Green / Eco-Friendly

Rain barrels vs water tank?

  • Last Updated:
  • Jul 2nd, 2020 4:53 pm
[OP]
Newbie
Jun 11, 2019
79 posts
9 upvotes

Rain barrels vs water tank?

We are building a large house from scratch but we're not planning on having water sprinklers since we are hoping to conserve as much rainwater as possible.

I am planning to have native plants in the front yard (ie no grass anymore) and have a food forest in the backyard (also no grass, just wood chips for walking in between).

Would you suggest rain barrels or an underground water tank? We're in the design stage so I was hoping to get some help.

In what situation would you recommend an automated irrigation system for the veggie garden?

Thanks for your expertise!

Where should the tank be situated if a tank is recommended? (if I have a tank)

And another question is what if I go on vacation? Do I need to empty the rain barrels or water tank?

I don't know much about the setup and I'm worried about winter freezing of the pipes.

I was planning on using the rainwater to feed the veggie garden in the backyard. If I'm correct I shouldn't need to water the front yard since native plants would be adapted to the soil already?
20 replies
Deal Addict
Jul 7, 2017
4621 posts
2009 upvotes
SW corner of the cou…
Where are you and how much does it rain? Is rain regular during the growing season? If rain is irregular, you'll need a lot more storage.

As for type of storage, rain barrels can freeze and thus potentially burst or rupture so best to leave them empty over the winter depending on your location (only a small fraction of Canada is largely frost-free for this purpose). They also don't store not very much water for the most part so what you need depends on use and how regularly it is replenished.

Cisterns/tanks you can put underground which will make them less susceptible to freezing. Looked at a house a few degrees north of me that had over 40 tons of water storage (not as much as you think it is) underground. Unfortunately you'll need a pump for this so that's more money and/or maintenance. Rain barrels can be set up to be gravity fed but flow rate/pressure is usually low too.

Native plants that are found growing in your immediate neighbourhood should be suitable. Bear in mind that there's differences in moisture requirements/tolerance for plants in any given locality. You will have plants that like/tolerate less moisture and plants that tolerate/like more. As usual, some watering may be needed until the plants, if transplanted, get established.

If the house is being designed and code permits, you could also think about setting up drain plumbing so grey water (from sinks, baths, _maybe_ dishwasher and laundry washer) can be diverted to the garden.
Cream rises to the top. So does scum.
Deal Addict
Nov 16, 2011
1232 posts
931 upvotes
HAMILTON
From your post, I would presume that your home is going to be located in an area that is serviced by municipal water and sewage.

If that is the case, then just an abundance of rain barrels would suffice for most of your needs. A large home with a large roof area is usually more that ample for plant watering needs.
[OP]
Newbie
Jun 11, 2019
79 posts
9 upvotes
We live in Etobicoke.

The design element is actually a bit overwhelming for me.

I'm actually not that handy but might have to start getting more handy.

eg. if we use grey water. does everything have to be organic now eg. the detergent, soap, shampoo, laundry detergent>

I was planning to mulch with wood chips from dead trees that will be chopped up on my property
I read on Youtube that organic compost can suck up a lot of water.

I was thinking ok, what if I do a pond instead but then you gotta worry about mosquitoes, and then if you put in fish for pest control, then you worry about racccoons eating the fish...

I've been reading into the water design element. It's stressful knowing that this can affect your city permits, insurance or even extra maintenance.

Any ideas where I would be best to buy a guide online or sign up for a permaculture course?
Deal Addict
Jul 7, 2017
4621 posts
2009 upvotes
SW corner of the cou…
So rain is somewhat regular over summer (contrast to the west coast where it is usually dry had over 2 months w/o rain 3 years ago)?

One grey water producer I would not hook up to the irrigation and that would be the dishwasher. Not entirely sure what the detergents do. I am more worried about excess salt (not just NaCl but anything that is chemically a salt due to its deleterious effects on plants and soil). O.. if you can find a less-harmful detergent. I think normal soaps and shampoos otherwise are fine. Not sure what to use for laundry detergent. We use a soapy/traditional mix and the grass is pretty happy at the septic dispersal field (not that we use much).

Any compost will need water to decay. Mulch is there to keep water from evaporating so if you can lay the irrigation hoses under the mulch preferably under soil under the mulch.

As for the pond, small fish ("mosquito fish") and steep/sheer banks. Raccoons don't like steep banks and probably can't be bothered with small fish. Don't want it to get stagnant either so either a flow or an aerator. Pond should be filled with rain water runoff (so ideal for rain gutter drainage). Question is where overflow will go to.

On that note, I stayed at a rural farm gîte in France a few years ago. The elderly proprietor was very proud of his septic dispersal system. Basically had two septic holding tanks. He'd alternately pump out one into his marsh (on the side of a hill) full of reeds and other march plants. He claimed it didn't smell (I couldn't either but it was late winter and occupancy was low) and it produced a lot of insects so there were also a lot of birds. Doubt that will be allowed in an incorporated area in Canada though.
Cream rises to the top. So does scum.
[OP]
Newbie
Jun 11, 2019
79 posts
9 upvotes
Thanks I might need help from a permaculture company in designing the house/water collection, or what to do if I need a greenhouse vs hydroponics or chicken coop, someone who is based in the GTA and is able to work with my architect, how much do you think it'll cost for the planning? Preferably not something that is reliant on a Homestars rating (since their ratings are all 5/5 for those who pay them a fee)...

Getting bits and pieces on Youtube takes a long time.

Thanks.
thriftshopper wrote: So rain is somewhat regular over summer (contrast to the west coast where it is usually dry had over 2 months w/o rain 3 years ago)?

One grey water producer I would not hook up to the irrigation and that would be the dishwasher. Not entirely sure what the detergents do. I am more worried about excess salt (not just NaCl but anything that is chemically a salt due to its deleterious effects on plants and soil). O.. if you can find a less-harmful detergent. I think normal soaps and shampoos otherwise are fine. Not sure what to use for laundry detergent. We use a soapy/traditional mix and the grass is pretty happy at the septic dispersal field (not that we use much).

Any compost will need water to decay. Mulch is there to keep water from evaporating so if you can lay the irrigation hoses under the mulch preferably under soil under the mulch.

As for the pond, small fish ("mosquito fish") and steep/sheer banks. Raccoons don't like steep banks and probably can't be bothered with small fish. Don't want it to get stagnant either so either a flow or an aerator. Pond should be filled with rain water runoff (so ideal for rain gutter drainage). Question is where overflow will go to.

On that note, I stayed at a rural farm gîte in France a few years ago. The elderly proprietor was very proud of his septic dispersal system. Basically had two septic holding tanks. He'd alternately pump out one into his marsh (on the side of a hill) full of reeds and other march plants. He claimed it didn't smell (I couldn't either but it was late winter and occupancy was low) and it produced a lot of insects so there were also a lot of birds. Doubt that will be allowed in an incorporated area in Canada though.
Deal Addict
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Aug 5, 2003
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North York
I would think an underground tank would be ideal in a new construction scenario where you'll already be doing a substantial amount of excavation. It's a lot harder to do that once it's built.

I don't know about the application in a purely residential/house setting, but for one of the development application for a 4 story building building I looked at, had a rain storage tank that was inside the parking garage area to help with storm run-off - so it would stay warm in winter. It might be a really easy addition in a new build.
Deal Addict
Jul 7, 2017
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cliff wrote: I would think an underground tank would be ideal in a new construction scenario where you'll already be doing a substantial amount of excavation. It's a lot harder to do that once it's built.

I don't know about the application in a purely residential/house setting, but for one of the development application for a 4 story building building I looked at, had a rain storage tank that was inside the parking garage area to help with storm run-off - so it would stay warm in winter. It might be a really easy addition in a new build.
+1 to adding underground water tanks while you are excavating anyway.

If you (OP) are going to be throwing in money on the project, talk to a HVAC specialist. The underground tanks could be used in conjunction with a heat pump.
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Oct 9, 2010
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I'd personally not bother using grey water; it'll be a pain in the butt to try and treat it to be sure it's ok for your plants. Organic soaps will kill your plants just as much as non-organic soap will. I am no expert on how easy it would be to treat this water, but I will say that you should have unlimited rainwater if you build enough storage capacity. It's quite easy to screw up a septic system with chemicals, so imagine how much easier it would be to do with a holding tank system.

You need to consider how much water you plan on using. If you're watering your lawn, the amount of stored water you'll need is potentially astronomical. If you're using it for a large garden, hanging plants, etc etc ... it's a lot more reasonable. Also, the cost of the equipment to create a pressurized system similar to someone who has a well is not very cheap ... but it would then give you city-water level pressure to do whatever you want with. You might actually not be allowed to store rainwater as well, so you should look into that.
One who is offended by truth, has no place among those who seek wisdom.
[OP]
Newbie
Jun 11, 2019
79 posts
9 upvotes
cliff wrote: I would think an underground tank would be ideal in a new construction scenario where you'll already be doing a substantial amount of excavation. It's a lot harder to do that once it's built.

I don't know about the application in a purely residential/house setting, but for one of the development application for a 4 story building building I looked at, had a rain storage tank that was inside the parking garage area to help with storm run-off - so it would stay warm in winter. It might be a really easy addition in a new build.
hi guys, can someone explain to a tech newbie like me, how a heat pump can work in conjunction with a water tank to help the house stay warm in the winter? Does it work conversely in the summer too to keep it cool? Thanks.
(I looked on Youtube and it seems like if you mulch your property you will have little need to water the lawn since it's like nature holding the moisture in through the organic material in the soil underneath?)

Hence, I wasn't sure what kind of irrigation system I should have. And is a pond a bad idea in terms of insurance, floods, and mosquitoes?
Deal Addict
Jul 7, 2017
4621 posts
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leafsnation98765 wrote: hi guys, can someone explain to a tech newbie like me, how a heat pump can work in conjunction with a water tank to help the house stay warm in the winter? Does it work conversely in the summer too to keep it cool? Thanks.
Source of heat or cold. A heat pump in cool cycle will take heat from your house and transfer it (via coolant in a gaseous state) to outside where it is dissipated in air (like what a typical A/C or a reverse-cycle air heat pump does) or into the ground (geothermal) or water where the heat is transferred out. Cooler coolant is compressed into a liquid state (or more liquid than it came out), where it goes back into the coil in the house, expands while absorbing heat and the cycle repeats. The water tank could get quite warm as a result.

With the valve reversing, the compressed coolant goes instead to the outside coil, evaporates (inside tube) absorbing heat from the air, water or ground, comes into the house with this heat where the heat is released in the evaporative coils. Cooler coolant goes outside where it is compressed to start the cycle again.

You do need a body of heat or cool large enough for purpose. Otherwise you could conceivably freeze the tank (I've heard unsubstantiated stories of soil - in the case of geothermal heat pumps - being frozen in Vancouver). Moist cold air can also freeze to coils in winter but a heat cycle is used to melt this off.
(I looked on Youtube and it seems like if you mulch your property you will have little need to water the lawn since it's like nature holding the moisture in through the organic material in the soil underneath?)
That's the idea. A porous, breathable but not a 100% effective evaporation barrier.
Hence, I wasn't sure what kind of irrigation system I should have. And is a pond a bad idea in terms of insurance, floods, and mosquitoes?
Fish (they can be small) will take care of mosquitoes - that's why they (mosquitoes) like fish-free stagnant water. Have a pond in my house and we hardly ever see any. Floods, not a problem is there is a means of overflow or drainage for excess.
Cream rises to the top. So does scum.
Member
Jun 26, 2019
467 posts
388 upvotes
leafsnation98765 wrote: We live in Etobicoke.

The design element is actually a bit overwhelming for me.

I'm actually not that handy but might have to start getting more handy.

eg. if we use grey water. does everything have to be organic now eg. the detergent, soap, shampoo, laundry detergent>

I was planning to mulch with wood chips from dead trees that will be chopped up on my property
I read on Youtube that organic compost can suck up a lot of water.

I was thinking ok, what if I do a pond instead but then you gotta worry about mosquitoes, and then if you put in fish for pest control, then you worry about racccoons eating the fish...

I've been reading into the water design element. It's stressful knowing that this can affect your city permits, insurance or even extra maintenance.

Any ideas where I would be best to buy a guide online or sign up for a permaculture course?
Sorry in advance for the wall of text. Smiling Face With Open Mouth

First of all, how big is your lot and what is your ratio of your rooftop area compared to the area you want to provide water too. Or really, whats the footprint of your house, and whats the footprint of your garden?

Next up, just to address grey water, I would not use grey water for a residential house in a urban setting. You could use it for flushing toilets etc, but I don't think the savings really offset the costs of setting up all the infrastructure, and you will need to use municipal water anyways. Most likely, if you use it for irrigation, you will run out in June/July, and your won't have enough for grey water in the winter regardless.

In regards to the pond, if you want it for looks, sure, but really it will not provide much in terms of stormwater control or reuse, there are much easier/cheaper ways to do so.

Moving down the list, the only reason why residential developments (which are higher density) put cisterns indoors is because they dont have sufficient space outside. Given that you have sufficient space outside, I would not even consider putting a cistern indoors/in your basement/under your basement. Its more complicated, takes up some of your squarefootage, more costly for sure, and puts your house at a higher risk of flooding.

So this brings us to installing an underground chamber system in the back yard (or somewhere). You will be looking at a plastic chamber system wrapped in an impermeable liner if you are going to irrigate so the water doesn't infiltrate. A concrete tank/structure is more costly to supply AND install. This system would have to be equipped with pumps and the top of the system would be buried to provide frost protection. From this you could install a drip (or spray) irrigation system to use the water automatically.

In terms of overflowing, the system would be designed with a overflow located somewhere, so if you get a huge storm it just spills out overland. You would want a pump or some kind of drainage system that is automatic to draw the water levels down if they are too high. In the winter if you get a lot of water in there, you wont be using it, it wont be going anywhere because of the impermeable liner, so if you don't have something to draw it down, the riser could freeze and crack.

So generally speaking, you will need to consult a Landscape Architect, Irrigation Consultant, Civil Engineer or some combination thereof. The Civil Engineer will probably end up designing the storm drainage system, piping, and sizing the underground storage system, and the landscape architect/irrigation consultant could calculate your water demand for each month of the year based on plants.
leafsnation98765 wrote: Thanks I might need help from a permaculture company in designing the house/water collection, or what to do if I need a greenhouse vs hydroponics or chicken coop, someone who is based in the GTA and is able to work with my architect, how much do you think it'll cost for the planning? Preferably not something that is reliant on a Homestars rating (since their ratings are all 5/5 for those who pay them a fee)...

Getting bits and pieces on Youtube takes a long time.

Thanks.
I could recommend to you a Landscape Architect, Irrigation Consultant or Civil Engineer to get you going. The design fees you are probably looking like $3-10k for all parties involved, its a huge range, but no idea whats going to be involved.

The design fees are probably less than the build costs by a fair bit, by the time you put in storage, piping, run electricity to it, install an irrigation system, its hard to put a number on it, but just to prepare you for it, its probably going to be north of $15 or 20k. Again, just kinda pulling numbers out of my ass to give you an idea. Regardless, building a concrete cistern interior to your house is probably more in all cases, plus higher risk to your house.

So basically on this side, you have a really expensive, nice, automatic system, and on the other hand you can just do rain barrels which are pretty cheap, will do a pretty decent job at capturing some water, and you put in the manual work to get it.

Anyways, hope that makes sense!
Sr. Member
Nov 17, 2014
935 posts
734 upvotes
Ontario
Aquascape has some awesome rainwater harvesting technology. I love how it not only stores water but is a water feature also (if you want it to be). This example shown is a pondless waterfall, so that would eliminate some of your concerns with having a pond.

Image

[OP]
Newbie
Jun 11, 2019
79 posts
9 upvotes
Hi someone suggested CleanFlo technologies to me, have you heard of them?
Copper1212 wrote: Aquascape has some awesome rainwater harvesting technology. I love how it not only stores water but is a water feature also (if you want it to be). This example shown is a pondless waterfall, so that would eliminate some of your concerns with having a pond.

Image

Sr. Member
Nov 17, 2014
935 posts
734 upvotes
Ontario
leafsnation98765 wrote: Hi someone suggested CleanFlo technologies to me, have you heard of them?
No I haven't but I just looked them up. Seem more suited for large scale municipal projects rather than individual consumers.

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