Friday, October 30, 2009

Low-Tech Off the Grid Water Supply

When this old house was built back in 1908 there was a very high-tech-at-the-time water system. It consisted of the gutters draining into a cistern which then fed a holding tank in the basement which could be pumped to the old cast iron tub for bathing. Such a luxury! Later on down the line a more modern well and pump was installed along with all the indoor plumbing accessories. Problem is, that modern-day pump needs electricity to run. If the power goes out, so does your water. Most people out in the country solve that problem with a backup generator. But again, that needs to run off some sort of fuel. Fuel which you have to store somewhere. If you don't have one of the built-in models you have to lug the generator to where you need it and reroute a bunch of electrical stuff and then you have to hope the generator actually starts when you need it. There are a whole lot of ifs involved. So I decided I needed a backup for my backup.


The old cistern is still here. It's just a big hole in the ground lined with brick in the back yard. The pipes are no longer functioning and it has pretty much just sat here doing nothing for at least the past sixty years or so. Seems silly to waste a valuable resource doesn't it?

I'm happy to report the cistern is now back "online" and fully operational. The guys simply rerouted the gutter to drain into the cistern and installed a shallow well hand pump. I plan to use this as my water source for gardening. In the event of a power failure I'll have another source of water for the animals. If I wanted to I could even filter the water and drink it myself. And all I have to do is pump the handle a few times. Hmph! So, um, who was it that said technology makes our lives easier?

16 comments:

Katidids said...

How wonderful! There used to be one here, the prior owner filled it with gravel & dirt for safety reasons, Bit like concrete now...looking in to rainbarrels for backup here

thecrazysheeplady said...

We have an old cistern here as well. Some idiot (well, I know which one - not us!) filled part of it in with concrete. I would love to have the cistern as a back up. ARGH!

Anonymous said...

You took me back to early childhood! My Great Aunt and Uncle had a pump in the side yard of their house in rural PA. I remember feeling very proud when I was finally able to bring water forth! Something about priming first...??

Nancy in Iowa

Andee said...

Brilliant and good for the enviornment! Way to go!

bennie and patsy said...

You just went green.
Patsy

Lindah said...

Please do be careful. Have the water tested before consuming...my grandpa and uncle died from and whole family was sick with typhoid from an old well on the property where they had just moved.
Having said that, it would be wonderful to have a back up, especially useful for the garden if your climate allows you to go into summer with a full cistern.

Deb W said...

Good for you!!! I am very much into emergency preparedness, self-sufficiency, the whole homesteading mentality, and I am surprised at how few people capture rain runoff via a cistern.

Do take all safety precautions, however, before using the water.

For those with land, but no cistern, could you just dig a hole with a backhoe, drop in a one of those white plastic 'stock tanks' (is that what you call it?), cover it up with some dirt and add a hand pump. Wouldn't that work?

Christine said...

Good heavens, Lindah! How tragic?! We were already planning on it but we'll be sure to get it tested now! I'm not sure I'd even want to put it on my plants now without testing it!

Deb, I would agree. Seems like one of those plastic tanks should work fine.

Michelle said...

Good for you! I have wanted to come up with some way to run our well pump for when there's no power, and have a holding tank for the water. I envision a simple bicycle on a stand under a simple shed roof; you could get your aerobic exercise twice a day and add water to the holding tank! Alas, my husband isn't green at all, and thinks such ideas are silly when you can just buy a generator (he did). If he dies and I remarry, the next DH is going to have to have some vastly different priorities!

Milah said...

I agree with Andee, brilliant!

Jayne said...

That's so cool! The pub where I used to work is in a building constructed in 1890. In the basement is a cistern that looks just like the one you have. I used to have a cistern in my back yard but several PO's filled it with trash & then poured a concrete pad over it. Wish I had my cistern!

Mr. Biddle said...

did you need to line the cistern with anything? seems like brick alone wouldn't hold water very well.

we have two cisterns built into the basement. It would be great to utilize them but neither do I want the basement flooding from seepage.

Terri said...

I'd love a cistern for outdoor use - that would be great! I'm glad you plan to have the water tested before you consume it, though! Better safe than sorry!

Brian Christopher said...

Great photos...

Karen Anne said...

As long as we're doing warnings, one of my Mom's cousins at age two fell through a rotted top to one of those things, back in the days before antibiotics and did not survive the resulting infection.

Still a great idea if done right.

Jayne, can't you have someone jackhammer off that concrete?

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog through a post on HomesteadingToday. I was being nosy, trying to figure out where in Indiana you are. I am in Indiana, also.

Your final comment (which I can't remember) made me laugh. I am 44 years old. We did NOT have running water at home. I thank God everyday when I turn on the tap and have hot and cold running water. It IS the greatest of all modern conveniences to me.

Monitor your cistern closely. Things like to crawl in and die.