When making your off-grid plan there are a few very important questions to answer. Where will my water come from? How will I make it potable? What will be the delivery mechanism? This article is going to describe 6 systems for off-grid water solutions.
- Hauling water
- Live body of water
- Drilled well
- Hand dug well
- Rainwater harvesting
- Gravity Fed water system
Hauling water is the simplest way to have water because no systems are needed. You don’t need a well or pumps or a source of electricity to run pumps etc… You just need a source of water (river, lake, municipal water, melting glacier or whatever is nearest you) and a way to get it and bring it home.
When my wife and I first moved to our raw land we hauled water from a nearby neighbor’s hand dug well in 1-gallon jugs while I started to hand dig our well. Then we got some 3-gallon jugs. Now I have a trailer with a 275-gallon tote and we haul water from a local reservoir. Our hand dug well is at this time unfinished. Hauling water allowed us to move off-grid even though our permanent water system is still incomplete.
This should be considered a temporary solution as it’s costly in time, energy and fuel, but it does allow you to begin your off-grid journey before you have the permanent water system in place. One of the greatest benefits of hauling water is it really forces you to pay close attention to the amount of water your consuming on a daily basis, especially if your hauling only a few gallons at a time. Keep in mind the way to self-sufficiency is a journey of many steps not a leap from the beginning to the end.
Live Body of Water
If your property has a body of water like a lake, river or even a live stream you can use it as a source of water. This will require a way to pump the water into a cistern or holding tank. From there you can use that water for irrigation, but if you want to use the water for drinking, cooking or household water you’ll need to have a filtering system in place.
Moving water sources like rivers and streams have the added benefit of the kinetic energy of the flowing water that can be used to pump the water without the use of electricity from the river or stream to another location. This can easily be done with what’s known as a ram pump. Another option would be a water wheel pump. Both of these pumps can be purchased or home built. Of course, you can use electric pumps to deliver the water to where you need it.
Once this water is in a storage tank you can treat it with one tablespoon of bleach for every 100 gallons to kill bacteria then filter it to remove particulates or you can build a bio sand filter to eliminate the bleaching step. There are many water filtering systems on the market for sale, but don’t be afraid to build your own filtering system. Humans have survived for a very long time without these complicated and sometimes very expensive filtration devices.
Having a drilled well system on site is the most convenient of all the solutions. It’s basically on demand water like with municipal water systems, but it’s also the most expensive. Having a well drilled can cost thousands of dollars and in some areas with no guarantee water will be there.
It also requires an electric pump for delivery of the water. The deeper the well is the larger the pump will have to be and these pumps are energy hogs. In recent years solar well pump costs have begun to come down, but a solar well pump system is still going to start around $2,000 for just the pump and the controller. It’s not going to include the solar array, batteries, charge controller or installation.
There will also be a cost in maintaining a drilled well system because there are several components to this system which will wear out over time. You have to decide for you if the cost of this kind of system is worth the convenience it provides.
Hand Dug Well
If you’re in an area where good water can be found shallow then a hand dug well is an option. Hand digging a well is an extremely physical task, but while it will cost you a lot in sore muscles and aching joints it has very little cost beyond that.
You can haul water by hand from the well, you can install a mechanical pumping system or you can utilize an electric pumping system. A hand dug well has more flexibility in how it can be used and it will cost less, but it won’t be as convenient as a drilled well and it will take a lot of work.
Hand dug wells were the norm 100 years ago so don’t be afraid to tackle it. It’s very gratifying to reach that level of self-sufficiency. To dig your own well by hand and know that from that moment on you will have access to the second most important thing on the planet for your survival.
Rainwater harvesting can be a very convenient option because it can be done using the structure where the water will be used so delivery mechanisms will be inexpensive. The methods for collecting rainwater are simple and the materials used can be purchased at the big box lumber yards.
The amount of water that can be collected adds up quickly. For every 1” of rainfall on 1,000 sqft. of the collection surface approximately 600 gallons of water will be collected. When you also think this water falls freely from the sky with no effort on your part it’s surprising that more people don’t harvest rainwater.
That being said it’s even more surprising that in some places in the US it’s illegal to collect rainwater so check your state and local laws before you invest the time and resources to collect rainwater.
Gravity fed water system
A gravity fed water system uses the force of gravity to supply running water to a structure without the use of any power source. The basic idea is the water source is a cistern or tank elevated above the point of use. This will produce pressure in the system allowing the water in the system to flow from the tank to the point of use. Many people will ask; how much pressure is in a gravity fed system? The simple answer is it depends on the difference in elevation between the point of use and the holding tank. A simple formula to get you close is Pressure=.433 x height. More simply put, for every 2’4” of difference in elevation between the point of use and the holding tank 1 psi will be created. There are other variables which can slightly affect the psi at the point of use, but this simple formula gets you close. The real advantage to this type of system is in its simplest form there are no moving parts to wear out with the exception of the valves in faucets. The differences in elevation can be achieved by building a water tower, but then you have to consider how water will be pumped into the tower. We found a property with big steep hills. our storage tank is near the top of one of the hills and our cabin is down hill from the tank. When I haul water in our trailer I park at the top of the hill and hook up a hose from the trailer tank to the storage tank and let it drain in.
for a more detailed description of how to build an off-grid gravity fed water system check out my post “How To Build a Gravity Fed Water System”https://offgridmaker.com/2019/05/11/how-to-build-a-gravity-fed-water-system/
For a more in depth look at off grid water system Check out this article by Maximum Off Grid https://www.maximumoffgrid.com/off-grid-water-system/off-grid-water-system-guide/
It really doesn’t mater which water source you use. You can even do combination of multiple sources. Figure out what will work best for you and start planning it out. If you have any questions or would like help making a water plan please leave me a comment.
I’m glad that you mention how it’s most convenient to have a drilled well. This would be useful to help you keep water available so you don’t have to rely on another source. In order to get one, it would probably be best to research well drilling companies and have them inspect your home to ensure you have enough water on your property to be self-sufficient.
Thanks for your input Erika. It sounds like you might have some expertise in the area of well drilling.
It was helpful when you explained that drilled wells provide a lot of conveniences but also require costs like pumps and maintenance. My husband and I are interested in pursuing a more sustainable lifestyle and getting our small ranch home off-the-grid as much as possible. Thanks for sharing this info and teaching me about some of the benefits a drilled well could provide for us.
Thanks for explaining that a drilled well system is a convenient solution. My parents are building a new home, and they are looking for a way to get water. I'll tell them to hire a professional that can help with well drilling.
It really helped when you talked about off-grid plans and water sources options for one. Recently, one of my cousins mentioned he purchased a piece of land and wants to build a small cabin on it. My cousin wants to move away from the city and grow his own food, so I believe this article could interest him. Thanks for the information on how a water well makes a great source for off-grid living.