This house is off the water grid — how much do cisterns suck?

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My plumber

Chrissy needs input:

My fiance and I have been house-shopping for quite some time now, and I have fallen in love with one amazing little fixer-upper. It has three bedrooms, a fenced-in area, a pond, and it’s on one beautiful acre… the only catch is that it is not hooked up to public water/sewer: it has a septic system and a cistern.

This isn’t a dream-killer by a long shot, but I’d love input from anyone who maintains their own cistern. How does it work? What kind of maintenance would be expected? I’d just love a general idea of life with a cistern!

Comments on This house is off the water grid — how much do cisterns suck?

  1. I bought a house a few years ago that does get city water, but we have a cistern and are on a septic system. The cistern we used an electric pump to run water to the garden for the first couple of years. Unfortunately, after a big rain storm, the old cistern caved in on itself and created a sink hole that we are just trying to fill in at this point, but as far as being on septic, we are very cautious of how much water we use to avoid filling our tank due to its only a 500 gallon tank. We get it pumped out every other year and that works for us, a family of 3. I think that it is still worth it due to we dont have to pay for waste water disposal on our water bill, just the cost of pumping it every other year which is about $250. We have plans for the future to create a gray water system to reroute water used from the washing machine and sinks to the gardens to help relieve extra water from going into the septic. I really miss my cistern though and hope someday to rebuild it in a different location, even if it just collects rain water for the garden. Anytime you don’t have to rely on public utilities is a great way to feel self sufficient.

    • What a nice setup… rainwater for the garden but hey, why not get composting toilets like Joe Jenkins’ Lovable Loo… We use a similar system and are producing compost like Jenkins does… Our water bill is way lower, but even the EPA estimates that it would drop 37% on average, AND the solids would be going to use in making compost… We use Jenkins book (Humanure) and he lays it all out so you can see where you are going… Here in Ohio it’s only legal to do the Envirolets and SunMars (with NSF certification) and we found out that the Plumbing Inspectors don’t have any interest in anything not hooked to the incoming water, so that only leaves the ‘Health’ department and as long as you have decent plumbing inspectors you should be free and clear under Ohio rules. Certainly states differ but more are moving in that direction as the sewerage grid faces a grim deadline because of its aging infrastructure… Sawdust is available in places like feedmills for animal bedding if you can’t find a trucker with a sawmill near you. That would basically eliminate the need for pumping, much longer term, depending on your kitchen/laundry habits… ttyl

    • It’s basically a big tank for fresh water. You get a delivery truck to come out and fill it on a regular schedule. So, kind of like a well that you need to keep refilling.

      My church was on a cistern (built in the boonies before the city grew out to meet it). Only problem was making sure toilets weren’t running, or if there was a big event – e.g., wedding – with high water demands we sometimes ran out.

      • good god a mighty…..
        You don’t pay anyone to fill a cistern like a swimming pool!
        That’s missing the whole point of catching free rainwater….

        • One of our properties on the ridge of a mountain had a well that only pumped 1.1 gallon per minute, so we installed a 1200 gallon cistern with a demand pump/pressure tank. It took a good day to fill up, but once it was filled, it worked great. Other homes in the neighborhood would run dry in July but ours was always more than half full. The only issue with this type of system is you still need electricity to make the thing work. So for those days that we lost power, I installed a back-flow valve with a RV 12 VDC pump. The batteries are deep cycle RV batteries and are three years old with no issues. A trickle charger maintainer keeps them from overcharging. Viola water with the power out….

          Most health professionals do NOT recommend using rainwater collection systems for home consumption. My Mom’s a 30 year Nurse and Public Health Professional. She says flushing toilets and watering gardens are ok, but the bacteria levels in untreated rainwater systems can be pretty hazardous. Anything that poops on the roof, bugs, chemicals from the asphalt shingles, stuff that grown in the gutters and downspouts… Yick!

          There are UV filers that expose the water to UV light, but they have pretty low flow rate. You could use small amounts of chlorine bleach 1/4 cup per hundred gallons once a week, if I remember correctly, but don’t use my numbers without checking with a professional.

          Delivered water us usually taken from a city water system so it is pre-treated with chlorine. Rainwater might be free, but delivered water is much safer.

          • hi,
            would you be so kind to take a pic of your set up (cistern with a pump), all the 1000 gallons cistern/tanks i saw online says storage only not to be pressurized, i am assuming you just bought a storage tank and have a pump installed to it? Pictures and explanations would really help as we are without the well right now and need a temporary cistern set up, thanks alot.

          • Bill,
            also please if you remember costs of pump and the cistern that would be helpfull too,thanks

          • Why not get a British Berkefeld ceramic filter (impregnated with silver) to treat your water for drinking and cooking… add an extra dispensing tank in any other place in the house where you use drinking water… the Brits used these successfully for their long-ago expedition historic missions and they are exceedingly easy to manage and very effective for the natural things you want removed (just not the wanted minerals, so you have to add an extra cylinder to the filters to take out unwanted fluoride and heavy metals)… the cost is maybe $250 for a 4 filter, 2 gallon system… love our silver system, gravity powered, no power-outage fears….

          • I do not agree with your mothers assessment about rain fed cisterns. I have a gutter feed cistern and have added a UV light and taste and odor filter. I have lived in the house for 15 years and have had the water tested and have never found any bacteria in the water. The UV lights for drinking water can handle much greater flow rates. I checked before adding this type of purification system with the local DEP agency and was told with a cistern you know what you have with a well the water quality can change depending on the water table this makes a cistern easier to maintain water quality. I grew up with city water which can be overly chlorinated and at times there where giardia outbreaks from poor water quality. City water can be derived from many sources like rivers which have been polluted with PCB’S and many other contaminates throughout the years with many of the old pipes that supply city water are lead pipes! Lastly, most of the city water plants use up to 30% of reclaimed water which is sewage water that is purified and put back into the clean water system for reuse! Talk about YUK!!!!

          • You can avoid electricity by using an airlift 6v pump, one 100w solar panel with 4 sun hours a day will run it no problem.

            Oh and I do a 10 foot lift with air and use a sand and bio-matter filters for my rainwater collection.

            I don’t drink it, but I shower in it, wash clothes, and dishes in it. ( grey water return ) and use it to top up my tilapia tanks.

      • Cisterns today are large, usually around 1500 gallons. They are cement. It takes an excavator to put them in. They fill during the times that there are plenty of water. When you turn your pump off, the cistern will refill if any water was used. They are a back up system in case your well can’t keep up with your water demand, especially in the summer months when everyone is watering and wells drop. They are expensive to put in but last for a long time. Around $6000 for a new one. The excavation is part of that cost. I’d also recommend having a auto turn off on your pump should it not be able to keep up because a pump running on no water burns out. Peace.

      • That comment is neither helpful or nice. People ask questions to learn new things and everyone should be encouraged to do so. If we were all born knowing everything it would be a pretty boring world – even though no one would be renting.

        • People also ask questions to avoid the inconvenience of googling the definition themselves. This is not a behavior we should be encouraging.

          Responding to a legitimate question by asking for readily-available definitions isn’t very helpful and often derails the information-gathering process which the original poster sought.

          Asking questions is the first step to learning. The next steps come when you look for the answer yourself and figure out how it fits within your previous knowledge. If you stop at the first step, you really aren’t trying to learn. This behavioral approach to learning will likely result in stupidity (inability to learn: evaluate and accept new information/reduce ignorance) with a false sense of reality (misconceived and/or fixed knowledge). It also explains why Americans are still doubting the reality of catastrophic (for historical species) global warming on earth. Outdated U.S. education system design = ad hoc stupidity.

          It’s really frustrating that many people don’t even bother to look for an answer themselves and EXPECT others to tell them (this is an inefficient means of transferring information and highly likely to result in data corruption and misconception). It also slows down progress towards our species’ collective goal of understanding our environment. When this behavior pattern results in the destruction of your habitat, you probably have a right to get mad. I suspect that’s why Scott commented the way he did. (Or maybe he was bolstering his own self-worth by trying to be a jerk.)

          Perhaps a more helpful version of his comment would be:
          ‘Please enter “septic tank cistern difference” or “cistern definition” into google or your preferred search engine. If you do not have the time/energy to do so, perhaps you should reconsider the time/energy you have available to devote to home ownership and maintenance.’

          It’s still not an entirely appropriate response, since there is no indication that Ashley was considering home ownership, but it’s a legitimately polite way to convey the advice Scott was attempting to convey.

          FYI, Bianca, your comment was neither helpful nor nice, since it’s an admonishment which does not attempt to enlighten Scott from any sort of informed perspective. I hope this comment helps you provide more informative admonishments in the future, because I agree that no one who’s asking an earnest question should be attacked for asking it. 🙂

          • Actually you are yourself presuming too much. I agree people should google away their inabilities BUT her appearance here could easily be exactly the google help she asked for… so having found us, why on earth wouldn’t she ask us… human nature really isn’t that short on time as to make this discussion so off topic… yet I see some excellent pointers and genuine experience emerge based on the question’s answers.. go for it !!

          • I think you’re full of yourself. And if YOU did more research, you’d know that global warming AND COOLING is a natural process here on Earth. The term AIR POLLUTION, however, has become extinct and is the real problem that everyone ignores. For instance, maybe we should be investigating what it is these planes keep spraying in the air. How about you don’t be so arrogant with your book on your so-called wisdom. BOTH OF YOU.

        • Scott is not a dick. Scott is just stating the obvious. Some people are a little more ignorant than others…its ok people. This forum does have good info and everyone is entitle to their own opinion. I think its funny personally.

  2. I grew up in a house that had septic and a cistern. The only issue I ever remember was needing to be conservation minded when we used water or flushed the toilet. That and we wouldn’t have water if the power went out for very long.

  3. I grew up with septic tanks and wells, and now I have a house with a septic tank and well. Make sure you know the capacity of your septic tank and cistern. If it is an older home you may want to have a pro come out and look at them to give you a status update. I love my well, I am not familiar with the operation variances of a Cistern. And the only other thing I can sat about septic tanks is Scott Toilet Paper. I get the Scott Natural. This is THE ONLY non Camping Septic safe toilet paper that really is septic safe, lots of them say that they are on their packaging, but take it from my messy experiences that this is the only one that really is. We once had one back up and pretty much explode the septic people told us the trick to the Scott TP.

    • Why not add a composting toilet… preferably one of the Swedish urine-separating type (Separett in the USA and a couple other brands).
      If you use the flush toilet ONLY as a bidet you will reduce your water usage by about 35% (some say 50% b/c you are inspired to learn water conserving faucet control)….
      And no clog/paper hassles, no semi-annual $250 septic tank pump outs, no septic leachfield/mound failures….
      You learn with the Separett instructions how to manage the compost production… we’d connect the urine tube from the Separett to under the sink drain…
      We’ve done the composting system (Canadian style) management for several years and are getting to the point where we’re ready to begin the raised bed gardening.. looking forward to that developing area……
      And since you’re not ‘disturbing’ the existing health-department mandated systems, you won’t get into trouble for not having the requisite hardware built into your house…
      Check online to see any greywater/composting rules in your state/area IF you need a pro but the Envirolet (IIRC) is so easily installed that it seems likely a hassle-free DIY project with no permit needed… rule: it’s better to diy and seek forgiveness IF anything was missed than to ask ahead of time in most places where there are septics… best as always…

  4. I grew up in a house with a well and septic tank. Until I had been living in a city for years during/after college I didn’t know there was even a difference until one day I asked someone, “Why don’t you fill up the bathtub when there’s a lightening storm? Won’t you be unable to flush if the power goes out?” and the person was like, “Uhhh, city sewer/water, girlfriend.”

    The home I grew up in had a deep enough well and large enough tank that we never had backup or water shortage issues. We flushed whenever we wanted. My parents had the septic pumped every other year or so. One friend down the street did have a well run dry and her parents had to have a new one drilled, but that was 15 years ago and they haven’t had a problem since.

    I’d say make sure your well/septic tank are in good condition and that you know the location and it’s easily accessible for regular pumping (and so you don’t damage them if you’re landscaping or anything), know where the leach field is and know the capacity.

  5. It’s good you are asking this question. Keep doing lots of research. He are my own experiences:

    I grew up on a well/septic system. Inevitably, the septic would clog or the pump would fail every couple years and my father would be out in the rain and the dark digging many feet of heavy clay out of the ground to access the tanks. This would also result in several days of having to use the great outdoors and forgo indoor showers, washing dishes, etc.

    If you are looking at a system with a well that pumps to a cistern, make sure you know the capacity of both (i.e. flow rates) and have the water tested for toxins and minerals. Also, find out if the well ever runs dry periodically. It may seem more likely to happen in summer, but can also happen in winter since water tables fluctuate.

    I also lived for a few years in a house that used rain water collected by a cistern. Some summers it would run dry for months (super bummer). It also required cleaning to keep leaves and various aquatic organisms from taking up residency. After I left, the cistern was found to have cracks and that became costly for the owners. Finally, if the house does not have a well and is supplied by rain water cisterns, it will be very difficult to sell in the future as most banks will refuse to offer loans on a property with this setup.

    It can work, but be careful and get all the details before you forge ahead.

    • Yeah those BLACKWATER systems are a potential headache.. but if you decide to study up on Joe Jenkins’ (Humanure Handbook and youtube videos) and like it, you can seriously get free of the bad part of the blackwater problems. The system will technically still be blackwater because of the kitchen and laundry stuff which CAN be greasy and food-debris laden but the quantities are miniscule compared to the toilet ‘water’…. That would extend the useful life of the leachfield as well, it just won’t be ‘greywater’… Don’t be afraid of living out beyond the city sewers. In a real crisis, those sewers could be the source of a lot of headache……. PLUS you will seriously reduce the water usage and basically get better service from your rain-catchment system (or water delivery in drought times plans)… Most people who switch to this ‘not-so-black’ system use only half the water that they used to. Some also find it a great idea to switch to the front-loading wash machines to cut the laundry water used seriously. We even replaced our shower head with a pet-shower-hose and like it hugely better as we have fingertip control of water where we want it AND WHEN we want it. Seven gallon showers are possible, not 1.5gal/minute x 20 minutes in the stall = 30 gallon showers… Simple and sane…. ttyl

  6. Lots of people where I live have their own septics and cisterns. The septics are pretty much all the same idea – tank, a leachfield of sorts, get the tank pumped every other year or so, eventually the leachfield might become saturated and may need to be replaced. Over all, they pretty much take care of themselves with normal use. Don’t forget to schedule the pumping though! Usually the septic is so “out of sight, out of mind” that it’s easy to forget it… Until it’s “in sight”. 🙂

    The cisterns take a little more attention, but only because you need to watch the water level. Cisterns can take any shape and form, be above ground or underground, inside or outside and be made from many different materials (steel, plastic, fiberglass and probably lots more that I’m unaware of). The main thing is to know where it is and how to check the water level. This can be done with a dipstick or even by sight if it’s above ground and plastic. Most tanks should last a long, long time, but I would recommend finding out what your tank is made of. Steel tanks, for instance, can last for over 20 years in certain ground conditions and also last barely 8 years in other ground conditions before they rust out. And again, you’ll want to keep an eye on things before it becomes a huge problem.

    Personally, I have no issue with the way my cistern works. It’s a plastic above ground tank in my crawl space so I can just duck my head down and take a look to see if I need to haul more water. I don’t know how other parts of the country fill the cisterns, but here there are delivery services (about $0.10 per gallon) or you can haul it yourself with a smaller tank (about $0.015 per gallon) and off load it into the bigger tank at home. I really like having the tank accessible, purely because if the apocalypse comes, I have 1000+ gallons of water at my fingertips!

    Sorry for the whole lecture here, I’m just so excited because the place I work sells and installs these things (ie. this is my life!) and I never thought I’d see it on Offbeat Home! Good luck with it all and you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to adapt. It’s kind of a good “self-reliance” feeling!

    • Thank you for the information. We are looking at buying a house with a cistern. It looks like it’s concrete underground. It is 1,000 gallons. We’re wondering how big of an added expense will it be adding water to it if it runs out all the time. Initially we’ll only be using it on the weekends but one day we’ll be there full time.

      • Do you know what your monthly usage is on your water bill? And for planning purposes, is your water meter readable easily so you can see what your washer uses for a load, etc? There are choices to be made so data for comparisons is your best bet. If you only use the house for weekends sorts of periods for a while, then you have time to figure what washer, and such choices are best for you.

  7. I grew up with a well and septic tank in the “sort of country” (not really rural, but not suburban, kind of in the boonies) and my family never had a problem. I think a cistern is different – some are attached to wells, some aren’t, and I’m not sure which you have. I probably would not want a place that required water delivery – considering how annoying it was in my childhood to wait for gas deliveries when we had heat through an off-grid furnace (which broke irreparably, and we used a wood burning furnace for years before natural gas lines were run down our road. They didn’t want to spend the money on a new tank system and apparently once installed it could not be easily converted). But one attached to a well would be fine as long as you get an expert to check all the important details (mentioned nicely above).

    Septic has never been a problem. I don’t remember my parents ever pumping it, but I am sure they did.

    And yes, in any situation in which one might lose power, we had to fill our bathtub with water to get through the outage and dump a bleach solution in the toilets to stretch out how often they needed bucket flushing to get through it.

    • Hmmm… our area’s natural gas lines when we lived north of here, were decrepit and the company rerouted the lines to other areas, claiming to have shut off the old ones. Well, someone disputed that a few years later and the company decided the individual was a kook… a couple weeks later the line blew up taking down a whole row of houses and almost reaching to the school.. Frankly, I prefer to have control of my own flammable anything…. and sewers are just as bad… rats do swim… People living near other swimmers also plan to plug the toilet outflow if the cities burn or otherwise self-destruct..

  8. I was raised on a farm with a well, a cistern and a septic tank. My parents just in the last year were able to get on the waterline after 44 years of being off the grid and are extremely happy to be back on-the-grid. Why you ask? Well, my dad had to maintain a pumping system from the well to the cistern and then another pump that sucked the water from the cistern into the house. So if one thing went wrong with one pump you were out of luck. Thankfully my father was mechanically inclined and could fix or replace the pump (very expensive to do BTW).

    The biggest downside of the pumping situation was if you lost electricity you learned how to fish water out of the cistern with a rope and a bucket. Once we lost electricity for two weeks due to an ice storm and we learned quickly how to haul water from town from friends and family.

    The one thing is that it did teach us how to think outside of the box and to respect how much effort it takes to do things. So if you want to be self-reliant that’s great, but if I were to choose again which I’d rather I’d not choose it.

    Also on the septic – if it was put in right you shouldn’t have many issues as long as the system is functioning properly. I think in the 40 years my parents only had to call for pumping once so all in all not too bad!

    • Your parents likely had no problems with the septic precisely because they were cistern-conservative… the city people use water much differently and they destroy the leachfields in just a few years, which is a MAJOR expense if the health department makes you then install lousy systems… IF and only if you have a knowledgeable sanitarian at the HD who does keep up with the science and CARES about people’s financial stability, there are ways to revive a leachfield, using a modiofied aeration system…

      I’d also wonder about the need for electric pumping for the cistern, since the Amish have cisterns with rainwater and I’m wondering if there isn’t a better ’emergency’ secondary system that would serve like the one mentioned above, just a few posts ago… batteries or even handpumping for backups…. exciting challenges to designers and owners-designers……

  9. My parents have never (as far as I know!!) needed their septic tank pumped, and they’ve lived in the same spot for 10 years or so. Rid-X! It’s packed with bacteria and enzymes that help break down the stuff in the tank. Now I’m no expert on the environmental impact of this stuff, but a little research should turn up more info. You flush down a box monthly and it sets to work.
    My parents don’t flush down/rinse out much toilet paper, no tampons, no grease, no food particles. They don’t flush every time they #1, but always for #2 and it’s worked magic for them.

    • Be sure to check all your soaps and cleaning products for septic friendliness. The bacteria that break down the waste are your friends. If they work properly you shouldn’t have to pump your (properly sized for your household) tank more than once every 5-7 years.
      Bleach down the drain or in the wash needs to be followed by Rid-X after a few days. Anything with anti-microbial action (Dial? Clorox?) will kill your bug buddies!
      It’s better if you can route gray water like the washing machine out onto your landscaping anyway. My mom did, and she had the tallest trees in town due to the phosphates in the old style detergents.

  10. You could take the toilet totally out of the equation by getting a composting toilet, then you would get through less water and the cistern would need less refilling. I don’t know what kind of places do them in the US but here is a website with some examples, and shows a bit about how they work. I know it is a bit unusual for people, but still worth looking into and also bonus environmental friendliness if that is your bag, baby.

    • I’m a little late to the party here, but if you’re into going the composting route, you might also want to check out this do-it-yourself option: I haven’t yet settled down enough in a place where I can try it myself, but I find Joseph Jenkins’ arguments for composting (and his lack of enthusiasm for commercial composting toilets) to be intriguing and convincing, and the videos on his site of what they’ve done in Haiti actually made me cry with happiness. If nothing else, you can download the book for free chapter-by-chapter for some apropos bathroom reading.

      • Jenkins has also done relief work in places other than Haiti… I remember Korea and Mongolia, working with the UN (iirc)… so it’s not just warm weather friendly… it makes HUGE economic sense… the sewer pipes and commercial wastewater systems in Ohio are reaching the point to ‘upgrading’ and ‘repairs’ that are so expensive as to wipe out the local systems and the community local government… one town near us just gave up and is no more…….. a well designed self-reliant system is way way less expensive to the homeowner than the community sewer idea, based on the economic impact statements if you account for the taxes and long term operation as well.. plus self-reliance moves you closer to gardening prodigiously……. ttyl

      • We have one of Joseph’s Lovable Loos and it is really awesome. Super easy to set up and use and no smell at all if you use enough sawdust. Our place is off the grid and this is a perfect solution!

        • Awesome, off the grid… but there’s another factor to consider.. as long as you have the landscape access to do Jenkins composting and gardening for the time being, I’d second the idea of putting one in each bedroom. Having that accommodation when you wake up in the morning is so-o-o comforting… plus it’s your emergency backup… and don’t think your city water is so undefeat-able.. Just two years ago, iirc, that tornado that hit down the river from us was just a couple miles from the county water wells… If it had been just those 2 miles eastward, a whole lot of people would have been without water for a long enough time to be grateful for ‘prepping’ ….

  11. Is this a rainwater cistern?

    Our house has a septic and a rainwater cistern- I.E. our water comes off the roof, is collected in our gutters, and then flows into the buried 1200 gallon cistern tank. We have a standard pumping system which is fairly easy to maintain. It needs to be flushed out if you ever empty the cistern (we have only done this once, by accident- toilet left running emptied it out, and we got some debris in the pump- totally cheap to get someone to purge it)

    Figure out how many gallons of water you typically use in a week, (keep a tally by the toilet for a week, and clock how many minutes the shower is on for a week) and look at the capacity of the cistern, along with the amount of water you can expect (if you know the general size of the roof, you can look up the average rainfall in that city, and find the formula online to calculate the number of gallons that you could get off your roof in a year. Divide accordingly, and remember that some months will be drier than others.

    To keep our water in good condition, we have two layers of external filtering. One is a grate across the down-pipe of the gutters, and another fine screen on the in-take into the house. This requires no maintenance besides making sure the grate is in place so lots of leaves aren’t going into the cistern. We clean our gutters out after all the leaves are off the trees to make sure snow melt can get through the gutters in the winter to refill the cistern.

    As far as the septic system goes, that’s what I grew up with. Ask the previous owners how frequently they had theirs pumped. Ours was put in in 1992 and has not needed pumping yet. A single older woman lived here for many years, though, and didn’t use it to capacity. If you get this house, make sure you know where the manhole to the septic is. Sometimes they are buried, and you want them marked. It can take a LONG time to find, digging blind with a shovel to find the cover. My parents had this problem 20ish years ago.

    Cisterns and septics are no big deal- definitely do-able, and rainwater catchment cisterns are really super because the water is soft, and you’re using water that is falling on your house already. Simple.

  12. I’ve never dealt with a cistern, but my last house was lakeside and not hooked up to city water… it’s water was pumped directly from the lake. For waste water disposal, I had a septic tank.

    My husband and I lived there for 5 years and other than having to purchase bottled water for cooking/consumption (the lake we lived on had a lot of boat traffic – neither of us wanted to consume boat fuel residue) there were rarely problems.

    Sure, a power outage would knock out our ability to use the toilet or shower (the pump was electric) but our neighbors were well-to-do and also reliant on the pump system… most power outages weren’t very long term. I never did have to deal with the septic tank either. Then again, my husband and I worked to reduce our waste water output.

    We both miss that little cottage and would have happily rented it for longer… but the mold, the distance from town (we try to use public transportation as much as we can) and the lack of good bus service to that area caused us to look into moving closer to the city center.

    If you live in a rainy area, you can install rain barrels and whatnot to augment your cistern. My mother (who is actually on the city water grid) installed rain barrels to water her garden during the summer. She loves it! You can often get discounts on rain barrels if you’re a homeowner too.

    Good luck! 😀

  13. I have a cistern and am very happy with it. It collects rainwater from the eavestroughs. Then a pump brings it up into the house for showers, laundry, etc. The “soft” water is wonderful. Our drinking water goes through a series of 4 filters(Reverse Osmosis System) and is very good to taste. We get extra water in the cellar during the snow melt or large rains and have a pump set up to pump the excess outside. A “green” way to use water resources. Some new houses are being built with cisterns, so it’s economical.

    • We just bought a 680 gallon rain harvest tank for water catchment at our new cabin. We were wondering what kind/size pressure tank and pump should we use? It’s a small cabin with one kitchen sink, shower, and tiny bar sink in the restroom…also…what would be the best reverse osmosis filtration system? It’s not common where we are so no one seems to know how to help. This will be our only source of water

      • Haven’t done the catchment path exactly, but we did a greywater constructed wetlands for our present home-to-be and that was about 50% larger than your planned tank so I’d think that you should be fine since constructed wetlands also capture rainwater as it falls on the wetlands, not the roof… You will probably need a spreadsheet to tally up the water needs and then look at the rain data for your area (like from wunderground or such weather sites) and apply that — by month data — to your roof size…. After that you’re on your own as to pumping, see some of the comments above…. But I wouldn’t go with reverse osmosis for rainwater… I’d look at the British Berkey and include the extra fluoride filters because they also are very good at removing the heavy metals and the chemical stuff from ‘roofing’ shingles (assuming your roof is not ‘green’)…. The Berkey would serve for drinking and cooking but not the bathing/washing and would cost under maybe $400 with extra dispenser-tank for the bathroom and for backup… best of luck with your planning…

  14. We just moved into a house with a cistern water tank (9000 G) and a septic field. I have to warn anyone who moves from a house on city water to one with a cistern, you are in for a huge shock. No more nice long showers, and flushing toilets takes a few times. The tank that pumps ours is only 8 gallons and each time a toilet is flushed we have to wait for it to refill. As for washing, no more dishwasher and we’re looking for a HE washing machine.

    To have a truck refill the tank when there is no rain costs us $450.00, a hefty sum.

    It’s a constant maintenance thing here, changing filters, adapting to low flow showers and hand washing dishes. We have teenagers and they are totally miffed as to the shower/toilet situation. So before you decide that cisterns are this happy hippie ideal, take into consideration that it’s going to be a lot to get used to.

    Cisterns are only great for rural areas, not populated. Dealing with usage causes headaches. There’s so much to learn and so little patience to deal with.

    • It sounds to me like you have a poor setup and not a problem with the cistern. There are some really good low flow shower heads out there that you would never even know they where low flow. Same thing goes for toilets, some of the old ones used huge amounts of drinkable water to flush, but there are some now a days that sip water instead, and if it takes numerous flushes it sounds like a poor toilet design. You could always change the size of the pressure tank if that is what you have, but it also sounds like your system is running with really low pressure. High efficiency washing machines are great, and due to being front loading do a better job cleaning your clothes while being gentler on them. For the most part washing dishes in a dishwasher actually uses less water than hand washing, believe it or not. Not much I can say about miffed teenagers though. lol

      • I’d just disagree about the dishwasher scheme, although maybe that’s for city people to use their own learning skills, as our county water company does an annual check on the rural use of county water per household and it’s way less than the EPA’s national household numbers so it’s apparently cultural… AND when the German dishwasher companies’ engineers oversaw the advertising claims they insisted that advertising match truth and there had to be the qualifying statement attached that the machine only won when the number and distribution of dirty dishes matched the machine’s capacity…

        And flushing drinking water, after pooping in drinking water, is a unfortunate reflection on bad engineering in the west.. and we are paying for it in many ways that are not accounted for because it would be embarrassing…..

  15. Another concern about cisterns and well is parasites/cyanobacteria and the quality of water. Filters are not always enough to filter microbes and some give the water a bad taste. I’ve been applying a photo-catalytic nanocoating on the interior of cisterns and holding tanks as part of the water sanitation process. The nanocoating is a 100% green and safe for people and planet and works with either outdoor or indoor light. UV in light rays react with the coating and kill bacteria, mold/mildew, and little parasites that occur in the tank the same way hydrogen peroxide does. It has been lab tested and approved for use in food preparation under CFR 21. It’s also easy apply as long as you can gain access to the interior of the tank to spray it. It works with clear/translucent tanks best. reply to my comment for more info.

  16. I have an old koi pond (cement with cracking plaster) that must have a small leak somewhere because every time I fill it, the water level slowly drops. I am thinking if turning it into a cistern to irrigate my landscaping. Does it need to be water tight if its just for landscaping, not for the house? What other things do I need to consider before doing this?

  17. A cistern is doable! Just have to make sure you watch the water level. Our lil fam of three uses on avg 2200 gallons every 3-4 wks. Have a DW and HE washing machine.

  18. I’m considering purchasing a house with a rainwater collection system. We live in a high desert are with annual rainfall of 8.6 inches and annual snowfall of 24.2 inches. Having never dealt with a cistern, I’m trying to determine if that’ll be sufficient to get us through or if we will need to install a well. Any ideas or comments? TIA

  19. If your snowfall numbers are actually ‘snow depth’, that’s not adding a lot of water to your system. I think your calculation is really more a matter of trucking water in and for that you’ll likely want to consider such ideas as horizontal front-loading washer, composting toilets and pet-showers for the bath. Roughly, chip some ice (assuming you don’t have a real snow sample handy) and shower it into a tall glass and see how much it melts down to… I’d bet your desert site doesn’t get more than a foot of real collectible water per year… which means that the climate will only supply an average 2000sf roof with 2000cf of water per year…. and each cf of water is 7.5 gal so that annual wetness contribution is 15000gal/yr or in other words, about 1300gal / month… which is doable with extreme conservation by 3 people, very unlikely without a lot of non-standard features and excellent management… The rest is distribution over time, versus tank capacity.. Time to explore water trucking options.. best of luck, you just might do it.

  20. I love this conversation! I lived in the country for 5 years before I acquired my current residence in town. I miss my water well and septic system! A properly designed and installed system is practically maintainence free! We never had our septic system pumped out and never had a problem with the well. Even if the power went out we could still flush due to the water in the pressure tank. I installed the pump and pressure tank myself by simply following the directions.
    Now we live in town and for the last two months my water bill has been over $75 per month. On the well, we had no water bill and the pump costed very little in electricity. The actual water usage portion of my bill is only $20…the rest is all municipal fees charged by the City of Clinton, Oklahoma, including a $4.50 ambulance fee in spite of my health insurance that covers 100% of any ambulance ride I take. Also frustrating is that I had to pay a $150 security deposit that the city keeps FOREVER (either until I terminate my water service or die). I pay my bills on time, so I am used to getting my security deposits back within 12 months at the most. So for several reasons, I am considering options for taking my home off of the public water grid…not an easy task once on it. I am thinking a rainwater catchment system into an underground cistern tank, pumped into a pressure tank like a well, then to the water inlet of my house. As a backup, I am looking for a water hauling contractor that services my area to make sure I can have the cistern filled in the event it gets low.
    I guestimate to spend anywhere from $5k to $7k on this system, so it should pay for itself within 10 years. We already have a water cooler for drinking water because we do not drink the city water, so it would be great to save money, live more enviroment friendly, and have more control over what goes in my water.
    On a side note, one city councilman is quoted as saying that people just have to understand that we HAVE to shop Clinton. (Most of us do not, there is a town with much better choices only 13 miles away, but apparently the same worldview influences the decisions in utility rates….not a whole lot most people care to do about it…just pay it and complain.) So nice to read a thread promoting self sufficiency.

    • as I recall there was a woman in florida who had done lots with solar and was collecting rain water, but the city would NOT let her disconnect from the water meter because she was still on the sewer and the whole affair got out of control… so glad you check all sorts of things and people, but get it in writing because we were remodeling a decent doublewide to implement advanced independence and had cleared a lot of concerns with the local health department about our proposed use of greywater and such, but the whole affair dissipated when the head of the department retired and the board of health totally played political correctness and brought in a feckless dame as the replacement instead of promoting any of the three staff members [all of whom had been consulted and answered in our proposals]… so all of them left to take department head jobs in other counties and the dame had no interest in sanitation progress… even though the local EPA tested and confirmed that our ‘sewage’ was coming out cleaner than any of the creeks in the county… get it in writing, stamped or whatever before you invest much in time or money…. and yeah we appreciate your assurances that it was easily done to install pumps and pressure tanks because we’re considering what to do with our system [now converted to stormwater control]… ttyl

  21. We had a cistern, under our house, when I was growing up. It was awesome and I cannot figure out why they are not built into homes now when there seems to be a shortage of water everywhere. We did not drink it but it was used for everything else and our house was never damp or had mould. It was about the size of a swimming pool and it filled with rain water. It had a lid on it and i don’t remember it ever being a problem in our house. It was just there. Very soft water for your hair and laundry.

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