Reduce, reuse, recycle…
It’s the mantra for the modern world. If you’re not living green you will be highly irresponsible, and in many cases a social outcast. We all owe it to our planet, and our children, to go as easy as we can on the resources available, and recycle them when practical to do so. It’s not very difficult, the ways we can do this increase almost daily, with the constant invention of resource and money saving products.
One of the most powerful things we can do to recycle and save money is harvesting rainwater. Our planet’s water supplies are under stress: industry and stupidity have ruined much of it, and what remains is dwindling quickly, and thus becoming increasingly expensive. It makes a lot of sense to harvest your own, taking advantage of that which falls from the sky, absolutely free.
There are many worrying reports of dangerous chemicals being found in municipal drinking water. Chromium 6, fluoride, and chlorine, just to name a few. Just one reason why rain is honestly one of the greatest gifts that nature bestows on us, and collecting it for later use really is a no-brainer. Harvesting your own rainwater:
- eases pressure on municipal supplies
- eases pressure on storm water systems
- eases flooding and runoff erosion
- allows full use of a very finite resource
- greatly reduces water bills
- gives you water free from the chemicals that many cities add to their water supplies
Now that you know the benefits of having a suitable rainwater catchment system, let’s go get you some free water!
The absolute ideal situation is where you are in the planning stages of building your home. You can confer with your builder and landscaper, and decide on a water harvesting system that is perfect for you, and have it installed and connected at the same time as your household plumbing.
This situation will also let you take full advantage of grey water recycling, which can be expensive to retrofit into an existing plumbing system.
The basis of any rainwater system are the storage tanks. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and one of them will be perfect for you.
The old standard
The ones I remember as a child were the round, galvanized corrugated iron ones. They were cheap, effective, and could double as many other items when they finally rusted through. (Wood sheds, chicken houses, and cubby houses for kids, to name a few. I made a fully plumbed shower stall out of one when I lived in the bush!)
Metal tanks have come a long way since then. Many of them have a food grade membrane sealed to the inside, and are designed to exclude insects, dust and vermin. They need to be placed on a solid slab, and cannot be used underground. They can, however, be repaired by the manufacturer if they are punctured.
The concrete behemoth
Concrete is mostly used for fairly large tanks, due to its great structural strength, and these tanks can hold massive amounts of water. They are delivered in preformed parts, or poured on site into a form, which is taken away later.
They can be installed underground, and this is their main use. They do crack, but very rarely, and this can be repaired although it may prove rather expensive if you have opted for the in-ground model. They come with load bearing tops, so the space above them is not wasted – you can use it just as you normally would any outdoor space.
Good old polyethylene
It’s been around for quite a while now, and it just gets better with age and engineering. Modern “poly” tanks are strong, lightweight and UV resistant. Most of them come with a 25 year guarantee. They can be situated above or below ground, they are affordable, and they are repairable. They come in all manner of colors, shapes and sizes, and can be customized to perfectly suit your situation.
There are some things that need to be considered when deciding to purchase one of these systems, the major one being maintenance. It’s not a heavy burden, and many of these will be on a home owner’s to-do list anyway, as part of normal roof maintenance.
REGULAR MAINTENANCE SHOULD INCLUDE:
- Keeping roof catchments clean and clear of moss, lichen, debris and leaves
- Cutting back trees and branches that overhang roofs
- Regular inspections and, if necessary, cleaning of gutters
- Cleaning gutter and tank inlets and screens every 3–4 months
- Disinfecting the water supply, if tank contamination is apparent
- Inspecting tanks annually, and cleaning them if necessary
- Testing the water periodically
GOOD DESIGN FEATURES SHOULD INCLUDE:
- A clean, impervious roof made from non-toxic material
- The absence of lead flashing or lead-based paints
- A coarse filter and first flush device to intercept water entering the tank, and gutter guards or screens
- Wire mesh (screens) to cover all tank inlets
- A covered and light-proof tank
- Tank taps or draw-off pipes that are at least 100 mm above the tank floor (Alternatively, a floating arm draw-off valve)
- A tank floor which slopes towards the sump and washout pipe
- A well-covered manhole for easy access and inspection.
The American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association has a website with a wealth of information about products, regulations, press releases and more. You can sign up for newsletters and get discounts on cool water saving products and services.
Grey water Harvesting
Now that you’ve got all the free water you could want, let me show you how you can use it twice!
Grey water systems divert waste water from your bath, shower and washing machine for further use. It can either run straight to where it is to be used, or you can store it in tanks for later treatment and/or use.
This water can be used to flush toilets and for irrigation purposes. Modern detergents are formulated to comply with very strict safety and environmental regulations, and are perfectly safe to use for watering veggie gardens and lawns.
Your best bet is to contact your local landscaper, and ask them for advice. They will know any relevant laws and regulations that may apply to you, they will be able to source products that will perfectly match your needs, and they can organize installation for you.