A steady supply of drinkable water is the single most important factor in deciding where to settle down and live. It has shaped humankind’s migrations since prehistory, and people suffer when water suddenly becomes scarce. Living off the grid can actually provide a tremendous amount of water supply security, but it is also often the single biggest hassle. Remember you are both the water company and the power company. Get ready to discover the water systems options that are available for your off-grid living.
Estimates vary, but, on average, each person uses about 80-100 gallons of water per day, for indoor home uses. The largest use of household water is to flush the toilet, and after that, to take showers and baths. So, just like power, focus first on using less and wasting less. Cut down on the frequency and length of your showers. Wash your dishes by hand and only turn the water on sparingly. Water management becomes even more critical if you start your off grid journey manually carrying water but reduced water use is good practice for any off grid water system.
An Ideal Home Water Setup
The single most critical factor in planning an off-grid water system is to store as much water as you possibly can, right in, under or next to the house. This gives you a tremendous amount of flexibility, as you can utilize multiple methods to fill that cistern, and if your method requires electricity you can choose to run that pump only when you have extra incoming energy to burn. Think of your cistern as a “battery” of sorts, which buys you time until you need to pump again. Even better, compared to electrical batteries, cisterns are inexpensive and last nearly forever. It is recommended a minimum of 400 gallons of water storage for a typical off-grid home, with 1,000 gallons or more even better.
Importantly, you want both water storage and water pressure for you off grid system. Water storage systems allows you to increase or decrease amounts of water “on your terms” and not on the water sources terms. So you want your water source to fill up your water storage tanks, and then you use water out of your storage tanks. Pressure makes it so water will flow out your taps. Water pressure is a major convenience worth spending time, energy and money to setup. To get pressure you’ll need to raise your storage tanks above your home and use gravity to build water pressure naturally.
Furthermore, the best situation is to have your water source above your storage tanks so that they can fill up automatically using gravity. And then locating your water storage tanks above your home’s water taps, creating the water head pressure for your showers, kitchen, and bathrooms.
Your choice of water source for an off-grid home will depend entirely on your geographic location and the resources in your area. Each source comes with its own development hassles and expenses, and also with its own equipment requirements. Also, be sure to keep in mind the end use of the water—humans need very pure water for daily life, while livestock and gardens are not so particular. Any type of purification equipment will add expense and complexity to your water system design, and some contamination simply cannot be rectified economically.
Carrying Water / Filling Storage Container’s Manually
It’s not ideal and not something you want to do long term. It will help you get off the grid quickly. Whether it’s a natural spring, creek or pond. If worse comes to worst, you can always carry your water from this water source to your home. As long as you have some kind of water bricks.
Just be forewarned manually carrying water will get really ancient, really fast.
If you’re still in the planning phase of your off grid home location, you may want to take “distance from the water source” into the off grid shelter build location.
Well, Well, Well
This option works well for some property locations. You drill down underground and tap into the water table. At the bottom of this well, you add a water pump and use your off grid power energy to pump this water up from the water table.
Be aware that drilling a dry well can be expensive and it’s not guaranteed that you will find water.. So the best way to avoid this fate is not to be the first Guinea Pig in your area. Check out the closest neighbors first. If they have successful water wells, then your odds also installing a successful well go up significantly.
In some areas with really high water tables, you may be able to get away with digging your water wall by hand using one of the Seymour Iwan Auger handle. For the majority of water wells, you’ll need a large rig to do the job and drill down hundreds of feet. Which is much more expensive but may be a great investment for the right property
Another option is to bury your water storage tank on a hillside. So instead of building up to storage your tanks, you may be able to take advantage of your natural topography and get pressure by burying a cistern on a hillside. The primary benefit of doing this is to keep your water from freezing in the winter. Freezing water can be a big hassle for above water storage tanks in cooler climates.
If you get a constant amount of rain per year, you should capture it via rainwater collection and harvesting. However, It’s a hard time solely relying on this solution for your off grid water needs. Droughts happen from time to time and if that’s your only source of water you will have a huge problem when a drought shows up.
Furthermore, rainwater harvesting is best used as a water subsidy rather than a primary source of water. If you pair rainwater harvesting with manually carrying water, that setup can work. If you’re in a typical rainfall year, you may get away without carrying much water. But you still have carrying water as a solid backup plan.