Last updated on September 29th, 2011
Thinking about living away from the conveniences of built-in infrastructure such as a city water supply involves careful planning and considerations as to where the water will come from, how the water will be collected, how the water will be stored, and will there be enough water to sustain your needs.
Find property already with a source of surface water
Assuming that paying to pipe in water from the nearest utility will be far too expensive, the simplest and possibly the best approach for a good water source is to consider property locations that already have water, like lakeside, or running water from a river, stream, or a natural spring. A very important issue here is to discover if the water is available year round. Then, it only becomes a matter of building the distribution system from the water source to your home or storage location. This will involve the proper size pump, the interconnecting plumbing, and an intermediate storage tank. The water will need to be properly filtered before drinking, and could be done entirely separately with a stand-alone gravity fed drinking water filter.
Drill a well for water
If your property has no water source available on its surface, then your next option is to drill for it. Drilling a water well can be tricky in that you usually do not have a guarantee that you (they) will hit water. It can be expensive. The location of the property, the soil type (rocky or not?), and the depth of the well will all bear on the cost of the attempt. In most instances you will be fairly assured of the hurdles, costs, risks and likelihood of hitting water, but not always.
Truck the water in to a storage tank
Another alternative to securing a supply of water on a remote property with no other reasonable means, is to have it trucked in. You could buy a large water storage tank and periodically pay for a water tanker truck to be brought in. The big problem with this is that you are now relying on someone else to provide you with a life sustaining commodity. It may or may not be a problem depending on the other party involved, but if concerned about a very long term disaster scenario, I would not go down this road.
Rain Water Harvesting
But what if you live on rocky ground, in a location where your costs would be quite high to attempt drilling a well with no guarantee? Although I personally would not feel comfortable on a property where I did not have a reliable source of steady water, you could consider collecting rain water. If the region experiences adequate rainfall, especially year round, then this option may not be terribly risky, and in fact quite doable. However if the weather of the region typically has a “rainy season” followed by months with little or no rain, this plan becomes more involved because you will have to store all of the water that you will need, which may involve a very large storage tank. In addition, you will need to calculate the amount of rainwater you might reasonably be able to collect during the rainy season and be sure that it is enough to last through a non-rainy period for all of your needs.
Serious and accurate considerations will have to be given to the quantity of water that you will need over a given period of time. Add up the requirements for drinking water, wash and bath water, sanitary flush water, cooking, cleaning, and very importantly do not forget irrigation water for gardening. This all adds up very rapidly and you may be surprised at the amount of water storage that you may need if relying on an intermittent water supply source.
Calculate the number of gallons of rain water runoff
- Determine the “square feet” of the roof’s rain water footprint (multiply length x width)
- Convert the inches of rainfall to feet of rainfall (inches / 12)
- Multiply “square feet” of footprint times the amount of rainfall in feet (per storm, or per year…)
- Multiply the total volume of cubic feet by 7.48 to get total gallons
For example, if the dimensions of my house are 50 feet by 30 feet, and I get about 26 inches of rainfall per year,
- 50 feet x 30 feet = 1,500 square feet
- 26 inches / 12 (inches per foot) = 2.2 feet
- 1,500 square feet x 2.2 feet = 3,300 cubic feet
- 3,300 cubic feet x 7.48 (gallons per cubic foot) = 24,684 gallons
Wow, that’s more than I thought it would be!
In actuality, the total will be slightly less because not all the rain will runoff down the downspouts – but don’t worry about it.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you are using the formula and determining a capacity of gallons to supply you year round, even during long periods without rain, then remember that this calculation assumes that you are able to collect “all” of the rain, meaning you have enough collection downspouts, storage barrels, and a means to get the water from these barrels to a very large storage tank. If you only have four 55-gallon water storage tanks around the downspouts of your home, you will only be storing a maximum of 220 gallons. That’s not much if considering a climate location where it doesn’t always rain often enough to keep topped off. But it sure is plenty if storing for emergency essentials (you reasonably could plan on 2 gallons per person per day for very basic survival essentials) or simply supplementing your existing water source.
It is interesting to note that a normal rain weather event that delivers about 1 inch of rain could provide you with about 900 gallons of water on a 1,500 square foot house!! The problem will be the capability to store it all…
A reader had recently E-mailed asking about how to deal with collecting rain water from roof runoff while allowing for the first rain to clear off the accumulated roof debris. The simplest way to deal with this is to purchase a rain diverter system that includes a diverter valve which can direct the water to the barrel collection system or down through the normal runoff to the ground. Just leave the valve flipped over to ground runoff during the first rain and then flip the lever over to the barrel afterward. Here are a few examples of rainwater diverter valves and rainwater collection barrels.
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