Setting up a reliable off-grid water system requires properly sizing your storage tanks and pumps. Undersized components can lead to water shortages and outages whenever demand exceeds supply. Oversized tanks and pumps waste money and energy. By taking the time to calculate your water usage needs and configure suitable system components, you can enjoy steady water flow regardless of weather or demand fluctuations.
Determine Your Water Usage Requirements
The first step in sizing your off-grid water system is to estimate your expected daily water demand. This includes usage for drinking, cooking, bathing, laundry, and all other household needs. As a general guideline, plan for 50-80 gallons per person per day for basic indoor household use. This number may need to be increased depending on the number of livestock, amount of irrigation, or other water uses on your property.
Estimate Daily Water Demand
Make a list of all the ways you utilize water on a daily basis, then multiply by estimated gallons used per instance. Showering or bathing can use 20-40 gallons per instance. Washing dishes by hand takes 2-5 gallons, while running a dishwasher uses 10-15 gallons per load. Laundry loads may take 25-40 gallons. Toilet flushing uses 1.5-3 gallons per flush. Faucet use for cooking, drinking, brushing teeth and all other purposes can account for 10-15 gallons per person daily. Gardening, livestock watering, and other outdoor uses need to be added as well. Total up the expected daily volumes from all household and outdoor water uses to arrive at your estimated daily demand.
Factor in Water Sources
When relying on a well, you need to know its yield rate in gallons per minute to determine if it can meet your peak demand. Measure the rate your well can sustain for 1-2 hours to get accurate data. For rainwater harvesting, study historical rainfall patterns for your location to estimate the amount that can be captured annually from the roof surface area you will use. Compare your potential supply from these sources against your usage demand totals to ensure your system is properly sized.
Selecting and Sizing a Water Storage Tank
With your usage demand calculated, now it’s time to pick the right water storage tank setup. There are a variety of tank sizes and material options to choose from when implementing an off-grid water system.
Types of Water Tanks
Common tank materials include concrete, plastic, fiberglass, and metal. Concrete tanks are durable but very heavy. Plastic tanks are lighter weight and fairly inexpensive but may crack over time when exposed to sunlight. Fiberglass combines strength with lower weight. Metal, often galvanized steel, provides long-lasting rust-resistant storage. Tanks can be installed above ground or buried below the frost line.
- Above ground tanks allow easier access for maintenance.
- Underground tanks won’t freeze in winter or overheat in summer.
Calculating Required Tank Size
To determine the needed tank size, take the estimated daily demand and multiply it by the desired number of days the storage should last. Having more storage capacity provides a nice buffer in case of drought or pump failure. For a completely off-grid home, plan for at least 7 days of storage as a minimum. In many cases, 2000+ gallons is recommended for a reliable supply.
Other factors that allow reducing tank size are having a supplementary water source like a creek or spring, or implementing effective rainwater harvesting. But when relying solely on the storage tank, bigger is usually better for off-grid water reliability.
Placement and Installation
Choosing where to locate the tank on your property will depend on whether you go with above ground or buried placement. Underground tanks are protected but require more complex installation. Above ground tanks can work well when placed on a sturdy foundation at an elevation that allows gravity flow into the home.
Make sure to situate the tank for convenient access by your water pumps. All required valves, gauges, and fittings should also be planned out before installation. If buried, provide a housing to keep above-ground connections and hardware accessible yet protected from the elements.
Choosing the Right Pump for Your Needs
In an off-grid setting, pumps need to reliably deliver water from the storage tanks into the household plumbing system. Selecting pumps with an appropriate power source and adequate capacity prevents shortages when demand is high.
Pump Types and Power Options
Several types of pumps can work for off-grid homes. Submersible pumps mount down in the well or storage tank. Jet pumps locate near the tank and force water in on demand. Ram pumps run off falling water pressure without electricity. For power, AC pumps need a generator while DC pumps can run directly off batteries. Solar pumps are also a great off-grid option.
Match your pump’s power requirements to the electric supply you have available, whether that’s a generator, battery bank, or solar panels. Having a backup power source like a generator is wise in case of cloudy weather if using solar.
Pump Capacity and Flow Rate
Size your pump so it can deliver your peak demand flow rate, measured in gallons per minute. Having a lower-capacity pump will lead to water starvation when simultaneous uses like showering occur. The pump must be able to quickly replenish the pressure tank at full demand.
As a guideline, select a pump that provides 8-10 gallons per minute for every bathroom in the home. Allow additional capacity for outdoor irrigation flows. Pressure tanks buffer pumps from having to produce peak flows continuously.
Features for Reliability
Look for pumps designed for use in off-grid and demanding water supply scenarios. An auto cut-off switch saves the pump if the tank runs dry. Cold weather packages allow operation down to freezing temperatures. Soft start features prevent pressure surges. Multiple pumps can be used for redundancy.
Choosing the right size and type of pump is crucial for keeping water flowing reliably in an off-grid home when the power fails.
Achieving Optimal Pressure Regulation
Water supply systems function best when maintained at optimal stable pressure. Wide pressure fluctuations cause leaks and pipes to fail over time. Incorporating a properly sized pressure tank is key for keeping pressures smooth in an off-grid setup.
Purpose and Sizing of Pressure Tanks
Pressure tanks contain compressed air and an internal bladder or diaphragm to maintain pressure as water is displaced. When a faucet is opened, they immediately supply water so the pump can slowly spin up to avoid short cycling.
For sizing, allow 2-3 gallons of tank capacity for every 1 gallon per minute of pump flow rate. Larger tanks are better since they reduce pump cycling. Make sure your pressure tank’s air charge matches your desired cut-in and cut-out pressure settings.
Configuring Pressure Switches and Controls
The pressure switch turns the pump on when tank pressure drops to the cut-in pressure, and off when it reaches the cut-out pressure. Having a wide differential between the two prevents rapid pump cycling.
Use solar controllers that prevent pump battery drainage and engage backup generators if needed. Include surge protectors and gradually ramp pumps up to speed. Proper controls are critical for seamless water delivery off-grid.
Creating a reliably-performing off-grid water system requires proper sizing of your storage tanks, pumps, and other components based on calculated demand. Oversizing provides a buffer while under-capacity leads to shortages and outages. Performing usage estimates, selecting quality hardware, and configuring controls for seamless operation allows you to have water on tap regardless of weather or demand when living off the grid.
Alternative Water Sources
If your well or storage tanks are unable to meet your water needs, consider supplementing with alternative water sources. Installing a rainwater harvesting system to collect water from rooftops and surface runoff can provide water for non-potable uses. Drawing water from a nearby stream, pond, or other surface water source is another option, as long as suitable filtration is in place. Greywater recycling systems can reuse water from sinks, showers, and washing machines for irrigation or flushing toilets. Exploring these alternative sources reduces strain on your main water supply.
Implementing water conservation measures is one of the easiest ways to reduce demand on your water system. Low-flow faucets, toilets, and showerheads drastically cut household water use. Drip irrigation, mulching, and water-wise landscaping decrease outdoor water needs. Fixing any leaks, collecting rainwater, and reusing greywater allows you to get more out of your existing water sources while reducing your storage and pumping requirements.
If utilizing rainwater, surface water, or greywater to supplement your main water supply, proper treatment is essential. Filtration removes particulates while UV systems kill bacteria and viruses. Reverse osmosis can desalinate brackish water sources. Disinfection via chlorine, iodine or ozone makes non-potable water safe for consumption. Investing in treatment ensures the quality of these alternative water sources.
Harnessing solar power allows you to operate pumps, treatment systems, and other components without reliance on grid electricity or generators. Installing solar panels and batteries provides renewable energy to extract water, maintain pressures, and run treatment with zero ongoing fuel costs. Solar water pumping is a smart way to leverage the sun for off-grid water independence.