FOR 7 YEARS I HAVE LIVED EXCLUSIVELY USING RAINWATER for all my water needs.

I have been asked to share my experiences, which I am happy to do. However, I need to state that this is only the way I do it. I do not use an approved system. I live in the country, far enough out that not too many people get bent out of shape by all the rules that are made to control everything we do, but I still keep a fairly low profile about this whole topic. Therefore I am declining to sign my name to this article. Why I Use Rainwater I bought a small house in the country on ¼ acre of wild land. There is no well, but the house has full plumbing, toilet, septic system, normal water heater, normal bathroom, normal kitchen, etc. -- there is just no water running through the pipes. I have deed rights to a spring about 300 yards away on the wild acreage of my neighbor’s property. In the past, a system of pipes had been laid in the creek that runs behind my house, and those pipes brought in water from the spring. When I arrived on the scene, the spring-house was collapsed in a jumble of weeds and the piping was disintegrated into pieces on the creek bed. The shallow well pump was rusting in the cellar. Instead of rebuilding that system, and dealing with all the vagaries of torrential rains, creek flood-level volumes and velocities violent enough to roll boulders around, deer walking upstream, etc., I decided to live on rainwater. I have the spring-fed creek as a backup for when it doesn’t rain, which has happened lately, with solid 1 and 2-month droughts in the middle of summer in the last two years. Fortunately, the creek never dried up, although it ran very low. This is the downside of rainwater – what if it doesn’t rain? One begins to think about cisterns! For the first 4 years I lived with 4 rain barrels. In the 5th year I added one more. Now I have 7. There were times this summer when the barrels were almost empty, but I didn’t end up using the creek because the drought broke. Also this year I hooked up another barrel to collect water from the air conditioner, which produced 64 gallons with light-to-medium use. The system I use does not allow water to flow into the house, so I carry water every day in buckets. However, if I wanted to drill some pipe holes in the walls, water could flow into the house. I have chosen not to do this because of other adjustments that would need to be made to provide the flow. It’s more work than I want to do. Living with Rainwater All I can say is that living without modern available-on-demand flowing water requires a mental adjustment. You have to slow down, think about water, how you’re going to be using it, and do some planning ahead. In 7 years, I have not found any of this burdensome at all, but I don’t live a fast-paced normal American life. Also, I have a positive relationship with camping, which includes how one handles water in the wild. I rather think of it like farming, when you have to milk the cows every single day, no exceptions. It becomes a way of life. The Setup: The More Roofs You Have, the More Water You Can Collect My house has 3 rooflines off of which water flows: (1) The west-facing front roof which has a gutter. This roof is steeply pitched and also collects pine needles and the other debris that pine trees make in the spring. Some moss grows on this roof also because of the shade from the pines. (2) the shallow north-facing roof of the added-on bathroom with no gutter, and (3) the steeply-pitched east-facing roof, also with no gutter.

When I first moved in, the cellar was extremely wet all the time because the lack of gutters allowed the soil around the foundation to become overly saturated when it rained. Vegetation at the foundation was thick and the soil seemed to never dry out. My first project, therefore – building low and reachable water troughs instead of putting high gutters on the north and east sides -- was aimed at drying out the cellar, but later on, when the droughts began, it was a setup already in place North for collecting rainwater. In side straight-down rain, the ground underneath the troughs doesn’t even get wet. Water collected from these troughs is not my primary water, but I will give building details here. These troughs are made very inexpensively and have held up so far for 7 years, surviving the tail-ends of 3 hurricanes with 70-80 mph winds. I used strips of lightweight ¼ inch foam insulation board supported by coat hanger wire bent to shape and attached to the house on two strips of wood with paneling screws. Duct tape joins the pieces and a liner of dry-cleaning bags taped together with Scotch tape lays unattached down the whole length of the trough. This prevents any dripping. This drapes over the edges and is secured by lying under the screen cover which is used to keep out tree debris. In winter I put strips of the same foam board insulation on top as covers (with string ties to hold them in place) if there is to be heavy snow, as the weight of snow collected in the troughs caused the wire hangers to bend out of shape the first year it snowed heavily. Now I cover and uncover them as needed. After experiencing last year’s 2-month drought, during which I had to take water from the creek, this year I added two water barrels to catch water from the long trough on the east side. This is casually thrown together at the moment and needs more work, but it worked well enough. These barrels had been put out for trash by my neighbor and one did not have a lid. I have screening clipped on with clothespins to keep out leaves and other debris.

4 Primary Water Barrels. If it rains once a week, this is all the water I need. The original 4 barrels provide my primary water. This water comes off the front roof, through a ridged plastic pipe which has replaced the down-spout from the gutter, into the first of the four barrels. These barrels sit on a side porch which can only hold 4 barrels because it must have enough clear space for the electric and telephone people to get to their boxes which are also on this porch. The lids of these barrels are secured against high winds by bungee cords. The four barrels, which are either 30- or 32-gallon Rubbermaid trash cans*, are all connected together near their tops by 2 lengths of regular garden hose, so water flows from barrel 1 to barrel 4 and all 4 barrels get filled. The point of inflow must always be higher than the point of outflow, so the placement of these connecting hoses gets a little bit lower with each step from the first barrel to the last one. This keeps the water flowing in the proper direction, not allowing it a stasis point at which it would reverse itself. Of course, this stepping down means that none of the barrels can hold their full number of gallons; each holds progressively less. To reduce a bit of this loss, I raised the first barrel higher with a layer of bricks. I could have gotten more volume of water by placing the first barrel on 3 layers of bricks, the second on 2 layers of bricks, and the third on one layer of bricks, with the fourth sitting directly on the porch. * I tried other kinds of trash cans but these have been the best. Rubbermaid makes a 50gallon can also, which is much more expensive. I don‘t know how it would hold up. Some trash cans made from a stiffer plastic, the kind that have wheels, do not hold up at all under the pressure and weight of the water, in conjunction with the expansion and contraction caused by changes in temperature. Round shapes are definitely better than squared ones, expanding evenly when ice forms. There is an outflow hose running from the last barrel out into the yard, away from the house. This snakes across the porch under the door you see, drops over the edge behind that barrel on the ground, and runs out into the yard through that piece of white PVC pipe

you see there, which I added to lead this runoff further away from the foundation when I found the original hose was too short. The first barrel also has an overflow hose on the side opposite the connecting hoses. When it pours torrential rain, the connecting hoses from barrel 1 to barrel 2 cannot handle the volume, so an overflow hose lets this extra volume dump out into the yard in such a way that it flows away from the house. In this regard, the natural terrain was perfectly sloped and I did not have to create any channels to accomplish this. Degrees of Clean: The water in the first barrel is always the dirtiest water from the front roof. It has the most debris in it from the gutter, as well as dust, dirt, and bird droppings. Even though I have put screening over the gutter, nothing keeps out pine needles! Most of this debris settles to the bottom and the water that flows into the other barrels is the clean top water. When the barrels are near empty, I clean out this bottom debris, probably once a year, when the summer is dry. I keep a wire mesh kitchen strainer by these barrels and use it to skim floating debris out of the water, to keep the water as clean as possible. In the fall, after all the pine needles have fallen, I climb up on a ladder and check the drain hole in the gutter. I run a wire down the plastic pipe to be sure it has not become filled with a little nest of pine needles. This happened one year, which I only noticed when there was a sudden waterfall pouring out over that end of the gutter during a rainstorm. Or maybe it was the wren’s nest that got washed downstream (I keep telling them not to build in my gutter!). The pipe had become blocked. The water gets progressively cleaner as it goes through the 4 barrels, so my cleanest water is always taken from the last barrel. That is the water I use for bathing, washing dishes, and making distilled drinking water. Water from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd barrels is clean enough to do laundry. During very dry weather or drought, I conserve the water in these four barrels very carefully, using them only for clean inside purposes, never for flushing or other dirty-water jobs. I’ll take water from the creek before using these barrels for those purposes during drought. Seasonal Variations The water from these 4 barrels has particular characteristics depending on the season. In the spring, the water may be pink or yellow from the pollens captured by the rain. The pollens will float on top of the water and collect in a thick ridge along the inside of the barrels. I usually remove this, trying not to disperse too much of it back into the water. In the summer, there is the mosquito question, which I will address later. In fall and winter the water is the cleanest. I use a hammer to break the ice, which is kind of fun. There are electric devices made for keeping animal water troughs from freezing which float on top of the water and put out some heat. They cost about $45 each, and I have 4 barrels. In my climate, I did not feel this was a particularly necessary investment, nor did I want more electricity dependence. The hammer works quite well and ice melts overnight in

the house. In extremely consistently cold weather, ice builds up in the barrels starting at the outside, building evenly thicker inward until there may be only a narrow opening of free water down the middle of the barrel, then water has to be dipped out with a small container. One year I hooked up a work lamp with a 60 watt bulb and it kept the center open for the week that was needed. When it snows, I collect snow, although you only get about half a bucket of water out of a whole bucket of melted snow. Secondary Water The shallow bathroom roof does not produce much runoff. I have only one barrel catching that water, and the water is always very dirty, good for flushing the toilet or watering plants. The dirtiness is, I think, because of the kind of debris produced by the sumac tree that overhangs, and perhaps because of the volume of moss growing on the bathroom roof. This is north-facing. There is always a lot of thick moss up there. The water here is cleanest in the winter. The steeply-pitched east facing roof produces tons of runoff, which is also dirty because of the sumac debris that collects on the trough screening, which I clean off periodically. This water is used for flushing, washing the car, watering plants, etc., anything that doesn’t require clean water. This year I added 2 new barrels to this side of the house. I have space enough to line up about 10 under that trough if needed. The Mosquito Question This is a serious issue for me because mosquito bites drive me crazy, not to mention West Nile and other fearful things, so I do all I can to reduce the mosquito population which is a chronic problem everywhere in this area. Along with removing all objects that might collect standing water, I’ve had to re-engineer the lids of the 32-gallon Rubbermaid trash cans. They are flat and collect water (whereas the 30gallon have domed lids). I tried emailing the company to see if I could get domed lids for these also, but they never answered. So I’ve built up a shallow dome of lightweight foam board on each lid and covered that with thick plastic sheeting, duct taped to the lid. The duct tape decomposes and has to be replaced from time to time, but at least water doesn’t collect there anymore. The other problem for me is that my front gutter is not perfectly flat across its length and small puddles of water collect in several low spots. My attempts to hammer out the low spots and/or to remove the nails and put up new gutter have not been successful, so I’ve decided to live with it for now. The mosquito population is actually quite minor. Mosquitoes breed in those shallow puddles and then get washed out of the gutter into the rain barrels, so in the summer I end up with squigglers (mosquito larvae) in the water,

which if left alone long enough, turn into mosquitoes in the rain barrels. In a good heavy rain, if enough water moves through all the barrels, that whole population gets cleaned out. But then there are the puddles in the gutter again, and new ones are bred. My simplest solution to this whole problem in the summer is to lift the barrel lid just a tiny bit and spritz the Dickens out of whatever might have hatched into adulthood. I use a homemade spritz of kitchen dishwater (which has soap in it) and vinegar. The soap coats their wings and they can’t fly. I don’t know what the vinegar does, but it makes me feel better that it’s there. Plain water is not effective at all. After a vigorous spritzing, I open the lid and knock down anything that is still flying. Then I use my wire mesh kitchen strainer to scoop off all the downed mosquitoes. A few will sometimes escape, to go find the low spots in the gutter again, and thus the cycle continues. I also use the strainer to scoop squigglers out of the water I’ve just filled my buckets with. I don’t want to bring any mosquito larvae into the house. A small amount of dish soap squirted into the water will also kill the squigglers, but I don’t necessarily want soap in my water since I’m not sure what I’ll be using it for. (The small amount of soap in the spritzing doesn’t seem to affect anything adversely.) This whole problem goes away in the fall. Hooray. I know that it is through the puddles in the gutter that this cycle happens because my water barrel hooked up to the air conditioner, making a closed system, never had mosquitoes in it. Therefore, they are not getting in around the lid and must come down the pipe from the gutter. The troughs are sufficiently angled that water does not stand in them and this is not a problem with any water barrels attached there. In the House I carry water every day in 3-gallon buckets, rain or shine. It’s what the enlightened person does! (“chops wood/carries water”), but I don’t carry it very far except when I take water from the creek. The size of the bucket is determined by the weight I can, or want to, carry. Some of how I do things is dictated by the small amount of space I have. You will see how this works out for me, but I would likely do things differently if I had different space. The Bathroom All water is used as many times as possible, with its last use being to flush the toilet, which is done by emptying one bucket of water (3 gallons) straight into the bowl. After the proper technique is developed, this is usually enough. A small amount of gray water may need to be added after flushing, to bring the water level in the toilet bowl high enough to just cover the flush opening. This prevents septic smells from backing up into the house. I never fill the bowl to what people would consider a normal level. As a side note: this is not a house that it is easy to have diarrhea in, so it behooves one to stay healthy! In regard to the toilet, I use the “If it’s yellow let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down” formula that motor home occupants have found effective to conserve water. If this mellowing results in a pissy smell, which I can’t tolerate, I change my pattern here and use a piss-pot (an old-fashioned chamber pot) which sits covered until the next big flush, at which time it is emptied and rinsed. I do not require guests to do this, allowing them free use of the toilet as needed, and I provide a guest basin for washing their hands.

I keep 4 full buckets of medium-clean to fairly dirty water in the bathroom, and I never go to sleep with less than 2 full buckets there. I also keep a 5th bucket in the bathroom, which is used to collect incidental “gray water” from bathing, hand-washing, floor scrubbing, etc. These are small amounts of water, usually, so I use this 5th bucket which is never full, for this rotating water supply. While I do have a normal bathroom sink and bath tub, I do not use them as intended. Instead, because of space limitations, two buckets of water sit in the bath tub at all times. I have no use for the sink, other than to hold dripping clothes when I do laundry. I use large bowls, metal basins, for washing. I have built a back-splash board for my normal-use basin to keep from splashing water on the walls. There is a “guest basin” also, for visitors to use, and several closed containers of clean water set aside for that purpose. Bathing as such is done the old-fashioned way, in the kitchen. I heat water and take a sponge bath standing on a towel, using two basins, one for washing, one for rinsing. If there are other people in the house, I do this in the bathroom. Washing of hair is done in the bathroom. I heat water in a large pot and dip the hot water onto my head with a container, collecting the water in another basin. This is very much like camping out in your own house. The resulting gray water is reused to flush the toilet. I don’t let this water sit very long, though, especially in the summer, as the organic shampoos break down pretty quickly within a day or two, and a bad smell can result. The Kitchen I keep one bucket of the cleanest water in the kitchen. This is used for dishwashing, half of it to wash, half to rinse, which I do in metal basins which sit in the normal sink. I don’t use the divided kitchen sink in any way except as a place to put these basins. Dishwashing/rinsing water is first poured through a cotton cloth bag to strain out any small particles of debris. The wash water gets recycled. It might be used to clean the sink, or go into the compost, or into the gray-water bucket in the bathroom, where it must be used up quickly as food debris in the wash water will decompose and begin to smell in a short time. The rinse water moves over to the wash water basin and is used once again. The cleanest water is also used for making drinking and cooking water, which I do daily with an electric water distiller. The water is first strained through a cotton cloth bag. I have to find a non-electric way of purifying water, but I don’t want to get tied into buying filters or chemicals for other kinds of units, so I haven’t solved this problem yet. I’ve seen units that can be used on a wood stove, but I don’t have a wood stove. I try to keep 3 glass gallon jugs, recycled from store-bought cider, full of distilled water at all times for normal use. The signs on the jugs say

“Peace and Joy,” “Healing,” and “Prosperity,” so that I remember to bless the water to those purposes as I lift and pour. I use about a gallon a day, but can use more when washing lots of vegetables or making soup. The distiller can make 4 gallons per day if needed. Laundry In planning to do laundry, I need to have water from barrel 1, 2, or 3 in my buckets, so I have to think ahead on this one a little. I do laundry by hand, so to speak, but I use a hand-cranked pressure-washer device. This works on the same principle as when you put warm water into a plastic bottle with a snap-on lid, put the lid on, and shake it up. Steam pressure from the warm water can blow the lid off the bottle. This laundry device is a container with a stand, a lid, and a crank handle and is used with hand-hot water. The steam forces the soapy water through the cloth of your clothes in about a minute or two of cranking. After washing this way, I rinse clothes by hand in the water buckets in the bath tub until I can feel soap building up in the water, then I switch to a clean bucket. All the wash and rinse water is used to flush the toilet. The clothes dry outside on a line in good weather, or in wet weather and in winter, they hang over the bath tub on coat hangers hung on a long curtain rod. This laundry method uses very little water and very little soap. I normally use one bucket of water or less for washing clothes. In spring and fall, when I wash quilts and heavy winter items, I collect extra water in a big tub outdoors when there is a good rain. I do this by placing the outflow hose from the 4-barrel setup in this tub, then I do these big laundries outside by hand. Washing the car – I do this in the rain with a broom. It’s fun. If it doesn’t rain and I really MUST wash the car, I do it with a bucket of water and a broom. Watering the lawn – There is no lawn, per se, more like a meadow. Nature takes care of this or it doesn’t get done. Watering the garden – Done by bucket, from the creek if weather is very dry. I have plans to set up an irrigation system using water from the creek exclusively, pulled up from the creek by a hand-powered transfer pump and the siphon principle. A Plumbing Consideration – The traps in all the drains (bath tub, bathroom sink, kitchen sink) must have water in them to prevent septic odors from backing up into the house. Because I don’t use the tub or the bathroom sink very much or as intended, I have to remember to dump some water down those drains from time to time. In addition, because I am not putting large volumes of water into the septic system, during heavy rains I will flush more times than normal, often using the water collected below: Additional Water – During heavy rains, a nice stream of water develops off the rear of my old van. I put a bucket there to collect that water, useful only for dirty-water jobs, thus conserving the water refilling the water barrels. There is also a leak at a joint in my front gutter that, no matter how many times I have tried to patch it, it still leaks. So be it -- I put a pot there to collect that water and use it to water flowers in my window-boxes.

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