How to build your own water cistern system

What Is A Water Cistern System?

Those living in a municipality often take for granted utility services that many rural property dwellers are not privileged to enjoy. Many people living in rural regions are extremely fortunate if they are able to afford the huge expense to drill a water well and even more fortunate if the drill actually strikes good potable water. For those rural proprietors or tenants who are challenged by the absence of a drinkable water source on their property a cistern system is a practical and economical alternative.

A water cistern is simply a water holding storage tank. For potable water the cistern should be sterile and completely enclosed to keep unwanted debris from entering and contaminating the system. Water cisterns are available in all shapes and sizes and manufactured from many different types of materials. The selection is vast. Cisterns are fillable through a water inlet near the top or can be filled directly through the top cleanout or entry hatch. In the side wall near the bottom of the cistern is a water outlet this is where a pump and some pipe fittings will be assembled. A pump is necessary to suck the water out of the cistern and through some supply lines push the water to the required usage point. Once you have all the equipment installed all you need is water.

Step One

Water Cistern And Jet Pump
Water Cistern And Jet Pump, water supply Jet Pump from cistern bottom outlet to demand location.
1250 Gallon Water Cistern
1250 Gallon Water Cistern, Water cistern enclosed in insulated building for heating during cold temperatures through the winter months.

Try to purchase a water cistern that is large enough to supply your water usage for a convenient amount of time. The biggest expense in filling your cistern is not the water – it is the transportation of the water. The less you have to haul water to your holding tank the lower your overall water costs will be. If you are only supplying your household with the water you can ruffly calculate the usage by figuring out how many loads of laundry [ruffly 20 gal per load], how many baths [ruffly 20 gal per], how many showers [ruffly 10 gal per], how many toilet flushes [ruffly 3 gal per] ect. and add the gallons used by those services together per week and then multiply that sum by 4 to get a monthly demand amount. After you have the size calculated you need to decide on a location in your yard for your cistern. You can put your cistern under ground but construction costs of below grade systems are greatly inflated compared to above ground setups. However, if your region is susceptible to frigid temperatures you will have to forego the expense of sheltering and heating an above ground cistern system. Though a well insulated building just large enough to house your system is not too costly to heat. The interior temperature need only be a few degrees above freezing and the warmth supplied by a 200 watt heat bulb could be sufficient. If you burn a 200 watt heat bulb 24 hours per day you use 4800 watts [200 watts/hour X 24 hours] of electricity or 4.8 kilowatts. If the cost of electricity is 11 cents per kilowatt hour [1000 watts/hour] the daily electrical consumption cost for your heat source is 53 cents per day or $15.90 per month.

The System

Water out of cistern to Jet pump and out of pump to outside shelter wall then under ground of driveway then out of ground to RV connection. Line heat traced and insulated with bubble wrap foil.
Water out of cistern to Jet pump and out of pump to outside shelter wall then under ground of driveway then out of ground to RV connection. Line heat traced and insulated with bubble wrap foil.

Step Two

Plumbing The Jet Pump, A Jet Pump with a pressure tank is an economical solution for this service.
Plumbing The Jet Pump, A Jet Pump with a pressure tank is an economical solution for this service.

For your above ground water system you will need a pump. I find a 3/4 horse power Jet Pump complete with a small pressure tank is an economical choice in this application. The further away the demand point the larger the pump will need to be. Pump documentation will provide the information on how much water can be pushed through a certain diameter line for a certain distance. My Jet Pump documentation specifies it has a maximum capable output of pushing water through a 1 inch diameter line to a maximum distance of 50 feet. My water line is 25 feet in length and 3/4 inch in diameter so the Jet Pump works well in this service. Once the pump is in place its inlet or suction will have to be joined to the outlet on the bottom of the cistern. You can construct this connection easily with a few pipe fittings.

Pipe fittings for this application are available in a threaded or glued PVC plastic and a Galvanized [Zinc] coated steel. Though the PVC fittings are less expensive they are not the best choice for outdoor use in a low temperature climate area. They are fragile and not easily flame heated to unthaw when frozen neither are their threads durable enough to be disassembled and reassembled numerous times as might be required for necessary maintenance or repairs. The Galvanized steel pipe fittings are an investment that will pay dividends in peace of mind over the long run. The steel fittings must be Galvanized however so that they do not rust and release toxins into the water system. I have elected to use the Galvanized steel in this connection from the cistern to the Jet Pump Suction.

Jet Pump Connected To Cistern
Jet Pump Connected To Cistern, Galvanized 1 inch suction line to Jet Pump complete with isolation valve and union.

Beginning at the bottom of the plastic cistern wall with a hole saw I have cut a 3 inch diameter hole about 3 inches up from the cistern floor. In that hole I have installed a 3 inch 2 part PVC threaded flange with rubber gaskets which provides a leak proof seal. After installing the flange I used a 3 inch to 1 inch threaded bushing to reduce the 3 inch threads on the PVC flange to 1 inch threads for my Galvanized suction line. I then used a few 1 inch Galvanized pipe fittings such as nipples, and a 90 [elbow], an isolating valve and a union to reach the location of the pumps inlet. It is important to install a union in this section of line so that the Jet Pump can easily be removed for maintenance if it fails. Remember the union must be placed after the isolation valve so the water in the cistern can be contained when it is necessary to disconnect the pump. Both the union and valve are optional on the outlet of the pump.

When the suction isolation valve is closed and the Jet Pump is unplugged from its electrical source or its power switch is turned to the off position no water will come out of the pump outlet so I do not use isolating components. The outlet is plumbed simply with Galvanized fittings – 4 inch X 1 inch pipe nipple, a 1 inch coupling, a 1 inch to 3/4 inch bushing, a 2 inch X 3/4 inch nipple. Over the 3/4 inch nipple I slide a 1 inch hose with two good quality hose clamps. The hose then runs to the demand area where it is connected similarly to the existing plumbing. Remember the outlet of the pump has pressure when it is in operation so two clamps add extra protection making a more secure and reliable connection. The pressure switch on the Jet Pump [the rectangle box that the power supply connects to] comes preset at the standard user requirements of 20/40. This means that the pump will only stop pumping water when 40 PSI [pounds per square inch] is reached in the outlet line. The hose clamps have to hold 40 PSI. When the Jet Pump stops pumping it will remain stopped until the outlet line pressure drops to 20 PSI and then the pump will begin pumping once again. The pressure switch setting can be adjusted if the standard 20/40 setting does not suite your needs. Because my water system in my RV is older and maybe prone to fatigued connections so I have my Jet Pump pressure set to 20/30 lowering the maximum output pressure by 10 pounds. Check your pump’s documentation to see how to adjust its pressure switch settings.

Step Three

With the inlet of the Jet Pump plumbed into the cistern and outlet connected to a hose that runs to the demand point it is time to put some water in the holding tank. Water can easily be transferred via gravity if we could get the transport tank elevation above the top of the cistern. I cannot achieve that height very easily out here so I use an economical 3 inch gasoline powered transfer pump. The setup is fairly simplistic consisting primarily of two 20 foot lengths of hose and the pump. For hose connections to the pump and water transport tote I use rubber adaptor sleeves which can be found in the plumbing section at any local hardware store. Rubber adaptor sleeves consist of a thin stretchable rubber tube about 6 inches long and has on each end a ratchet clamp for securing it to the two dissimilar pieces being joined. They are economical and convenient for the temporary joining of two dissimilar materials of the same shape and do not require any turning for threads. Once the hoses are joined to the transfer pump and the transport tote I remove the top lid from the cistern putting the pump’s discharge hose in the opening. Then I start the transfer pump and open the tote valve and in less than two minutes I have 150 gallons of water transferred from my pickup to my cistern. Now I am ready to go and get another load.

Connecting Hoses To Transfer Pump
Where To Get Your Water

Hauling Water
Hauling Water, 250 gallon tote filled with 150 gallons on water at approximately 1500 pounds. That is enough weight for a Chevy 1/2 ton.
3 inch transfer pump connecting 250 gallon water tote on pickup to cistern inside the building.

Many municipalities have a coin operated water station service. This convenience is provided to the growing number of rural property dwellers who are without a potable water supply. Such stations are usually operational year round and open 24/7. They are capable of pumping large amounts of water very quickly and fill up time for a 250 gallon transport tote takes only about one minute. The cost for the water in most stations is extremely economical a few dollars will fill your transport tote to the brim.

Questions or Comments?

Connecting Suction Hose To Tote
Connecting Suction Hose To Tote, Transfer water tote must have a valve to connect the suction hose to.

I welcome all your questions and comments as well as any suggestions or ideas of your own. Please contact me through any of my links with any input that you desire to contribute. I enjoy hearing from everyone.

Thank you

How To Pam


web statistics

4 Responses

  1. FINALLY!!!!!!! I have been searching the internet for 1 week. EVERYTHINK is on wells. THANK YOU. THANK YOU> THANK YOU> I really like the fact that a woman finally showed me how it do the plumbing. Way to go girl power.

  2. very good ideas. congratz. I visited Belize , Central America. and found a community of amish living there. Their lifestyle is pretty much off-the-grid. Now one thing that capture my attention is that they collect rain wáter from their homes and use it for daily usage. no wáter pump .

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Join the global off-grid community

Register for a better experiencE on this site!

Available for Amazon Prime