Off Grid Water Systems – How to Live without Running Water


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Last Updated: July 6, 2021

Whether your goal is to become self-reliant by going off grid, you want to be more environmentally friendly, or you are looking for a Bug Out Location for disaster preparedness, an off grid water system should be your first priority.

There are 3 main sources of water when living off grid:

  • A sustainable natural source of water
  • A well
  • Rainwater harvesting

Here’s what you need to know about each of them to start going off-grid.

1. Natural Sources of Water

It isn’t enough to have a natural source of water nearby.  That water source needs to be sustainable. By “sustainable,” I mean that the water is always going to be there.  Streams often dry out in the summertime.  Even large lakes can dry out and rivers could be diverted.

In a very basic off grid setup, you might have your home next to your water source.  Every morning you’d go out with a bucket to collect the water you need for the day.  Water for cooking and drinking would need to be treated with a filter or boiling.

This is how millions of people around the globe already live.  Yes, it is tedious to constantly have to haul water and treat it.  Many people skip the treatment step, which is one reason that there are over 2 million waterborne disease deaths each year.

Forget heart disease!  Waterborne disease really is the world’s #1 killer.

Dying of diarrhea seems like a terrible way to go, so please don’t drink untreated water.

A pump is one solution for bringing water from nearby water to your property.  There are also non-electric ways to deliver water from natural sources. These “water lifts” are particularly useful when you need large quantities of water, such as for agriculture.

Below are just some of the devices which can be constructed for channeling water.

water lift 1
A water lift for getting water into channels
water lift 2
This beats climbing downhill to gather water every day!
water lift 4
A counterweight makes this water lift easier to use

2. Well Water

The majority of the earth’s fresh water is below its surface.  Digging a well allows you to access this fresh water.

Better yet, much of the contaminants have been removed from the water as it filtered through the layers of ground.

So, well water can be relatively clean (though it still needs to be tested and treated).

There are three main types of wells that you can use.

Dug Wells

This is probably what you imagine when you think of a well: a hole in the ground with a cute little wall and roof over it. You throw a bucket down into the well and pull up water.

Dug wells don’t go very deep into the earth, so they must be over an aquifer that is close to the surface of the earth.  The groundwater could easily dry up leaving you without a source of water.

Because you won’t get much water from aquifers so close to the surface, there are only really suitable for drinking water and not for agriculture use.

Drilled Wells

This is a more modern approach to well water. Instead of digging the well by hand, machinery is used to dig a very deep, narrow hole into the ground.

Because the well hole goes down much deeper – up to 3000 feet – it goes through more than one aquifer in the ground.  The deeper aquifer will have more water and the water will be cleaner.

To get the water out of the ground, you will need some sort of pump.  There are both manual and powered pumps.

Driven Wells

These types of wells are made by driving a special type of pipe into the ground.  The pipe is perforated and has a pointy end to facilitate the drilling.  There are numerous methods of drilling the pipe into the ground.  Some of these include:

  • Percussion driving
  • Water injection driving
  • Undercutting driving

To dig a well, you can’t just start digging and hope you hit water.  Ideally, you thought about this before you bought your property and know that there are “sweet spots” for water underneath it.  You can find this out by consulting a geologist or the local state geological survey office.

Below is an image of a hand-powered water pump that could be used on a well.

hand water pump
A hand-operated pump for a well – Important for when the grid is down or you’re without electricity!

Well Pumps

Unless you want to haul up buckets of water, you’ll need a pump to access the water in your well.  For more on well pumps, read:

3. Rainwater Harvesting

I’m really happy to say that rainwater harvesting is starting to get very popular.  Increasingly more people want to take advantage of what nature gives them and become less reliant on the municipal water supply.  Some towns are even encouraging residents to start harvesting rainwater.

Rainwater harvesting can be as simple as putting a large barrel underneath your drain spouts to collect the rain which normally flows off your roof.  However, this rain will be filled with debris from your rooftop and will quickly grow mold and bacteria.

The water may be suitable for agriculture, but you won’t be able to use it for drinking.

To use rainwater for drinking and other home uses, you’ll need a bit more complex of a setup.

rainwater barrel with separate use faucet
You can’t see it very well in the pic, but this rainwater barrel has two faucets: one for use and one for drainage.

To learn more about rainwater harvesting, read:

Are you living off grid?  What is your off grid water system?  Let us know in the comments below.

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