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An Overview of Residential Rainwater Harvesting

We take a look at rainwater harvesting as a whole – here’s a complete overview.

Rainwater Harvesting: Take Control of Your Water

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. Engineered system combines natural processes and high technology to collect, store, and use the very best water on earth; straight from nature’s big distiller in the sky.

A home integrated with a rainwater harvesting system offers much to gain and nothing to lose. 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, in most of the Midwest and Eastern United States, add up to approximately 120,000 gallons of water per year. Every drop is an asset of the homeowner in most states. 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 capture of rooftop rainwater for retention for future use and/or detention for stormwater management.

What does that mean?

For future use means any residential application that water would normally be used, this includes drinking, washing, bathing, and cooking. It is the primary water source for a residential application.

Stormwater management primarily comes into play during new construction, which is one of the reasons why rainwater harvesting has even greater benefits when coupled with new construction homes.

How Does Rainwater Harvesting Work?

To understand how a rainwater harvesting system works, one must first understand what it means to “work”. What are functional rainwater harvesting systems parameters? What is the definition of a successful system?

The Four Points of a Successful System:

  • Water quality:The water should be clear, odorless, colorless, free of bacteria, and taste great.
  • Water pressure:The water should flow at the highest pressure possible without exceeding proper limits.
  • Water storage:The water being stored should be odor-free, slime-free, and clear.
  • System design:The system should be designed to meet the supply and demand of the home and its occupants. What is the sq. ft. roof surface that will be collecting rainwater? What is the average annual/monthly rainfall in the area? How much storage gives enough buffer to supply the house with ease, even with rain lapses? What is the monthly demand? What is the peak demand? Will a backup or alternate supply be used?

If these four points are satisfied, this is a sure way of knowing that the system is successful.

When it comes down to it, rain harvesters should be able to use water just as they normally would and have no issues of water quality or availability. A successful system will ensure those qualifications are met.

The Rainwater Harvesting System Process

The genius of rainwater harvesting lies in the process. Starting with water being evaporated into the water cycle all the way to coming out of the shower faucet, the process is simple and effective.

  • Rain: Rain, while it’s falling, is the purest form of water that is naturally found on earth. Why? Because it just came out of nature’s big distiller in the sky. It is free of many contaminants found in surface water, and is naturally soft which brings many other benefits.
  • Rooftop: The first “component” of every rainwater harvesting system is the roof. This is where the water is captured and diverted into the storage. Rooftops are free of many contaminants found on other surfaces such as grass or paved surfaces, which makes them ideal for capturing and maintaining higher-quality water. While there are some contaminants and debris that end up on rooftops, these are soon filtered away in the system process. (The type of roof does matter for rainwater harvesting, so be sure to consult a rainwater harvesting professional if you wish to use it on your home. Shingles and tin roofs are among the many roof types that can be used. However, some shingle roof types have chemicals that render them unusable for rainwater harvesting).
  • Conveyance and Pre-Storage Filtration: From the rooftop, through the gutters, and down the downspouts, the rainwater flows through underground conveyance until reaching the pre-storage filter. The filters out large debris such as dirt and leaves.
  • Storage: The rainwater enters the storage through a smoothing inlet, which allows the water to enter the tank without disturbing the biofilm (a healthy growth of microbiological bacteria on the bottom of the tank that helps keep the tank odor-free, slime-free, and clear). Storage must meet certain requirements to maintain a proper system. Overflow devices are installed for excessive rainfall. When water is called upon, a floating filter intake draws the water in a few inches below the surface (where the water is at its best).
  • Filtration and Controls: The rainwater is then pumped out of the tank and sent though the purification and controls panel. One might think that intense filtration would be required to produce high quality water, but that is not the case. Because the rainwater has been controlled and sent through the proper system and been stored correctly, very minimal filtration is needed. The rainwater is sent through a sediment filter and carbon filter to remove particles and organic contaminants. It is then sent through an ultraviolet light system to eliminate any bacteria.
  • Automatic Crossover to Secondary Water Supply: This is an available option for homes that have a secondary water source such as a well or municipal water. Backup supply is controlled so that in the event of a drought period, the water supply is seamlessly transferred to the backup and then back to rainwater following an adequate rain event.
  • Use: The rainwater is then sent through the whole-house plumbing and used wherever needed. The water produced is low in TDS (Total dissolved solids), naturally soft, odorless, colorless, and tastes great with no other filtration required.

If these steps are followed and the system is design properly, rainwater harvesting will produce excellent water that can fully supply a home – provided the rooftop catchment area is large enough to supply the demand of the home.

Why Choose Rainwater Harvesting?

While rainwater harvesting benefits are many, it may be specially suited for you if you are:

  • Building a new home
  • Using a problem well (quality or availability issues)
  • Living outside of municipal water supply
  • Wanting off-grid capabilities
  • Environmentally conscious – GREEN

There are many reasons why one may want rainwater harvesting, but let’s be honest, it’s just cool! Which is a totally valid reason.

The Benefits of Rainwater Harvesting

Water Availability: 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.

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 remove any organic and microbiological contaminants. It is simply the best water on the planet!

When compared to municipal water quality and well water quality, rainwater harvesting is on a much higher level of purity.

Well water is often filled with sulfur, iron, and bacteria that can cause extensive damage.

Municipal water is filled with chemicals, such as chlorine, and contaminants, many which are not regulated at all, including many pesticides, hormones, pharmaceuticals, and more.

Self-Sustainability: 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.

Water Cost: Rainwater is yours. It falls on your roof and is an asset that you own. In some parts of the country, water costs are souring at $8.00 per thousand gallons. No one knows when water prices could rise.

Planning got 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.

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.

Rainwater harvesting can, in some cases, significantly reduce site plan costs, effectively reducing the cost of the system.

Reduced Site Plan Costs: For developers to be in compliance with stormwater regulations, they 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 moldable 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.

LEED Points: The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program gives points for projects with rainwater harvesting. An allowance of 4-6 points is easily achievable.

Stewardship: Consider the impact on your community. Freshwater sources are being depleted. Groundwater is being depleted at alarming rates in some areas. 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 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.

Chemical-Free: 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, water free of chemicals, that tastes great.

What About Laws and Regulations?

Out of the lower 48 states in the U.S., Colorado and Utah are the only states that are currently heavily regulated to keep homeowners from harvesting and using the rain that falls on their property.

In most states, rainwater harvesting is either not regulated at all, or actually encouraged by the state government as a method for water conservation, stormwater management, and water availability. In some states, rainwater harvesting is required for most new construction.

Rainwater is a resource. And once it falls on your property, it’s yours. It’s free. Be smart. Use it!

Rainwater Harvesting NOW

Thousands of homes across the U.S. are now using rainwater harvesting as the primary source of water, and in many cases, the only source.

Rainwater harvesting is here to stay. It’s the answer for many wondering how they will have a sustainable water supply for their home. It may be the most influential force that helps our nation’s freshwater supply in water conservation.

Take control of your water.

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