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Off Grid Above Ground Water Storage

by Going Slowly


There is a drilled well on our land, and a large clearing next to it. This area is obviously where the previous owners had planned to build a home—it is also one of the few places on our property that gets a good deal of sun. Rather than build in this clearing (which would be prudent for a number of reasons besides the proximity to the well), we've opted to save the area for our eventual and extensive gardening plans.

Instead, our cottage is situated roughly two hundred feet from the well. And, because we can never seem to do anything the easy way, it's resting on a bedrock outcropping. As best I can tell, getting a frost-protected water line to the house would require blasting a several foot deep trench between the two locations. At the moment, this is not something we can afford. Given these constraints, I have been considering above ground water storage options.

My hope is that we can keep a cistern near the house without it turning into a block of solid ice during the winter. I have spent more hours than I care to count thinking about how to make this work. Frustratingly, almost every solution seems to require copious amounts of electricity. Heat tape, incandescent light bulbs, stock tank heaters, etc, none of them are an option unless we want to run a generator full time all winter.

In the absence of a clear plan, I've decided to build tiny, well-insulated shed around a 275 gallon IBC tote, connect it to the house with insulated PEX tubing, and heat it with a tiny propane space heater when it gets extremely cold. I'm pretty confident we can keep the tank itself from freezing but I'm not so sure about the line between the shed and the house…

The challenges don't end there. We'll also need to re-fill the cistern on a semi-regular basis. Happily, this should only need to happen once or twice in the winter. Because we have a composting toilet and don't shower with this water supply, we only use about 2-5 gallons daily (the average american couple uses nearly 200).

Our well has a submersible pump that we can run with a generator, but I'm not sure if the spigot we've hooked to it will work in the winter. Nor am I sure if my plan to blow out the two hundred feet of garden hose between it and the tank with an air compressor between fillings (to prevent it from freezing) will work. I really hope we don't end up without running water in the dead of winter, but I'm prepared to deal with it. Compared to how we have been living for the last two years, we're still making giant leaps forward.


It's a cold, rainy day, and I am spending it in our little house, cleaning old, dried splatters of plaster off of our timbers (we should have taped off the beams, but we didn't). It's not warm in here, but it is a good deal cozier than it is outside. There is so much left to do, but each step forward is a little easier now that the end is in sight.

Straw Bale Cottage in Progress

I was honestly not expecting our house to look this good. I thought it would be… wonkier. Less polished. Instead, it's looking pretty dang professional, if I do say so myself!

Straw Bale Cottage in Progress

And my god, the window reveals are so lovely.

Straw Bale Cottage Window SIll with Candles

After a little while, I head out into the dreary day to check on Tyler's progress with the shed he's building to store our cistern. And I find my heart swelling with pride—he's going to town, just freaking building the thing like it's no big deal. Our time spent building forms and sheds has paid off. GO SWEETIE!

Tyler Making Platform for Cistern Tyler Making Platform for Cistern Tyler Making Platform for Cistern Tyler & Platform for Cistern Tyler Placing Cistern


Hi, after one year of lurking on your site (after I accidentally come upon it cause I used to be a worldcyclist to, ), I would like to congratuluate you guys with building your own house! What a thing, wow!!
Did you really wanted to do it al by yourselves? I mean, no offends, but I see houses built in a week (those pre-fabs)?
Anyway nice to see you site and enjoy reading the well written journal. Go one!
Posted by marike on January 4th, 2015 at 1:56 PM

Thanks for taking a minute to say hello. To answer your question, yes, we really
did/do want to learn how to build a home!

Pre-fab houses might go up in a week but they are the product of months and years of planning, both by the companies that make them and those who assemble the pieces they produce.

For us, a pre-fab house is completely antithetical to the point of the process we are going through, which is to learn about how to provide for our own basic survival.

Glad you're enjoying our journal!
Posted by Tyler on January 4th, 2015 at 4:31 PM
I can't speak for T & T, but for my part, those prefabs just seem really blah. There's no character to them. The owner-built strawbale home, on the other hand, is special, not just because it's unique, and all the other usual reasons about healthy materials, lighting, etc. but also because they've poured their hearts as well as their blood sweat and tears (literally) into it.
Posted by Nathan on January 5th, 2015 at 9:09 AM
Learning is finally paying off! Easy peasy, nice and easy : )

On "...just freaking building the thing like it's no big deal."
Posted by Helen on January 15th, 2015 at 5:58 PM
I was thinking the other day and got curious, how does everything work in regards to building within "code" or whatever the rules are that drive people to build tiny houses on wheels (not calling yours a tiny house)?
Posted by Dustin@WeGoRTW on January 18th, 2015 at 11:30 PM
Do you know about these de-icers? It wouldn't help the line, but could be useful for the cistern if that ended up being a problem. http://de-icer.com/products/portable-de-icer/
Posted by Joy on January 23rd, 2015 at 10:12 PM