Off Grid Water Solutions: Sourcing Safe Water when Living Outside of Infrastructure

Written By Arnold Long
Published On

Are you curious about how to source safe water when you live outside the “grid”?

You’ve come to the right place!

In this Mr. Blue Plumbing guide, we’ll cover:

  • How to source off-grid water
  • How to buy off-grid water if you need to
  • How to filter and treat off-grid water

And much more!

Off Grid Water Solutions: Sourcing Safe Water when Living Outside of Infrastructure

So, if you want to learn more about how to get clean water for your off-grid home or cabin, keep reading our guide to learn everything you need to know!

What Is Off-Grid Water Sourcing?

A clean and reliable supply of fresh drinking water is a must in the modern world and when you choose to step away from the traditional urban way of living and independently provide your own power and provisions, water is something you need to account for. A clean and abundant supply of drinkable water is essential.

Living off-grid doesn’t mean giving up on home comforts or indeed safety, but when accessing fresh drinkable water isn’t as easy as simply turning on a faucet, sourcing, storing, and using water is a more complex affair. There are a number of options open to you.

Sourcing Off the Grid Water

There are a range of different sources of off-grid water, more than many people realize. The options available will depend on where you’re based, but you may even consider locating your off-grid home based upon water sources. These are the most common places to find water for living off the grid.

Wells

Water wells are the most common source of water found for off-grid living. Drilling a well in the US costs $5,500 on average and they tend to be at least 150ft in depth. As the well becomes deeper, it becomes more expensive, but once you complete your well, you have a reliable source of water, and it is also very low maintenance.

The water table is key to determining the depth of your well. In wetter regions, the water table may be around 100 feet below the surface, but in arid and desert climates, you may find you need to go as deep as 1000 feet. Drilling and digging a well is a time-intensive process and if you’re considering a well for your property, doing your research is essential.

To get water from your well, you will also need a pump. Pumps can be manual and just like the traditional wells you remember from storybooks, or they can be electric or even solar-powered. The right pump will help make the water collection more efficient.

It should also be remembered that wells are not recommended in areas where earthquakes are common or hydraulic fracking activities take place, as a single action could spell the end of all your hard work and your water source.

Rainwater

Relying on rainwater can be a risky strategy, but it depends on the region you live in and the facilities you have for storing the rainwater. Rainwater is completely free and easy to collect. If you live in an area with moderate to high rainfall, it can be a valuable resource. Rainwater is also one of the cleanest sources of naturally occurring water you’ll find.

Investing in a rain catchment system can divert the water that lands on your property’s roof into a storage system. It is possible to calculate how much water you may be able to access this way. Every square foot of roof space is able to capture 0.623 gallons of water for each inch of rainfall. For your individual calculations, you simply need your roof square footage and the local rainfall statistics for your area. You’ll be surprised how many gallons of water it is possible to capture and store and it may remove your need for alternative, costlier water sources.

Rain catchment systems are only suitable for certain types of roofs, ideally metal or slate. Asphalt roofs are not suitable for rainwater collection and drinking this water can be dangerous. You will also need to consider the treatment and filtration of rainwater before drinking it.

Springs

Naturally occurring springs provide freshwater but aren’t very commonly found. If you’re lucky enough to live near one, then it is definitely recommended to use this source for your water supply. Springs cost absolutely nothing and can provide considerable amounts of water depending on the size. Springs are like nature’s answer to man-made wells, as they appear at points where the groundwater shoots and moves through cracks in the ground up to the surface.

Very few people are lucky enough to have a spring flowing onto their off-grid land. When you’re first looking to buy a plot, you’ll see those with spring access are a lot more expensive to buy in the first place.

Remember, relying upon a natural source of water means you are also at the mercy of the climate. A particularly dry year may mean you do not have as much spring water access as usual and can also freeze in colder months.

Streams, Rivers and Ponds

Naturally flowing water has been a reliable source for centuries. However, in the modern age, you may not be able to use this water as easily as you’d think. Relying on rivers, streams, and ponds is actually illegal in many states. In the Western states, Appropriate Water Rights have to be considered. This essentially means that in most instances, even if the water is on your land, you do not own the right to that water. If you draw water from this natural source of water, you may be subject to fines.

Buying Off the Grid Water

Off-grid living is supposed to be a commitment to throwing off the shackles of consumerism and urban infrastructure. Opting to buy water and bring it back to your home is slightly at odds with this ethos, but it is certainly possible. Many off-grid households rely on bought water, purchased in large water tank form which can be towed behind or carried within your vehicle.

Buying water means you are, in some way, relying upon the grid for your survival so it does undermine your commitment to off-grid living. It is also expensive and if you were to run out of water at an inopportune time, there is nothing you can do but wait until it’s possible to go and buy some more. Bulk buying water also isn’t possible in all areas so it is an option you may want to save as a last resort.

Running Water Off-Grid

Many people living off-grid want to live as close a life to the one they had before, and this means installing a running water supply in their off-grid home. There are two main systems that allow for this.

The first system has been used for many years and relies on the natural force of gravity to move water through the pipes of your home. This gravity-fed storage system is easy to install and as long as your water tank is elevated higher than your home, water will naturally remove down and through the pipes. The downsides of this system are being able to elevate your water tank high enough, which can be difficult unless you have a rain catchment system already in place. The alternative is to pump water mechanically or manually into your tank, which can be time-consuming.

The second system for running water in your home is to use a powered pump. Powered pumps provide pressurized water for your property and solar-powered models are available. Pumps are available with varied gallons per minute flow rates, and they allow for high water pressure when you need it.

Water Storage Options

We’ve already discussed the need for water tanks to keep your stored water safe and accessible. It is almost always necessary to store large amounts of water when living off-grid. Rainwater and spring water sources usually require a cistern, which is another common name for a water tank, although they originally referred to underground tanks only.

The most common cisterns in use are large plastic tanks, but they can be made from any material, with metal, stone and cement cisterns seen on many off-grid settlements. Plastic is the most popular option because of its durability and resistance to bacteria and microbial growth. Elevating your water tank can help with water pressure as already mentioned, as gravity will help move the water through your system.

Water Filtration and Treatment Off the Grid

Finding a reliable source of water and then storing this water are two of the key stages to succeeding in ensuring you have a reliable supply of water, but you must also consider its safety. You will need some kind of water filtration or treatment system, as almost every natural source of water could potentially be contaminated. Some water sources may be cleaner than others, but to be 100% happy and have peace of mind, filtration or a treatment system is always recommended.

Treating your off-grid water supply is most straightforward using a gravity-fed or inline water filtration system. Gravity-fed filters are an affordable choice and also benefit from being easy to maintain. They require no plumbing work and are great if you want a basic yet effective solution for filtering your off-grid water, so it is suitable to drink.

All water you plan to drink or cook with should be filtered or treated and the same is true for water you plan to wash in. There are many instances where it is completely fine to use untreated water too, including:

  • Watering the garden – provided all fruits and vegetables are properly cleaned and washed before consumption
  • When doing laundry
  • Washing hands when a disinfectant or antibacterial soap is used
  • Showering – as long as you have no open wounds and no water is swallowed
  • Washing pets and animals as they are less susceptible to waterborne diseases than humans

It is entirely your choice how far you take your water filtration, but for safety, it is essential you have a system in place for any water that will be consumed or absorbed by the body.

Don’t Forget your Waste Water

Once you’ve used the water you’ve collected and treated, what happens to it? Wastewater is split into two categories:

  • Greywater, which is from washing machines, sinks, tubs and showers and can often be recycled
  • Blackwater, which is from toilets and needs to be disposed of or properly treated

Most off-grid homes will opt for a dedicated blackwater treatment system such as a compost toilet or septic tank. These ensure this type of waste is safely treated and kept away from the water supply. Composting toilets are less common than traditional septic tanks but are believed to be more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Greywater can often be used around the home in different ways, and you can store it and safely use it in your garden for example. It should be treated first, and you can have a dedicated single storage tank for greywater. From there, you can select the right filtration or treatment for your circumstances. It is even possible to find dedicated greywater filtration units that pass the water through, and it can then be safely used in the garden.

Your options for wastewater management may be limited by your location, as there are restrictions and laws that can dictate the choices available to you. Once you know your options, you can then choose the most appropriate system for your home.

Off-Grid Water Systems for your Lifestyle and Needs

The best water system for your off-the-grid lifestyle will be dependent on a wide range of personal factors. You may be lucky enough to have access to fresh springs or you may have inherited an off-grid property with a fully functional rain catchment system. Alternatively, you may be starting from scratch and simply looking for the best plot of land for your new home.

Your choice to go off-grid may be influenced by many factors and if you want to slip into as simple a life as possible then maybe you’re not going to want to consider the intensive practice of drilling your own wells and similar. However, if you’re living in an area where rainfall isn’t particularly high, relying on a rain catchment system may not be your best option.

Your budget and regional location will be key to your final decision. It is a decision that is worth taking your time over, especially if you have yet to purchase your land. As you can see from above, you have a wide range of options available when it comes to bringing fresh water to your off-grid home. 

Meet Your Plumbing Expert

Arnold Long

I've been helping folks with plumbing issues ever since I can remember. Some folks may think it's a dirty job, but I love it. MrBluePlumbing is all about helping folks find what they need to make their plumbing problems go away for good.
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