One of the biggest misconceptions about off-grid living is the idea that people who live off-grid live primitively. By definition, “off-grid” means not depending on public utilities, especially the supply of electricity. That doesn’t mean that we don’t use electricity, it just means that we supply our power needs in another way. At Kowalski Mountain, we are working towards our goal of building the necessary infrastructure for our off-grid lifestyle. Water is life on the homestead, for our livestock, our crops, and for us. Philip has built an off-grid water pump system that we can use on both a stationary water system and a portable water system on the homestead.
When Philip was searching for homestead property, one of the must-have features of the homestead was a water source. The homestead at Kowalski Mountain has a beautiful creek that runs through the entire length of the property. Mountain runoff fuels the creek. It has periods of flooding and dryness. Most of the time, it runs gently through the property. However we have experienced periods of dryness, so it can never be the sole source of water for our animals.
Throughout our 68 acres, we have several other creeks that are fueled by mountain runoff. The waterfall is one of those creeks. None of them are as dependable as the main creek that runs throughout the property as they don’t maintain a constant flow of water.
Currently, Philip has contracted with a dozer operator who will focus on two big projects, our driveway, and the main pond. We’ve already dug a small pond on the property just to see if it would hold water. It’s positioned in a spot that collects some of the mountain runoff. It’s not a creek per se, but more of a gully. We are encouraged by the water that the pond holds. Plans are moving forward to have a large pond built. We will stock the pond, do some aquaponics, and have a dependable water source on the property that can be used for fire suppression if needed.
Currently, we are working towards making rainwater harvesting our primary water source on the homestead. Philip had already planned to use rainwater for watering animals, and crops. He has quite a collection of water cistern tanks that he has been purchasing used whenever he finds them. We recently made the decision that we will also be using rainwater harvesting as our main water source for the house as well.
When we set up the very first cistern tank on the homestead, we depended on gravity pressure. While that worked, it didn’t provide adequate pressure for everything we needed. The cistern tanks must be placed in a place where we have some gravity to work with! That very first cistern tank was placed on an embankment, about 5 feet above ground level. Placing the cistern tanks in elevated locations brings separate challenges when it comes time to fill them or maintain them. It can also make simple tasks much more time-consuming because of the lack of pressure. Philip upgraded the RV cistern tank with an off-grid water pressure system that provides amazing water pressure to the RV. We get between 65 and 100 psi water pressure that we have to tone down with a pressure regulator for use in the RV.
Stationary Off-Grid Water Pump System
Philip and I put a recycled 275-gallon IBC tank behind the barn. Due to its previous contents, we will use this tank for only non-potable water. It will be perfect for cleaning equipment and logs around the barnyard. The tank is covered with a tarp to prevent algae growth.
Using the submersible pump, we pumped water from the creek into the tank. The submersible pump attaches to a 2-inch hose, that quickly fills the 275-gallon tank.
Rather than depend on gravity pressure, Philip used a 12-volt shurflo pump to build a simple off-grid water pump system that we can power with a deep cycle marine battery. This pump is designed for RV use, it provides adequate pressure for most household tasks. Be sure to choose a pump that meets your individual needs.
He pieced together the remaining components with parts he had on hand. Add a pre-filter prior to the pump to prevent any debris from the tank from clogging the pump. This simple system easily pumps water for tasks in the barnyard area.
Portable Off-Grid Water Pump System
In addition to the stationary tank. we really needed a portable off-grid water pump system that we could transport around the farm. Currently, to water the fruit trees, we either carry buckets of water from the creek or run hoses from the off-grid pressure system that provides water to the RV.
While the RV pressure system works for watering needs in the vicinity of the RV, we have to use the water that we purchase when using this system. Currently, we purchase water in town and haul it to the homestead. We can easily use hundreds of gallons of water for the trees in just a few hours. For farm tasks, we’d prefer to use the creek water or water captured in a rain catch system and save the water we purchase for our household needs.
To make a portable off-grid water pump system, Philip used a 55-gallon food-grade galvanized barrel. He added an elbow joint very close to the bottom of the barrel through the wall of the barrel. This allowed him to add a spigot to the outside of the barrel for easy use. The elbow is inserted very close to the bottom of the barrel to allow us to use as much of the water as possible. He used the same pump set up using a shurflo pump and deep cycle marine battery to power the pump as he did for the stationary tank.
We were able to drive all over the homestead, watering the trees that we planted all over the farm. The off-grid pump system makes this an easy task that was quickly accomplished. I appreciate the MacGyver spirit that Philip uses to make the work on the homestead just a bit easier for both of us.
- Shurflo Pump that meets your water needs
- 12 Volt Marine Battery
- 12 Volt Battery Connectors (if your pump does not include)
- Fittings to Connect Components
- Hoses to connect pump and tank
- Board to mount pump
- Water holding tank
- Shut Off Value to fit your output hose (optional)
- Channel Locks
- Drill /Bits
- Crescent Wrench
Assemble to Off-Grid Water Pump
- Mount pump to board. Board is used to anchor the system and needs to be large enough to attach the pump.
- Assemble the prefilter in line between two connecting hoses from the water source to the pump. This prevents debris from the water vessel from damaging the pump. Use appropriate fittings that fit your pump and also that of your water storage vessel.
- Connect the hose with the prefilter from the water storage tank to the pump. We prefer quick clip connectors on our hoses (optional).
- Connect the hose on the output side of the pump that will be used to direct the water. A shut-off valve on the hose can reduce water waste.
Choosing a Water Containment Vessel
- Choose a water containment vessel that meets your water needs. An IBC tote makes a good stationary water tank. A 55-gallon food-grade barrel makes a good portable water tank. When purchasing used water tanks, question the seller regarding the previous contents of the tanks to ensure the water will be safe for drinking and or garden and farm use. Anytime the previous contents are questionable, use for non-potable water uses only.
- The water vessel needs an opening at the top of the tank that can be opened to allow airflow when the pump is in use. A sealed tank will implode. This can be as simple as opening the lid on the top.
- Install a shut-off valve on your water tank if it does not already have one.
Building a Portable Water Tank Using a 55- Gallon Barrel
- Using a 55-gallon portable tank (see warning above regarding used water tanks). Cut a hole large enough to fit a 90-degree PVC elbow joint that is threaded on one side only. Recommend 3/4 " fittings. You will want to place the bottom of the non-threaded end of the elbow joint as close to the bottom of the barrel as possible. Allow enough space for the water to flow easily but also to utilize as much water as possible in the tank. 1/8" to 1/4" is probably sufficient for most jobs.
- Use a 3/4" male water spigot on the outside of the tank. Using silicone and Teflon tape to seal the gap, connect the elbow placed at the bottom of the tank to the spigot. Use channel locks to tighten. This task is easier to complete with a helper holding the fitting in the tank in place with a crescent wrench while it is tightened from the outside. Allow to dry before use.
- Secure tank in a trailer, or back of off-road vehicle with straps and fill with water. Be extremely cautious when driving with a water tank in the back of an off-road vehicle! The movement of the water and sheer weight of the water (440 pounds of water) will make you less stable.
Using the Off-Grid Water Pump
- Open the air valve at the top of the tank prior to the operating the pump.
- Open shut off valve on the water tank.
- Connect the pump to a 12-volt marine battery. Connect the negative alligator clip (black) to the negative connector on the battery first. Connect the alligator clip of the positive cable (red) to the positive connector on the battery last. The pump should begin running once hooked up.
- Use water as needed
- To turn off the water pump, disconnect the positive (red) alligator clip from the positive connector on the battery first, and then disconnect the negative (black) alligator clip from the negative connector. (An optional switch can be installed if you prefer not to mess with the battery connections.)
- Close the water shut-off valve.
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About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.