In this article, I'll discuss the best water capture and storage options when living off-grid. An off-grid lifestyle means you won't be relying on the utilities most of us take for granted, such as electricity, sewerage, and water. One of the most significant issues you will face when choosing the off-grid lifestyle is ensuring you always have an adequate water supply.
There are a few different methods for accessing water on an off-grid property. Digging a well is one option, but there is always the risk that you will come up dry, even on second and third attempts. Water from wells is often not drinkable until you treat it, which can get awfully expensive.
It's also possible to have municipal piping laid to your property, but the cost will be way out of reach for most, and it's hardly in keeping in line with the off-grid lifestyle.
Without access to a well or groundwater, rainwater harvesting and storage solutions are the most reliable means of ensuring you can access water.
Any water harvesting and storage system will need to cover your monthly water requirements. You will need to calculate your monthly water usage and design a water harvesting system and storage solution to satisfy your demands.
An online water usage calculator like the one at CSGNetwork makes this a relatively straightforward task. When you know how much water you are using, you will see areas where you can cut back and conserve more of your supply.
You will also need to calculate the amount of rainwater you can capture based on your location's rainfall levels and your catchment area's size. You can find an excellent formula for doing this here.
An off-grid lifestyle will mean you are also growing and harvesting much of your food. Naturally, you will need to account for extra water required for agricultural purposes when performing your calculations.
According to the data from the various sources covered in the report above, the best locations for capturing water in the United States are along the South East and West Coast. If you plan to go off-grid in the central states or the South West, you will find that capturing enough rainwater for your needs will be extremely challenging without a sufficiently large catchment area or an alternative source of water.
Rain capture technology can range from basic to more complicated systems. What you end up with will depend on your water needs, your budget, and the resources you have available.
The roof of any structure can be used to collect rainwater that is then funneled down into your storage system. Carefully consider the materials you will use to build the roof as some are not suitable for harvesting rainwater. The good news is that the list of unsuitable roofing materials for rainwater harvesting is relatively short and includes:
• Cedar Shake (contains fire retardants)
• Copper will leach into rainwater, so it's not suitable for irrigation
• Any roofing material treated with a biocide that curbs moss or algae growth
Standing seam metal is considered the best choice for rainwater harvesting as the sheets are easy to clean, and the enamel or powder coating will not contaminate the water. You can easily fill a 60-gallon barrel on less than an inch of rainfall on a 10' x 10' surface, which means that standing seam metal is suitable for use on outbuildings and sheds to improve the capabilities of a rain capture system.
Rainfall can also be captured from the ground or the land. It's more technical than capturing rain from the roof, but if your roof surface area is not sufficient, it creates a viable alternative to increasing your water harvesting capabilities.
Careful management is required to reduce the runoff's speed, so it doesn't cause soil erosion. Benched terraces can be introduced at regular intervals to reduce the rate of flow. In some areas, rocks, sand, and sheets of metal have been used to increase the amount of runoff that can be captured.
The soil in a land surface system must be hard and smooth to reduce water permeability. Treating the soil with sodium will improve impermeability. The runoff in a ground collection system can be collected and stored in ponds and dams, but you can also transfer it to an underground or above the ground water tank.
Rainwater falling to the ground can be used to recharge groundwater aquifers using various structures to ensure the water percolates through the soil instead of draining away.
The rooftop is still the main source of collection, but instead of diverting the runoff to a storage tank, it is sent to a settlement or filtration tank. The filtered water is then redirected to a bore well where it can recharge a deep aquifer.
A recharge pit is a small rectangular or circular pit of 1 to 2m deep, with weep holes placed at regular intervals. The tops of the pits are sometimes covered with a perforated cover, and the bottom contains a filtering medium. These pits can recharge a shallow aquifer to supply an off-grid home of moderate water requirements.
Once you have decided on the best means to harvest your rainwater, you will need a system for storing it that also makes it easily accessible. Here are few ideas for water storage systems suitable for the off-grid lifestyle.
Rainwater tanks are by far the most popular water storage systems for living off-grid. They are available in a wide range of materials, shapes, and sizes. They are often used above ground, but you can also install them below ground in suitable environments where space is at a premium. Unfortunately, below the ground water storage systems will add significant expense to your installation.
A rain capture system will need to be kept as close to the source of the collection as possible to keep the design simple and relatively maintenance-free. Storage tanks situated higher than the house will give you the water pressure you need without resorting to pumps powered by fuel or electricity.
In colder climates where freezing is a possibility, you can use rainwater pillows to store captured rainwater. Rainwater pillows are malleable, which gives them extra flexibility. They are portable and can be located out of the way, such as under trailers, the home itself, or even under beds. In freezing weather, a rain pillow can be brought inside to prevent the water from freezing.
A disadvantage of rainwater pillows is that they may not have the capacity to cope with higher water demands. If your water needs are more significant, you can winterize larger tanks to ensure the water doesn't freeze and cause damage.
Heater systems that distribute warm water around the tank or aerators to stop the water from freezing can keep you supplied with off-grid water year-round. The main issue is that the system becomes more complex, consumes resources, and will require regular maintenance.
Dams and ponds are excellent water storage systems popular with the off-grid lifestyle. They are relatively easy to install, but the water will need treatment before human consumption. However, if you have animals or need significant amounts of water for irrigation, they will be able to reduce the strain on your main supply.
Living off-grid is a challenging yet rewarding lifestyle. Understanding your needs and knowing what's available will help you determine the best type of rain capture system and water storage systems for your situation.