Rainwater harvesting is emerging as an intelligent option for water supply in residential, commercial, and agriculture applications, and it couldn’t come in a better time.
From an alternate source of exceptionally high-quality water to stormwater management, awareness of the benefits is leading to a challenge of the status quo.
No longer does one need to rely on centralized water utilities or costly drilling and potentially undesirable well water.
The collection and use of rainwater is here. The engineered system combines natural processes and high technology to collect, store, and use the very best water; water from nature’s big distiller in the sky.
A home integrated with a rainwater harvesting system offers much to gain without sacrifice. Open the faucet, turn on the clothes washer, take a shower, or wash the dishes.
Perhaps you want to make a pot of soup, cook pasta, or simply enjoy a delicious cup of coffee, tea, or your favorite beverage. Use your water just as you always have; only now it is chemical-free, naturally soft, and makes everything taste better.
Raindrops falling on the average size custom home add up to approximately 120,000 gallons of water per year. Every drop is an asset of the homeowner. You own it, it has value and with ever-increasing water costs, the value builds. Rainwater harvesting provides a way for every homeowner to take control of your water.
What is Rainwater Harvesting?
Rainwater harvesting is the collection of rooftop rainwater for detention (for stormwater management) and/or retention for future use. You might be thinking that is too simple, but that is one of the beautiful things about rainwater harvesting, it’s simplicity.
Here’s the breakdown for you: After the water is collected on the rooftop, it travels to your gutters and through conveyance pipes that will carry the water to your water storage tank. Prior to entering the tank, the water is sent through a large contaminant filter that keeps any debris, leaves, or other unwanted waste from entering the water tank. This helps in maintaining clear and odorless water while in storage.
The water is then pumped out of the tank, through a simple but highly effective series of filtration and ultra-violet sterilization making your water crystal clear and safe to drink! The water is then ready to use. Systems are connected directly into your household plumbing. Simply turn on the faucet, and drink the rain!
Why Harvest Rain?
There are multiple reasons that homeowners are attracted to rainwater harvesting for their new custom home. Rainwater harvesting provides many benefits to be enjoyed personally at home, such as quality of water. And by definition, it contains rooftop runoff and thus can reduce site plan costs in construction, and finally, it is widely recognized as a sustainability best practice.
And if that isn’t enough, rainwater harvesting is just cool. Much like the incredible sense of accomplishment and pride that comes with harvesting produce from your garden, collecting rainwater feels good.
You can expect quite the reaction when you tell your guests they are drinking rainwater, or that the reason their skin feels so soft is that they just took a shower in natural rainwater which is rid of the hardness and chemicals they may be used to.
List of Benefits of Rainwater Harvesting
Municipal (city) water and well water have been the only two water sources available for most people for decades. There weren’t options for you if your well was producing poor quality water or if you were planning to build outside of municipal water limits. That is not true anymore. There are options.
Rainwater harvesting gives the ability to have excellent, pure water in the middle of nowhere. It is your own personal water supply. Whether in a vast prairie or on top of a mountain, collecting rainwater provides the option to live fully, without the concern of water availability and water purity.
Rainwater harvesting can be a very economical choice if municipal lines are not directly in front of your home. Drilling a well is always a gamble for both water availability and water quality.
Rainwater that is collected and sent through a properly designed system, is pure water. Recognizing the exceptionally low TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) of rainwater, water experts do not recommend purification systems such as reverse osmosis be used with rainwater systems – it is already pure!
It is free of inorganic contaminants, which include undesirable scale forming minerals and dangerous heavy metals because it is freshly distilled. The filtration and purification system removes any organic and microbiological contaminants. It is simply the best water on the planet!
Well Water – Nearly every well will contain scale forming minerals that wreak havoc on plumbing and appliances. Well water can also contain iron, sulfur, acid, methane, E-coli bacteria and many other undesirable properties that require costly water treatment equipment to purchase and maintain.
Municipal Water – Rainwater stands tall when compared with municipal water. Most municipal water utilities do an excellent job of providing water that meets federal drinking water standards. However just as you would not likely consider government provided housing desirable there are many reasons that you may also view public water supplies as a source of water that can be improved.
Let’s take a look under the hood. The local utility is required to test for 93 contaminants. A small amount of 92 of them are allowed to be in the municipal supply… And there are so many more.
The EPA has been especially concerned about one group of 117 listed on their CCL-4 (Contaminant Candidate List). This list contains some really bad stuff that has been found in municipal water supplies in the US including about six pharmaceuticals. It is not economically feasible to regulate even one or two of these, much less the whole group.
The extremes, such as Flint, MI with high levels of lead in the water, get the headlines and risk diverting our attention from real problems we have at home. The antiquated infrastructure is known to have anti-atrophic bacteria and other contaminants that cannot be monitored by the utility. Finally, chlorine, ammonia, fluoride, and corrosion inhibitors are added at the treatment plant.
Rainwater harvesting can be a key part of living off the grid. A self-reliant lifestyle can now include pure water that falls from the sky. Green home building these days is now filled with options, many more than even 15 years ago. The technology and ability to transform a house into an energy production site is an amazing advancement, and many, perhaps like yourself, truly appreciate the idea of sustainable living.
The average water cost in the U.S.A is $3.38 per 1000 gallons. (U.S. DoE) For someone who uses municipal water, you experience this monthly bill. And depending on where you are in the country, it can vary from $1.00 to $8.00 per 1000 gallons. The rivers, lakes, and aquifers can determine water costs. The further the utility company has to pump the water, the cost will go up. If the source water starts to be depleted, the cost will go up. If an aquifer runs out of water, the cost will go up.
The U.S.A. is having troubles with stormwater runoff right now. Due to the large amounts of hard surfaces from cities and roadways, much of the rainwater that used to replenish the lakes and aquifers is now heading out through the rivers and into the ocean. Rainwater is yours. It falls on your roof and is an asset that you own.
Planning for the Future
Even in the U.S.A., water cutoffs and limits are enforced. While most are all in favor of water conservation, everyone needs water. To have limits and restrictions placed on water usage can be an uneasy position to be placed. There is also the sound wisdom to always be prepared. You never know what will happen, your water utility could have a critical failure, or a major water quality issue could break out like in Flint, MI, your well could go dry, etc.
The value of having on-site water storage alone is immense, even without rainwater harvesting. But to pair on-site storage with rainwater harvesting can be an incredible system.
Stormwater Runoff and Regulations
Stormwater regulations are cracking down on site runoff. Properties must be able to maintain the stormwater that falls on the property up to a certain amount. This brings along with it costly water retention methods such as retention ponds and permeable pavers.
Rainwater harvesting gives the ability to gain from the stormwater retention regulations. Instead of capturing the water and letting it slowly go back into groundwater recharge, rainwater harvesting allows the water to be stored and used for potable and irrigation uses.
Retention Ponds – These can be costly, unsightly, and use a significant amount of space. Retention ponds are a cost-only method of stormwater retention and provide little in gain, including the unfortunate migration of more mosquitoes into the area. There are retention ponds that have been made to add a pleasant view to the property, but to do this costs even more. Most developers try to hide retention ponds the best they can.
Permeable Pavers – This can be a very costly way of retaining stormwater. And again, it is a cost-only method that can provide little benefit other than the retention itself. Permeable pavers can be made to be a beautiful addition to the landscape of a property. This, of course, comes with a price.
Reduced Site Plan Costs
When it comes to new construction, site development costs can become quite the animal. To be in compliance with stormwater regulations, developers are often faced with giving up large pieces of land for stormwater retention. With rainwater harvesting, these lots could rather be sold and have homes built on them.
The space required for rainwater harvesting systems is much less and more malleable than other retention methods. The developer would save money, be able to sell more lots, and take an environmentally green stance in the process – building a green community.
The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program gives points for projects with rainwater harvesting.
Consider the impact on your community. Freshwater sources are being depleted, while rain harvesters are GIVING BACK to the community. Positive environmental impact is the start to building a sustainable community. Recycling, water conservation, gardens, alternative power, and rainwater harvesting alike are great ways to begin this process.
Naturally Soft (Good for skin and hair)
Rainwater harvesting is the true “saltless softener”. Rainwater is naturally soft by going through distillation in the process of evaporation and raining pure water down. While many experience the “slick” feeling that soft water provides and think that it doesn’t remove soap, it is actually the opposite!
Hard water molecules react with soap molecules in a negative way, causing the soap to not rinse off but rather layer on your skin and hair. This is what can dry out your skin and hair and may be the reason you often need to use lotion and hair conditioners.
Naturally Soft (Good for plumbing and appliances)
Hard water builds up in plumbing and appliances. Everything from clothes and dishwashers to coffee machines. Hard water coats everything it touches with a layer of calcium and magnesium. This eventually builds up so much that it clogs pipes and small holes such as your shower spigot, which can lead to low pressure. And even whole-house hot water heaters (tank and tankless) are extremely affected by hard water because the hardness molecules coat on top of the heating coils which leads to breaking down and major efficiency loss.
A study by the Battelle Research Institute concluded that water heaters using softened water maintained their original factory efficiency rating for as long as 15 years. Running hard water through the units cut efficiency by up to 48 percent. Scale buildup shortened the lifespan of the heating elements inside electric water heaters, and some tankless water heaters using hard water failed after just 1.6 years. (Read the full executive summary report here)
The EPA has a set of standards for over 80 contaminants that may occur in drinking water and could be harmful to a human’s health. Chemicals like chlorine, which is well known, is a main disinfectant used to remove bacteria from the water. Chlorine is toxic. It can be absorbed through the skin and of course through oral consumption. We like to use water in its natural state, without the added chemicals.
Harvested rainwater provides pure, fresh, and great tasting water. And it is about the purest form of water that one can use for a whole-house supply. It would be impossible for water utilities to provide bacteria-free water without the use of chemicals such as chlorine. That is why either individual entry filtration should be used at every home, or an alternative method such as well water or rainwater harvesting.
Rainwater harvesting is a remarkable water source that can stand tall on its own merits when compared to municipal water or well water. The technology of this age makes possible the ability to use rainwater as a sole source water supply or to pair it with a secondary source with an automated switchover. There is a particular advantage to builders and homeowners who are about to build a new home.
Is rainwater harvesting for everyone? That’s not for us to decide. Do the benefits that rainwater harvesting provides interest you? If so, you to may become a rain harvester.