Where can I learn how to install a simple graywater system?

Greywater Action offers courses up and down the West Coast. Depave, Recode and Greywater Action are working to organize more courses in Oregon next year. If you are interested let us know where you are located so we can plan accordingly.

Check out Greywater Action’s webinars to learn more:


Greywater Action co-founder, Laura Allen, has also published a book, The Water-Wise Home, which provides information, tables, and charts to help you plan and implement your project.

This 2013 graywater in Oregon presentation by Malena Marvin gives an introduction to the topic with photos of installations and parts needed.

Back to Index

How do I get a permit for a graywater system?

For watering the landscape: In Oregon, the DEQ’s Graywater site provides a comprehensive guide to permitting graywater systems. The DEQ’s Graywater Homeowners Guide provides the same information in a more readable format.
For other areas, Greywater Action’s Codes and Policy page provides an overview of the state of graywater codes on a larger scale. Contact your local environmental health authority for more specific information. 

For reuse for flushing toilets: Oregon created a permit pathway for commercial and residential wastewater conservation systems that flush toilets and urinals in 2008. To date less than a half dozen projects in Oregon have utilized this option.

Oregon Building Codes Division’s Smart Guide to Water Conservation Systems describes how to design, plan and permit a water conservation systems that reuses wash water for toilet flushing.


Back to Index

Where can I find someone to install a greywater system?

Greywater Action’s business directory is an excellent resource that lists people across the US that have completed Greywater Action’s hands on training. The DEQ Water Quality Permits Database can display who has previously received greywater permits. Under ‘Permit Criteria’ select GEN 2401 or GEN 2402.

In the Portland and Ashland area there’s: Jonathan Brandt of Portland Earth Care portlandearthcare at gmail dot com.

For examples of indoor greywater reuse in Oregon, look to Bud Clark Commons, People’s Food Co-op, First Alternative Co-op, Hassalo on Eighth, and OHSU’s Collaborative Health Science Building.  Note that both Food Co-ops have taken down their graywater reuse systems because of clogging problems.

Back to Index

How do I get a permit for a composting toilet?

Some terms to help you understand how many jurisdictions approve composting toilets:

  • NSF/ANSI 41 certified – NSF is a US based public health and safety organization that creates standards and tests products to see if they meet those standards. NSF Standard 41 is a standard developed in the 1970s for composting toilets it tests both the product and does an evaluation of the manufacturing facility. NSF 41 is for “non-liquid saturated treatment systems,” which means it is used to test and evaluate incinerating toilets as well as composting toilets. Composting toilets can be evaluated by several different ANSI-approved third party organizations to meet the NSF 41 standard, including CSA (the Canadian Standards Association). NSF has certified Clivus Multrum and Sun-Mar composting toilets (look in NSF’s product listing under 41). CSA has certified (look in their certified product listing under “composting toilet”) Envirolet and Blooloo. 


  • Manufactured non-NSF 41 certified – Manufacturers of composting toilets pay for their product to be tested to the NSF Standard 41. The testing can around $20,000 per product for the first year with annual renewal fees. Since NSF standards are primarily specified in regulations in the US and Canada, foreign manufacturers often do not pay for NSF certification unless they are sure they can regain the cost of the testing.



Because regulations for the installation of composting toilets vary widely across the country, consulting your local building codes and environmental health authority are good first steps. Greywater Action’s page on composting toilet codes and regulations also has good basic information on the state of composting toilet policies.

DEQ’s Fact Sheet on Composting Toilets

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Fact Sheet: Considerations for Installing a Composting Toilet System

In Oregon, NSF 41 certified toilets have been allowed in residential homes since 1978 according to the residential plumbing code ORS 918 770-0080. Oregon has also approved the installation of manufactured non-NSF 41 certified and site built composting toilets under the 2011 Reach Code. The Reach Code additions are subject to fecal coliform and moisture content testing after their first operational period, the same testing that is required of NSF 41 certified toilets.

In Oregon, a code appeal is required to use composting toilets for commercial projects because composting toilets are not outlined in the current commercial plumbing code. For a fee the Portland’s Alternative Technology Advisory Committee (ATAC) can assist you in crafting your appeal. One hundred percent of all building code appeals that ATAC has put forward have been approved. To appeal with ATAC’s help you will need to provide evidence that the proposed technology can meet the building code, and will have a positive impact to the earth’s natural systems. In 2015 Lewis and Clark College was granted an appeal to install a NSF-41 certified composting toilet (a Clivus Multrum stand alone unit) at their campus. Read the Lewis and Clark case study about their code appeal process at the Code Innovations Database.  

Locations in Oregon with permitted composting toilets:

Info about Permitted Composting Toilet Precedents in Oregon
  • Sandy Beach campground/boatdock in Troutdale, OR
  • East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District Office in Portland, Or (Phoenix composting toilet installed in 2009)
  • Government Island State Recreation Area in the Columbia River northeast of Portland, Oregon (2 Phoenix composting toilets installed in 2011)





Back to Index

What composting toilets do you personally recommend?

Greywater Action’s Composting Toilet FAQ has a thoughtful answer to this and other technical composting toilet questions. The Cape Cod Eco-Toilet Center is another great resource that reviews a wide variety of toilets.

Back to Index

How do I make sure my compost is safe for use in my garden?

Compost from toilets should undergo fecal coliform and moisture content testing to ensure safety, the same biological testing that NSF-certified manufactured composting toilets must undergo. Testing depends on the lab, but usually costs between $35-70. Oregon State provides a useful list of soil testing facilities that serve Oregon. If the lab conducts fecal coliform testing for water they can also do it for compost. Most labs can also do a moisture test. Instead of a lab test one can also squeeze the compost to see if moisture beads up. If the compost is dripping wet, it’s too wet. If a bit of moisture beads up when it’s squeezed it probably has less than 40% moisture.

Back to Index

What codes has Recode written? Where are they in the process of being adopted by states?

Recode has been part of code writing at the state and model code level.  Recode worked on a composting toilet and urine-diverting composting toilet code for IAPMO’s 2015 Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code Supplement. The 2015 Green Supplement will not be released and is instead serving as the foundation for WE-Stand 2017, IAPMO’s upcoming National Standard for water efficiency standard. IAPMO is a plumbing and mechanical industry model code writing organization whose codes have been adopted by jurisdictions worldwide.

Within Oregon, Recode contributed the composting toilet and light straw clay sections of the 2011 Reach Code, which legalized site built and non-NSF composting toilets. Our language is not in the new 2016 Reach Code. These codes will increase the accessibility of composting toilets. Additionally, Recode member Brenna Bell served on the Oregon DEQ Graywater Advisory Committee while Recode member Josh Klyber currently serves on the Alternative Technology Advisory Committee.

Sometimes legislation needs to be changed to trigger new codes. Recode worked with a wide net of community members to ask legislators to sign House Bill 2080 with Rep. Ben Cannon, which they drafted with Senator Jackie Dingfelder.  HB 2080 initiated Oregon DEQ’s process for creating graywater rules.

Back to Index

How do you change codes and policies to legalize sustainability? What is your formula for success?

Recode works to ensure access to and accelerate adoption of sustainable building and development practices by tackling a few specific leverage points at a time. With our limited resources we thinks its more important to be truly successful on one issue, than go after a bunch at once. All codes and regulations require a lot of collaboration across specialities. It’s really difficult for any individual or group to take credit, since code changes are the reflection of many groups working together to balance safety, health and environmental concerns.  We find it is easier to work together when we can find a common goal with our collaborators and by coming to the table with solutions rather than demands. We work with and assist the needs of three primary audiences: agencies, practitioners, and early adopters. We believe that the main barriers to implementation of sustainability are either regulatory, informational, or financial. The process will be different and unique to each group but we recommend taking a targeted and technical approach to regulatory barriers and an open and equitable approach to all collaborators. Being nice and fun to work with goes along way.

Also check out the International Living Future Institute’s policy resources on Collaborative Advocacy and their Water Policy Guide.


Back to Index

I’m wanting examples of ecological water management (net zero water) precedents and policies that encourage such practices.

Code Innovations Database is a technical resource for precedents of high-performance green building innovations.

Check out the International Living Future Institute’s new case studies about projects that found permit pathways for ‘net positive water systems’:


Greywater Action has excellent information on codes and policies related to graywater reuse, rainwater harvesting, and composting toilets in the United States.

The National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association has created a performance based model code supported by the US EPA. NOWRA’s model code does not follow exactly the same performance standards Recode prefers but provides excellent guidance on implementing design standards and a verification regime.

The Green Center in Cape Cod conducted research as the New Alchemy Institute in the seventies and currently supports various ecological efforts.

Recommended reading in Regards to Legalizing Sustainability:

Economics of Change: Integrated Policy Approaches to Unlocking the Value of a Restorative Built Environment by Theddi Wright Chappell, (Sustainable Values Inc), Stuart Cowan, Ph.D. (Autopoiesis LLC), Richard Graves (International Living Future Institute), and Jason Twill (Systems Economics LLC).

The US Green Building Council (USGBC) has several useful documents to check out:

The Guardian did a great article, Bodies into food and sewage into beer: you are the hot new thing in recycling, on ecological sanitation and highlighted Rich Earth Insitute’s research into reusing urine as a fertilizer.

“Every day you’re pissing away a loaf of bread,” says Noe-Hays. “The US could meet a quarter of its fertilizer needs just by reclaiming all the urine produced in a year.”

Recommendations for Improving the CALGreen Code is a summary and discussion from April 2015’s “Green Codes for California: A Progress Report and Recommendations from the LEED and CALGreen user group.”

The International Living Future Institute’s has shared research reports and roadmaps for fundamentally changing our approach to regulating water in our built environment.

Back to Index