Living off the Grid – Rain Capture

By Matt Valzania

rainwater-harvesting_248One of the most vital elements to sustaining life after breathable air is water. Our planet is approximately 70 percent covered in water, but it’s not always where you need it. Thankfully, clouds function like water delivery trucks. However, if you aren’t set up to capture that rain, it will just end up going back into the ground to be recycled. This is where rain capture systems on your home and property can provide a significant benefit.

Rain capture is just that simple: It’s a system for collecting and storing rainwater for use later on. Its uses range from watering the garden, to use inside the home. Depending on where you are located, and the annual rainfall your area receives, the system you use may vary. Obviously, if you live in Death Valley, which has a mere two inches of rainfall per year, a rain capture system probably isn’t going to produce much. However, it’s worth considering that two inches of rain, landing on a 1,000 square-foot roof, can amount to about 1,200 gallons.


As mentioned, there are many uses for the captured rain, and those uses often depend on how much you collect and store.

Let’s take a moment to look at a couple capture systems: The rain barrel is the cheapest and easiest method. This consists of picking up one or two plastic 55-gallon drums and running your home’s current gutter downspouts into the tops. Any rain that lands on your home and ends up in the gutters can be collected and stored. To prevent debris and mosquitoes from getting in, the top opening where the downspout enters should be as small as possible and sealed around the downspout. If you want to get sophisticated, elevate the barrel a few feet to allow for natural pressure at the outlet. Of course you can use a small water pump to help build some pressure as well.

The next step up is installing an above- or below-ground cistern. We discussed cisterns in our Off the Grid – Water articles on Land University. Cisterns come in a variety of shapes and sizes depending upon budget and intended use. If you plan on going completely off the grid, and do not wish to rely upon a municipal water supply (or if a well is not suitable or possible on your property) ensure that you are correctly sizing the cistern so that it holds enough water to support the household. However, you don’t however need to store and entire years’ worth of rain at once. The Office of the New Mexico State Engineer published a great article on Sizing your Cistern. In it, along with providing the steps to follow to correctly size a cistern, they also provide a quick rule of thumb…

The recommended cistern size is approximately one-third of the amount that can be collected in a normal year.

It is also mentioned that, if your budget allows, it is worth substituting one-third the annual rainfall for one-half the annual rainfall, to help minimize those times when a massive rainfall exceeds the capacity of the cistern.


Truck It In

Of course, if your area runs through a dry spell and there isn’t any forecasted rain on the horizon, you can have a trucking company bring in potable water to be stored in your cistern. Of course this can be a little expensive, but it beats schlepping gallon jugs from the grocery store.




It should be mentioned that some states ban the practice. It’s also advisable to check your local municipal codes to ensure there aren’t any other local restrictions. As of April 2014, the following states allow for or do not specifically ban rainwater harvesting. Click specific links to view additional information:

Alabama Hawaii  Massachusetts New Mexico South Dakota
Alaska Idaho  Michigan New York Tennessee
Arizona Illinois Minnesota North Carolina Texas 
Arkansas Indiana Missouri North Dakota Utah
California Iowa Mississippi Ohio Vermont
Colorado Kansas  Montana Oklahoma Virginia
Connecticut Kentucky Nebraska Oregon Washington (state)
Delaware Louisiana New Hampshire Pennsylvania West Virginia
Florida Maine Nevada Rhode Island Wisconsin
Georgia Maryland New Jersey South Carolina Wyoming


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