Monday, June 1, 2009

Rain Water, The Toilet Flushing Project

rain barrel
Rain barrel water can be very handy for many uses and rain storage is a large part of our homestead. My husband is always coming up with new ideas for harvesting rain water and creative ways to tie it into our needs. Below is one of the projects he did; it works well for us, and maybe it will give you ideas as well.

Using Rain Water

In the interest of homesteading and conserving resources, we wanted to cut back on the amount of water we use from our well. It is a dug well, about 16’ deep and usually does well (no pun intended), but if we could conserve without too much difficultly, why not. Our idea was to set up a barrel and let the rain from the roof fill it. It works great. All we had to do was tie into the house plumbing, but I didn’t want to cut into the copper pipes and then not have it work, although I was pretty confident there would be no problems

First, I mounted an outside faucet valve in the side of a 55 gallon plastic barrel about 4” up from the bottom (this was to keep sediment from getting into the toilet valve). Then I mounted the barrel outdoors on a tower, under our rain gutters so it was about 4' above the toilet. From the barrel valve I attached a garden hose and ran it under the house. I cut the male end of the hose off for two reasons: mainly I needed a female end to attach to the indoor plumbing, but also so I could drill a hole the size of the hose and not the size of the fitting. .connection to rain barrel
Once the hose was pulled through the floor, I attached a ¾” garden hose ½” MIP connector to the garden hose. Then I attached a braided hose (½” FIP 3/8” compression) to the ½” MIP end of the connector. The 3/8” compression end of the braided hose connected to a shut off valve, which connected to a ½” close brass nipple attached to the middle section of a ½” brass tee. I disconnected the line from the toilet tank and connected that to a ½“close nipple on one end of the brass tee. From the last opening of the tee, I connected a short braided hose (½” FIP 3/8” compression) to the house water supply (the original shut off valve to the toilet tank).inside plumbing hookup

Once all the connections were tight, it was time to test the system. The barrel had been placed outside a few days prior and Mother Nature had given us a hand by filling it. Leaving the valve off from the house water supply, we opened the valve from the barrel and flushed the toilet. Once the toilet was done flushing we could hear water trickling in from the barrel. Success!

Once everything was tight and tested, we sealed around the hose that came up through the floor.

There are a few points to keep in mind with this project. One of the two valves has to be off. If the house supply is on and the barrel is on, you will fill the barrel from the house water supply and we do this on occasion when rain is not abundant. When we do fill the barrel we have to keep an eye on it because there is no automatic shut off on the barrel so the only way to know when it is full, short of putting a ladder up and looking in, is to see it overflowing. Another point is this is a gravity feed system; the toilet will not fill quickly.

The great thing about this system is, since we live off the grid, the toilet does not run our water pump, so we not only save water, we save electricity. We have two water pumps, a 12 volt DC that runs directly off our battery bank, and a 110v AC that we use for large water usage, either on sunny days, or when the back up generator is running,

Another point, if you live in a freezing climate (like we do), the system needs to be emptied before cold weather sets in. We have installed an indoor tank to use in the winter. It sets up in our loft over the bathroom and works almost as well. I say “almost” because it doesn't save us water in the winter, only wear on the 12v pump. In the winter we have to run our generator more often (lack of sunny days...still waiting for that wind generator), so when the generator is on we use the 110v pump to fill the tank. We have to keep a very watchful eye on that; don't want water running out of the barrel and onto the bathroom ceiling.

Other options that we plan to try in the future are: add more barrels outside to give a larger storage area and add an auto shut off on the indoor tank. I also plan on putting in a pipe from the rain gutters to the inside barrel; then in the fall and early winter when it rains during the day but freezes at night, we can still get water but our system will not freeze. Of course this system will have to have an over flow to direct excess water and that will also cure the problem of filling the indoor tank and not have to watch it so closely.

I plan on putting a site tube on the side of the barrel. I was going to put a hose “Y” on the valve of the barrel, but after thinking that idea through I realized the water would flow up the sight tube, so I will need to mount a separate fitting at the bottom, the same height as the valve and have the top of the tube go back into the barrel at the top. This will show the level of the water at all times.

If you complete this project and you don't want to wait for rain, just open the valve from the house water supply and open the valve to the barrel and it will begin to fill. Once it is full, close the valve from the house water and leave the barrel valve open. Now Mother Nature and the law of physics will take over.