Posts Tagged ‘cistern’

A couple weeks ago at work, three of us were taking a coffee break together.  Somehow, the conversation turned to 2012 predictions, pole shifts, zombie invasions, and the collapse of society.  One of our number sheepishly admitted to not having even an extra bottle of water in her house, and, basically, not being prepared for an emergency of any sort.


Now, I’m not a big believer in alien invasions or societal collapse, but I do strongly believe in being prepared for more-likely scenarios, like a simple power outage or a water main break.  Even a tornado or multi-day blizzard, or, my personal ultimate worry, long-term unemployment.  I gave my colleague a hard time, suggesting she should at least have a few basics on hand, like maybe a flashlight and a couple of big jugs of water, and possibly some extra food kicking around.  She laughed it off, telling me that if the water main broke, she’d just pack up the kids and head over to her parents’ place to do the laundry.


Fast forward a week or so, and the water treatment plant in town has broken down – there is a boil water order for the entire district.  You cannot even safely brush your teeth with the stuff, according to the Public Health advisory, or do your dishes or bathe your baby in it.  Wal Mart sold out of bottled water in about a day, and all the bottled-water shops (Culligan and the like) are backed up on orders.  The latest information I have been able to find is that this situation could stretch out for another month or more.   My colleague posted quite a forlorn note on facebook, likely feeling that this was entirely my fault.


It has been interesting at work.  I have a kettle in my office, so, every day I boil a kettle full of water to do my dishes in – no big deal, really.  I keep alcohol hand sanitizer in the office, too, so I just use that or the boiled water instead of my usual hand washing.  I work for a major institution, and they are bringing in thousands of bottles of water every day, to supply staff and clients.  I shudder to think about how much that must cost, and additionally, I wonder where they are finding all the water – it is likely being trucked in from other places in the province, as it’s certainly not being bought off-the-shelf at the local grocery.


Some of my colleagues are really struggling with living “like this” – they forget about the boil water thing and give the pets tap water, for instance, making them sick, or just feel frustrated with all the extra steps involved in getting the dishes done, all of a sudden.  Luckily, I have spent plenty of time traveling in third-world conditions, and the sudden conversion to having to think carefully about the safety of my food and water supply is pretty easy for me.  Unfortunately, if you have never been outside of Canada, it does come as quite a shock to think that the water coming out of your tap might not be so safe to wash your blueberries in, and it’s fairly easy to forget the basic precautions.  I have heard over and over that ‘things like this shouldn’t happen here’ – people are really offended at having to deal with the inconvenience.


Now, at home out here in the country, we’re not directly affected, as we’re on a cistern – lucky us!  We will have a bit of a problem eventually, as our cistern only holds about a month’s worth of water, and our town has completely shut down the municipal supply for trucking out to places like ours.   We had probably two or three weeks’ worth of water in the cistern under normal circumstances when the boil water order was announced.  We’re generally pretty conservative with our water use, as trucking it in costs a small fortune, so there are not too many ways we can cut back.  We’re doing laundry by hand right now, which is a gigantic pain in the butt, but that’s really the only place we can really cut consumption.  The animals still need water, and we still need to cook, bathe, and do dishes. We could melt snow like we did last spring, but there isn’t very much on the ground, so I don’t know how well that would work this year.


I called our water hauler, to see if they were shut down entirely.  The fellow on the phone assured me that we could still get water, trucked in from an unaffected community; it would just double the cost, is all.  Considering how pricey it is to haul water in the first place, we’ll be on ultra-conservation measures (Hubby doesn’t know it yet, but I’m considering instituting a thunder bucket in place of the toilet), but at least we can get good water, for a price.  The day after I contacted the company, the owner called me back, just to make sure I wasn’t worried about the safety or reliability of my water supply, and to assure me that he is servicing his regular customers before hauling water to all the new folks who suddenly want some, which currently happens to include the city itself.  He’d just appreciate an extra day or two of notice, in order to arrange the scheduling.  I appreciate his loyalty to his customers – he’s a good businessman, as well as being a nice guy.  He’ll be doing a stellar business, at least.


Now, a six-week boil water order is not exactly the collapse of society, but it’s one of those major inconveniences that can cause real hardship, and even sickness.   Having some bottled water on hand would give a person time to adapt to the situation, and even things like having a bit of bleach (currently recommended here for dish and laundry water, to kill the pathogens) or alcohol hand sanitizer (recommended in place of washing hands with the contaminated water) on hand can save a trip to the store when everyone else is rushing there in a panic – to buy bottled water, hand sanitizer, and bleach, of course!  That is the sort of thing I’m talking about when I say I like to be prepared…




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Hubby has been on a real water conservation kick, lately.  It was a real eye-opener to him to have to wait until the water truck comes to be able to take a bath, and the cost bothers him.  It is $140 for 2,000 gallons (approximately), which fills our cistern about halfway, and does not last nearly as long as Hubby suddenly thinks it should.  I feel somewhat like saying “I told you so”, but I shall refrain.  I have spent years harping on water conservation, but until he could actually see the water come and go, I guess it wasn’t very meaningful.  Now, he can take a peek in the cistern anytime to see how much it has gone down, and suddenly we are collecting meltwater from the roof and only flushing solids.

Two thousand gallons sounds like an awful lot, but then you start doing math.  One single toilet flush is around five gallons, at least with our vintage toilet.  A bath is probably thirty gallons, maybe more (I haven’t measured, though I should).  A load of laundry is probably forty or fifty.  So, if you flush, say, four times a day (a very conservative estimate in a household of even two), each bath every other day, and do three loads of laundry a week, that is 500 gallons in a single week, without even looking at cooking, washing dishes, mopping the floors, watering the dogs and houseplants, and all the other things you do with water.   What we should do is get a front-loading washer and a composting toilet, but both are beyond our budget for the time being.   When we get the shower running, I plan to install a shut-off valve right at the shower head, for conservation.  I threatened to get Hubby a washboard, but that one did not go over so well.  Maybe this summer, we’ll dig an outhouse.

We decided, tonight, that the ‘cold’ portion of my bathwater could come from the buckets of snowmelt that Hubby has been collecting from various drips off the eaves of the roof.  The ‘hot’ portion came from the cistern via the hot water tank, which made as good a bath as any other, and I’m happy enough to keep bathing this way, as long as free water continues to drip off our roof.  We’ve also figured out that the initial wash cycle in the washing machine could be meltwater as easily as drinking water – you should be able to just pour in the water before turning the machine on, though this is only theory so far.  The rinse would still come from the cistern, but that’s still 50% less paid-for-drinking-water used for non-drinking purposes.   We’ve thought about plumbing the roof gutters into the cistern and getting lots and lots of water for free every time it rains, but I am not 100% sure this is a great idea, based on the asphalt shingle grit that is sitting on the bottom of the buckets.

Meanwhile, my Shitake mushroom growing kit from The Mushroom Patch arrived in the mail today.  I wonder what the postman thinks of us now?  I read the instructions while I soaked in the tub, and they amounted to leaving the thing completely alone for the next month or so, then sticking it in the fridge, soaking it in water, and waiting for the mushrooms to form.  I am sure it is not quite that simple, though I kind of hope it is.  I will report back sometime after May 6th.

We also found little green sprouts in our seed starting flats, of cabbage and broccoli.  I am now certain we’ve started them waaaayyyy too early, but we’ll enjoy watching them grow while we are waiting for everything else to sprout…

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Well, the cistern emptied out a whole lot faster than I expected, suggesting that either a) there was a lot less water in there than I thought, or b) we are a lot more wasteful than I thought.  I sure hope it was a), or the adjustments will be painful.


I had not really thought about it in a while, but when the hum of the pump sounded deeper and labored, it occurred to us to take a quick peek.  A visual check was not enough to figure out how much water was in there, as I could not tell if the blotches waaaayyyy down there were mold clumps, or the bottom of the tank.  We got creative, and lowered a weighted string down the access hole, only to discover that there are approximately two inches left in the bottom of the tank.


Not knowing if our pump has an automatic low-pressure switch-off, we shut her down.  Hubby grabbed the buckets, and we started melting snow…again.  Good thing we have lots!


I called the cleaning guy, who sounds like a real good guy, and figured he could fit us in tomorrow afternoon…if it doesn’t snow too much – there is a heavy snowfall warning for tonight, and who knows what the driveway will look like if there is any wind at all.  I also called the water guy, just in case the cleaners are able to make it out, and he figured he could swing by on Saturday afternoon, as long as the cleaning guys have done their thing.  Problem (somewhat) solved, as long as the weather co-operates…

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The Home Inspection

So, the home inspector came for a visit on Saturday.  He really took his time with the place, clearing snow off the roof to see the shingles, climbing around in the attic, digging in the chimney, and generally poking around.


My realtor and I arrived at the end of the process, and the inspector gave us a tour with a summary of his results.  Mostly, he was quite upbeat about the place – he raved about how straight and true the house was, a shock, given its age.  He was impressed with the floor joists (2×10!  On 16 inch centers!) , the beams (two!  only one was necessary!), and the rafters (2×6 on 16 inch centers), and tossed around words like “overbuilt”.  He then reassured me that this was a good thing.  He was even impressed with the foundation and footings.


He specifically noted that the chimney is in perfect condition, and that if we wanted a wood stove in the kitchen, it would be a plug-and-play sort of deal.  Sweet.


There were really only three little(!) issues.  First, it is only 70 amp electrical service, and they doubled up on some of the breakers, which is illegal and not overly safe.   When I asked exactly how ‘not overly safe’ it was, the inspector gave me a wry grin and pointed out that the house hasn’t burned down…yet.  Secondly, the bathroom had suffered a moisture problem, which was going to mean replacing all of the gyprock, and repainting.  We had already guessed that one, so no worries there.


The really bad news was in the cistern.  Our only actual water supply at the moment.  It is watertight, and huge, so no issues there.   I had taken a quick peek on a prior tour of the house, and had not seen any mouse carcasses or anything – it was dry at the time.  However, the sellers had partially filled it, so that the inspector could check the water systems.  When we looked in this time, there was a nasty surprise…fluffy whitish mold balls, floating on the surface.  There must have been mold on the walls, though I had not noticed it previously.


My first instinct is – no problem.  Drain the cistern, hop down there with a stiff brush and a bucket of bleach, and issue solved.  This is a great plan…except that the access is about 14 x 16 inches, and under a counter, to boot.   The only way to get an actual person down there will be to cut a hole in the kitchen floor.  Oh, and those 16″ on center floor joists?  Those mean that whoever we send down there will have to be pretty skinny…

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