LTM's small farm is completely off the grid. Her family uses solar and alternative power sources for lighting, cooking, animal fencing, etc.
When we first bought our current property and decided to live off the grid, we had only two water-storage tanks. We knew it would be important to harvest and store rainwater as part of our strategy for sustainable living. Rain fell on our roof, ran into the gutters, and was diverted into the tanks. One caught water from the house. The other was positioned near a small shed.
The house storage tank was larger, yet it was quickly overflowing during days of heavy rain. We watched a lot of water being wasted as it spilled from the overflow outlet and spread across the grass.
With no connection to town water, we are entirely dependent on harvesting and storing rainwater. Because our plans included orchards and vegetable gardens, we had to improve and increase our water storing capacity to have any hope of surviving periods of drought.
Another concern was how we would cope in the event of a bush fire. Fire fighting requires water. Until we successfully harvested and stored more rainwater, we certainly wouldn't have enough water to save our home in an emergency.
One of Our First Rainwater Storage Tanks
Off-Grid Water Supply
If you live off-grid as I do, and rely entirely on the water supply you manage to harvest and store during the rainy season, you'll need to be able to move your water around during a lengthy dry period.
There's lots of things you need to learn if you want to live off the grid. One of them is that water doesn't run up hill. It often surprises me how many former city-dwellers don't know that.
Preparing for Drought and Long Dry Spells
It wasn't long before we were setting money aside to purchase a much larger storage tank (25,000 litres). It made no sense to waste rainwater when it was abundant. We would need every drop we could save once the long dry season began.
By positioning the new big tank downhill from the house tank, we were able to transfer water to it using gravity.
Turn on the hose, wait until the water reaches the end of it. Then quickly shove the hose through the hole in the top of the big tank and push it down until its end reaches near the bottom of the tank. (In other words, the water comes out at a level lower than the water level in the smaller tank higher up the hill.)
Whenever we were confident there was more rain on the way, we transferred water from our house tank. (Sometimes waiting until it actually began raining before connecting the hoses.) We would drain about 50% of the stored water into our new storage tank.
Water Without a Pump
Water Transfer Pumps
Gravity feeding worked well until the level of water in the big tank reached the height of the water in the upper tank. That's when we knew we needed a water transfer pump to continue our 'top up' system.
The greatest benefit of water transfer pumps is during the inconvenience of long dry spells. Additional water in a big storage tank is of little benefit if you can only access it with a bucket.
With a transfer pump, we were also able to position a small tank above the level of the house roof, into which we pump water for gravity feeding into the toilet.
Unlike the standard water pump we use for pressure to operate the shower, kitchen taps etc, the Water Transfer Pump takes a larger hose fitting and gets the job done in a much shorter time.
Note: Before buying yourself a water transfer pump, please look at the photo so there is no confusion. This is not the kind of little transfer pump used in a fish pond. If you want to harvest and store rainwater, you'll need a real pump.
Water Transfer Pump in Action
My Mobile Water Tank
Shortly after we bought this property, we planted rows of trees and bushes to act as a windbreak on two of our boundary fences, thinking it would only be necessary to bucket water them for a short while before the rainy season arrived and nature took care of them.
The rains however proved unpredictable. Instead of evenly spaced showers, we had months of no rain.
Every day throughout summer I made the time to walk buckets of water from the dam to a few of the trees. Regretting that they were positioned beyond the reach of hoses and wishing I had a mobile water tank. It could take a week to water the last of them, and then I began at the first tree again.
As regular readers would know, I am a great believer in finding - and following - an easier option to complete any task whenever possible. I have also been known to be slightly eccentric in my approach to some things. lol. I suspect my solution to watering the distant trees is a combination of both those traits.
No longer registered for use on the roads, a small box trailer sat beneath a gum tree. My husband was storing some cement blocks in it. I noticed the trailer as we were discussing where to position our latest acquisition of another 1,000-litre storage tank. It was one of those light bulb moments.
Hey presto. Suddenly we have a mobile water tank. We can tow the trailer to the dam, pump the tank full of water and, having adapted its outlet to accommodate a hose, can drive to individual trees and water them.
If you plan to harvest and store rainwater for an off-grid water supply, a mobile water tank could also work well for you.
How We Water Distant Trees :)
Increasing the Size of Your Water Storage System
For most of us, budget is the deciding factor when purchasing rainwater storage tanks. It makes sense to begin with a tank you can afford and then build on your system when you have cash to spare.
Available space is also a factor. If you cannot fit that huge water tank in your backyard, there's no point buying it. Time to get creative.
A friend of mine has a whole series of smaller water tanks jammed into the space alongside one side of her house, and the nicest garden in her area. Rainwater runs from her roof into one tank but because they are all interconnected, when the first one is full the overflow starts filling the next one. She has a tap installed at the base of each tank, and moves her garden hose from one to another throughout the long summer.
Even if you are on the grid and connected to your town's water supply, you can save rainwater in tanks for using in your garden.
Big Shed, Big Water Tank
Nature's Water Storage Tank
Water is essential to support life. We bought our small farm with the intention of living off the grid, growing fruit and vegetables, raising a limited number of animals, harvesting and storing our own water, and living as sustainably and self-sufficiently as possible.
It was clear that success on the farm would be influenced by our ability to collect and store rainwater, so our first major expense was the construction of a dam.
Fortunately, part of our property is largely clay - providing the ideal location to dig a large hole for water storage. We chose to dig there because the clay itself could be worked to make it watertight without needing to purchase any external liner to stop the water from leaking away.
The dam is very deep with steep sides, designed to reduce evaporation and provide us with a nice place to swim. We did not design it for animals to drink directly from the dam. (If they fell in when it is full, they'd definitely drown.)
My husband built a shed alongside the dam, added a gutter and diverted rainfall into the dam. Every time it rains, nature's water storage tank is automatically topped up. The disadvantage of its location is that our main vegetable gardens and orchards are uphill from the dam.
Dirty Water Pump
It took nearly a full year to collect enough rain to effectively fill the dam, at which time we bought a submersible 'dirty water pump' to enable us to pump water directly to the gardens and orchards using a generator when required.
Dirty water pumps are designed to allow dirt, mud, clay and other small particles to pass through the pump without breaking it. This type of pump requires an external power supply. I cannot run power from my house to my dam (the distance is too great) so I use a generator to run it - but because we live off the grid, we intend to set up a solar option to power it within the next year.
My first choice is to use water from uphill storage tanks (allowing gravity feed to the gardens, so no need for a generator). So we tend to only pump water from the dam when it is becoming too full. It is very reassuring, however, to know that even in a drought we should have enough water to continue growing our own food for years.
Pumping Dirty Water from the Dam
Dirty Water - Better Safe Than Sorry
Using Stored Rainwater in an Emergency
In the event of a bushfire, our plan is to evacuate safely and head for the nearest town. However, living in the bush has an inherent risk of being caught in an unexpected fire. On an extremely hot, windy day a fire that starts within the vicinity of our home could put us in danger faster than we could escape.
Hopefully we will never have to try to extinguish a fire but we are determined to keep sufficient rainwater stored to be available for fighting fires if needed.
- A Water Transfer Pump is not technically a fire-fighting pump, but in an emergency it would be a great help. The Water Transfer Pump has its own fuel tank and engine.
- In a fire situation, we could also use our Dirty Water Pump and pump a strong flow of water from our dam, but it requires connection to a generator. An extra complication.
- We have a tap and hose connected outdoors to our internal water system so we can also access water from our house tank if necessary. Again, a pump would have to be running.
- If all else fails or if we wake in the middle of the night to the thunderous sound of a bushfire close by with no time for escape, we will take refuge in our home-made underground fire bunker. Alongside the bunker is a thick plastic water tank holding about 5,000 litres of rainwater easily gravity fed into and over the fire bunker. In the event the plastic tank melts in the heat of a wildfire, the escaping water should drench the earth and grass on the lower (most vulnerable) side of the fire bunker.
Where Our Water Storage Tanks Are Currently Located
|Tank location||Collection source||Water use|
Alongside north side of house.
Rainwater run off from (half) house roof.
Gravity-feeds into the house including kitchen when more than half full, plus pumped as needed into hot water service, shower etc.
Near north tank.
Overflow from main tank falls into this smaller tank.
Water nearby herb and vegetable gardens.
Alongside south side of house.
Rainwater run off from other half of house roof.
Drinking water. Kept full throughout summer as this tank is also close to our fire bunker. Ready to fill water storage containers within fire bunker (and wet bunker vicinity) if needed.
Downhill from house/alongside carport. (Standard tap outlet plus fire fighting connector ready for large fire hoses.)
Our biggest storage tank (25,000 litres). We initially fed this one with water from house tanks when they were full and more rain was expected, but we recently connected it to catch water directly from a roof area. This tank is generally kept full.
Gravity feed to orchard and western vege gardens. Pump into other tanks when their levels are low. Kept at least half-full at all times, ready for fire fighting.
(Raised tank) alongside bathroom's external wall.
Water pumped into it once a month from other tanks.
Gravity feeds into toilet cistern.
Rainwater from greenhouse roof.
Water seedlings and plants in and around greenhouse.
Both sides of garden shed.
Rainwater from garden shed roof.
Water vegetable gardens.
Alongside chook house.
Rainwater from the hen house roof.
Water for the chickens.
Alongside pig pen.
Gravity-fed via hose from north-side house tank.
Drinking water for pigs. Nipple attachment lets pigs drink directly.
Mobile water tank (on old trailer).
Water pumped from our dam (using a 'dirty water pump).
Tow it to water new trees being established along boundary fences.
The Dam. Not techically a tank, but it collects and stores lots of rainwater.
Rainfall. Run off from a large garden shed.
We have a 'dirty water pump' that allows us to pump water out of the dam, then hose it directly onto our vegetable gardens, orchards etc with a 60 metre hose length.
Where Collecting Rainwater Is Illegal
In some states in the USA including Utah, Washington and Colorado, collecting rainwater is illegal.
I can understand the reason for laws prohibiting people from blocking the flow of a river because others downstream have a right to expect the river follow its natural course, but preventing people from harvesting water that falls over their own land is ridiculous.
Rain is a gift from nature, as is the breeze that blows gently through the trees. Raging wildfires, cyclones, hurricanes etc are not so much a gift, but just like the sunshine that warms the earth, nature chooses when and where they fall.
If a government takes 'ownership' of rainfall in a particular region and makes harvesting and storing rainwater illegal, residents should object.
The owner of a dog is expected to control it. The owner of weather - including rain - should similarly be expected to 'control' it.
Here's a few ideas for demonstrating the idiocy of such a law ...
- Threaten to sue the government every time a roof leaks.
- Hold the government responsible for any and all flood damage within the State.
- Urge the government to take similar responsibility for all wind damage, sun damage, fire damage etc if they deem themselves the 'owners' of what you always considered to be the responsibility of nature.
If I lived in such a region I'd enjoy the fun of contacting the government during every heavy downpour. "Control your rain! It's ruining my harvest of chia seeds!"
Every few weeks I'd call to say, "I don't want any rain over my house on Saturday. I'm planning a garden party."
"You say you own the rain," I'd be reminding them, "but I own my house. I don't want your rain over my house. If you want your rain to touch my roof, you're going to have to compensate me."
And if any puddles remained, even after a light shower of rain, I'd be calling to insist, "You'd better get around here and clean up the mess. Your rain has made crossing the road slippery and dangerous!"
If enough residents could be encouraged to participate in this type of campaign, I suspect any law against harvesting and storing rainwater would quickly be revised.
Start to Harvest and Store Rainwater
Whether you live in the city or the country, off-grid or connected to your local water supply, it makes sense to harvest and store rainwater. Especially if you enjoy gardening.
Watch out for specials throughout the year, but try to have your first water storage tanks installed before your next rainy season. As you experience the benefits of harvesting your own water, I suspect you'll be eager to add more tanks.
There will be an initial cash outlay, but this is an investment in your future self-sufficiency and sustainability. As water becomes more costly and scarce in your region during future drought periods, you'll be glad you're a rainwater harvester. :)
Top Tanks: Not Discreet But Very Effective
Water Storage Tank for Your Garden
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: We need to feed water into a permanently located camper. Do we have to put a pump in the water tank to get pressure inside the camper?
Answer: You’ll need some kind of pump connected to your water tank, yes. Unless you’re catching water from the roof of a nearby building and can locate your water tank high enough to make use of gravity feed. But I think that’s unlikely so you should look for a little water pump.
Question: What brand of water tanks for off-grid water supply do you use?
Answer: I have a diverse range of water tanks. I suggest you approach a local supplier. Show them my photos and they’ll tell you what they have that’s similar.
© 2013 LongTimeMother
Samuel Soto Sanchez on July 24, 2017:
Can you send me a link of the water tank?
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on October 02, 2016:
I don't have a problem with dust, dirt, sand etc getting into my water tanks. Where I currently live is quite windy, but we don't have trees dropping leaves near the house. And we manage to keep grass growing year-round so we don't have any problem with soil blowing up to the roof.
In a previous house, however, we used a 'diverter' in the downpipes. It would divert the first of any rainfall down to the stormwater drain, and then the following water (after any debris was washed away) would fill our water tanks. If you are concerned, eugbug, I suggest you explore your local options for rainwater diverters.
Eugene Brennan from Ireland on September 29, 2016:
This is all very interesting. How do you deal with dust/dirt/sand etc getting into the tanks from roofs? Do you need to use any filters/strainers to catch debris?
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on March 22, 2015:
A notice stuck up in your local supermarket should find someone to take care of your hay, Cynthia ... and might find your fiancé some work as well. Good luck!
Cynthia Hoover from Newton, West Virginia on March 11, 2015:
I would not mind if my fiancé did have to work. This next paycheck for two weeks will only have 18 hours on it (not good but we seem to always manage). Luckily it seems to only be bad during the winter and right at the start of spring when it rains the most. We manage with the riding mower, but there are two hay fields that did not get cut last year. Originally we were told that someone always came and cut and put up the hay. Apparently they decided to stop, I hate to see it go to waste. I just took in a stray goat though so I will attempt to barter someone to come and help me with it this year. Maybe in exchange for allowing them to cut and take the hay they can leave me enough for the goat :). We had three stray animals wander on the farm the other day, odd to say the least. A Great Pyrenees that was in rough shape and very skinny yet well trained and another dog that did not stick around, then the goat. I am wondering if perhaps seeing a farm someone did not drop them off. Well the Pyrenees has obviously been wandering for some time though. With limited access to this property since the river runs one edge and interstate runs along the other edge I cannot really imagine any other way they got here.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on March 10, 2015:
lol. I'm hearing you. We have spent a lot of time and effort sorting out similar issues, although we own our place which is why created our orchards etc. We owned a larger farm years ago (in the days when we were cashed up) but I'm glad we don't have such a big place anymore. Less fences, no need for a tractor etc. The ride-on mower can achieve what used to require a tractor and slasher.
We have a creek that floods the track to our place after heavy rain. We have 4x4s but sometimes even they can't cope. If we expect the creek will become impassable, we stay home. We have everything we need here. I imagine however that if someone had to get to work every day, our place could create challenges. :)
Cynthia Hoover from Newton, West Virginia on March 10, 2015:
No we take responsibility, they did tell us to submit receipts but since the landlord lost his job I can't see taking away from what little we pay a month. I know they need the money, and we have no lease (I like it that way too). We got a great deal when we took over, it was run down so we got free rent for a while for clearing the trash and fixing things. Although what we spent goes far beyond what we saved on the rent initially. Our biggest obstacle now is, the equipment. The car is on its last legs, the truck needs about $300 worth of parts before my Fiancé can get it running. We desperately need a tractor too. Just little things, I am done pretty much with the house, I am more about function than "new" and designer looks etc. I still only have a miss matched kitchen :) I do not care lol. As long as I can cook the cabinets do not need to match. I have one nice section where we put in knew counter tops and sink, the rest are from "Restore". Restore is a habitat for humanity store, the money goes towards a good cause and we get most all the parts and pieces much cheaper than at a regular hardware store. The other major downfall is we get flooded in A LOT! Since the truck is not running we get stuck all the time, I have rescheduled so many appointments this winter it is hard to keep up. My fiancé spent 6 hours the other day digging the car out of the mud, the water went down so he got home, but it was way to much for the car to handle. Oh what I wouldn't give for a 4x4!
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on March 10, 2015:
Does the owner of the house pay for repairs, like your water pipes? In Australia the landlord is responsible for making sure essential things like water are working for the tenant.
Cynthia Hoover from Newton, West Virginia on March 10, 2015:
Hmm... I am not sure I can really explain it, if my fiance' were home I would get a little more technical but I will try my best. There is a natural gas well on the property, it pumps gas out to the house. It is free because the land owner made a deal with the gas company in order to let them drill the well, this house (and garage etc) get unlimited free gas. It is not maintenance free though, we have to keep an eye on the regulators and keep the drip drained or it can freeze off in the winter. Its cool though because you can actually use the "drip" to run lawn mowers tractors or even a truck if you do a little tweaking and convert the machine over to run on it. We have had a lot of set backs on the farm though ugh. My fiance' keeps telling me he wants to move, the dream is here just one thing after another keeps going wrong. I keep telling him at $300.00 a month and free gas and well water (no water bill) we need to suck it up and deal with it! That is insanely cheap for rent, not to mention renting a large farm this cheap is crazy! The only thing I do not like is the heat, we have wall mount gas heaters open flame, and we only have one downstairs and one in the basement, upstairs is pretty cold if the temperatures really drop in winter. Yet super hot upstairs in summer time. So I am brainstorming revamping the layout, what rooms we use for what to see about adding a wood stove to better heat for winter. We are surrounded by woods and have already started cording some (I had thought about selling firewood). Awesome Idea on an article of the free gas use! That is a killer idea, I will have to talk to the guru for the technical terms though, I know how to keep it flowing but he knows the names of everything etc. Switching over can be a pain, as the stove I use now we did not change the jets out, so my pots and pans get a "soot" or residue on the bottom (Makes me hate doing dishes even more!). Other than that it is a blessing! The main goal was to be as off grid and sustainable as we can be in order to save money to buy a home, yet some how its very slow going. Everything wants to break lol. We replaced all the water pipes twice the first year, first when we moved in, the previous tenants turned off the heat. Then when we thought we had it fixed to much pressure built up and inevitable caused more pipes to burst. The house was built in the 1800's so the electrical and water were added later-not in the best ways since it was an add on many years later. It will never be a feature in Better Homes And Gardens that's for sure, but it suits its purpose.
Although the gas can be a pain since it is a good hike through the hay field and up the side of the mountain to get to the regulator (where it can freeze off) the other junction is easily accessible right by the barn. So we always try to drain it before the temperatures reach freezing- otherwise it is a very long walk in the cold. Sorry, I seem to be rambling on :) I am going to check out the solar oven article too!
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on March 10, 2015:
Your gas is free?? From the well head?? And you can use it? How?
You can't bait me with that news without explaining it further! I wrote a hub about cooking with my solar oven a while back. How long do you think it will be before you write one about using your free gas straight from the well head? I would love to read it ... as I'm sure would many others!
Cynthia Hoover from Newton, West Virginia on March 09, 2015:
We currently use gas, and it is free (straight from the well head) I have been looking to build a solar oven though. I think it would be awesome to cook in one!!
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on March 09, 2015:
A tank by your barn sounds like a good plan. :) Have you considered solar cooking? That can save you some money.
Cynthia Hoover from Newton, West Virginia on March 08, 2015:
Thank you! Great inspiration, I was leaning tward gravity fed to reduce using electricity as much as possible. The process is slow going since money (or lack of lol) is a big issue. I only wish we had solar panels up already. Our house gets full sun all day. I feel like I am wasting the sunshine!
Wind and hydro power would also benefit us here too. Although the hydro may only work during the rainy seasons. We get flooded in a lot, I may as well benefit from the rapids lol. As well as full sun, we also have a lot of wind, being nestled on a flat in the mountains.
My motto is "If it's free, it's for me"! Although it may cost for the initial set up it will be well worth it in the end.
We should be able to set in a large tank by the barn (its up a hill from the house). Then we can gravity feed water to the animals and house as well.
We currently use well water. It is limited though, I have to space laundry, dishes, baths etc throughout the day. Otherwise it drains the well and can burn up the pump if I do not catch it right away. So alternative water is my main focus. Although I dream of no electric bill! :)
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on March 08, 2015:
We have tried a few different approaches over the years, Cynthia. At one point we had a relatively small tank raised on a stand (but below the roof line) alongside our bathroom that caught rainwater, with any excess running off into a bigger tank. We let the water gravity-feed from the small tank into the toilet ... and turned on the pump from the bigger tank when we wanted to wash laundry, take a shower etc.
The annoying thing about that system was that the smaller tank would run dry during dry months and require regular top-ups with the pump.
Now we have the toilet gravity-feeding from a much larger tank. As long as the water level remains high (which it does, requiring a top-up no more than once or twice a year), the cistern in the toilet will fill quite quickly.
We currently divert rainfall on the roof our house in three different directions. The biggest tank is positioned on a lower level - to ensure there is enough drop to allow rain to run 'down' to it, so it needs a pump for anything more than gravity-feeding to nearby plants and trees. We use it to top up other tanks when required, and it also has a big fitting for connecting a fire-pump. We try to keep it full year-round, just in case we need to fight fires.
Then there's the large tank near the bathroom and kitchen ... connected to our house, hot water etc. It is the one that gravity-feeds to the toilet, even when the pump is turned off. We turn the pump on from inside the house when we want to shower etc. No point leaving it on all the time because it could drain the solar batteries.
And the third 'house tank' is near our fire-bunker ... for obvious reasons. :) We make sure it stays full.
All the other tanks catch water from our various sheds etc and are used for our gardens.
Cynthia Hoover from Newton, West Virginia on March 03, 2015:
I am thankful for all the additional water around the farm! We have been trying to figure out a way to use rain water for laundry and flushing. Still sketching and brainstorming on it though!
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on March 03, 2015:
With a river, creeks and natural springs on your land, Cynthia, you are ideally placed to be self-sufficient. I am green with envy. You can always get more storage tanks in time. Meanwhile, with such an abundance of water I'm thinking you are in a much better position than most. :)
Cynthia Hoover from Newton, West Virginia on February 28, 2015:
I have always collected rainwater, I remember my great grandmother doing it as well. I wish I had a bigger set up for storage. But I have a river that borders our 100 acres and creeks and natural springs throughout for use in a pinch. Great article, voted up!
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on October 11, 2013:
Thanks, aviannovice. I'm hoping our young daughter will remember this time in her life fondly as well. :)
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on October 10, 2013:
Excellent material. Growing up in Maine in the late 60's and early 70's, we would capture rainwater for the garden, using old wooden and metal barrels. This brings back a lot of good memories.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on October 08, 2013:
Hi Eddy. If only the hills around my home would stay as green and lush as your beautiful landscape in Wales. :) Thanks for visiting.
Eiddwen from Wales on October 08, 2013:
We also collect rainwater but on a far smaller basis than you.
Thank you for sharing this great hub.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on October 05, 2013:
Hi FA. In the early years we had to make the tough decisions about where exactly to use our limited water. I remember looking at my vegetable garden and saying "I could make it bigger, but we wouldn't be able to water it."
These days we can grow just about anything just about anywhere. lol. :)
FlourishAnyway from USA on October 05, 2013:
I do collect rainwater for my garden but nowhere to the level that you do. Your efforts are most impressive.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on October 05, 2013:
Thanks, CT. By writing about my experiences living off the grid I'm hoping that more people will gain enough confidence to make a few changes around their own homes. Even in the cities, collecting rainwater is a wise move. :)
Crystal Tatum from Georgia on October 04, 2013:
Very thorough job here explaining this process to the uneducated. Well done! Voted up and interesting.