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Living Off the Grid of Public Water Supply

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Living Off the Grid of Public Water Supply

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Drinking WaterOr How to Harvest Water With Our Roof and Save From the Bills

Only two things are certain in this life – death and taxes. And while we can escape neither, there are quite many ways we can lessen the burden of both. Since this is no medical blog, we will be talking about what can you do to lower your household bills and simultaneously be a better earthling. How, you may ask? By turning your roof into a factory for unlimited renewable resources of course.

Water Waste Infographic

We have spoken before about rainwater harvesting, solar panels and growing greens on your roof. But in this article I would like to address how you can combine it all at once and have a roof that generates you utility water for free. By crafting something like this at your home not only you’ll save from fees, but you will be using renewable resources and thus sparing mother Earth at least your consumption of it’s finite resources. You won’t be fully living off the grid and would still be depending on society, but it’s a start.

Quick Trivia: What is our most precious resource on Earth? Diamonds? Oil? Human souls? Nope, it is actually freshwater. Despite being 71% of Earth’s surface, only 3% of the world’s water is in this human-friendly structure. Have in mind that most of it is in the form of frozen ice floating around the poles. Global Warming won’t help us when it melts it, so this makes freshwater something to think for in the near future.

With this in mind, one could review his opinion over water saving. The problem is what’s the easiest, least wasteful way of using this precious resource. The answer is recycling. Too much water potential is not used on a daily basis. And there is something everyone can do in their own home. Take advantage of the weather and harvest the rain.

What Exactly Is Rainwater Harvesting?

It is the act of collecting rainfall, filtering and storing it in an appropriate vessel and using it instead of public water sources for activities such as washing and gardening. If you are 100% sure you’ve done it correctly, even for consuming. It was one of the first methods of collecting water for everyday needs. We can trace Rainwater Harvesting’s origins back to 3rd Century BC in the farming regions of Balochistan, modern day Pakistan. The ancient Baloch first used this method to acquire the needed water for irrigation. Then the knowledge spread out and was the main water supplying method for a few centuries.

Rainwater Harvesting Today

In our modern day society, water saving is still quite important, mostly in the underdeveloped countries where the public water sources can’t be relied on. But even in the developed world it is becoming more and more important since, believe it or not, water is a finite resource. Best examples of how it should be done are Singapore and Japan. Due to their limited living ground and natural resources they are obliged to get the maximum out of everything. That’s why many public buildings were built with the idea of harvesting rainwater and using it in their communal use. Another good example is Germany, where an annual rainwater drainage fee exists. It is reduced if rainwater runoff is retained or returned to the ground, thus giving a financial stimulus for the citizens to invest in it.

Unfortunately in the UK this practise isn’t really well known. Only 51% of the British population had ever heard of rainwater harvesting. Of all asked, 94% said they would gladly use rainwater for non-potable purposes. The lack of information is the number one reason for not integrating this method in more homes.

Crafting your own rainwater harvesting system is not an easy task. And of course, depending on your property and water needs the system will vary in form, size, complexity and function. But all rainwater harvesting systems share some common components:

  • Catchment area: this is the surface where the rain will fall onto. Usually, this is your roof as it is a wide area that is angled and would direct the water.
  • Conveyance system: this is the way you direct the caught water into the object you are gonna store it in. Naturally if you use the roof for catchment, then your conveyance system would be the gutters and downspouts.
  • Storage system: barrel, tank, cistern, basically anything that can hold liquid without spilling it.
  • Distribution system: depending on the level of embedment it can be a simple hose or an underground irrigation system with additional pipes connecting it to the toilet, shower, and sink.

Rainwater Harvesting DiagramThe first two components should be already present in every normal house. Of course you should make sure that there are no cracks or damages on the roof and all the water that falls will pour down your gutters. You should also be sure to clean thoroughly your gutters and check if there aren’t any clogs or rust on them. It is very important to remove any risk of contamination. Putting screens on your downspouts would filter any leaves and large debris of going down the road. Unfiltered, it is not a good idea to use it for drinking purposes but the water is perfect for any other house chores.

Regarding the storage unit, ideally it should be placed right under your downspout. This way there will be no need of extra pipes to transport the water. Again, no matter if it is a barrel, a tank or something different, it is very important to clean it thoroughly and never leave it exposed to outside elements. The risk any contamination should always be non-existent. Another tricky moment can be overflowing. You should consider some sort of a mechanism that will drain any excessive water that you can’t storage. Putting gravel under your storage unit is a good idea.

The distribution system is the most complex part. If you’re going to use the harvested rainwater indoors you should think of a pump or some other device that can generate pressure. If you put your water container at the roof’s level it will help, but you’ll still need a reliable system that could pump water at any destination you want. If you feel you are not experienced enough it is better to contact professionals for that part. No shame in admitting you’re not qualified enough.

Is it actually worth it?

It depends of course. It can be expensive, it is labour-intensive and frankly, you will get your return of investment in a rather long period of time. But what you would get is an eco-friendly way of storing and using water and a secure second source for it in case of extreme situations. Eventually you will be in the plus financially too. There are quite a few handy calculators that will help you count exactly how much water you could store in your home.

Hopefully all your rainwater harvesting questions where answered. Of course there are various other sources with a more in-depth info you might find useful. But now we know how to optimize our water savings, using a nature friendly method and we would get to brag how hipster and green we are to our neighbours. Is the planet saved?

But Wait ..Billy Mays

There is something more you can do to reinforce your water saving. With rainwater harvesting we manage to catch nature’s free resource and put it in good use. What happens after we use it? We throw it all back in the sewers. But 50 to 70% of the household waste water is actually good for reuse if treated correctly. The waste water that comes from showers, baths, washing machines, dishwashers and sinks is only slightly contaminated and it’s called greywater. The process of treating it and reusing it is called Grey Water Recycling.

How To Save Water With a Grey Water Recycling System?

Disclaimer: Do understand that grey water will never be good for human consumption as there are too many risks involved.

If you do it the right way, recycled grey water can save up to 70 litres a day per person. Although with limited use, combined with rainwater harvesting, this process can virtually make public water sources obsolete. There are a few different systems for treating grey water. They can be separated into the following categories:

1. Direct Use Systems

It is actually the method of directly transporting the water right after you use it. The catch is, you should use the water immediately and any soap water is a no-no. This allows you to recycle the grey water for plant watering only. But it’s the most cheapest and effortless alternative. There are plenty of simple tools for that on the market but the most basic way is the good ol’ bucket.

2. Biological Systems

This is the method of using biological filters to pure the water and make it legit for washing clothes, taking a bath or toilet use. The most used way is with sand filtering. The gathered grey water is run trough 4 different layers of sand driven by gravity and the end result is pure enough to be brought back in the household.(can’t believe I’ve said that without talking about drugs)

3. Mechanical Filtering Systems

Using a system of pumps, tanks and filtration, this method extracts the used water in a septic tank, where it is treated with chlorine. Some more advanced mechanical systems do a microfiltration using synthetic membranes too. The processed water is still not clean enough for consumption, but it is as good as it gets for the other household activities.

Greywater Recycling Diagram

After gone through filtration (or not), the grey water is brought back in the water system of your household and used for the different purposes it may serve. Depending on the level of filtration you can use the reclaimed grey water for the washing machines, doing the dishes, washing clothes and watering plants. Just don’t use it for fruits and vegetables as it might carry out some pathogens that are not good for the human body.

By synergising rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling you can drop down your water bills with nearly 90%. Of course they are not so easy to be implemented and tend to cost money you wont get back immediately, but they will be more than a good investment in the long term. And if we put aside the monetary part of it, you will always have your own alternative water source, not depending on the public offering. Being green and nature-friendly should be a plus too.