Water Management for the Household

In this article I would like to give a bird’s eye view of the household management of water storage, collection, purification, conservation, and reuse.


The low hanging fruit is to store some water now to get you through a small power outage or similar issue. Things to consider are:

    At least 1 gallon per person per day for at least 3 days, preferably 2 weeks

    A few days’ worth of water in easily transported containers such as bottled water

    Food grade containers that are well cleaned, did not previously store dangerous chemicals, and are well sealed

    Purified water to store

To see a more thorough walk through of storing water long term, read this article.

Water Collection

If you are looking for a natural and sustainable source of water, there are a number of methods. You can collect water from the rain, from the ground, or from under the ground. There is also work being done to collect water from the air.

Rain harvesting can be very cheap, using a food grade barrel under a downspout. It is also possible to create a standalone surface to catch and funnel water. Systems usually have some means to filter large debris, a container, a place for overflow, and a water filter.

To calculate how much rain you can expect to get from your roof, and to see 23 DIY examples, read this article.

To read a thorough account of a family installing a large underground cistern, and to find resources to learn about local laws that may limit rain catchment, read this article.

Here are some ideas where to find free or cheap containers.

Harvesting water out of the air is controversial. Some people think it is effective, others less so. A group at MIT has created a prototype they claim is very promising. “With this process, over a quart of water can be produced per day per pound of MOF material, even in arid conditions with only 20 percent humidity.”

There are also simple DIY techniques. This one uses a fan to blow air underground where it will cool and condense.

Above ground sources are things like springs, creeks, rivers, and ponds.

To locate a spring, look for areas with thicker, healthier vegetation, more insects and animal tracts, and damp ground. (1)

There are a number of methods to transport water to your home or garden. Of course, there is an electric water pump. Several energy free designs are:

The Ram Pump

This can be built with parts from a local hardware store. Initial water pressure is created with either an existing current, or by directing the flow of some water down to use gravity. Some excess water is released at the pump to eject the rest upward towards your destination. The pump requires no other source of energy besides gravity, and fewer moving parts makes it more durable. The disadvantage is that only around 10% of the original water source makes it to the higher destination. Although the water ejected at the site of the pump can be repurposed. Here is an interesting video explaining how ram pumps work.

Here is a DIY hydraulic ram pump built for around $100.

This guy came up with a new design for his gate valve that he says makes his pump stronger and more reliable.

Here is an engineer delving into the technical details to how to design the right ram pump for your needs.

Rife River Pump

This is a pump that can be placed in a current of water. The current makes the body of the pump rotate due to its propellers. Inside of the body is an Archimedes screw pump which lifts the water to the top simply by turning. The water enters a hose that then goes to land. These devices require basically no maintenance or continuing costs.

Here is an explanation of a commercial model. They are for sale through the Rife Hydraulic Engine MFG Co.

Here is an attempt to build a DIY version for around $100.

Water Wheel Pump or Spiral Pump

This has a coiled tube rotating so that the opening is submersed in the water facing the current. Water slowly gets pushed along the whole tube and through an extension to land. The wheel has fins or a water wheel configuration to turn it. Here is a video demonstration.

Here is a technical paper with construction details.

Another design is a waterwheel rotating an axel, which lifts a crank up and down, which moves a piston, which drives a water pump.


Wells are usually a bigger investment than the other options. It may cost $2,000-$8,000 or more. (2) Information about underground water and other systems will need to be acquired, and local laws and permits will need to be considered.

This article by Mother Earth News has a cheaper way to install a well.

And a list of techniques from primitive to modern can be found here.

Water Purification

Water can carry bacteria, viruses, chemicals, metals, and other contaminants.

Here is a good article on proven methods to treat the water, as well as instructions.

Filters are one of the more popular methods. Berkey water filters are well regarded, but they can be expensive. There are cheaper DIY alternatives that use the Berkey filters inside food grade buckets that cost a third of the price. Here are instructions to build the filter for around $100.

An older method uses gravel, sand, and activated charcoal.

It is good to have a portable filter for hikes or in the car just in case. The Life Straw and Sawyer are two good products.

Water Conservation

    Rather than running the faucet, fill the sink or a bucket to wash from

    Use only the dishes needed

    Cook with only as much water as needed in the right size pan

    Shorten showers

    Turn off water while washing hair

    Turn off water while brushing teeth

    Put filled water bottles in the toilet’s tank safely away from operating mechanisms to flush with less water

    Install an aerator for the faucets

    Check for toilet leaks once a year by putting food coloring in the tank

    Get plugs for bathtub and sinks

    Get appliances with the WaterSense® label

    Turn off taps tightly to prevent dripping

    Only run full loads of laundry or match the water level to the load size

    Check hoses and pipes for leaks

    Use timers for irrigation

    Recirculate water in evaporative coolers, pools, fountains, and ponds

    Plant native species in season

    Leave grass cuttings and leaves on the yard, use compost and mulch in the garden to help retain the soil’s moisture

Grey Water

Grey water is used water besides what comes from toilets. Local laws permitting, after it has been filtered and purified, usually with bleach or iodine, it can be reused for flushing toilets, washing clothes, or garden irrigation. When using it for toilets, the water should be placed in the bowl and not the tank to avoid damage or backing up in the system. Water for the garden should be free of toxic chemicals or products with too much salt, should be applied underground and not sprayed in the air, and should not go to particular plants such as seedlings or root vegetables. (3)

I hope these tips have motivated you to be proactive and intentional about these basic necessities. Perhaps there were some solutions that were new to you. If you have other ways that you manage your water, we’d love to hear about them in the comments!

1) https://www.sapling.com/7683253/land-spring-water

2) https://costaide.com/average-cost-dig-well/

3) https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_m/M106/


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