In a Cold Climate? Keep These Things in Mind When Water Harvesting

Although cold-climate water harvesting is not particularly relevant to most South African conditions, the tips and facts presented in the article below are interesting nonetheless and there are some suggestions and considerations that are universal when it comes to rain harvesting and rain water tanks.

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Water harvesting is gaining in popularity as more inhabitants of the planet strive to conserve resources. Water usage in industrialized nations includes more than just the 10 eight-ounce glasses of water we are supposed to drink each day or the water used to irrigate our lawns. Water is a key component in industrial production of all types of products modern civilization needs to function. These include clothing, shelter, and of course, electronic components.

Add to that the irrigation needed to grow our crops and raise our livestock and you start to see that “first world” countries consume far more water than areas with simpler lifestyles. Leading the pack in water footprint is the United States with more than twice the average water usage of the rest of the world.

In dry locations like the American Southwest and parts of South Africa, people are turning to rain water harvesting methods to make water consumption more sustainable. Companies such as Rain Harvest in the US offer all types of systems that are becoming increasingly efficient and economical given the total costs of water consumption.

But what happens if you don’t live in the hot desert of Las Vegas like Steve Wynn? Residents of cold areas such as Alaska also suffer from water shortages and can modify traditional water harvesting methods for their freezing temperatures.

Here are some concepts folks have to keep in mind in order to water harvest in cold climates.

water tanks for collecting rainwater

Water can still be harvested in cold climates but with special considerations. (Photo Credit: “Icicles On House Roof” by Victor Habbick via

Underground vs. Above-Ground Storage

As most of us know from science class, the Earth’s underground temperature is constant at about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s why your cellar is cooler than your main house in the summer. Conversely, the soil is also warmer in winter, explaining the popularity of partially below-ground Berm houses in cold places like Maine and Idaho.

When considering how you’re going to store the water you collect in a cold climate, underground versus above-ground storage is a serious consideration. It is as much as two or three times more expensive to install an underground collection system, so cost is a definite factor.

However, there are additional benefits beyond water not freezing in winter in underground tanks. Above-ground water tanks are warmer and may have sunlight filtering through, two elements that contribute to increased organic matter growth. Below-ground or underground water tanks have less issue with this problem since it is cooler and it is dark. Consequently, elimination of any organisms that do show up is an easier process.


Above-ground water tanks can be insulated against the cold. Some industrious homeowners have worked their storage units into clever landscaping design using a berm of earth on one side to protect the tanks. Commercial insulation is also available from specialist suppliers. Positioning the water tank in a sunny area as well as with protection from the wind will also help discourage ice formation.

Storage Tank Size and Shape

The size and shape of the water storage tank will also impact how quickly freezing sets in. A larger water tank will take longer to freeze than a smaller one, and a round water tank will freeze less quickly than a rectangular one of the same volume.

rainwater harvesting tanks

Take water storage tank shape into account for cold climates. (Photo Credit: Rain Harvest)

Heat Tapes

Pipes and collection tools such as rain chains must also be taken in consideration for winter water harvesting. In Northern climates, heat tapes are readily available and can be easily installed by the average homeowner. For a more complex system, you might consider adding a temperature sensor that will turn the heat tapes on or off depending upon the need for their use.

A Word About Chlorination

If you are using chlorination as a purification method, it is important to remember that in cold climates, the process takes longer than when it is warm. You’ll have to allow substantially more time for chlorination to take place, which is a serious safety risk.

Depending upon how severe your water shortage problem is and how dedicated you are to the environment, there is also the option of draining your water harvesting system for the winter and starting again when spring arrives. But by paying attention to a few aspects of lower temperatures, you still can harvest water regardless of your geographic region.

Source: Sarah Boisvert

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