Finding a source of water for your off-grid homestead.
In this series, we are considering the very basic steps that would allow anyone with average skills and the requisite adventuresome disposition, to successfully establish an ‘off-grid’ homestead. Going off-grid requires some of the same ‘spirit’ that many of our forefathers had when they first came to America in the 1800’s, taking their families into the wilds to establish their homesteads and a self-sufficient lifestyle.
So far we’ve covered; choosing a piece of land, improving the access to and across the land and developing a source of energy via solar power. In this article we’ll look into developing a water system that will allow life to flourish on your off-grid homestead.
A Source Of Water For Your Homestead
As we discussed in the first part of this series, when choosing a piece of off-grid land you must do so with great care, especially when it comes to determining the availability of good water.
There are many potential ways to source water for both drinking and the irrigation of a garden and/or greenhouse. Some water sources may require extensive treatment and purification before it can be used for drinking, and this is not desirable due to the energy and monetary costs for such treatments (filters, chemicals, etc.). In some cases expensive pumps are required to pressurize the water so that it can be filtered as a first step, which may need to be followed-up by ultraviolet light treatments. In some systems, chemicals such as chlorine may be used, but must subsequently be removed by special charcoal filters before it can be used for drinking or cooking.
No doubt the foregoing is explanation enough to realize that water testing is critical during the due diligence process of any real estate purchase. In most states the buyer will have a minimum statutory period of time allotted to complete all due diligence on any real estate being considered. The process regarding water testing is usually fairly straight forward; a water sample is obtained pursuant to the instructions from the chosen testing laboratory and provided per those instructions. The water testing lab will be testing for a host of common problems, and a water lab in the area of a prospective piece of land should have a general awareness of what problems are common in a given locality based upon their experience from testing hundreds of water samples. That’s not to say however that they can predict the water quality of any given well; testing must be done. Things like ‘total dissolved solids’ (‘TDS’), nitrates, bacteria, toxic minerals and chemicals are part of the normal battery of tests. Arsenic for instance, is commonly found in ground water, and if present in unacceptable concentrations, can be dangerous. Here is a list of potential ground water contaminants and their effects on humans and some animals: http://water.usgs.gov/edu/groundwater-contaminants.html
The key when it comes to buying land is to make certain it has a good source of drinking water. If it comes out of the ground clean and pure, you are well ahead in the game, and will not be spending money on expensive water processing systems.
Even if your water source is relatively pure, it’s still a good idea to run it through a basic filter system before bringing it via plumbing into your home. Of course this requires some water pressure. There are a two ways to pressurize water; using a pump; or, using the kinetic energy of water that is sufficiently elevated above the filters so as to provide the needed pressure for filtration and so that there will be pressure at the water fixtures and appliances in the house.
Photo: Capt. Bill – A three-stage water filtration system that is pressurized with a 12-volt D.C. pump
Basic filtration prevents small inert particles of sand and other inert debris from accumulating in the plumbing of the house and possibly adversely affecting appliances. They can also remove various spores and cysts as well as certain common contaminants using relatively inexpensive cartridge filters.
In the photo above, the solution for creating the water pressure needed was provided by a ShurFlo 12-volt D.C. water pump which can deliver water at 40 psi, which is adequate for both the filtration process and pressurizing the water fixtures in the homestead. Of course every time you use the water, the pump will turn-on and will draw electricity from your power source, which is not ideal.
As mentioned, another way to create the needed water pressure is to obtain the water from an elevated source. The pressure that can be obtained from elevated water is calculated by multiplying .433 times the number of feet the water is raised (using a tank or pipe from a water source such as a spring) above the fixture.
Capt. Bill standing next to two 3,000 gallon water tanks (the white pipes seen are over-flow protection)
So, if we have a water tank that is 100-feet higher vertically (lateral distance doesn’t matter) than the house, the water pressure in the house will be about 43 psi. (http://water.me.vccs.edu/hydraulics.htm). When locating tanks, it’s important to consider winter weather conditions and the frost-line in the ground. By sinking the water tanks into the earth, you can create a thermal-coupling to the warmer ground below the winter frost-line, which will keep the water in the tanks from freezing. The tanks in the photo above are set into the ground 2-feet deep, which is well below the frost line. The water supply line is also buried at the same depth and plumbed to the bottom of the tanks, which are plumbed in series. This prevents the water line to the tanks from freezing. The white pipes coming out of the tops of the tanks are overfill vent lines, which dump excess water down the embankment and away from the tanks (the ends of these pipes have screens to prevent any insects from entering the tanks.
Topography can be an asset when you need gravity-feed water; these tanks are 135 feet above the homestead
In the case of our off-grid homestead; our tanks are located at about 135 feet higher (vertically) than the house, which produces about 58-psi water pressure at the house.
So how do we get the water into the elevated tanks? There are a few methods to accomplish the task of keeping the water tanks topped-off:
- The old-school method was to use a windmill to drive a water pump which would send the water from a source (spring, creek, lake, well) up to the elevated tank(s). In climates where winters are mild and potential freezing is not a problem, tanks were sometimes mounted on sturdy towers.
- Assuming the water source (a spring, creek or lake) is above the tank (of course the tank needs to be above the house), water from the source can be gravity fed into the storage tank.
- Electric pumps can be used to pump water up to the tank from the source.
In our case, we are using a 3-hp. 240-volt AC electric submersible well pump to send water up from the well to fill the tanks. It’s far more efficient to run the well pump for a couple hours every 3 or 4 months to fill the tanks when they get low, than to have even a small well motor turn-on every time there is demand for water. This energy savings is why gravity feed from a storage tank is so advantageous.
Frost-proof outdoor spigots
We’ve already touched upon the issues related to water that may freeze in a tank and how to prevent that from happening in areas with temperate climates and mild winters such as in most of the continental U.S. That said, precautions are still required with the plumbing, including all outdoor spigots. Frost-proof spigots are worthy of consideration in areas where pipes can freeze.
It’s important to bury all plumbing at a depth that will prevent pipes from freezing
The plumbing that runs to and from the water tanks and the homestead must be protected from freezing during the winter months. In some places that may involve trenches as deep as two or three feet to get the pipes well below the frost-line.
Wild horses enjoying the lake
So this concludes the ‘basic’ off-grid series. I hope that it provided enough information for those who just needed a bit of a nudge to embark on their own off-grid adventure. Life is just too short to miss opportunities like this; homesteading off-grid is an adventure that most people can successfully enjoy. And the benefits of self-sufficiency and security from the chaos in the cities is a really big dividend for the effort.
Being prepared today means being ready for tomorrow!
Cheers! Capt. Bill
This post originally appeared at Survival Based. Reprinted with permission.
Photos: Laura Simpson © 2014