August 4, 2015 at 5:20 pm #42909
Rainwater Collection, Storage, and Conversion to Clean, Safe Drinking Water
Combine this project with the previous “How to make a water filteration system for 1/3 of the cost of a Berkey” topic, and your water problems are largely solved (at least at an in-place location). Look at the three photos as you read through the following. (You’ll have to click the one visible photo at the bottom to get all three to pop up on your screen, for some reason.)
Many different aspects of emergency survival require water, though we don’t always think about it. And unfortunately, water can’t be dehydrated or freeze dried to save space. Even at a mere one gallon per person, per day, a month’s supply of water for a family of four is 120 gallons. And even if that could be neatly stacked in a closet in cubes, that’s over 16 cubic feet of storage. It doesn’t sound like much, but go take a look in a closet where you’ve perhaps got #10 cans or other large storage, or look under a bed if there’s any room left after other things you’ve got under there. Where are you going to fit 16 additional gallon containers – and that’s only for a month, and only a single gallon for ALL survival needs – food, sanitation, cleaning, drinking, and other uses. If you’re working hard, and particularly if it’s hot, a gallon per day just for drinking may not even be enough. In other words, water could be a real problem, unless you’ve got a very nearby creek or river that isn’t prone to drying up. Realistically, we need more than a gallon per day per person for virtually all circumstances. And once you’ve got it, how do you make and/or keep it safe to drink?
Those are good questions for anyone sincerely interested in making sure they’ve really got all they need to survive. How about some more? What good is all that freeze dried food if you’re limited on the amount of water you can devote to rehydrating it? And how about cooking it? What about wound cleansing, or even just basic hygiene? Got a patch of vegetables that hasn’t gotten much rain lately, and that’s part of what you were counting on for your future meals? What to do?
We’ve researched and considered many different solutions, and finally arrived at a system that really works! And it works well, at least anywhere that there aren’t prolonged sub-freezing temperatures, or virtually no rain at all even under ordinary circumstances. In other words, this isn’t a system that will work for everyone everywhere, but it will be highly useful for a large number of people – even in areas with somewhat limited rainfall (not severe long-term drought situations, of course). And the nice thing about this solution is that it’s scalable according to your needs and your circumstances.
A significant amount of information came from LDSPrepper on YouTube. He has an excellent rain water collection and storage system, and as a basis for this article, I highly recommend watching it. You may choose to even use his, though there are limitations with his that I’ve overcome with this system. (He also has an extensive range of other prepper topics on YouTube.)
Looking at the photo, I’ve used five 55-gallon barrels, simply because that’s what we had easy room for without blocking windows or taking up covered patio space. And 275 gallons should be a good balance between available space and needed water, given typical rainfall in our area.
Basics: water flows off the roof into the rain gutter. In the past, the rain flowed almost the full width of the house to the far corner of the house (way off to the right of the photos), and down the concrete driveway – totally wasted. Now, there is an additional hole for a downspout cut at the high end of the gutter (shown), so a substantial portion of the water collected by the roof goes down that hole to the barrels, rather than flowing the full length of the gutter down to the driveway.
Immediately below the downspout is a 4” “trash collection” pipe, with a cleanout plug at the bottom, aimed into a concrete channel with a drain at the end (more on that later). Initially, it was designed to collect the larger trash that would come off the roof (twigs, pine straw, dead insects, whatever), with the initial flow of water in a rain storm. I’ve since cemented a piece of screen door fabric over the hole in the gutter, which keeps out all but the finest pieces of trash. But the 4” tube nicely captures that initial “clean-off” of the roof at the beginning of a good rain. Once that 4” tube is full (which generally also corresponds with the rain having nicely washed down the roof), the remaining rainwater then diverts into the 2” feeder tubes to each of the five barrels. Of course after a good rain, the 4” cleanout needs to be opened to drain the “trash collection” tube into the underground drainage system we’ve got below it. I’ve found that a nice coating of grease around the threads of the cleanout make it easy to open and re-close, and also seals it nicely.
One other construction note: you’ll notice a diagonal piece of 2” tubing coming off near the bottom of the downspout. That piece is simply capped off. That’s because I initially was going to use a different feeder routing, and decided on a better way (what you see actually in use). So I just cut that off and capped it, due to having already cemented it into the more expensive 4”-to”3”-to-2” step-down tubing shown between the vertical 4” “trash collection” pipe and the 2” horizontal feeder tubing to the barrels.
Also, note in the photo showing all five barrels, that the vent tube on the far right barrel is just a couple inches tall. That was taken before the overflow system was created, and that small tube was to be the primary overflow for the system, since it was on the last barrel to be filled (remember, that each barrel sits just a tiny bit higher than the previous one, with the highest one being on the far left). When it became apparent that in a heavy rain that would not be enough, and that it would keep the ground near and under the house quite wet, the new overflow system was devised and that short overflow vent was lengthened like the rest of the vent pipes to function solely as a vent pipe for air (sticking higher than the 2” feeder tube so water won’t overflow through the vent tubes). Be sure to tape or wire a piece of screening fabric over the ends of the vent tubes to keep critters out.
Construction was fairly simple. I obtained well-cleaned 55-gallon drums that had previously been used for food, and thus the barrels are food grade. Barrels such as these have two threaded holes in them – one with a nice fine thread, and the other with a thick course thread (more on that later). The barrels are connected by 2” PVC pipe, with T-fittings into one of the two openings on top of the barrels. The other hole has a punch-out hole into which a smaller PVC tube is inserted to provide for an air vent.
The five barrels are set gradually higher than the preceding one, starting with the one underneath the downspout as the lowest – that allows each barrel to completely fill one at a time before the next one begins filling.
Each of the barrels has a small hole cut in the bottom with a standard Y-fitting for a hose to be attached. Thus, each barrell can be individually drained if desired, or they can collectively be connected to all feed to the end and drain all of them simultaneously (actually just four of the five, due to the placement of the first barrel away from the others – simply a function of our house layout). Now for more details.
Looking at the photo showing all five barrels, note how each section of pipe is connected between barrels with a 2″ diameter rubber connector with hose clamps (heavy duty, in plumbing section of the home improvement store). Also note the short lengths of hose connecting each barrel in the series of four at the bottom. They can all be drained by opening up all the valves and connecting another short piece of hose to the closest barrel in the photo, and running that piece over to the drain in the lawn near the single barrel by the patio.The long right-angle piece of 2″ pipe between the end barrel and the single barrel is adequately held up by the hard (cemented) connection to the first barrel, and the wire supporting loop described in the other photo narrative.
The lengths of the vent pipes aren’t “magic.” In reality, they were just short sections of scrap I had left over from previous projects. However, all but the far end vent MUST be above the 2″ feeder pipe so water does not overflow from each barrel. (Overflow is handled by the diagonal pipe near the single barrel by the drain – see photo and description below.)
One of the holes in most standard 55-gallon drums has a thread that is identical to 2” threaded PVC connections available at the local home improvement store. It seals very nicely due to the perfectly matched threading. The other hole in the 55-gallon drums has a larger, more course thread in it. But within that cap is a recessed hole with threading. Cut out the bottom of that recessed area to make a hole in the cap, and a threaded 1” PVC fitting screws into that hole perfectly, allowing for easy creation of the vent tubes (I used a 90° bend at the top to help keep out blowing dirt, etc.). If you don’t initially find 55-gallon drums with the two holes that are configured as described, KEEP LOOKING! Those types of holes (and the cap with the pre-threaded hole for the small PVC vertical tubing) make construction much quicker and easier, with almost no modification necessary (except for merely cutting the hole in the vent-tube recessed threaded portion of the barrel cap). You’ll end up throwing away the finely threaded cap for one of the two holes, since that hole will be used with the threaded 2” PVC fitting and the feeder system.
The rubber connections between each barrel (connecting the 2” PVC pipe) allow you to quickly loosen the hose clamps, drain a single barrel, and take it out of the system for cleaning, repair, or whatever. And then you can also easily add additional barrels to the system if/as needed in the future – just screw in a 2” fitting, create a “T” connection to an additional horizontal section of 2” feeder tubing, and connect it to the rest of the existing system. Punch a hole in the recessed portion of the other barrel cap, screw in a short piece of PVC to create your vent tube, and you’re done – another 55 gallons of collection and storage.
Note: this system obviously may not work in northern climates where there can be many days straight with sub-freezing temperatures all day. If it’s attempted, a substantial portion of water would need to be drained off from each barrel to leave room for expansion as it freezes, and allow any water in the feeder pipe to drain into the barrels. Be sure to use high quality valves (brass, not plastic) at the bottoms of the barrels, or they’ll freeze and crack – and leak substantially. Also, the 4″ vertical “trash collection” portion would HAVE to be drained even in most southern climates when sub freezing temperatures are expected, to avoid cracking. Plus, the connecting hoses between the bottoms of the barrels would need to be unscrewed and drained to avoid bursting the hose or possibly the “Y” fitting going into each barrel.
Looking at the view of the downspout and feeder system, note the shiny bright disc one level of bricks above the top horizontal pipe. That is a large washer with a concrete anchor in it, with a piece of heavy coated wire looped over it and down around the pipe to help stabilize it. There is another longer loop of heavy wire around the top horizontal pipe looping down around the lower 2″ pipe. The “T” between the vertical pipe and the top horizontal pipe starts a reduction from the 4″ pipe down to the 2″ size used for the rest of the system.
In two of the three photos, there is a red brick near the bottom 4” clean out plug is a drain grate almost invisible in this photo. It leads into the beginning of a previously installed drainage system that keeps our back yard near the house much less wet than when we moved in. It now serves almost perfectly as a way to drain the vertical “trash collection” section through the 4″ clean out plug, or when draining the barrels through hose connections at the bottom of each of the four barrels. In the photo of the added 2″ overflow tube, you can see the concrete channel I created to send the overflow (or 4″ “trash collection” tube) water down the already-existing drain in the yard.
Once we found out how little rain it takes to fill the barrels (just over 1″ fills all 275 gallons), it became clear that the vent tubes were not a good overflow system. They may not handle a hard rain, plus they spill water all around the barrels, thereby keeping the ground under that corner of our house moist all the time (termites would LOVE it!). So I installed the “T” in the 2″ horizontal feeder line above the barrel under the downspouse, slanted the drainage line up just enough to keep water out until all the barrels are full and won’t take any more. Then the overflow come from the 2” horizontal feeder line into the drainage tube, and go straight down to the drain and out to the street. Now we can be away for a while and not have to worry about what happens with several heavy rains.
Finally, one might ask about contamination from both the non-food grade rubber connection tubes, and particularly the contaminants from the roof. No problem in our case. We may not be able to claim purely organic gardens since we supplement their watering with the rain barrel water – but the vegetables are still very good, and otherwise organic. And what we would use for drinking in an emergency situation is prefectly safe, filtered of virtually any contaminant that might be in the collected water. We use the black Berkey water filtration system already with our tap water (see a separate thread already posted in the Forum). All we need to do is switch to the rain barrels as our source for adding to the top bucket of the Berkey system, and the black Berkey filters remove even the worse of chemical or biological contaminants to exceed the standards of any municipal water system in the nation.
In summary, I studied the rainwater collection systems of many individuals on the internet, particularly on YouTube. Some were almost useless and filled with problems. Some weren’t as functional as they could be. And a few were excellent. I ended up taking the best of what I could find, combine it all, and then add a few more enhancements either during or even after construction to make this system even more functional and convenient. We’ve used it for several years now, and highly recommend it.
[attachment file=”Water Storage.jpg”]August 4, 2015 at 10:11 pm #42916
That looks different, but probably just rusty memory, from a previous post elsewhere.
Working on a different version myself, our collection systen worked but was certainly too small but a good proof of concept test.
Need to find an affordable 275 gal tote that’s food grade.August 4, 2015 at 10:24 pm #42917
That looks different, but probably just rusty memory, from a previous post elsewhere.
I’d forgotten I posted it in that other spot. But it’s the same (though I may have added the 2″ overflow tube since then – that would be the only difference).
I thought about one or two larger containers, but decided to keep it closer to the house, and be able to make it more “modular” so I can add more if I want to, make modifications, etc. Hope you find what you’re looking for in your case. You certainly don’t get as much rain as we get, and you’ve got other weather factors to contend with as well (like winter).
Remember though, if you build yourself a black Berkey water filter system at least for drinking water, you should have no worries about the container not being food grade. And even if you’ve got a food grade container, if you’re collecting from a roof you’ve got to contend with the contaminants it adds to the rain water. So depending on what’s been in the container before, food grade plastic may not be quite as essential – particularly in a survival situation.August 4, 2015 at 10:38 pm #42919
The one I have right now held fertilizer, the flowers love it, but I ain’t drinking it.
Working to stack the system, I lose less firewood storage, and its in the shed, out of sight. Plus it makes the system more easily worked with, least how I plan to pipe it currently.August 4, 2015 at 11:35 pm #42920
Excellent job! I wish I were that handy. I generally keep a couple hundred gallons of bottled water (mostly gallon jugs) in the basement but they get rotated on account my wife likes to use the bottled water rather than tap water due to our having a water softener. She doesn’t like the salt in the tap water. Come SHTF and a grid down scenario, we have a deep well with a Simple Pump hand pump on it and shouldn’t need to even filter that water, though I do have a Berkey and several other filters. We have a good sized pond in the back yard that we’d use to fill the toilets (we’re on a septic system) and if we needed to water the garden. There is as well a crystal clear river behind the houses across the road from us too if we needed another source for any reason. Clean as the river may be we’d still run it through the Berkey if it were to be used for drinking/cooking water.
Something I have done is save a couple hundred empty gallon jugs in the original very sturdy cartons they come in (6 gallons to a carton). I have had two thoughts for their possible use. One is filling them early on in a SHTF scenario so as to increase the stored supply in case there is a period we wanted to minimize going outside to the hand pump. The other is to fill them and leave them outside in the winter (perhaps in the garage or woodshed to keep them snow-free and out of the sun). Come late winter when they are still frozen solid I’d create an ice cave in the basement with the cases of frozen water jugs, in effect creating a refrigerator for the summer to be used as needed for food preservation. The basement is in the 40’s in the winter and in the 60’s in the summer so it is a relatively cool place to start. In the same vein of thought, I have a number of large trash barrels, both plastic & metal that are just sitting in the upstairs part of my garage. I have thought that I could do the same with them to create large blocks of ice that would take even longer to melt, though I’d need some strong young muscle to help get them down into the basement late winter. Fortunately we do have an outside bulkhead.August 4, 2015 at 11:42 pm #42921
Here is another water storage thought. In a developing emergency when you are battening down the hatches and if you anticipate maybe the power will go out, you can safely store 100 gallons in your bathtub using a WaterBob.August 5, 2015 at 1:49 am #42923
My wife didn’t want to drink salt from the water softener either. When I installed a new water softener, I bypassed the softener and provided cold water to the kitchen sink directly from the water inlet. It was an easy modification in this house because the water enters the house from the well in the center of the house between the kitchen and the bathrooms. The hot water side is still softened.August 5, 2015 at 7:46 pm #42927
Does your system have a connection with the domestic water system in the house?August 5, 2015 at 8:14 pm #42928
There’s no connection to the inside of the house. We just easily drain what we need at the bottoms of the barrels. I’m now working on converting a computer power supply to run a fairly powerful 12 volt water pump (it pulls 9 amps), so we won’t just be dependent on gravity feed. But there’s no reason to connect it to the house’s water system. If we went through a long drought period, I’d just pull the garden hose over to fill it if/as needed. Generally, we get plenty of rain water so even that’s not anticipated.
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.