Resilient and Sustainable Fresh Water Systems

resilient fresh water system schematic

sutainability and resilience defined

Sustainability and Resilience at Primal Woods

It’s safe to say I think, that these two words, resilience and sustainability, pretty well define our long term goals for the homestead.  The first three areas in need of attention that come to mind are shelter, and specifically heating the shelter, food, and water.  I have posted relatively frequently on all of these, and the focus of today’s post will be water.  My most recent post in the resilience and sustainability catgories was Sustainable Heat – Year 2 of Our Journey.  I also wrote some on these subjects in my Late Winter 2013/2014 post, and in the 2016 Year in Review post.  Well, as it turns out, we have come a long way, but we are still quite far from the goal line.

As I think about it now, both in retrospect and in looking towards future needs, we are probably furthest along in achieving the twin goals of sustainability and resilience, with the provision of fresh water.  This might be because we froze the Well House and the Studio in our first winter; the Well House systems were not permanently damaged, the PVC supply plumbing serving the Studio was shredded in its entirety, and that is not an exaggeration.  If you have ever heard of or seen a “spiral fracture” of bone, that is what each and every bone in the PVC skeletal system suffered.  Suffice it to say, the system was not the least bit resilient.

Resilient and Sustainable Fresh Water Systems

First things first, which was the supply plumbing infrastructure.  Most of this work was completed by the end of 2016, and included complete replacement of the PVC tubing in the Studio first, and followed Main House. I chose PEX tubing as the replacement for PVC for a couple of reasons:

  • PEX tubing is resilient to freeze/thaw cycle damage, and it protects the non-PEX valves and fittings from freeze/thaw cycle damage.  See “Northward Market Extension For Passive Solar Water Heaters by Using Pipe Freeze Protection with Freeze-Tolerant Piping” for more information.
  • PEX tubing and the fittings intended for use with PEX tubing, are “friendly” to the unskilled plumber; my experience is 100% leak-free connections.  Sometimes it is helpful to have a person in the house, and another in the crawlspace (usually me!), but in a pinch it can be done single-handedly.
  • Cost is low, especially so if you can perform the installation yourself.  Necessary tools are few and readily available.
Menards Masterforce PEX Toolkit

Menards Masterforce PEX Toolkit – Top

Menards Masterforce PEX Toolkit

Menards Masterforce PEX Toolkit – Bottom

Resilient Fresh Water System Overview

Remember, “Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected.” So, what does a “resilient” fresh water system design look like?  It must resist damage, which PEX does by its very nature, and, the system design must also be resistent to, or tolerate, damage.  For example, it is inconvenient at best, if water needs to be turned off at the well house, because of a leak or failure of some component internal to the home systems.  In the Navy, whether we were working on wiring or piping systems, the system designs ensured that components could be protected from the energy source (be that electricity or some pressurized fluid or gas) by at least two valves or two breakers as the case may be.  This design rule protects people working on the system, and it minimizes the extent to which the system needs to be taken “down” when effecting repairs.

resilient fresh water system schematic

Home at Primal Woods: Supply Plumbing Schematic

As you can see, a lot of valves have been included in the design; it’s cheap insurance.  This ensures that whatever consuming device or other system component may be in need of maintenance or repair, only that device or component need be isolated from the system, everything else will continue to operate normally.  In the case of a leak almost anywhere inside or under the house, at least 2 valve protection from the well head can be established and maintained.

Main House hot and cold water supply manifolds

Main House hot and cold water supply manifolds

The system can absorb significant damage to its individual components, without rendering the entire system inoperative.  As for componentry, especially the “active components,” my advice is to buy the best equipment you can afford.  The cost difference between the best and next best will be consumed the first time you need to repair the next best.  The Takagi and Stiebel water heaters are the best I could find to provide the necessary functionality.

Takagi T-H3S-DV-P On Demand Tankless Water Heater

Takagi T-H3S-DV-P On Demand Tankless Water Heater

But what about Sustainability you may ask?

Sustainable Fresh Water System Overview

Remember, “Sustainability is about survival.”  We NEED water; clean water for sanitation and for maintaining some semblance of personal hygiene; potable water for drinking and cooking.

First is the desire to maintain pressurized well water supply to the home supply plumbing system.

  • Normal Operation: 4 inch well pump is fully functional and grid electric power is available, home supply plumbing is pressurized
  • Back-up 1, to grid electric power failure, our Achille’s Heal: Run back-up generator to provide the well pump and other household electrical needs, including heating systems; a short-term solution, as in a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the supply of gasoline

As back-up to sustaining “normal (i.e. pressurized) operation” the goal is to simply have clean water, which is to say that the home supply plumbing system would not be pressurized.

  • Back-up 2, to well pump failure or longer-term (1-2 weeks) grid power failure: Hand-pump in existing 2 inch well casing, this would work indefinitely (not yet installed)
  • Back-up 3, to well pump failure (or long-term, more than 2 weeks, grid-down situation) and hand-pump failure: Haul water from the lake.  Potable water for drinking and cooking would be available after filtering lake water through the Berkey.  Straight-up lake water for sanitation (filling toilet tanks from 5 gallon buckets) and for personal hygiene needs.  The lake is “clean,” I’ve drank enough of it to know that it is more than clean enough to meet personal hygiene needs!  Also, Geri proved out this final back-up over the course of 8 days a couple of years ago, when our well pump failed and it took me just over a week to get to the repair.

In short, we have access to two wells, the original 2 inch well casing (currently not it use), which was not decommissioned, and a 4 inch well casing, with installed submersed electric pump.  And we are 200 feet from the lake.  If you don’t have the benefit of all or at least 1 back-up source of water, you may want to consider storing water.  As we sit, I’m comfortable that our “need” for water can be met, in other words the supply of water is sustainable, in almost any conceivable circumstance.  The handpump would be a nice backup to add, to avoid the need to haul water by hand.  A Berkey is a must-have, in my opinion; we use ours everyday for drinking water, making coffee and tea, and cooking.

The journey continues; we are not yet where I want to be with respect to either water or heating, but we are moving in the right direction.  Food systems are a distant third at present.

All the best, and kind regards,

John (more About Us)