Saving for the future is not a new idea. But one family in Austin, Texas has put a new twist on meeting their water needs. With a homebuilt water barn, Michael McElveen and his wife, Kathy, now use rainwater to satisfy all their water needs for drinking, irrigating their organic garden and orchard, and supplying their fish pond and swimming pool.
“We didn’t set out to build an elaborate water collection system,” says McElveen. “In the beginning, we were only trying to save enough to water our garden, since we didn’t want to put the chlorinated city water on our soil.” To get the fresh water supply, the McElveens first gathered runoff water from the roof in a whiskey barrel, but shortly graduated to a large horse trough.
Soon, the trough was filled, prompting the McElveens to add two 6,000 gallon fiberglass tanks to hold the fresh water for their garden. “It only takes about eight to 10 inches of rain to fill each tank, so we quickly had them ready for use in the garden,” explains McElveen.
Once McElveen realized how easy it was to fill his garden tanks, he expanded his system to cover all the family’s household needs. Set on a 30-foot rise above the house, the water barn has a simple design. A 2,000-square foot galvanized metal roof supports poles set beneath the edges of the roof, which shelters two fiberglass water tanks. Gravity draws the rooftop water supply down into the house, cutting energy costs and making it even more environmentally sound.
“People who haven’t tried it are often unsure about the dependability of a rainfall-based water barn system, but we’ve shown it can work well and consistently—something more than many wells are doing these days,” says McElveen. “With this rainfall system, you never have to worry about your well going dry or the ground water becoming contaminated. It also frees you from rate hikes or from paying to have water hauled into your property. With our water barn, we’ve maintained the reason we moved out here in the first place—to have space and enhance our quality of life.”