Bought a house with a cistern, any ideas on using it succesfully?
February 26, 2013 9:30 AM   Subscribe

Recently purchased a farm property with a Cistern, It currently is filled from the eavestroughs. Any suggestions for starting it up and keeping it running smoothly?

Farmhouse, Has not been lived in for a year or more, cistern has not been used. Should I install a filtering system for toilet/shower dishes use? Do I need to treat it right away, if so with what?
We plan on testing the water in it right away and seeing how it comes back?
Any thoughts or experiences would be greatly appreciated.
posted by vidarling to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
The way we use our cistern at a historic property I volunteer at is that we have a pool filter hooked up to it running during the day, and we add a 1/2 cup of bleach each morning. We don't use it for cooking, but we do use it for showering, dishes, toilets, tooth-brushing, etc, and have never had a problem. When they've tested it, I'm pretty sure it's shown up as safe to drink, but never knowing what bird poop might've washed off the roof lately, we get bottled water for drinking and cooking.

If you're going to treat it right away, I'd treat it with bleach. But definitely don't drink it after the first big pulse, and make sure the house isn't sealed up too tight if you can smell it (probably not a problem in an old farmhouse). The pool filter probably isn't even necessary, if you're just going to be using it for toilets/showers/dishes, but it may help you feel a little safer in the long run.
posted by ldthomps at 9:45 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is it safe for children to be around, our old farm house cistern ended up being really unsafe and ended up being filled in.

Is it open to the sky (with boards covering it), etc...
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:48 AM on February 26, 2013

Response by poster: It is closed in, with eavestroughs going into it. I will check for safety once we are settled.
posted by vidarling at 9:53 AM on February 26, 2013

Lived in the Caribbean for years with one. Because yours hasn't been used in a long time I'd suggest a water quality check. Usually your local dept of environment can either do it or suggest where. We drank our cistern water but I wouldn't do it unless you are sure of the history. We collected our water off the roof and it went directly into the cistern. There was some primitive filter but not much. In the kitchen faucet we installed a filter like those you could get from home depot. Every month my husband treated it with a little chlorine (!). That's what we were used to and what everyone did at the time. How healthy that was I have no idea.

One thing is cistern water tends to be very soft so be careful using soap or detergent. It will feel like you can never get it off. Also we used a regular well pump to get the water. My biggest advice is to make the cover is fitted and there are no cracks otherwise you will lose it all. But our cistern was what would be the basement in a normal house made from concrete.
posted by lasamana at 9:53 AM on February 26, 2013

I apologize for having forgotten the names of the actual books, but if you dig into the "permaculture" world you'll find a number of fairly specific recommendations on handling various cistern systems, filtration strategies, and so on.
posted by aramaic at 10:16 AM on February 26, 2013

Here's an amusing blog post about some of the practical difficulties of cisternship.
posted by Corvid at 2:34 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There's a floating-ball valve system you can use - i believe it's called a "first-flush diverter" or a "floating intake" - that redirects the initial rainfall hitting your roof. the theory being that all the dirt and debris that is on the roof gets washed off with the first rain, and then after that has been routed away, the remainder goes to the cistern.

Here's an example of one rainwater collection system
. They have filters on the gutters, first-flush diverter, system to prevent intake from stirring up sediment, etc.
posted by dubold at 4:17 PM on February 26, 2013

Check locally for someone who cleans cisterns. You can also have diverters installed in the downspouts so water from the roof doesn't go into the cistern. I have spring water hauled in to fill mine.
posted by apartment dweller at 5:53 PM on February 26, 2013

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