Ultimate Guide to Off-Grid Water Systems

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Interested in using an off-grid water system and wondering what your options are?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ve shared all the possible off-grid water systems to consider. We’ve also shared the advantages and disadvantages of these systems, and answered some commonly asked questions on the subject of off-grid water.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Off-grid water systems are independent systems that provide a water solution, such as access to drinking water or proper disposal/reuse of wastewater, to an off-grid home.
  • Types of off-grid systems for remote properties are private wells, rain water catchment systems, surface water pumps, greywater filtration systems, and septic tanks.
  • Off-grid water systems provide a convenient water management solution for homes that don’t have access to water supplies, but they’re often expensive to install and need to be maintained by the homeowner.

💦 What is an Off-Grid Water System?

An off-grid water system, otherwise called an independent or self-sufficient water system, is a setup that gives you access to a water supply, or offers a wastewater management solution, in a remote or “off-grid” location.

Off-grid water systems allow you to tap into a natural water source without having to rely on a municipal water system, which may not be possible if you live in an area that isn’t served by your nearest local authority.

They also allow you to safely and affordably dispose of greywater and blackwater after use.

Remote and rural homes are the most likely to need an off-grid water system, since public water infrastructure might not exist.

There are numerous off-grid water systems available, each offering alternative methods of sourcing, storing, and distributing water for drinking, showering, and using in appliances and fixtures in your home.

Ultimately, using an off-grid water system allows you to meet your water needs independently.

Off-grid water system

🔑 Key Components of an Off-Grid Water System

Different types of off-grid water systems have different components. Some of the components that many of these systems have in common are:

Water Source

Most off-grid water systems use an alternative water source, such as an underground aquifer, spring, rainwater, or a surface water source (such as a river or a lake).

The water source that’s used depends on the area’s geology and the available resources on or near the property.

Water Treatment

Off-grid water sources aren’t typically clean and safe for human consumption in their natural state. Most off-grid water systems use some form of treatment to remove contaminants, prevent microbial growth, and improve the water’s taste and aesthetic qualities.

Possible treatment methods include filtration, disinfection, and advanced treatments like reverse osmosis.

Some types of water filters to consider are:

  • Gravity-fed water systems
  • UV water purifiers
  • Whole-home well water filtration systems
  • Reverse osmosis systems

The type of water treatment you use should depend on the water source you’re treating, what you need to remove, and your intended use for the water.

Home water filtration system

Water Storage

Rather than accessing water on demand, many off-grid systems collect and store water in tanks or reservoirs, providing the reassurance of guaranteed reserves. The capacity of water in storage depends on your water demand and seasonal fluctuations in water availability.

There are a few different options available for water storage:

  • Aboveground tanks – Installed at ground level; usually made from fiberglass, metal, concrete, or plastic.
  • Underground cisterns – Buried underground to protect them from the elements; also made from fiberglass, metal, concrete, or plastic. Watertight tanks that can be used as independent water storage solutions or connected to a home’s plumbing system with piping.
  • Water butts or barrels – Smaller tanks made from plastic, wood, or metal; used for storing smaller quantities of water aboveground.

👨‍🔧 Related: The 11 Best Water Storage Containers for Every Need

Water Distribution

An off-grid water source will typically be connected to a water distribution system, which transports the water around a household’s plumbing system to different points of use, like faucets, appliances, and shower heads.

Water may be delivered via a gravity system or from a pressurized storage tank.

🚰 4 Best Types of Off-Grid Water Systems for Drinking Water Treatment

Here are the 4 best types of systems for giving access to drinking water on an off-grid property.

1) Well Water System

A well water system is our top recommended off-grid water system.

Wells are holes or bores that are dug or drilled into the ground to access water from an aquifer (an underground layer of water-bearing rock).

How does water end up in an aquifer? It begins on the surface of the ground, and gradually seeps through the earth until it reaches the water table. Along the way, various contaminants and pollutants that the water may have picked up aboveground are filtered out by the layers of rock and soil, while traces of metals and minerals from the rocks are introduced into the water.

A well uses a water pump, which draws water from the aquifer into your plumbing to give you access to water around the clock. Most wells are connected to a pressure tank, a type of water storage tank that delivers water to your home whenever you switch on a faucet or appliance.

When the water in the pressure tank runs low, the well pump switches on, drawing more water out of the well until a certain pressure is achieved in the water tank.

There are several different wells to choose between:

  • Dug or bored wells: Holes dug into the ground (up to 30 feet deep), lined with bricks, tile, stones, and similar materials to prevent collapse.
  • Driven wells: Made by driving a pipe into the ground (about 30-50 feet deep), draw water from aquifers closer to the surface of the ground.
  • Drilled wells: Large, deep wells (usually around 100-200 feet deep but sometimes up to 1,000 feet below the ground) constructed by drilling down with specialized equipment.

The depth of your well depends on your budget and the depth of the water table. If you have a smaller budget and your water table is closer to ground level, you can consider installing a shallow well (approximately 10-30 feet deep). If your water table is lower underground, you’ll need a deeper well (potentially up to 200 feet deep or more).

Well depth usually also relates to water quality. The deeper the well, the lower the risk of contamination because the aquifer is further away from the earth’s surface.

Contractors drilling a well

Well Installation Cost

The cost of drilling a domestic well is about $25-$65 per foot. This equates to about $3,750-$15,300, depending on your well depth and size, and the local cost of well drilling services.

Aside from well drilling costs, you’ll also need to factor in the costs of various essential well components, including:

Well ComponentsCosts
Well Pump$450-$1,750
Control Box$700-$1,000
Steel Casing Pipe$250-$6000
Pressure Tank$550-$1,750
Pipes and Plumbing$100-$400

There are so many variables that affect the cost of installing a well, including the size, quantity, and power of the components you need. Contact a well driller in your area to obtain a quote for drilling a well on your property.

Pros And Cons Of A Well Water System

Pros:

  • Wells are a reliable source of water and are less likely to fluctuate with the seasons.
  • Water from a well aquifer is cleaner and fresher than surface water because it’s naturally filtered on its journey through the ground.
  • A well can be used without a water pressure tank if the well is installed uphill of our property.
  • You can choose the most convenient location for your well to be installed.
  • Well water is a renewable resource. Most wells replenish themselves at a rate of around 5 gallons of water per minute (depending on the local climate).

Cons: 

  • The cost of a professional well installation is high. Drilling a well costs tens of thousands of dollars.
  • If you use a well with an automatic pump (recommended for off-grid living) the pump will need constant access to electricity. That might mean also installing an off-grid power system.
  • Various well components may become worn or break down, preventing you from accessing water.
  • Well water is often high in iron, manganese, and water hardness minerals, which may damage pipes, fixtures, and appliances in your home.
  • Your water table might be too deep to consider drilling a well on your property.

2) Rainwater Catchment System

A rainwater harvesting system, or rainwater catchment system, collects and captures rainwater to use for various purposes, including drinking, showering, and other indoor and outdoor uses.

This type of system typically has a few essential components:

  • A gutter and drainpipe, attached to a sloped roof, which collect rainwater and send it into the catchment tank or container.
  • A water barrel/container, which holds rainwater before use.
  • A pump, which pumps the stored rainwater into your home.

Another recommended but non-essential component of rainwater harvesting systems is a first flush diverter, which initially diverts water away from the collection system. That way, if any debris has accumulated on the roof since the last rain, this debris will be flushed away first, rather than ending up in the water tank.

Rainwater is relatively clean, pure, and soft, but it may also contain contaminants like PFAS, heavy metals from the runoff surface, and dust, smoke, and particles from the air. You may need to combine a rainwater harvesting system with a water filter to remove these contaminants before the water enters your home.

Rainwater catchment systems are a good option for off-grid systems in areas that have high rainfall year-round. However, they’re not usually consistently reliable, even in rainy regions. We recommend using a rainwater collection system alongside another more consistent water system, like a private well.

Rainwater tank

Rainwater System Installation Cost

The average cost of a rainwater harvesting system is $1,500-$2,000, but the overall cost could be much higher, depending on the size of the water tank, the complexity of the collection system, and the water treatment required.

Here are some of the components of a rainwater system and their average costs:

Rainwater System ComponentsCosts
Gutter Guard$7.50-$10 per foot
Downspout Screen (for filtering leaves and alrge sediment)$25-$30 each
First Flush Diverter$30-$35 each
Tank$300-$3,000
Pump$100-$300
Pipes$150-$450
Pipes & Fittings$100-$400

Your water demands will determine the system size and complexity, and the cost of the components.

Pros And Cons Of A Rainwater System

Pros:

  • Rainwater is a free and renewable water resource.
  • Collecting rainwater reduces the pressure on your local water table. 
  • Rainwater is soft, and has a low concentration of pollutants and contaminants.
  • Installing a rainwater collection system is typically cheaper than installing a well.
  • Catchment systems are easy to maintain because they’re not located very deep below the ground.

Cons:

  • Rainwater is an inconsistent resource, especially if you live in a region with long, dry summers.
  • The initial purchase of storage tanks, pumps, and pipes will set you back a few thousand dollars.
  • You’ll need enough space for a large water tank close to your property.
  • Rainwater needs treatment to be used for drinking.

3) Surface Water System

If you have a flowing source of water on your property, you can also consider an off-grid system for surface water collection.

You could use water from a river, a stream, a natural spring, or a lake or man-made reservoir supplied by a stream.

The easiest way to harvest surface water is with a water pump. Install the pump at a location that’s closest to your property so that you need as little piping as possible to deliver water to your home.

The quality of a stream, lake, or river varies widely depending on where the water has come from, the speed of the water flow, and local pollution.

Most likely, you’ll have to treat your water with filtration and disinfection to remove chemicals and metals and kill bacteria and other microorganisms. Even if a water source looks clean, it often contains dissolved impurities that are potentially harmful to human health.

Another thing to consider is that surface waters are susceptible to the changing seasons, so your water source might dry up during the summer or ice over in freezing temperatures during the winter.

For this reason, we recommend installing a backup water system, such as a rainwater system with a large tank, which you can use while your main water source is inaccessible.

Off-grid surface water through installing a water pump in river

Surface Water System Installation Cost

A river or lake water harvesting system will set you back $2,000-$5,000+, depending on several factors including:

  • The distance that the water needs to travel to your home
  • Whether you’ll deliver water in a gravity-fed system or you need a pump
  • The size and power of the pump (if needed)
  • The amount of water treatment required to make the water potable
  • Whether you need to install any other off-grid systems, like water tank systems, as a backup water supply

You’ll be able to save money by handling some of the installation process yourself, but a lot of this work, such as installing the pump and piping, will need to be carried out by a licensed and competent professional.

Pros And Cons Of A Surface Water System

Pros:

  • Natural water is a convenient source because it’s already at the surface, so you don’t need to drill underground or haul in the water from another location.
  • The water is less likely to be contaminated with metals and minerals from underground rocks.
  • You can potentially save money by building a gravity fed water system to deliver water from a high-up water source to your home without needing a water pump.
  • You shouldn’t need a lot of plumbing to deliver the water to your home if the source is nearby.

Cons:

  • Surface waters are likely to dry up or freeze over during certain times of the year, so you don’t have reliable access year-round.
  • Your water might be cloudy or murky, especially if you pump water from a stagnant source (like a lake).
  • You’ll likely need to filter and disinfect your water to bring it up to safe drinking quality.
  • There’s no guarantee that a suitable water source will be ideally located, so you might need to install a lot of plumbing and a powerful water pump to get water to its final destination.

4) Water Tank System

A water tank system is typically used with another type of off-grid system. Usually, the water tank system will act as a backup if the main supply of water is ever unavailable.

For instance, if your well pump lost power, there was a fire, or your main water source dried out or froze over, you would still have access to water from your tank system.

A water tank system holds water in a larger water storage tank to be used as and when needed.

There’s a special type of water tank, called a pressure tank, that contains a compressed air bladder and delivers water under pressure into your plumbing system.

Many wells with electric pumps have pressure tanks because they reduce the wear on the pump and extend its lifespan. Rather than cycling on and off every time you switch on a faucet or an appliance, the pump only cycles on to fill up the tank, then cycles off once the tank is full.

It’s essential to size your water pressure tank correctly so that you have access to water on demand whenever you need it. Pressure tanks for domestic wells come in sizes from 20 to 85 gallons, while general non-pressurized water storage tanks can hold up to hundreds of gallons of water at a time.

The bigger the tank, the more water it can hold. You can choose between an above-ground tank and an underground cistern depending on your available space, budget, and preferences.

You can find off-grid water tanks in a variety of materials, including:

Tank MaterialSpecifics
PlasticLightweight, affordable
ConctreteHeavy, costly, but durable
SteelDurable and robust, mid-priced
FiberglassLightweight, corrosion-resistant, mid-priced
PolyethyleneCostly but resistant to extreme temperatures & UV light

Certain tank materials are best suited to certain situations, including your local climate, the location of the tank (above vs below ground), and the intended water use.

bladder tank
Cjp24, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Water Tank System Installation Cost

The cost to install an off-grid water tank system depends on the size of the storage tank required.

If you just need a tank for drinking water, it won’t need to be as large as a tank intended to collect water for all your water uses.

The location of the tank also affects its cost. Underground cisterns are more expensive and have a costlier install process than above-ground tanks.

There are several extras that will add to the total cost, depending on your required system complexity. Pumps, pipes to your home, and other plumbing equipment all contribute to your overall spend.

The typical price range for a water storage tank is $250-$7,500.

Pros And Cons Of A Water Tank System

Pros:

  • Water tanks are cheaper than other off-grid water systems, such as drilling a well.
  • You have the flexibility to choose a storage tank size, material, and install location that suits your budget and preferences.
  • Tanks can be integrated with other off-grid solutions as backup or emergency use, or to deliver pressurized water to your home (in the case of a water pressure tank).
  • A storage tank protects water from flies and debris because it’s stored in a closed tank rather than being open to the elements.

Cons:

  • Above-ground tanks are vulnerable to poor weather conditions.
  • Installing a below-ground storage tank is expensive.
  • Require cleaning and maintenance at least once a year.
  • Drinking water needs to be treated before it’s safe for consumption.

🚽 3 Best Types of Off-Grid Water Systems for Wastewater Treatment

Here are our top three recommended off-grid water systems for off-grid wastewater treatment.

1) Greywater Filtration System

An off-grid greywater filtration system is a system that enables you to reuse your greywater (from showers, appliances, sinks, etc.) on your property.

It’s the best solution if you live in a remote region that doesn’t have easy access to a municipal sewage system and you want to put your greywater to good use rather than simply draining it into a septic system or wetland.

We recommend installing a greywater filtration system if you want to treat your greywater to make it suitable to use for irrigation purposes.

Greywater filtration uses multiple filtration stages to remove hair, lint, and other debris and impurities. Depending on the complexity of the system and the intended use of the water, treatment stages may include the settlement of solids, separation of smaller particulates, aerobic and anaerobic digestion, and disinfection.

You can buy a greywater filtration system to install outside your property and connect it to the applicable drain lines (don’t connect your toilet – toilet waste can’t be safely treated in a greywater system).

You can also build your own greywater system by filling a large container with layers of wood chips, medium stones, coarse sand, fine sand, activated charcoal, gravel, and coarse stones.

Illustration of greywater filtration system

The treated water can then be dispensed into a tank or sent straight into an irrigation system for reuse.

There are a few best practices if you plan to treat and reuse greywater in a water filtration system:

  • Don’t use any chemical cleaners, or don’t use copious amounts, since most greywater systems can’t treat or remove these chemicals.
  • Use a completely separate plumbing system for your blackwater (from toilet flushing).
  • Store your greywater for a maximum of 24 hours. If you keep the water in a tank for too long, it’ll start to smell and potentially accumulate bacteria.
  • Use a watering can to distribute your greywater when possible. Grease and other contaminants in greywater may clog irrigation systems.

Greywater Filtration System Installation Cost

The cost of greywater systems varies depending on the size of the system required and the volume of water it needs to treat. You can cut costs by building your own greywater filtration system, but you may not achieve the same quality of performance compared to buying a pre-made greywater filtration system.

The average price range of a greywater system for domestic use is $500-$5,000. That doesn’t include the cost of pipes and plumbing to divert water from your sinks and appliances into the system, which could cost anything from $250 to $2,500.

Greywater filters require maintenance, too – the filter media will need to be periodically replaced. This will add to the total cost of the system.

Pros And Cons Of Greywater Filtration Systems

Pros:

  • Greywater systems reduce stress on septic systems.
  • These systems are convenient in that they greywater to be reused for other purposes.
  • This method of water treatment and reuse reduces demand for potable water for irrigation etc.
  • For the above reasons, greywater filtration is an environmentally-friendly solution.

Cons:

  • This method of water treatment needs regular maintenance and monitoring.
  • You may require permits (depending on your state/local regulations).
  • Installing and maintaining a greywater system is expensive.
  • You can’t store treated greywater for a long time, which means you have to use it even when you might not need to.

2) Constructed Wetland

If you don’t want the hassle of treating and reusing your greywater, consider sending the water into a constructed wetland.

A constructed wetland is a natural water treatment system that’s established on upland, away from floodplains. The system collects water in a wetland ecosystem, where natural biological and geochemical processes treat the contaminants.

This artificial basin is a sustainable, affordable long-term greywater treatment solution. There are a few different layers in a constructed wetland:

  • A layer of impermeable clay
  • A layer of gravel substrate
  • The ground vegetation zone

The clay layer prevents greywater from filtering down into groundwater aquifers, while the substrate provides nutrients and support for the vegetative layer, which is either allowed to establish naturally or planted in advance.

The plants and microorganisms present in a constructed wetland consume greywater nutrients, turning harmful bacteria into good bacteria and facilitating a harmonious ecosystem.

Again, a constructed wetland should ideally only be used to store greywater – not blackwater (water containing human waste). Some people use wetlands to treat sewage, but we prefer not to because of the potential issues with local contamination and poor smell.

Constructed wetlands are best used in regions with mild climates. If you live in an area that has long, cold winters, the wetland may freeze over, preventing the digestion of nutrients.

Constructed wetland
Source: Tilley et al., 2014, via Federal Remediation Technologies Roundtable

Constructed Wetland Installation Cost

Constructed wetlands cost around $18,000 per hectare, or $45,000 per acre.

The cost of building a constructed wetland on your property depends on the size of the wetland required, and the materials that you need in the construction.

Some of the components of construction costs are piping, effluent and influent structures, earthwork, planting, and liners.

Pros And Cons Of A Constructed Wetland

Pros:

  • Constructed wetlands have an aesthetically pleasing appearance and no poor odors.
  • They’re also cost-effective and very low maintenance in the long run.
  • You can design a constructed wetland to blend in with the surrounding habitat, and it’ll provide a habitat for wetland organisms.
  • A well designed constructed wetland should tolerate water flow fluctuations.

Cons:

  • Wetlands can’t be used on low-lying ground or floodplains.
  • They’re only suitable for construction in mild climates.
  • Constructed wetlands take up a lot of surface space on the ground, so not a solution for properties with limited outdoor space.
  • You may find that your wetland serves as a breeding ground for mosquitos and other pests.

3) Septic System

A septic system is the most common solution for storing and treating blackwater in off-grid properties.

Septic systems are buried underground containers that collect waste from toilet flushes. These systems have three main components:

  • A septic tank
  • A drain field
  • A distribution box

The tank is connected to your home’s wastewater system, so water from your toilet, and greywater from your appliances and fixtures, travel straight into the septic tank once the water has been drained from the point of use.

Once in the tank, the heavy solids in the wastewater separate from the lighter materials, and the waste gradually decomposes. This process is supported by anaerobic and aerobic bacteria, which occur naturally.

The effluent (liquid waste) flows into the distribution box and is gradually discharged from the septic tank into the drain field.

Septic tanks are the best off-grid waste collection solution for homes that are too remote to be connected to the local sewage system. They’re relatively low-maintenance, with a lifespan of 20-30 years. During this time, the tank will need to be pumped periodically (typically every 5 years) to remove the slurry.

Septic drain field system

Septic Tank Installation Cost

The cost of installing a septic tank for domestic use is $3,500-$1,000, with an average cost of just over $6,000.

Aside from the cost of the system itself, you’ll also need to factor in the following expenses:

Other ExpensesCost
Percolation test (analyzes soil drainage in the install location)$400-$1300
Permits (required by many local authorities before installing the system)$300-$1,100
Labor (professional installation costs)$1,200-$3,000

The size of the tank and the complexity of the installation will determine how much you spend on buying and installing a septic tank for your off-grid home.

The tank materials will also play a big part in cost. Concrete or plastic/poly tanks are on the lower end, while fiberglass tanks have a higher starting price.

Pros And Cons Of Septic Systems

Pros:

  • Septic systems are cheaper to install compared to installing extensive sewage lines to connect to a municipal sewage system.
  • They’re also durable and last up to 30 years, sometimes longer, with proper maintenance.
  • A septic tank is natural and environmentally friendly, with no expensive treatment process required.
  • You can choose between different tank sizes and materials depending on your situation.

Cons:

  • Periodic maintenance is required, which you’ll be responsible for. You can’s simply flush and forget as you can if you’re connected to a municipal sewage system.
  • The cost of installing and maintaining a septic tank falls on you.
  • There’s a potential for ruptured pipes and a leaking/overflowing tank, especially if the system is old or poorly maintained.
  • The lines might get clogged, leading to backed-up drains.

🔎 How to Choose the Right Off-Grid Water System

Follow these tips to choose the right off-grid water system for you.

Your Preferred/Available Water Source

Your first step is to compare your available off-grid water sources and decide which is best for your situation.

If you have access to a groundwater source, we recommend using this water instead of surface water.

Groundwater, such as well water or spring water, is typically cleaner and less prone to contamination than surface water because it’s protected from above-ground pollution sources and it’s naturally filtered as it flows through layers of rock underground.

Plus, groundwater is more reliable and is less likely to fluctuate throughout the year, so it’s a more reassuring water source to use if you plan to be entirely dependent on your off-grid water system.

Of course, tapping into a groundwater source is more difficult – and often more costly – because you need to find a way to access water that’s stored tens (or hundreds) of feet below the ground, usually by drilling a well.

If groundwater isn’t an option for your off-grid water system, you can consider surface water like river, lake, stream, or reservoir water. These water sources are fed by rainwater and snow, and are more exposed to the elements than groundwater sources.

Outside faucet connected to a water well

Your Location And Climate

The location and climate of your off-grid property also determine the water sources available to you.

For instance, if you live in a very dry region with very little rainfall, you won’t be able to rely on a rainwater catchment system for all the water you need for off-grid living.

Or, if your region is prone to extreme temperatures – either very hot or freezing – you’ll need to make sure your water collection and storage methods are adequately suited to withstanding these temperatures.

That might mean using certain materials instead of others, or protecting your system components with insulating materials or shelters.

Your location might also rule you out of certain water sources due to a lack of availability. For instance, groundwater isn’t accessible in every part of the county, even if water underlies the earth’s surface almost everywhere.

You’ll need to thoroughly assess your options based on an evaluation of your location. Make a shortlist of off-grid water systems that make the most sense based on where you live and your local climate, then go from there.

Your Intended Water Use

Your intended use for your off-grid water system will determine how you need to treat it and any specifics for water storage and delivery.

If you just want to collect rainwater for irrigation purposes, you don’t need to treat the water at all – just collect the water in a barrel or water butt with a built-in spigot, so you can dispense water into a watering can or bucket when needed.

If you plan to use your water for all purposes in your home, including drinking, you’ll need to think more carefully about the water source, the method of collection, storage, and treatment.

For instance, groundwater is typically the safest water source for drinking because it has been naturally filtered and is less likely to be polluted with chemicals and other dangerous impurities.

You’ll also need infrastructure for water storage and delivery into your home, which will take more forethought and planning.

Filling a glass with tap water

Your Method Of Water Treatment

It’s highly unlikely that your off-grid water source will be safe to drink or suitable for use in your home’s plumbing system without any treatment.

There are a few different options for treating your water:

Water Filtration

Water filtration is the process of sending water through a filter media, which traps contaminants in its pores.

There are several types of water filters, each removing different contaminants. These include:

Water FilterIntended Use
Activated carbon filtersRemove chlorine, pesticides, herbicides, hydrogen sulfide, and other aesthetic contaminants
Sediment filtersRemove sand, silt, rust, dirt, and other debris; can be used as standalone filters or featured as a pre-filter in a multi-stage filtration system
KDF filtersRemove iron, chloride, hydrogen sulfide, chromium, and microbiological contaminants like bacteria and algae
Ion exchange filtersRemove heavy metals and other dissolved ionic contaminants

You can find point of use filters that treat water at a specific location (usually at your kitchen sink or on a countertop), and whole-home point of entry systems that filter water before it travels through your plumbing system.

Many water filters combine multiple filter media to remove a larger quantity of contaminants with different stages.

Water Disinfection

Water disinfection is the process of killing or removing bacteria, viruses, protozoan cysts, and other pathogens that may be present in a natural water source.

A water disinfection system is an important treatment stage for off-grid water sources that might be contaminated with microorganisms. Unlike the water delivered in municipal water systems, the water from off-grid water systems isn’t chlorinated. That means you’ll need to disinfect water yourself if there’s a potential for it to be contaminated with disease-causing pathogens.

Uv water purification system installed in basement

Some of the types of water disinfection systems for off-grid living are:

  • UV water purification systems – Use ultraviolet light to kill bacteria, viruses, and protozoa
  • Chemical injection systems – Inject chemicals into water, which kills the majority of microorganisms
  • Boiling – Also kills microorganisms; can be used as an alternative to a built-in system but isn’t ideal as a long-term solution because it’s a manual process

Most water disinfection systems are installed at your property’s point of entry, so the water you drink, shower in, wash your clothes and dishes in, and use in all your fixtures and appliances is safe and pathogen-free. The exception is boiling, which is a point of use solution.

Water Softening

If your off-grid water source is hard or very hard, you’ll need to look at some form of softening treatment.

Water softening addresses the effects of hard water, including scale formation, soap scum, and reduced water flow.

There are a few softening options to consider:

Softening SystemIntended Use
Ion exchange water softenersConventional salt-based water softeners that exchange hardness minerals with sodium ions, producing soft water
Water conditionersCondition water by crystallizing calcium and magnesium minerals to prevent them from forming mineral deposits
Electronic descalersUse electricity or magnetic waves to alter the composition of hardness minerals, preventing scale formation

Only ion exchange water softeners actually soften water. The alternative options retain hardness minerals in water, so water quality doesn’t change, but the minerals are unable to leave deposits.

Additional Treatment Options

There are numerous other treatment options that don’t fall under the category of conventional filtration, disinfection, or softening.

Whole house ro system after installation

These include:

Treatment SystemIntended Use
Air injection/oxidation systemsTank-based systems that oxidize and remove iron, manganese, and sulfur
Acid neutralizersNeutralize acidic water and prevent its aesthetic effects in a plumbing system
Comprehensive water treatment systemsLike reverse osmosis systems and water distillers; purify water by removing the majority of total dissolved solids

The most suitable form of water treatment depends on the type of water source (surface water vs groundwater), what your water contains, and your budget.

You might find that you need more than one water treatment system. For instance, if your water is hard, high in sediment, and susceptible to bacterial contamination, you could combine a water softener with a sediment filter and a UV water purification system.

Many water contaminants are invisible, so you won’t be able to see, taste, or smell them – even if they’re present in dangerous quantities.

The best way to know what you’re dealing with is to test your water. A laboratory water test will give you the most accurate and comprehensive understanding of your water quality.

Water testing with tap score

Your Available Budget

Your budget will also have a say in the type of water system you can consider for your off-grid property.

The bigger your budget, the more options will be available to you. Large, complex water collection systems cost tens of thousands of dollars, while simple rainwater catchment systems cost less than $100.

Why are some off-grid water systems so expensive? Usually because there are so many costs that you need to consider all at once.

Let’s say you plan to pump water from a private well on your property. If you don’t already have a well installed, you’ll need to pay a professional contractor to drill a well, which already costs tens of thousands. You’ll then need to factor in the cost of water storage (i.e. a water pressure tank) and delivery, as well as any treatment you need to make your water safe to drink.

Once you’ve set up an off-grid water system, the costs to use the system are minimal. But the initial cost of a complete system that you can rely on for all your water needs is expensive.

Not sure how to budget for an off-grid water system? Once you’ve shortlisted a couple of your preferred options, reach out to contractors and specialists in the area and ask them for a quote for what you need. This will give you an idea of how much you’ll spend on building or installing the off-grid system.

🔌 How to Power an Off-Grid Water System

Off-grid water systems that use electric pumps or electric water treatment (such as UV lamps) need constant access to electricity to operate. Disruptions to your power may compromise your water safety or damage the electric components.

If you don’t have access to a reliable source of power, consider two alternative options for power: wind power and solar power.

You can build a small solar system, with solar panels to absorb energy from sunlight, near your off-grid system. The solar panels will create flowing electricity that can be used to power your electrical equipment.

If you live in an area with less sun and more wind, a small wind power system is the best solution for you.

Again, you can connect this system to your water system, and the spinning blades will power a generator, which provides electricity for your water pump and other electrical equipment.

Solar-powered well pump

⚖️ Benefits and Setbacks of Off-Grid Water Systems

Here are some of the benefits and setbacks of off-grid water systems that you should be aware of.

Pros:

Reliable On-Site Water

The most obvious benefit of off-grid water systems is that they give you a reliable on-site solution to your water requirements, whether you need to access drinking water for your off-grid home, or you need to safely dispose of wastewater.

You don’t have to worry about connecting your off-grid home to a municipal water system, which could cost thousands of dollars, or might not be a feasible option at all.

You also don’t need to collect water from other sources and drive it back to your home. You’ll have access to water on your property, so you don’t need to closely monitor your supplies and interrupt your schedule to replenish what you have.

Cost-Effective Long-Term Solution

Cost-effectiveness is another advantage of off-grid water systems.

While the initial spend on these systems is high, most have a low long-term maintenance cost.

It’s much cheaper to use private wells or rainwater harvesting systems compared to paying water bills to access a municipal water supply.

You won’t have any bills for water usage to worry about – just maintenance costs for your water system.

Without any ongoing water bills, your initial investment should pay for itself after just a few years of use.

You’re In Control

Off-grid water systems give you complete control over your water quality and your methods of wastewater disposal.

You’re independent of a municipal system, so you can be choosy with your water source and how you treat the water.

For instance, you can use a chemical-free water disinfection method, such as UV purification, rather than treating your water with chlorine (something that most municipal systems do).

You can also control your access to water. A municipal supplier might temporarily shut off the water supply due to repair work or contamination, but you won’t have to deal with a sudden lack of water with a well-managed off-grid system.

Plus, you can install systems that allow you to recycle your greywater, rather than wasting the water after a single use. Collecting wastewater in a septic tank uses much less energy than the municipal wastewater treatment process. If you’re environmentally conscious, this is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

Turning the faucet off

Add Value To Your Property

Having off-grid water solutions on your property should increase your home’s value.

Folks looking to buy an off-grid home will want to see that they have a reliable water source that they can safely access without having to leave the property.

An off-grid system provides just that, and is one of the most valuable additions you can make to your home – especially if you don’t have access to a municipal water supply.

Depending on the type, size, number, and age of the system(s) you have, an off-grid system can add thousands, or even tens of thousands, onto the value of your property.

Cons:

Expensive Upfront Cost

The biggest disadvantage of off-grid water systems is their expensive upfront cost.

Even a basic rain catchment system will set you back several hundreds or thousands of dollars. The more complex systems that use pumps or water pressure to deliver water into your home cost tens of thousands of dollars, so they’re a big investment.

You’ll probably have to save for a few years before you can afford a water system for your off-grid home – not ideal if you want, or need, a solution for accessing drinking water or managing wastewater as soon as possible.

More Responsibility

Another setback of off-grid water systems is that they’re the homeowner’s responsibility to maintain.

Customers of municipal water supplies don’t have to put in any effort to maintain the water distribution system or sewage system. They simply receive water and waste water without having to think about maintenance or repairs.

But when you own a private water system, it’s your responsibility to perform, and pay for, regular inspections and maintenance. Failing to do so may result in expensive problems in your water system, and may even compromise your water quality.

If you want to access or manage water off the grid, you have no choice but to take on the responsibility of maintaining your off-grid water systems.

Regular inspection and maintenance for off-grid water system

No Guarantee Of Accessible Water

Tapping into a private well or intercepting flowing water in a surface source sounds great in theory, but it’s not a guaranteed option for all off-grid homes.

Your property might not be located above a clean groundwater supply, and you might have no nearby surface water sources. That leaves relying on a rain water catchment system – which probably won’t provide enough water for all your needs, especially if you live in a region with a warm, dry climate.

You might have no choice but to haul water from your local water depot, which will take more effort and won’t provide you with the same convenience as an off-grid system on your property.

Water Supply May Fluctuate

Even if an off-grid water supply is initially plentiful, that’s not to say that it’ll stay that way forever.

It’s not unheard of for wells to dry up, and you’re at even more of a risk with surface water, which is susceptible to drought and freezing.

You may need to monitor your water supply and make sure you have backup supplies, such as separate tanks for storing water for emergency use.

Plus, while many off-grid solutions last for many years, they’ll still reach the end of their lifespan eventually. You may not have access to water while you repair or replace an old water system.

🔚 Final Word

You should now have a much clearer idea of your available options if you’re looking to install an off-grid water system for your remote home.

Off-grid water systems are a big investment, but they give you the freedom of being able to live remotely without having to travel for miles to haul water from elsewhere.

Got any more questions about off-grid water systems? Check out our FAQs section below. If we haven’t answered your question, feel free to email us, and we’ll do what we can to help.

❔ FAQs

How do I get running water off the grid?

You can get running water off the grid by either pumping water from a nearby water source into your home or by delivering water from a pressurized water tank. You’ll need to choose the right sized pump or pressure tank that accommodates your household size and other factors (such as the distance that water must be delivered). An electric pump or a pressure tank is installed upstream of your home’s plumbing system, so the water is delivered into your main water line’s point of entry, providing running water throughout your home.

How much water do you need to live off the grid?

To live off the grid, the average family needs at least 400 gallons of stored water – or, ideally, a constant supply of water. The average American family uses around 300 gallons of water per day, so if you need water for all purposes (not just for drinking), you’ll need access to an off-grid well or surface water system that can provide this amount of water without being stretched to its maximum capabilities. You may want to combine several off-grid water systems, such as a rain catchment system and a private well, so you don’t put too much strain on one resource.

How do you get water when you don’t have a well?

There are several different ways that you can get water if you don’t have a well. You could collect rainwater in a rain catchment system and store it in a large tank before filtering it for drinking. Or, you could pump your water from a nearby surface water source. As a last resort, if you live in an area with no accessible water sources, you could transport water to your homestead from your local water depot – you’ll just need a water tank that can be used in a trailer or a truck bed.

What size tank for off-grid water?

The size of the tank you need for off-grid water depends on several factors, including your intended use for the water, the size of your household and your water demands, and whether the tank is your only water source or whether it’s used alongside another off-grid water solution. We recommend using a 400-1,000-gallon water storage tank. If you’re using a storage tank to deliver pressurized well water, it can be a lot smaller (20-120 gallons) because the well will provide a constant supply of water – the role of the storage tank is simply to prevent the well pump from being overused.

How do you supply water to a cabin?

You can supply water to a cabin by either drilling a well to access groundwater or delivering water from a surface source using a water pump. Depending on where the cabin is located, one of these options will likely be more feasible than the other. If you don’t have access to water around your cabin, you can transport water from your local water depot in batches.

  • Brian Campbell
    President & CEO, CWS, CWR

    Brian Campbell, a WQA Certified Water Specialist (CWS) and Certified Water Treatment Representative (CWR) with 5+ years of experience, helps homeowners navigate the world of water treatment. After honing his skills at Hach Company, he founded his business to empower homeowners with the knowledge and tools to achieve safe, healthy water. Brian's tested countless devices, from simple pitchers to complex systems, helping his readers find the perfect fit for their unique needs.

6 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to Off-Grid Water Systems”

  1. Avatar for Brian Campbell

    Hi Brian,

    Do you provide paid consulting services to homeowners with water problems? I have a problem with somewhat brackish water in our well. I already have a whole house water filtration system, but it doesn’t cure the salt problem. I have extensive lab data, and have actually paid to drill two wells on our property and found brackish water in both, so am resigned to a more complex treatment system. I am concerned about corrosion in our pipes, and don’t know whether a reverse osmosis point of use treatmet will be ok, or whether I should get a point of entry whole house system. At any rate I have enough questions that I believe I should pay you for a an evaluation of the situation and a few hours of professional advice. I’d be happy to pay for your help.

  2. Avatar for Brian Campbell

    Hi Brian, You are definitely very knowledgeable.
    Do you maybe know about setting up a water tank (probably 500 to 1000 gallons) that could be used as the main source of water to the toilet, shower and sink just using gravity? We’re trying to think of the cheapest and easiest way to live very inexpensively off grid (in a tiny home). Thanks, Edward

    1. Avatar for Brian Campbell

      Hey Edward, thanks for your comment. This could definitely work! Keep in mind that the working pressure provided by gravity can be affected by factors like friction loss in the pipes, fittings, and any restrictions in the system.

      1. Avatar for Brian Campbell

        Thanks for your reply. I was hoping maybe you had worked with this kind of system but yes, it does seem it should work. I’ll probably just by bottled water for actual drinking. Do you or any of your team members know what the best brands are? (we’ve buy Arrowhead and sometimes go to a spring up in Southern Utah to get water).

        1. Avatar for Brian Campbell

          Happy to help! We always prefer to recommend filtering your own water over buying bottled water (for numerous reasons 😜)

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