Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Everything I read about "self-sufficiency" or "self-reliance" or "sustainable" seems to revolve around food. How to grow it, cook it, preserve it. All good stuff. A fair amount of folks talk about electricity/lighting/heating and off-grid solutions.

Nobody talks about water.

Water just seems to be ubiquitous, but it just seems that way. Turn off your water at the curb and your electric at the pole and you will find that you miss water a whole bunch more than electric. I learned some hard lessons last year during the epic drought we endured.

There is an economic component here as well. The annual water expense for our household is about $2,000 per year (and we have a septic system so this does not include sewage treatment costs). Not a staggering sum by any means, but I always like to look at my expense in 10 year increments.

$20,000 smackers for water service over the next 10 years. $60,000 over my expected life time (if I should live as long as my father. (Look, I ditched our cable TV service for a number of reasons... but the fact that it was $12,000 every 10 years did not help the cable company's cause in my household.)

After doing an examination of our household consumption, it turns out that we have old toilets that are 3.5 gallons+ per flush - over 50% of our water use is for flushing toilets! Ordering 1.3 gallon per flush toilets for the 2 main bathrooms was a no brainer - $550 for 2, self-installed, brought down water consumption 30%+. With a little attention to detail in other water use activities I expect to cut our usage nearly in half.

Now for that other half.

Even cut in half we use an awful lot of water. The same stuff that falls (most of the time) for free from the sky. (We do have a well. The water smells of sulphur. The animals don't seem to mind, but the well is electric and won't last forever so the less I use it the less likely I am to burn it out.) So I bought 3, 330 gallon water tanks, and a 375 livestock tank and rigged them to collect water from the livestock barn. (I figured 1,300 gallons would be enough for the livestock and vegetable garden (not the field veggies, just the raised beds: 8, 8'x4' and 3, 30'X4').

For all but high summer, this will probably end our dependence on the well. I can go 10 days to 2 weeks without rain (and we do have a pond that is wet most of the year but did dry up in the drought) and still have enough for all of the livestock (4 horses, 2 of them draft size; 8 head of smaller sized cattle (Dexter Bull with 3 dairy cows and their offspring), 5 pigs, and 10 goats) and give me enough to give the vegetable beds .75 inches of water per week (I think. I don't really know how much the livestock might drink in extreme heat but I had no shortage during the rainy winter. Of course, I did not need to water my garden in the winter). In order to ensure enough water in case of drought I will need to double or even triple this system at the barn. Alternatively, I could rig up a grey water collection system for watering the gardens but I don't think that that would be economic in our climate. These tanks and a couple of gutters are just too cheap.

The house is a different story.

Collecting enough water would require a really big cistern/tank or a radical reduction in usage. Even solving for that I would need some kind of pump for water pressure. Tanks can collect rain water downhill from the collection point (our roof), but then that water has to get back up to the kitchen and bathrooms.

Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.


Rich said...

There's a blog about building an off-the-grid strawbale house where he built a cistern system at:

I don't know if that's the sort of information you are looking for, but there it is.

Greg T. Jeffers said...

Thank you, Rich!

PioneerPreppy said...

For watering my garden I installed the gutters and then the rain barrel. I built a new deck section to put the barrels on and made sure they had about 3 foot of elevation over the garden. This way I can gravity water the garden. Overflow goes into the 1000 to 1200 gallon cistern which has been around for prolly 100 years or more. This Summer I plan on putting just a simple hand pump that can be removed in Winter over the cistern. If I was looking to gravity feed into the house I guess I could raise the deck or just the barrel platform another few feet as well but weight would be a constant issue. However what is to stop you from creating a smaller first catch reservoir and simply hand pumping back upto it from the cistern in the dry periods?

It would control the overall weight issue.

tweell said...

The traditional (non-electrical) method of providing water pressure with a lower cistern is using a water tower coupled with a windmill that pumps water from the cistern up to the water tower. An overflow and a low level switch (where your backup electric pump would start and fill) would provide the control.

Greg T. Jeffers said...

The problem is economics. If I am successful in cutting my water bill in half, I simply cannot justify a windmill and water tower.

As a practical matter, we have access to water. That's the big thing. We might have to haul it, but we have it.

Suddenly, in the absence of electric pumps, those old outhouses make sense. Might have to have one on the farm.

tweell said...

After looking at your setup again I thought I'd mention that plastic will degrade over time with exposure to the sun's UV radiation. It happens a lot quicker where I'm at, but that doesn't mean that you couldn't eventually find your water tanks becoming brittle and cracking. I recommend putting a shelter of some kind around them.

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kathy said...

Is everything okay? I've missing your commentary

Anonymous said...

Are you still blogging? If not, then let us know. I'll stop looking for new posts...

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