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Off Grid Water Systems - Pros and Cons

Updated: Nov 16, 2021


Water trickling into a rain barrel. Off grid water systems.

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Living a sustainable off grid lifestyle means being disconnected from public utility systems.


So how do you take care of your family’s needs while still enjoying modern conveniences, like running water and warm baths?


When you start planning a water supply system for your home and family, make sure you check local regulations, permit requirements, and restrictions on water use.


Most states require homeowners to obtain a permit before constructing a new well or refurbishing an old one. And in many places, only licensed contractors are allowed to drill wells.


But water wells aren’t the only option for your renewable water supply.


Let’s discuss off grid water system alternatives to public water utilities, their pros and cons, and how you can incorporate them into your off grid life.


Water

Water is a necessity of life, and taking care of your water source is an essential off grid skill. Living in a remote location may mean going without a public water source, but you’ll still need water to survive. So will your plants and animals. Unless you have a live water source on your land—along with the rights to use it or redirect it—you’ll have to find a way to provide water to your home.


Another factor you’ll need to consider is the layout of your land. Will your water storage tank be placed on higher ground than your home, allowing gravity to assist with the water flow? Or will your storage tank be downhill and require a booster pump to increase the pressure and flow?


Do you want a water filtration system, like reverse osmosis, a bio-filter, or a UV purification system? These things will also add to the cost of your off grid water system.


Water sprinkling from a watering can. Off grid watering system.

Hauling water

For the first few years that we lived in my childhood home, my parents hauled water. My dad had a big, round, metal (steel?) tank welded to a trailer. He would pull it behind his Chevy pickup to the private water supply company a few miles down the road.


I’d climb up on top of the tank while the water ran into it from a giant hose, listening to the sounds change as the water rose higher and the sides of the tank cooled off against my legs. When the tank was almost full, I’d yell to him so he would quit chatting with the other guys who had come to fill up their tanks, and he could shut off our spigot before the tank overflowed.


We’d drive home, attach a hose to the tank, drain all the water into our underground cistern, and then repeat the process a couple more times in the same day. Our cistern was large, so we only needed to haul water once a month during the off months—and twice a month during the growing season.


My dad installed a pump going from the cistern to the house, so we always had water from the tap whenever we needed it.


So what are the pros and cons of hauling water? Well, for one thing, you’re still dependent on a public or private utility company to provide you with potable water to haul. If they have a problem with their system, you’ll have to find another company within a reasonable distance or find an alternative water source. Aside from that, let’s look at some other advantages and disadvantages.


Pros

  • You always know how much water you have available in your cistern.

  • You can choose which days you want to haul water and budget what you have stored as needed.

  • Hauling water is typically less expensive than drilling a well. As long as you already have a truck, you’ll just need to purchase a cistern and a trailer with a tank. If you don’t have a truck, you may need to spend more to buy one than the cost of a well.

Cons

  • You can only store as much water as your cistern and hauling tank can hold.

  • You have to spend gas money every time you make a water run.

  • You’ll still have a monthly water bill; you’ll be paying it to the company where you fill your tank.

  • Hauling water to a remote location can be time-consuming and difficult in adverse weather conditions.

An old stone well by a country road as an off grid water source.

Well water

In some states, you have to own a certain number of acres to get a well permit, or you may be restricted to a certain type of well permit depending on how much land you own.


After a couple of years of hauling water, my parents were able to save up enough money to dig a well. The well drilling company had to dig down around 700 feet before they found water, but that was the best tasting water I had ever had!


Installing a well can be expensive, and several factors determine the cost.

  1. How deep it needs to be (which will also determine whether you need a submersible pump or a jet pump)

  2. What kind of water pump you choose (A/C or D/C, solar or generator-powered, or even a hand pump)

  3. What size of pressure tank you need

  4. Whether you need to pump into a cistern or storage tank and from there into your home, etc.

Pros

  • You can rely on your own source of water year-round.

  • You can avoid chemical additives such as chlorine and fluoride.

  • You won’t have a monthly water bill.

Cons

  • If you live in an area that freezes during the winter, you’ll need to protect the well pump by insulating it and the pipes.

  • The cost can be prohibitive.

  • You need to maintain the system, check the health of the water, and call the well company to inspect the well if any issues arise.

Rainwater on a pine branch.

Rainfall catchment systems

In areas with adequate rainfall and where catchment systems are allowed, harvesting rainwater is a viable option for supplementing household water needs. The goal of rainwater catchment is to harvest the water and use it for a specific purpose in the home or garden instead of letting it run off onto barren ground.


A rainwater harvesting system typically includes gutters (or some way to direct water from a roof), a tank (like this recycled rain barrel), a water purification system, and a pump.


Pros

  • Rainwater is free.

  • Rainwater catchment systems are usually low maintenance.

  • If you aren’t using the water for drinking, you don’t need a sophisticated purification system.

  • Renewable resource that reduces stress on groundwater systems.

  • Reduces soil erosion around your home by capturing the water and redirecting it.

  • If your rain barrels are placed on a raised platform, gravity should provide enough water pressure for your gardening needs.

Cons

  • Areas with low rainfall may have restrictions on capturing rainwater.

  • Weather is unpredictable; some years may not provide enough rain to meet your demands.

  • Rainfall catchment systems can be costly to set up (but usually costs much less than drilling a well).

  • Some states limit the size or number of rain barrels per home.

  • Contamination from roofing materials: some roofs release chemicals into the water that runs off of them. If possible, plan ahead and install a metal roof instead of asphalt shingles.

  • Make sure to direct the rainwater away from your septic tank and drain field; you don’t want to oversaturate the soil.

Clear water glass being held up to the sky.

Hydropanels

Hydropanels collect condensed, clean water from the atmosphere and store it in small tanks connected to a home’s plumbing or a designated dispenser. Current systems, like SOURCE Global (previously Zero Mass Water), claim to collect up to 7.5 liters of water per day even in low humidity conditions.


Pros

  • Humidity in the air is a renewable resource.

  • Hydropanels do not rely on rainfall or groundwater.

  • The collected water is filtered and remineralized to provide pure, clean-tasting water.

  • You can install multiple panels to increase the amount of water collected.

Cons

  • Small water storage: A relatively small amount of water is collected; one two-panel system provides drinking water but not enough water for household needs such as bathing, showering, or laundry.

  • High cost initially.

  • Air filters and cartridges require regular maintenance (yearly for some parts, every five years for others).

  • Some users complain about the noise level generated by their hydropanel system.

  • The panels hibernate in freezing conditions.

Conclusion

Off grid living has many benefits—having a reliable and renewable water source is one of them. Do your research, plan your budget, and choose the system that is best for you.


Since off grid water systems provide a host of options, you can have more than one water source. Plan two or three, so you always have a backup (like a well and a rainwater catchment system, for example). It's what self-reliance is all about.


Want more off grid lifestyle tips? How about supporting your favorite off gridder or homesteader by giving them a unique gift!


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