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How to Build an Off Grid Water System

The average American has been lulled to sleep by the undeniable consistency of the water tap. Our water system in America is absolutely incredible. At any time of the day, you can get near-limitless amounts of potable water delivered to your home by just turning a knob.

It is a luxury that few of us ever really think about until it ceases. Of course, even that is pretty rare. However, in some parts of the nation, like Florida, the tap water can be knocked out regularly by things like hurricanes.

How to build an off grid water system

Are you prepared to handle a water emergency?

This is why I wanted to write about how to build an off grid water system for your family. There is no doubt that we could benefit from a little water conservation and even if you are on tap water, an off-grid system helps with water conservation.

Why Learn How to Build an Off Grid Water System?

Western parts of the nation are suffering droughts which seem to increase in severity, year over year. We are pulling lots of water out of the aquifers beneath the ground to meet the agricultural needs of the world! It’s no short order.

If you want to know how to build an off grid water system then you should first realize that the nature of water access is changing around the world. Since we have grown accustomed to limitless water we should be prepared if that comes to an end. Or, if the gallons of water that we are allowed to use each month get limited in some way.

Clean water will always be a priority and the fact that it runs underground and falls from the sky means that we should always have a water supply at our disposal.

How Much Water Does Your System Need to Produce?

The calculation for your water needs is pretty simple. Most people will be able to meet the needs of their families with their off grid water system. For total off grid living, you should source 3 gallons of water per person per day.

To know how much water your system needs to produce you are just going to take the number of people in your home and multiply that by 3. So, you need to produce 12 gallons of water per day if you have a 4-person household.

Now, you may want to boost that to assure you have water for your gardens, too. The falling rain will water your gardens but if you are living off grid then you wanna make sure you have some extra water for your garden, too.

Remember, gardens do not need potable water in most cases. You do not need to have a clean water source just for your garden. See our grey water section to understand this. Also, any extra water from your 3 gallons of water per person per day can be used in the garden, too.

Rain Barrels

If you are wondering how to build an off grid water system it can all start very simply. Rain barrels can collect massive amounts of rainwater. This water can then be used as part, or all, of your off grid water system.

Rain barrels for collecting rain water

The average rain barrel will hold around 50-60 gallons of water. There is a good chance that your home has 4 downspouts running off the gutters. Larger houses have even more. If you were to only channel two of those downspouts into rain barrels, that would give you access to around 100 gallons of rainwater at any given time!

100 gallons of water is more than you can probably store inside your home and more than the average family would use in 2 weeks. That is a reliable source of water. Though there are times of drought, rainwater collection is pretty consistent for most of the year.

Rain Catchment

Catching rainwater in 50-gallon barrels is one thing but if you want to know how to build an off grid water system that is capable of even more then you might consider large water storage tanks or cisterns. These large vessels can hold as much as 1,000 gallons of water!

These same cisterns can be piped into your downspouts, just like the rain barrels, and rainwater can be collected in them. You might need an electric pump to access this much water. These pumps can be plugged into your home or they even make some great solar-powered pumps that will work as long as there is a sun in the sky or the battery is charged.

In the early stages of learning how to build an off grid water system, you might think the bigger the better.

These much larger tanks for storing water give you the ability to store lots of water but you have to use that water. If you store old water in a container for a long time it will start to smell and you will be tasked with emptying and cleaning that large container.

These containers can also be so large that you need machinery to move them around. So, consider that, too!

Well Water

If you want to learn how to build an off grid water system that isn’t totally reliant on rainwater then you will want to consider digging a well on your property.

Before we go any further with this idea there is a lot that goes into digging a well. You cannot get yourself all worked up and just start digging straight down. For one thing, you can wind up hitting all kinds of stuff with your shovel. I am not just talking about rocks either. I am more worried about things like fuel lines, gas lines, and power lines which can all be deadly if you are not careful. Call 811 in the US to find out where underground electrical or plumbing systems are located so you can dig around them.

Digging a well for off grid water supply

Beyond these threats, you also need to check for local restrictions or permit requirements. A good place to start is by contacting the department of health and environmental control. They will likely have a number of rules and regulations for you to look over.

By digging a well you can access the water table beneath your feet. This water table exists all over the world and rises and falls with the land. You cannot dig a well everywhere but in lots of places, you can.

If you can dig a well, the first thing you are going to need to do is to test the water. The well water, while it will be filtered in most cases, should still be tested to assure it is not contaminated by dangerous chemicals or other things that could cause you and your family harm.

You will need a water pump to draw the water up from your well if you are going to rely on that water for drinking.

Well water can also be a great resource for watering gardens, too!

Water Filtration

If you know how to build an off grid water system the chances are that you want to get even further away from the system. I would recommend that you lean on modern water filtration when it comes to filtering your drinking water.

Modern filter elements are so incredible that you can simply sip directly out of many bodies of water. You can literally pump lake water through one of these modern filters like Katadyn Hiker Pro or a Sawyer water filter and just drink that water straight without concern.

I couldn’t teach you how to build an off grid water system without mentioning a few different types of water filters you should have on hand.

Well Water Filters

When it comes to how to build an off grid water system, you should consider digging a well. Tens of millions of Americans live on well water. Even if the water that comes from the well is safe for drinking people who live on well water run that water through a whole home water filtration system. Sometimes safe drinking water can still have an odor or a taste that is just not right. That will put people off when it comes time to hydrate.

Well water filters to clean your well water

Whole house well water filters are an important part of the off grid water system. Make sure you have backups, too!

Gravity Filter

Another important part of thinking about how to build an off grid water system is gravity filters. Gravity filters are very impressive systems that use gravity to slowly run water through the filtration system. The most notable gravity filter is the Big Berkey and this water filtration system has one of the most revolutionary water filters built into it.

Pump Filter

When it comes to how to build an off grid water system with the fastest results, you can invest in a pump-style water filter. This system uses a handpump to press water through the filter. These water filters work much faster than the gravity style filters but they are often less thorough.

Hand pump water filter

I keep a pump filter in my bugout bag because they are great for refilling bottles and water bladders. However, they might be just what you need to pump some water out of one of your rain barrels.

Pressurized Jerry Can

One more thing to consider when choosing how to build an off grid water system for your family is using a pressurized Jerry can. The pressurized jerry can is a product by HydroBlu that I recommend to anyone who is working on water preparedness. It is a 4-gallon water jerry can that is pressurized by a pump and filtered for safe drinking. It’s a marvel!


Once you learn how to build an off grid water system and learn the skills that go along with it, you have an advantage. It opens your eyes to all the waste in our society and just how easy it is to get prepared for a water emergency.

When the tap turns off your system suddenly becomes your main source of water and if you are all set up then that can happen without missing a beat.

Greywater is one of the ways that you can make this happen. Greywater is the water that you use to wash clothes, and dishes, bathe or shower. Basically, it is water that is not highly contaminated with chemicals and does not have solid waste in it.

Greywater can basically be recycled for cleaning other areas of the home, outdoor areas or even watering plants and shrubs.

Capturing greywater can be done by installing an expensive system that allows you to toggle between sending water to your outflow or capturing it in a grey water container.

The simple man’s method of capturing greywater is just placing a bucket under the faucet and unscrewing the pipe that connects the faucet so things like your dishwater can flow into that bucket. It can really be that simple!

The big thing is to remember that you need to filter out any chunks or pieces of food from your greywater so make sure your chickens get the scraps from your plates and maybe rinse them once before collecting greywater.

Also, you should consider using gentler natural cleaners so that the chemicals are not so harsh if you use this water for plants. No matter how you do it, greywater is an integral part of how to build an off grid water system.

Off Grid Water Conservation Tips

When discussing how to build an off grid water system it is easy to get wrapped up in what you can buy and build. Everyone can benefit from conserving water. It is really easy to conserve water and when you are on a limited off grid supply this will make a huge difference!

  1. Turn valves on rain barrels, taps, and other water containers completely off. Dripping adds up over time.
  2. Inspect your off grid water system monthly for leakage.
  3. Install a low pressure off grid shower system to avoid using lots of water for baths.
  4. Water gardens during the cool part of the day so you can water less and get the most out of your water.
  5. Take advantage of greywater.
  6. Do your outdoor chores and work in the mornings and evenings to expend less of your own water then you will not have to rehydrate as much.
  7. Look into compost toilets rather than traditional flush toilets.
Turn all faucets off to prevent dripping, which will add up over time.

Wrapping Up How to Build an Off Grid Water System

The more you know about how to build an off-grid water system the easier it will be to create your own version. Managing an off-grid water system has a lot to do with conservation and about having a lot of different water sources. Even if you do not want to go completely off grid with your water system it is just a great investment to have a backup.

Anyone can build their own system and you can take it as far as you like. You can create an entire plumbing system to deliver your off grid harvested rainwater to all your faucets and toilets. Your aspirations are truly the limit of your water system and your self-reliance in general.

Now that you’ve got survival water figured out, what about food? Read The Complete Guide to Long Term Food Storage.