Tag Archives: water

The danger of averages

Historically, we should have gotten an average of 5.5 inches of rain in and around our property in the month of January.  Actual total?  1.7″

Freefoto.com image of rain

Given my prior modeling calcuations for rain catchment (360 ft^2*.5ft*7.5gal/ft^3) I should have been able to capture 1300 gallons of water.  In reality, we would have only captured 340 gallons.  Given our modeling around having enough water to last through the dry summer months, it now becomes clear that unless February exceeds it’s average goals, we may not be able to capture enough water to last the weekends we are anticipating to be up there this summer.

And on top of that, this all assumed a 2 person event, but given the interest in helping, even if it’s just for one weekend, we’re going to need access to quite a bit more water anyway.

Luckily our neighbor will help us out with some water (he runs his well from a generator though, so from an environmental perspective, it’s _VERY_ expensive water).  The other solution is that we could drive out to a local spring (there are a few near by) and collect water that way. This is also expensive, as we still have an overhead fuel cost which we might be able to mitigate if we can find a spring on the way, rather than out of the way.

This leads me back to the idea of providing a larger water catchment area in order to accelerate our time to cistern filling, which I believe is one of the more sensible solutions to this, as it continues to leverage the free water that does arrive, while also better dealing with the fact that averages can easily be deceiving.

Oh, and December was 1.5″ over average. And we still don’t have a catchment up and running, so this is all conjecture anyway.

A model for the kitchen?

I was perusing the make blog, and saw this article on a kitchen for one’s bar-b-que adventures:


I like the grey-water capture concept, and the simple water input model.  The embedded burner isn’t a bad touch either.

I beleive we’ll end up witha slightly more “classic” model for the kitchen, with a bathroom and kitchen sink sharing a wall, and a shower as well.  The grey-water capture is something I still need to put together, and even if we do end up with a composting toilet, I’ll still want to have a design for a black water and grey water management system.  The black water would come with us when leaving the system to be dumped along the way home (there are still RV dump stations at some of the rest-stops along the way), while the grey water would be processed in an earth tank located near the grey-water output.

Containers are on their way!

Yep, we’re container owners.  They are headed up to the property as we speak, and wil arrive on Monday (slow boat I guess :-D). We have 2 ~identical 20’rs on their way, certainly used, but in reasonably good shape.  I’m particularly happy that the only patches are on the side walls rather than the roof, although I’ve seen how they patch these things, and the chance of a leak is basically zero. Even if the welder can’t get pinhole free welds, they put down a layer of silicon as well, which is protected from the elements under the patch, and will provide a good solid extra layer of protection.

This weekend, we hope to get the area cleared out a bit, and get the containers moved into position. I’m going to try to determine approximatly how many concrete 12×12 pavers I need to provide an initial foundation so that we can try to get the two containers level on Monday before we have to return the tractor.  If that doesn’t happen, we’ll go to plan B, which will have the containers at least up off the ground on those same pavers so that we can jack them up later in the spring get the height set right then.  I also want to try to lay out the decking so that we can get that put in place sometime in the April/May timeframe.

That may be a bit ambitious, but I’m an ambitious guy.  I also checked into getting a small (~500 gallon) cistern delivered. It’s posible for Monday as well (would be nice to move it around with the tractor if necessary as well), but I’m not sure I have enough time/energy/design done yet on the water system.  Much like the power system that also needs more consideration.

The big thing I’m learning is that the design side is fun, but the build side is even more so!  I’ve got to find a good welding class in the area, or I’ve got to just go weld something (I know where there are a couple big metal boxes that need some holes cut in them :o).

The interiors of these containers also look good, and although they have hardwood floors, I am thinking of adding a radiant heat system on top.  It does get cold up there in the winter, and given the small space, I really don’t want fans blowing air around, or just a single point of warmth coming from a small heater in the corner.  I’m starting to envision another container just for the HVAC/Power/Water/etc. systems.  Really make this entire soultion mobile.  Heck, If I weld in a floor, and an interior wall 8′ from the end, I can get a 3700 gallon tank in one end of the container, and still have plenty of room to store a small tractor, the battery bank for the wind/solar, a pair of solar hot water storage tanks, and “misc” storage!  Perhaps I should have ordered 3 containers!

Rainwater Catchment – Water Filter

With the container delivery in process, my thoughts have turned to catching water.  We’ve already done an analysis, and can clearly catch thousands of gallons of clean water off of the two container roofs, but I’ll need to add gutters to redirect the water, and I will still want to pre-filter the water before it goes into the tank to try to reduce the quantity of dirt that will get into the system (some will always manage to get in anyway, but I want to minimze that).

So I’ve been thinking about the filter systems I’ve seen floating around.  First, you want to try to avoid leaves and other “large” particles from even getting to a media type filter, so a pre-filter is in order.  One thought I had was to attach one of the leaf over-flow covers onto the top of a gutter section. These are the sorts of things that use surface tension to keep the water flowing into the gutter while the leaves are supposed to just shoot right off.  Since I won’t be in a position to place full length gutters the day the containers arrive (expecting early on the 17th), I was thinking of just placing a tarp along with a short section of gutter fastened to a cistern. This will at least allow us to capture some of the initial influx of rain, and let me test out the filters I’m considering.

The first actual filter is one I’ve seen described in a few rainwater catchment documents and sites,called a bypass filter. Basically, it’s a tube that hangs down below the downspout and has a slow leak valve at the bottom and a floating captive ball in the tube.  The idea is that the first “flush” from the roof/tarp dumps its dirt into the bypass (expected to be fairly fine stuff, light blow-sand, etc.), floating the ball up to the top where it eventually blocks off the bypass.  The rest of the water then flows across the bypass to the cistern.  The bypass will slowly leak out and will re-fill from a continued rain event, or eventually empty out and be ready for the next event.  Eventually it will become necessary to wash out the bypass in order to get rid of the accumulated muck.  My model includes a standard outdoor faucet for the slow leaking valve, which may even be large enough to allow a washout of the bypass without having to disassemble the filter all together.

The second filter is a sand and charcoal filter.  This is fairly straight forward, with the only “trick” being that I expect to line the outlet of the filter with a piece of geo-textile to act as a screen against sand and charcoal being flushed out and into the cistern propper.

So other than this model forcing the cistern deep under ground, I think this is the solution for rain catchment.

Even More Water! and some shade to boot.

I started to think about the summer, and how it would be nice to have a cover for the deck, which led me to the thought of putting a tarp or Sail over the top of at least one of the containers.  I picked the one closest to where I currently have the cistern placed, but it actually makes more sense to place this over the western container rather than the eastern. If the tarp is set up properly, and designed to handle the wind load (determining what it will take to handle the wind is a project unto itself), I think it can look quite nice, and also provide quite a bit more surface area to catch rain at the same time!

I believe we can address the wind issue to a certain extent by actually making the sail out of strips of cloth, that, when laying flat, still direct most of the water towards the cistern, and if a gust comes a long, can break open and shed the wind load (along with some of that precious water).  Since some portion of even the shed water will land on the container roof, it’s not a total loss, and will only reduce the total catch back to the 320 ft^2 of the original model. Given that I currently  projected a potential 2500 galons off of the 2×20 roof, adding this really is going to help more in the drier months, making better use of the limited rain that does fall, vs. during the wet months where there really is going to be a surpluss.

Water Usage – How much do we need?

One of the areas on my list of major short term projects is to get rain catchment setup, or at least modeled.  The first question that arises is “How much water do we use in a day?

This question alone is an interesting one, and at least here there is some research we can draw from.  For one, there are sites like the American Water Works Association (http://drinktap.org) who list the following per capita uses:

Use Gallons per Capita Percentage of Total Daily Use
Showers 11.6 16.8%
Clothes Washers 15.0 21.7%
Dishwashers 1.0 1.4%
Toilets 18.5 26.7%
Baths 1.2 1.7%
Leaks 9.5 13.7%
Faucets 10.9 15.7%
Other Domestic Uses 1.6 2.2%

Interesting data, but I don’t think we actually use 69.3 gallons in a day. And certainly we don’t as this is an average across a large sample of america rather than a particular use case.  For example, in our simple environment, leaks should be negligible, and in fact, given how precious water may well be at least in some areas where the studio may live, a leak should be rapidly remedied.  This will become harder as a larger dwelling is added into the environment, and as larger water storage tanks are sunk into the ground, leaks in those tanks will be quite difficult to detect.

As an analysis of the “weekend” studio use case, which is the most likely initial case in this environment, we can remove the clothes washer and leaks and baths, but the rest we’ll have to leave until we can get either more data, or get some actual usage statistics longer term.  Originally I had planned on getting 1-200 gallons of water storage onto the site, thinking that would last a couple of weekends.  But this data has me re-evaluating that.  Now it looks like we should plan on ~30 gallons per person per day as an average.  That means that 200 gallons would only last ~3.5 days for two people!

As I had planned on possibly bringing in water when we visit (100 gallons at 8.5#/gallon = 850# extra in the vehicle, which it can handle), we could keep the tanks topped off for a weekend, and would be able to have friends stay the night as well.

Or we go to plan b: bigger tanks, and rain catchment sooner.  I will have to add a task to include a larger storage tank, perhaps of the ~1000 gallon scale, and get the water catchment up and running as soon as I get some roof-top space to start catching water on :-D.  This has re-arranged my plans a bit, as february and march are the wettest months in northern california, it would be nice to actually catch some rain.  Having a larger tank will also help, as it will allow for the possibility of having water delivered at larger than 100 gallon inputs.

So how much rain might we capture?  Going off of city-data.com data, January, February, and March see on average 5″ of rain, April drops to 2″, and May is around 1″.  So if we can get the catchment up and catch from both containers roofs, or a single 40’r (still wondering about that option), we have 320^2 of catch space, and 7.5 gallons/^3 foot of water, and if we get the average rainfall:

((feb+mar+apr+may)/12)*320*7.5 = ((5+5+2+1)/12)*320*7.5 = 2600 gallons.

If we were to go up every weekend, and consume 120 gallons per weekend, the 2600 gallons we captured would last 5 months with us there every weekend, or 10 months on alternate weekends.  But we’d have to capture it all.

And Plastic-Mart has 2500 gallon water tanks on sale for only $790!  Which we’d then have to ship from Florida…

Oh, an I shouldn’t forget about the extra ~16^2 of catchment on the tank itself!  Let’s see, that’s ((5+5+2+1)/12)*49*7.5 = 398 gallons!  Or another 3 weekends.

So we could potentially go up every-other weekend for a year (and I’m not even including the fact that it likely rains starting in September (1″, 2″ in Oct, 4″ in Nov, 5″ in Dec…).

So water catchment, at least with the current average rainfall could cover a couple’s weekend average water consumption needs on alternating weekends.  Good data, and now it looks like I need to find a local source for a 2500 gallon stock tank (oh, and I owe Mike an appology, as I told him the only way to get reasonable large capacity was to pour in place  a concrete cistern…).

A container studio bathroom

This is about as good as it gets.  And at least for me, I’m done tweaking this now.  There’s a toilet, sink, and shower, room for a bench, and only one wet wall (water for the toilet will be run under the floor from the sink area).  A tankless water heater sits under the sink and will provide hot for the shower, sink, and bathroom sink. The gray water will all come together for capture and re-use (watering plants, etc.), and the black water will go out to it’s own capture tank (or to a septic in a more permanent environment).  There’s both a plan view, and perspective to get an idea of how it comes together.

Read more »

Or is it…

After thinking about doors for a bit, I’ve thought up a possibly novel way of maintaining some of the structural integrity of the container walls while also allowing for maximum light into the structure.  Sure, we could go with a few cut-outs and “standard” windows, but in this case, as this space is intended to 1) travel in the future, and 2) be as comfortable as possible (read: “lots of light, please”), I was trying to figure out how to provide both a way to “put the walls back on” and still get a full side open. Read more »

Sketchup. A dreamer’s paradise

I got my containers into sketchup, added a pour-in-place cistern, and placed them into Google Earth.  It’s amazing how fast time flies when you are playing with possibilities!  Now on to some actual real term planning. I want to add in sliding doors that work like a mini-van. I.e. flush when closed, but outside when open.  And I’d like to have as much of the side open out as possible.  More planning to do now!

Another water container

Clearly I have water on the brain. One thought is to build a water catchment off of the container(s), once they are in place. Prior to that, the bladder model is likely a reasonable approach, at least for ‘in vehicle’ transport. Once on site, a rigid container may become more viable, as it can potentially be buried so as to keep it from wandering off as easily.

Which leads me to my latest find, large, but manageable barrels. Here’s a 100gal ~5’x2′ container, which they’ll even ship for free :). More research is needed, but here’s at least a start!