a beautiful lawn and garden without paying extra for city water in the future. That’s because the Ahlerts are including a gray water system in the new home they are building for their growing family.

“It is a bigger house and we do have five kids, but we hope to keep the impact on our environment as minimal as we can,” Sallie Ahlert said. “Our oldest will be a teenager this year, and our youngest is a year and a half.”

The gray water system is possibly the city’s first to be added to new construction. In November 2011, the state signed gray water legislation into law, allowing cities to create gray water ordinances, if desired.

The bill was authored by Norman resident, Rep. Scott Martin. Norman City Council enthusiastically and unanimously adopted a gray water ordinance in early 2012. That opened the door for concerned residents like the Ahlerts.

“I give credit for our lifestyle to Allen’s lead,” Sallie Alhert said. “He’s been an environmental steward, even before we had children.”

Sallie Alhert said it’s a lifestyle choice that includes teaching children to turn off lights and to be stewards of the environment.

“My dad had a saying that one of his goals in life was to leave the world a better place than we found it,” she said. “ In our lifetime, we’re going to use resources. Allen and I believe we have an obligation to future generations to conserve those resources.”

Gray water is new to Oklahoma, despite already being adopted and in use in 12 other states including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Massachusetts, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

While gray water is a form of reuse, the term “reuse” is normally meant to describe wastewater that has been treated at the water reclamation plant and is being reused for another purpose.

Gray water is not treated. It never enters the wastewater stream. It’s the water that goes down the drain in bathroom sinks, showers and bathtubs, as well as the family washing machine, and is piped into a holding tank and reserved for specified limited use.

Because toilets and the kitchen sink are prohibited as sources of gray water use, separate lines must be run.

Builder Rod Epperson of Epperson Construction Inc. is working on the Ahlert house. He said black water goes straight from the toilet or kitchen sink to the traditional sewer system. Gray water lines take water from a shower or bathroom vanity, for example, to a special tank installed in the home.

That means an extra set of lines, the cost of extra plumbing and the expense of the storage tank, but over time, savings on the water bill should make the investment worthwhile.

Gray water use is limited to 250 gallons per day by state and city law. A typical top load washing machine uses up to 40 gallons per load. At 250 gallons per day, that would equate to six loads per day of water, Norman Utilities Director Ken Komiske said.

Dishwashers and the kitchen sink are not allowed as a gray water source because of the food and bacteria. The gray water tank holds 500 gallons in storage.

The floats will cut off if the Ahlerts hit the 250-per-day limit set by law.

“Probably 40 percent of your water could be used for irrigation,” Epperson said.

Jim Frazier installed the gray water tank. He is licensed with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

“The cost (of water) is more than what we pay for it,” Frazier said. “We’ve taken so much for granted in the Southern states.”

In his professional life, Allen Ahlert is the director of Manufacturing Engineering at Hitachi and accepted the Norman Chamber of Commerce Greenovation award for large businesses on Hitachi’s behalf last week. Hitachi was honored for building an outdoor environmental classroom at Kennedy Elementary School.

The Ahlerts’ new home also will include geothermal heat and air and thermadeck roof decking.


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