Is a Cistern Water Tank Right for Your Home? The top 8 Questions Answered

If you’re wondering if a cistern water tank is the right choice for your home, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’ll answer the top 8 questions people most commonly ask about these tanks. By the time you finish reading, you’ll have a much better idea of whether or not a cistern is right for you.

While making all the decisions about our off-grid tiny house, how we were going to get water was top of mind. When we purchased the land about a year ago, we were told we may be able to tap into county water….but at a (likely high) cost that we are still yet to find out.

After speaking with local well diggers, we found a well was not a feasible option. While we are close to the river, we are just high enough that we could dig 1000+ feet and still not hit water. That could mean tens of thousands of dollars down the drain if we decided to dig and don’t hit water.

So, we decided to go with a cistern water tank. Over the months, we’ve learned a ton about cistern water tanks and today we share what we’ve learned.

Cistern Water Tank

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Cistern water tank overview

A cistern is a water tank that is used to hold domestic water and/or collect and store rainwater. The word “cistern” comes from the Latin word cista, which means “box”

Cisterns have been used for centuries to store water for households and businesses. In many parts of the world, cisterns are still the primary source of water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning.

In the United States, cisterns were once common, but they fell out of use in the early 20th century as public water systems became more widespread.

Today, cisterns are making a comeback as people become more interested in sustainable living and water conservation.

Are cisterns still used?

Yes! Cisterns are still used today in the US and across the world. Cistern water tanks are often used in rural or off-grid homes where there is no access to municipal water.

Cisterns can be either above ground or buried, and they are typically made of concrete, plastic, or metal. Most cisterns have a capacity of between 1,000 and 5,000 gallons of water.

In order to decide if a cistern is right for you, it is important to consider your water needs and usage patterns.

The average person uses between 80 and 100 gallons of water per day. So, if you’re planning to install a cistern water tank as your primary water source, you’ll need to take that into consideration when choosing your cistern water tank size.

Cully and I found we drastically reduced the amount of water consumed when we moved into the tiny houses for our first “trial run”.

We have four dogs and 10 chickens, so we need to account for their water as well. We also use a composting toilet so we save water there.

All in all, we reduced our water intake from about 80 gallons/per day per person to between 20-30 gallons per day for the entire household. A drastic reduction!

Cistern Water Tank

Why would a house have a cistern?

A cistern water tank is often installed as a primary water-source for a house. Cisterns can be used in locations where water is scarce, or where the water quality is poor.

They can also be used to collect rainwater, which can be a valuable resource in dry climates. Cisterns are typically made of concrete, plastic, or metal, and range in size from small tanks that can be carried by one person to large tanks that require heavy machinery to install.

Cisterns can be an effective way to ensure a steady supply of water for a home. They can also help to reduce the amount of water that is needed from municipal sources, and can therefore help to conserve this valuable resource.

What are the advantages of a cistern?

As previously mentioned, we briefly inquired with the county to see if we could get water service from the county. While it may be possible, the cost could be astronomical.

We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars all the way into a six figure investment. We could go in with our neighbors and share the installation cost, but it is not something we are prepared to do right now. So, installing a cistern water tank is a great option.

Some of the advantages of a cistern include:

  • Far cheaper to install a cistern than install and hook up to county water (in our case, anyway :))
  • A cistern can be placed almost anywhere on your property
  • They are extremely efficient at storing large quantities of water
  • You can also store rainwater and collect gray water in a cistern (note: you would want to use a separate cistern water tank for this, especially if you use the primary cistern for drinking water)
  • Cisterns are also relatively easy to install and they can be customized to fit the specific needs of your home.
Cistern Water Tank

What are the disadvantages of a cistern?

Cisterns also have a few disadvantages. Let’s explore them…

  • First, they’re not always the most aesthetically pleasing option
  • Cisterns are often big and bulky, and they can take up a lot of space
  • They can be a bit tricky to keep clean
  • If not properly maintained, cisterns can become breeding grounds for bacteria and other harmful organisms
  • You will need to either have the proper equipment to fill your cistern (ie: a truck that can haul water plus an empty tank to transport the water) or you will need to pay to have your cistern filled, which can get expensive in the long run

What options are available?

A cistern water tank is versatile and can work for a variety of needs. There are two main types of cisterns: plastic and cement.

Each type has its own benefits. Plastic cisterns are typically less expensive than cement. They’re also easy to install and don’t require as much maintenance. However, plastic cisterns can be less durable than cement cisterns and may not last as long.

Cement cisterns tend to be more expensive than plastic, but they’re also more durable. They can last for many years with proper care. Cement cisterns are also relatively easy to install and don’t require as much maintenance as some other types of cisterns.

When choosing a cistern water tank, it’s important to consider your needs and budget. There are a variety of cistern sizes and shapes to choose from, so you can find the perfect one for your home or business.

Above ground or below ground installation is another important consideration. Above ground cisterns are typically easier to install and maintain, but they may be less aesthetically pleasing than below ground cistern tanks.

Additionally, in cold climate areas, an above ground cistern may not be a year round option due to the risk of the water freezing.

Ultimately, the best option for you will depend on your specific needs and preferences.

Can you drink water from a cistern water tank?

The fresh water in cistern water tanks is often safe to drink. However, it is important to check the cistern water tank regularly to make sure that it is clean and free of contaminants.

If you are unsure whether or not the cistern water tank is safe to drink from, you can always contact your local water authority for more information.

As noted above, if you are using a cistern to collect rainwater or greywater, this water should not be consumed. Rain and gray water are best suited to use when flushing toilets or for watering your lawn, garden, trees, etc…

Cistern Water Tank

Which is better: a cistern water tank or a well?

The most common question we hear is regarding what is better – a cistern or a well?

First, if you are considering alternative methods to being hooked up to traditional city or county water, you will need to see if digging a well is possible where you live. For us, a well was not a feasible option as it would come with a lot of risk. We could dig and dig and dig and still not hit water.

Cistern water tanks are a great way to store water for later use. They are also a great way to keep your water bills down, as you can use freshwater for drinking, showering, etc.. and you can store and use greywater and rainwater (separately from fresh water) for tasks like watering the garden or flushing the toilet.

However, cisterns have a few drawbacks. First, they can be quite large and take up a lot of space. They also require regular cleaning to prevent algae growth. Finally, cisterns can be expensive to install and maintain, especially if you need to buy a truck to haul the water back and forth.

Wells are another option for homeowners who want to store water for later use. Wells have the advantage of being much smaller than cisterns, so they take up less space.

They also don’t require regular cleaning, as the water is typically filtered before it enters the well. However, wells can be expensive to install and maintain, and they can go dry during periods of drought.

Keep in mind that well drilling can cost anywhere from $25-$65 per foot. Our quote came back at around $40 per foot (as of October 2021 in Western Slope Colorado). Even if you don’t hit water, you will still owe for the digging.

Is a cistern a good idea?

In short, yes! A cistern water tank is an excellent idea for homes that can’t get traditional fresh water hookups because they provide an efficient way to store and use water.

Cisterns are generally low-maintenance and fairly easy to install, making them a great option for busy homeowners.

In addition, cisterns can help to conserve water by capturing rainwater that would otherwise be lost to evaporation or runoff. As a result, cisterns are a smart and sustainable choice for any home.

Cistern water tank conclusion

If you’re in need of an efficient and cost effective way to store water, a cistern water tank is a great option.

Cisterns come in a variety of sizes and shapes to fit your specific needs, and they can be installed either above ground or below ground. While they may not be the most aesthetically pleasing option, they are durable and require little maintenance. With proper care, a cistern water tank can last for many years.

If you’re considering a cistern water tank for your home, be sure to shop around to find the perfect size and style for you. And remember, if you’re not sure which option is best for you, consult with a professional plumbing expert for advice.

Until next time,



Cistern Water Tank

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