Our tiny house is completely off the grid and all of our water comes from a spring on the land. This also means we don’t have the same kind of plumbing system you might have in a conventional house. All of the water we use to wash ourselves or our dishes has to go somewhere.

There were a few things that inspired our gray water reclamation system. The first was Matt’s experience visiting the Earthships out in Taos, New Mexico. The design that Michael Reynolds uses for his gray water is exceptional and recycles it to feed the indoor green space inside each home. Another inspiration was a book called Healing Appalachia. This book includes many ideas for living sustainably anywhere in the Appalachian Mountains. One of the ideas it included was an artificial wetland.

I will tell you, there isn’t a lot of information on the web about building one. There are a couple of websites that help to some degree such as this one and this one.

The key ingredients are a liner, rocks to create the filter, and plants.

We used three green plastic garden pots in graduated size. The reason we chose plastic over terra cotta was so we could easily cut holes in them. We arranged them in the landscape so that the bottom of the largest pot was at the level of the top of the next size. We cut a hole near the bottom of the largest pot and another near the top of the next size. Then we inserted gray PVC and used marine epoxy to secure it making sure it sloped down enough to carry the water to the next pot in the chain. We did the same with the middle and smallest pot. Then we filled each pot with a layer of pumice, pea gravel, and river rock. We took a fourth even smaller pot and cut a hole in the center of the very bottom and placed it on top of the rocks in the largest pot. This small pot remains empty and it is where we dump our bucket of gray water each day.

The system works when the water is poured into the smallest pot and drains slowly through the hole in the bottom. It then filters through the rocks in the largest pot before traveling to the next sized pot and then the third. The final pot has a hole that allows the water to flow out and into the native plants on the side of the mountain. It is also important to us that we use biodegradable soaps and shampoos so we aren’t intentionally adding unwanted chemicals to the landscape.

We haven’t yet planted anything on top of the rocks, though that is the next step.

If you’re thinking about living off the grid and without access to traditional plumbing a gray water system like this one will need to be considered and implemented. Have you seen other ways to build this type of system? We would love to see more versions.


Laura is a contributing writer for Tiny House Listings and she walks the walk. She lives in a 120 square foot cabin in Asheville, NC that her and her husband Matt built themselves. You can learn more about Laura and Matt at their website 120squarefeet.com.

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  1. Barb

    Is there a need for long-term maintenance with the variable size pot system, i.e. discarding/cleaning the “impurities” being deposited in the pots?