Category Archives: ecological design

2014 Greywater Classes in Ashland, Oregon

 Part 1: Learn!
An info session for the greywater-curious Thurs, Mar 6 , 6:30-8:30pm North Mountain Park in Ashland$25

Part 2: Install!
A hands-on Saturday installation workshop
Sat, Mar 8, 9 am – 4pm Squawking Hawk Acres near Ashland $75

More info at (541) 821-7260
Register online at City of Ashland’s Parks & Recreation website

Part 1 It’s not hard to install a greywater system in your home, but it’s also not hard to do it wrong! In this info session we’ll help you get it right by looking at how systems are designed, installed, and permitted, and how to choose a greywater system that’s right for you. We’ll have all the specialized parts and a sample system on hand. Bring your questions!

Part 2 We’ll build on the info from Part 1 by actually installing a simple washing machine greywater system. Students will learn to safely and competently install the interior hardware adn exterior mulch basins that make up a classic “Laundry2Landscape” system. Students are encouraged to bring questions and info about their own sites, work clothes, gloves, and lunch.

Instructor Malena Marvin is the only Certified Greywater Installer in southern Oregon and runs Elemental Design/Build, a small company using natural patterns and flows to inform design of beautiful and innovative human habitat, indoors and out.

Taking ecological design to new heights!

Alaska Airlines Magazine

We can rarely predict from whence our 15 minutes of fame will arise, and I certainly did not expect Alaska Airlines inflight magazine would be featuring my greywater work.  But I’m glad to get even a few small words out about greywater and ecological design to thousands of captive passengers at 30,000 feet. I am interviewed, albeit briefly, in an article about the design/build philosophy that features many great folks from the Yestermorrow community, including Matt Wolpe of Just Fine Design/Build, whose creativity, productivity, and social engagement totally inspires me.

My part of the article, authored by Joe Follansbee, goes something like this:

While conventional architects or builders may walk a site several times and figure out a way to shape the site to the context, some design-build advocates will study the site’s ecology, including the flow of water in and around the site, and the microclimates created by climate and vegetation.

That’s the attitude of Malena Marvin, an outdoor educator and consultant who also designs gray water systems in Ashland, Oregon. “Gray water” is used water from sinks, showers, and baths that is clean enough for other purposes, primarily irrigation.

Marvin advocates for a detailed analysis of the site, down to the soil type and climate patterns. Ideally, a good structural design has little impact on the environment, and may even enhance local natural processes.

Furthermore, Marvin argues that architects should spend as much time as possible outdoors. “We need people who are ecologically fluent, which has to be learned outside,” she says.


Greywater growing stronger!

Greywater-irrigated asian pear tree in southern Oregon.

MY 3 year old asian pear tree produced its first large crop of fruit the season it was irrigated with laundry greywater.

This morning’s September rains signaled an end to another hot, dry summer in southern Oregon, and the first season of greywater irrigation in my yard. As my household enjoys the abundant plums and pears we grew with laundry water this year, I’m reflecting on the growth of greywater in my life, in my community, and across the nation.

With news of greywater legalization in Colorado, greywater is now somewhere in between gay marriage and marijuana in terms of state-level legality. Of course, one day we’ll look back and wonder why we ever thought it was not only a good idea – but the law – to sully perfectly clean water with our waste, than treat it with chemicals and put it back into our rivers. But for now let’s celebrate the small victories: Colorado joins Oregon, California, Washington, Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico as places where people can reasonably re-use their own greywater without becoming outlaws!


I’m also pleased to report that this summer I graduated to the top ranks of the greywater installers among my certifying organization – Greywater Action. I’m now one of three Greywater Associates nationwide, and the only one doing business outside of California. Being a Greywater Associate means that in addition to my certification I’ve completed and received feedback on a minimum of five systems professionally, that I’m actively collaborating with Greywater Action, and that I’m working to ease permitting barriers and provide education about greywater systems in my local area.

Greywater-irrigated plum tree in Ashland, Oregon.

Greywater-irrigated plum tree in Ashland, Oregon.

As my experience with integrating greywater into ecological designs and job sites grows, I’m excited to be doing more collaborative education and consulting. In addition to reaching local networks, I’ve enjoyed connecting with folks around the state and the country who want to include greywater in their larger classes and workshops. On the ground here in southern Oregon, I’m seeing such a need for skill building, not just for folks who want to learn and implement DIY progressive water design, but also for all the plumbers and contractors whose clients are asking for greywater. Most tradespeople at this point have little experience with alternative water systems, and also don’t have a lot of extra time and energy to devote to learning a new craft. It’s fulfilling for me to be able to step in and offer the answers clients are looking for, and help interweave this simple, fun solution into peoples homes and lives.

Eating an asian pear irrigated with greywater.

Eating an asian pear irrigated with greywater from my washing machine.

Greywater, of course, is one element of ecological design – a method of creating human habitat in keeping with nature’s principles. I encourage folks to see their own homes and yards not just as habitat for people and wildlife, but also as fertile ground for growing a new relationship between humans and nature. Like the laws that make greywater illegal in most of our country, we’ve inherited a lot of ingrained patterns in our built and legal environments that make it very difficult to live sustainably, equitably, and regeneratively in our communities. The good news is, we’re changing this! Ecological design, permaculture, and the constellation of elements that they encompass are gaining ground everyday. Here’s to a great growing season for greywater – may we continue to water our species’ good seeds by working together to change the world.