The Homestead Cistern

The homestead cistern is used to collect and store rainwater for use, includes tips on types of cisterns, cost of cisterns and building tips.

| May/June 1978

Learn how a homestead cistern can benefit your land.

Learn how a homestead cistern can benefit your land.

Photo By Fotolia/Hemeroskopion

Tips for building a homestead cistern, including the cost and types of cisterns available.

Whether your well has just gone dry and you need a new (and preferably low-cost) source of water . . . or that sprig you've been drawing from doesn't always produce as much as you (or your animals) would like . . . or you've grown tired of the taste of city water . . . you'll want to see what Penny and Lou Kujawinski (authors of the following article) have to say about their homestead cistern and how they collect and store rainwater for homestead use.

Have you ever looked at a pretty piece of land but hesitated to buy the property because it lacked water? (Quite often, an otherwise-attractive parcel of land that has no well, pond, stream, or spring will be priced so low that you may be tempted to buy the tract anyway.) Lack of ground water is a common problem . . . one that the folks in our part of Missouri — early settlers and present-day farmers alike — have learned to get around by the use of something known as a rainwater cistern.

A rainwater cistern is — as the name implies — simply a setup for collecting rainwater (usually the precipitation that falls on your home's or barn's roof) and storing it until it's needed in a (usually underground) concrete or masonry tank. Cisterns are ideal for farms and homesteads situated on waterless land, or for areas where the natural ground water is too hard — contains too many dissolved minerals — to drink, use for washing hair, etc. (Fact is, some of the people hereabouts who have good springs on their property have gone ahead and installed cisterns anyway, just because they prefer the taste of rainwater.)

We didn't feel out of place, then — upon moving to our present home — when we designed and constructed a simple rainwater-collection system large enough to supply all our needs for water. And — despite the limitations inherent in such a system — we've never regretted having gone this route. (It sure beats spending upwards of $1,000 to drill a well for water that may or may not be there!) Quite possibly, a cistern could be the answer to your water-supply problems, too.

How to Know Whether a Cistern is "Right" for You

Cisterns won't work for everybody. In fact, for such a setup to be at all useful, the following conditions must apply:

2/22/2015 9:16:30 AM

We are considering buying a property with an underground cistern as the only water supply for the house. What questions should I ask regarding this and is this sufficient to support a family of four living with an annual avg rainfall of 10 in and an annual snowfall of 16 in.??

pla stic mart
11/14/2011 10:50:02 PM

We would love to help out our fellow motherearthnews constituents. Whether it's above ground water storage tanks or below ground water storage cisterns, you can always get expert help and assistance at

annie p
10/6/2010 9:28:21 PM

We had a house with cistern and septic tank, but it was destroyed in a fire. We now have put a tiny house on the site. We have power. I would like to make use of the cistern etc and install a tiny bathroom (this property is used about 10 times per year and only in the summer). Query: What kind of pump would be best. Can it be housed outside? Ditto for the pressure tank and hot water tank. If the pump, pressure tank etc all need to be inside what are the smallest sizes available. Any advice welcome.

trent _2
5/7/2010 10:41:57 AM

Am thinking of water cachement at our property. We don't spend to much time there (yet) but want to collect water in our absence. I want to know about water stagnation. In the NW, when it rains, it rains a lot. In summer though it can be drought like. I'm thinking of a solar air bubbler but am afraid of encouraging growth in tank. Any ideas or experiences? Trent

gabrielle briar_2
12/20/2009 8:18:33 PM

According to a Ohio State Department of Health: "The best roof materials for drinking water catchments are clay and slate tiles, and metal. Composite asphalt, asbestos, chemically treated wood shingles and some painted roofs are not recommended for potable water cisterns. Lead materials should not be used anywhere on the roof where there is contact with water leading to the cistern. If asphalt shingles are used, then an additional particle filter device should be installed with the treatment system." The link below will take you to the full and very informative bulletin they put out. I've been using the information to plan a cistern for my barn. Hope this helps. Best of luck! Gabrielle

8/15/2009 3:17:39 PM

I am living on the farm that my Great Great Grandfather and his son built back in the 1920's. So, I have had experienc e with underground cisterns. The rural water line runs right behind our house and we are not hooked up to it and I am glad because from what I have seen and heard we don't want to be hooked to rural water. My Grandparents spoiled me and they don't even know it. The cistern is big enough to handle a family of 4. You still have to conserve your usage,Like do not take a shower with the water running constantly, things like that. And the best thing of all, no water bills!

2/19/2009 5:56:00 AM

Could anyone tell me if there is a danger of collecting water for emergency drinking from an asphalt roof poses any dangers? From what info I can find the stuff is a potential carcinogen if inhaled over a long period, but nothing on consuming it. Any help would be appreciated.

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