I have seen relatively expensive systems that replace the top of the toilet tank and provide a faucet for washing your hands. The water drains into the toilet tank to be used for flushing. I have always wanted one, but they are only available for certain toilets and they can be expensive. They also don't work the way I want them to: they REQUIRE you to flush the toilet to wash your hands... I wanted more flexibility, so I decided to build one myself.
I built a prototype with an old piece of shelving, a deep earthenware bowl from Ikea ("SMARTA" 8in 20cm), a single handle drinking water faucet from Orchard Supply Hardware ("Exquisite" 950 95004CP), standard stainless steel faucet hook-up hoses, and a converter for the toilet valve that enables you to attach two fixtures to one valve ("B&K Industries" EZ-CONNECT ADAPTER 993-016RP - for my valve I needed 3/8 x 3/8 x 3/8). Total parts cost was under $50.00 US.
I drilled two holes in the shelf. One was for the faucet, in the left rear corner of the shelf, and one was for the drain, directly over the overflow tube inside the toilet tank. I drilled a small (3/8 inch) hole in the bottom of the earthenware bowl, and inserted a short piece of 3/8 inch vinyl tubing to make a drain. The tubing extends enough to reach the overflow tube leading to the toilet bowl, and just a little bit more to hold it in place. This configuration ensures that the "hand washing water" bypasses the tank and goes directly to the toilet bowl, where it dilutes the contents. The inside of the tank stays completely clean.
Note: If you prefer the "other" mode of operation, where the faucet "helps" fill the tank, just route the drain hose into the tank rather than the overflow outlet. Be prepared for a tank full of gray-water when you service the toilet mechanisms, however.
I placed the shelf on "rubber feet" on top of the edge of the toilet tank so air could enter the tank (needed to enable quick flushing) and hooked up the plumbing. I have a towel rack over the toilet tank so a hand towel is positioned just above the new "sink."
It works perfectly.
Note the attractive river rocks in the bottom of the sink, the perfectly-positioned faucet, the place for soap, and the convenient hand towel. The particle-board shelf will be replaced by a nice piece of porcelain tile in the final version.
Just this past weekend I finally used a FlowJet waterjet cutter and CAD software to cut out an attractive tile replacement for the particle-board shelving. I'll hopefully have it all installed in a few more weeks. I could have used a saber saw with a carbide grit blade, but the waterjet was a lot more fun :-)
One of the nice features of my design that is unique is that you do not have to flush the toilet to wash your hands. During water shortages, this is a BIG PLUS, as other designs force you to flush the toilet every time if you wish to wash, whether you "need" to or not.
From the SF Bay Area, during the 70's (and subsequent) water crises:
If it's Yellow, let it Mellow, if it's Brown, Flush it Down!
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PS. If you came here because you are interested in saving water, perhaps you would be interested in generating your own electricity, and improving your health at the same time? Check out my Pedal Power page!