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DayCreek Journal

April 25 , 2003

Best of Both Water Worlds

Click on the above photo for a detailed description of the water system.

Over the course of the past few years I have gone back and forth as to what role the cistern and the well will play. When the well was originally drilled, the well was shocked (chlorine treatment) and tested. The results were quite good with no pollutants nor nitrates to speak of. I was quite elated by the test results and considered using well water as our primary source and using rainwater for washing clothes.

But since the test was done I have discovered that with our extremely low usage (Conserve First!), the water quality suffers. Using 5 to 10 gallons a day at best (on days that I am there working on the house) isn't enough to keep the water clear—the water comes out as liquid rust! Leaving the water run for a couple of hours cleans up the water to the point that there is no discoloration, but I'm not prepared at this time to do this once a week.

This has taken me full circle on the debate now and have decided upon the following scenario: Rain water will be our primary source for all domestic needs while the well will serve as a backup.

Of course there will be times of drought in which we will have to rely upon the well. In such instances, the well will be flushed for a good six to eight hours and then used to fill the cistern tank. The tank holds 2,440 gallons of water and should be able to sustain us for at least a couple of months—hopefully, enough time for a good rain. It takes approximately 2.5" of rain to fill the tank.

A UV filter kills any bacteria present in the water.

There will also be times during the winter months that the tank will either run dry or might freeze. For those few months, I have plumbed the domestic water system to allow for the well water to become the primary source. With the flip of a few valves the water source can be quickly changed from one to the other.

Using rain water as the primary source for all domestic water needs does raise a few challenges. First, a roof washer needs to be installed to divert dirt and other pollutants that initially drain from the gutters at the start of a rain. Once the water is collected, a disinfectant needs to be provided to kill any harmful bacteria. For our system, a UV filter has been incorporated.

The last few weeks has been quite frustrating. I spent about double of what I expected in plumbing parts and broke my all time record for the longest Menards receipt. The most frustrating aspect has been multiple trips to and from La Crosse. The main road to town has been shut down leaving a maze of twisty passageways to get to town and back. If that wasn't enough, I could never find all the parts I needed at one store. Trips into town took a good two to three hours out of my work day. I wasn't a happy camper!

In any case, the installation itself wasn't painless, but a lot less frustrating than tracking down all the parts. Both the well and cistern required their own pressure tanks. I could have built the system with just one, but I would then lose the flexibility of running both well and cistern independently. I wanted the flexibility of running both water sources out through their own hose bib. Speaking of which, I never realized the multitude of water faucets on the market. I wanted to be sure that the hose bibs supplied a 3/4" diameter opening all the way through the faucet. I was amazed to find that some 3/4" threaded hose bibs only provide a 1/2" opening. This would negate the added benefit of 5/8" or 3/4" hoses.

I like the idea of having separate hose bibs for flexibility and just in case of a fire—two hoses are better than one. And as stated above, the well hose bib can be used to fill the cistern during times of drought. Both hose bibs provide water that is unfiltered. This has been done intentionally for the mere fact that there is no need to reduce the life expectancy of a filter if the water is primarily used for watering gardens or other outdoor uses.

For domestic use, both well and cistern water sources have check valves on the output of the pressure tank to prevent any backflow from occurring. This prevents contamination of the well water or visa versa. There's also a check valve on the input side of the jet pump to prevent the pressurized water from flowing back into the cistern. (I first made the mistake of putting the check valve on the output side of the jet pump causing the pump to go through convulsions!)

Although I've done my fair share of plumbing, I still hate it! It's always a hit or miss proposition on leaky pipe fittings (Unions are my favorite!). I've gotten pretty good with sweating copper pipe, but threaded pipe always gives me the willies. I never know if they are going to leak or not. Of course I had a few leaks in strategic, hard-to-get-to locations but finally, (cross your fingers) I think I got them all.

I used rigid pipe from the pressure tanks to the filters, but out from there I decided to use pex tubing. Pex tubing is so much easier (provided you can get the parts) than sweating copper pipe or wrenching threaded pipe. It's easy to work with and so far, I have never had one leak using crimp connections. It will be used throughout the house to provide domestic water needs.

That's about it for this week. Next week is a short week for me, so I plan to do a few modifications to the rainwater collection system, clean out the cistern and possibly test out a solar hot water tank. After that it's on to the "cedar post beautification project", installing internal posts, running electric lines and then.....back to cordwooding!

Cordwood Workshops at the MREA - June 20-22
A final note to anyone interested in attending this year's MREA fair in Custer, WI. Rob Roy will be giving his annual workshops on cordwood construction and yours truly will also be giving a workshop on the construction of our cordwood house. I'll be discussing various design features of the house such as the rubble trench foundation, PEM cordwood walls, foam insulation and results from the first year's solar heating system.

You can find out more about the MREA and the annual fair by going to their website:

Can you find the hidden warbler? Gooseberry bushes provide great groundcover for birds. Click on the image for a closeup of our feathered friend.