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For a re-roofing or new build, I was pondering the possibility of capturing and purifying water for drinking use. Are there good examples of this? What roofing materials should be used or avoided?

This could be relaxed to vegetable gardening gray water, so long as the roofing material didn't introduce something that would end up in the produce (or wasn't impractical to filter out before reaching the produce).

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It would be simpler to collect the water and use it as "grey" water for watering your garden and flushing your toilets. –  ChrisF Apr 12 '12 at 16:14
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There are a few places where it is actually illegal to do this. Make sure you check local laws before doing it. –  Kellenjb Apr 12 '12 at 16:56
    
@ChrisF - good point - incorporated into question details –  BrianCooksey Apr 12 '12 at 20:03
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That's one of those laws where I'd argue citizens should disregard whenever possible. ;) –  DA01 Apr 12 '12 at 20:25
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4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

It turns out people have consumed rainwater for millions of years. So there's some precedent.

This is very well covered online, so grab a search engine and get reading. Here's a summary of concerns.

In the US, it may be illegal (look up "water rights") but for individual home use, that is usually ignored.

You'll get a lot of water from your roof really fast. It's pretty amazing.

The biggest problem is the dirt on your roof. The rainwater coming down is great, but once it hits your roof, it's dirty. You can redirect the first bit of rain, and then collect once the roof is clean(ish).

The roof material matters. Some roofs will leach small amounts of toxins in to the water that you probably don't want to drink. Metal is probably the best choice for a roofing material.

For most homes, only a small portion of the water goes to drinking. Much of it goes to laundry and flushing toilets and irrigation. These systems don't mind slightly dirty water (including greywater). Use your collected rainwater there first. You can haul it by bucket or plumb something special.

A problem specific to collecting rainwater for irrigation is that it always comes at the wrong time. You would have to save it from the wet season to use in the dry season, which implies a huge cistern. Being clever helps. For example, a cistern can go under a deck.

Any water storage should be protected against mosquitoes. You can put fine mesh screens over openings, or (my favorite) put goldfish in the tanks to eat the larvae.

Cleaning dirty water to be drinkable is harder. If you build a complex filtration system, you'll probably negate all the financial and ecological benefits of saving that small amount of water you were drinking. My favorite approach is the slow sand filter - it's simple, cheap, low energy, but it takes a lot of work. read here: http://www.homestead.org/TedPraast/SandFilter/Filter.htm

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Two things: What you need to check for is that your state does not have "prior appropriation of water rights". That doctrine allows someone else to claim rights to water that will enter a particular waterway, even if it's not there yet (meaning if you stopped it going there you're violating the other party's water rights). This is common in Western states which get less rain, and so an entire year's rainfall is often budgeted for in municipal and industrial capacity before it's even fallen. –  KeithS Apr 12 '12 at 19:35
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Second, while goldfish are beneficial to keeping mosquitoes and insects out of water, they also excrete ammonia into the water which you'll probably want to remove. Most water softeners will trap ammonia, but are preferential to alkali minerals like calcium/magnesium, and the recharge cycle will waste a lot of the water you've saved up. –  KeithS Apr 12 '12 at 19:50
    
I've done some searching, but I've not been too successfully determining what roofing materials are clearly safe - that is do not introduce something which is undrinkable or, at least, not difficult to purify. –  BrianCooksey Apr 12 '12 at 19:59
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I've found that some roofing metals introduce undrinkable matter. I haven't found a metal roofing material that is clearly safe for this purpose. –  BrianCooksey Apr 12 '12 at 20:04
    
Good answer Jay. How's the yurt? –  shirlock homes Apr 12 '12 at 22:20
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A good example is the roofs in Bermuda. If you search for 'rain collecting in Bermuda' you'll find lots of examples. Here's one:

http://www.momcentral.com/blogs/mom-central-goes-green/harvesting-rain-bermuda-life-and-law

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Nice example. Never would have thought of limestone for roofing material. –  BrianCooksey Apr 14 '12 at 12:45
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As I mentioned in a comment to Jay's post, rainwater collecting may be illegal, dependent on your State. Western states, which get less rain, generally employ the doctrine of "prior appropriation"; an entity can claim the rights to water that will enter a waterway even if it hasn't arrived there yet. This means that by collecting rainwater into a cistern, and thus preventing it entering a stream, lake or aquifer, you have prevented the claimant from receiving the water they were promised by their permit and are breaking the law.

The dividing line between states that do and don't employ this doctrine is generally the Rocky Mountains, though a few Plains states prohibit artificial collection of rainwater without a permit. Most Eastern states have more "riparian" doctrines (you are free to access any water that falls on, collects on, borders or passes by your property), with more or less restriction based on type and amount of use and current drought conditions.

In Ohio, rainwater catchment is legal; however, catchment and cistern design and construction is among the most highly-regulated of all States, and while you don't need a water use permit, the catchment system must be permitted by the health department. Have a look-see: http://www.harvesth2o.com/statues_regulations.shtml#oh

Once you've sorted out the legality, Jay's post has the rest of the basics.


While researching, I looked into the laws of my own state and found some pretty interesting facts, which may be entertaining to other readers:

Texas has mostly "prior appropriation" doctrines for surface and groundwater; all major waterways within the borders of the State are owned by the State and administered "for the public good", and it's illegal to divert these waters without a permit. Despite that, an older, more riparian doctrine has persisted with regard to rainwater (called "diffused surface water" in the statutes); landowners may collect precipitation that falls on their property and hold it for domestic and livestock use without any permit, provided you don't have storage capacity in excess of 200 acre-feet.

Trivia time:

  • 200 acre-feet is the volume of a tank one acre in footprint (660'x66'), and 200 feet deep.
  • Putting that in real-world terms, one acre-foot is 325,851.429 gallons, or the equivalent of about 3 and a half years' worth of water for a family of four (everything from cooking and drinking to washing dishes, doing laundry, taking showers and watering the lawn).
  • The big hilltop tanks you see that provide water pressure for mains and hydrants (and bragging rights for local high schools' athletic teams) top out at about 12af (that's a tank about 1/3-acre in footprint and 35' tall not counting its pedestal).
  • Going by average rainfall in the Dallas area of 38"/yr, it would take approximately 63 years for 200 feet of rain to fall on 1 acre of land.
  • If you could catch every drop that fell on one acre in an average year (and prevent it evaporating again), you'd have just over 3 acre-feet, enough for about 10 years' average use by a family of four.
  • That means that being able to catch every drop on just about any plot of land worth owning (1/10 acre is practically zero-lot-line housing, like townhomes/row houses with front and back yards) would be enough to live on.
  • Your average suburban homeowner has somewhere between one-tenth and half an acre, requiring a 200af tank that took up every available square inch of their property to be somewhere between 400 and 2000 feet tall (or deep).
  • More realistically, a tank holding about 1/2af (a quarter of one percent of the limit) would have a volume about 20,000 sq ft; that would be a tank 55'x40'x10' (a pretty big swimmin' hole, but possible on a larger plot) and not counting evaporation loss would hold more than enough water to keep the average family of four going for a year.

The limit is thus something the average homeowner NEVER has to worry about. Catch as much as you can in Texas.

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The rain water collection laws are ridiculous laws created by robber barons, but yes, they are laws. That said, many of the western states are surely but slowly relaxing these rules...especially for individual home owners. –  DA01 Apr 12 '12 at 20:27
    
@DA01 - In contrast to what you said, Texas just took a contract dispute with Oklahoma over water in the Red River all the way to the Supreme Court. Climate change and persistent year-on-year drought in the Southwest states has led to historic low reservoir levels. If you're trapping water on your own property, it isn't going into those reservoirs, which generally provide the water supply for cities and agriculture. I would think that the local and even State governments would have opinions on that. –  KeithS Jul 3 '13 at 20:25
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Alright, so assuming it is not illegal for you to collect rainwater (and even if it is...) and assuming you have a gutter system, why not just redirect your gutter system in a catchment system, or even a few catchment systems. This guy has done something similar here: http://www.instructables.com/id/Need-Free-Water%3f--Build-a-Rain-Barrel/

Next you have to tackle the issue of drink-ability as this is simply collecting greywater. You could add a filtration system in, there is an example of that here: http://www.instructables.com/id/Rain-water-collection-filtration-storage-syste/ Although a filter to catch any dirt and foreign objects and some treatment chemicals should do the trick.

Another option I was toying with is an evaporation system. I am not too sure how well it would work though. Essentially what you could do is have the rain water go into a inner barrel that is contained in a larger barrel, then by putting a cone on top the water would evaporate onto the cone, roll down, and fall into the large barrel, a small tap on the side of the large barrel and you'd be ready to role! Of course it would have to be in a sunny area for this to work well.

Another option would be to simply filter out any contaminants and then boil the water, although then the water is less readily available as you have to boil it. It also is less automated.

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What connection (if any) do you have with Instructables? –  ChrisF Apr 20 '12 at 11:08
    
None what so ever. Just find it a really useful resource. Haven't found a site with more DIY content than it! –  xFyrios Apr 20 '12 at 11:12
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