The Incredible 25,000-Gallon Water Tank House

With a little imagination and a lot of energy, the author turned a decrepit old redwood water tank into a comfortable water tank house.

| July/August 1981

Some folks spend years planning each and every detail of their move back to the land, but not my family. In fact, when we fled urban Oahu in 1977, all we really had going for us were five undeveloped acres on Hawaii ("The Big Island") and a lot of high expectations.

Unfortunately, my story is not about how we simply went off with our good intentions—and without money, skills, or clearly defined goals—and successfully homesteaded a tropical paradise. The fact is, within four short months after making our move, we found ourselves in a relatively dismal situation.

Happiness Is not a Crowded Camper

There we were—my wife Kaye and I, our daughter Sally, one goldfish, and three dogs—all sardined into a camper parked halfway up our hilly property on the extremely rainy Hamakua coast. The house plans that a student architect had drawn up for us had turned out to be impractical, because we simply couldn't afford the wood required to follow them! Several months of all but steady precipitation hadn't helped the sensation that our close quarters were shrinking, either. And a sense of urgency to somehow find a way to establish ourselves in a good, comfortable, economical home seemed to loom ever present.

Then, one unusually sunny day while working in our patch of Chinese peas, I was taking mental inventory of our possessions—good acreage, a promising building site, the camper, an enormous old disassembled water tank I'd bought—when inspiration hit! Admittedly, that redwood reservoir was little more than a pile of rotting boards: dozens of termite-infested staves neatly stacked not far away from our all-too-humble mobile shelter. But, I thought, maybe —with a lot of work—we could resurrect that 30-year-old tank and (could it be true?) turn it into a dream house!

A White Elephant Makes Good

It's strange how, in an instant, one's perspective on a problem can do a complete flip-flop. Here I was looking at a heap of decaying lumber and thinking "home," when only moments before I would've told you that the mess of wood was of dubious value and had already been more trouble than it was worth.

I'd seen ads for the 25,000-gallon vat, and two similar structures, before we'd left Oahu. They'd been rescued from the cliffs above Kaaawa after having served as holding tanks for that town since 1946. Each had slats three inches thick, six inches wide, and 14 feet high. The steel bands that held the planks together were 5/8 inch thick, and the floor was more than 20 feet in diameter.

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