Increase your water security by creating systems that will ensure you have the water you need when you need it by starting with a home water audit! A water audit is simply a way of calculating how many gallons your family uses of water per day all over your home and homestead. We’ve made the process a little simpler by breaking it down and providing FREE printable water audit worksheets.
What would you do if your primary source of water in the home and on the homestead wasn’t available for a time – or even permanently? How would you replace that water source? How much water do you even use from day to day for washing, cooking, livestock, and more?
Conduct a Water Audit on the Homestead
Some people live their lives without thinking much about the water they use and where it comes from. They turn on the faucet and out comes clear, clean, potable water that can be used for drinking, cleaning, and recreation.
Homesteaders and gardeners are a little different, though – we think about water all the time! From watering gardens to watering livestock, we are somehow always involved with water.
When we apply permaculture design thinking to our homestead goals, our relationship with water deepens even further. Since one of the first homestead elements we look at as we plan a permaculture homestead layout is WATER.
However, before we can create water-savvy systems and designs, we need to know how much water we truly need and use from day to day. This is why conducting a home water audit is an absolute must!
What is a Home Water Audit?
A home water audit is an assessment of how much water is used and can be saved in the home. Typically, these audits focus mostly on house water use. However, we homesteaders know that water is used EVERYWHERE on the homestead, not just inside the house.
So, for our purposes, we’ll be considering water use, savings, and sequestering (a little added permaculture bonus for us homesteaders) as we discuss doing a water audit of your homestead.
The spring and fall are good seasons to take a water inventory around your land since many temperate growing zones get much of their year’s supply of water in these seasons.
However, it is important to keep a record of rainfall and water observations throughout the year. Learning to collect the climate data that is specific to our homesteads will provide us with the information we need to make good long-term decisions and quality homestead designs.
Other Homestead Water Savvy Resources
What is the Purpose of the Water Audit?
The purpose of a water audit is to get an accurate idea of how much water we use every month. It’s aim is also to help us find areas where we can cut back on water consumption and fix potential breaks and leaks.
For a homesteader, we need to know how much water is both coming in and going out of the homestead. Before we start counting how much water is leaving the homestead, let’s think a minute about what water we have coming in.
Drinking water is vital to have for both people and animals so precipitation (rain and snow) is a perfect place to start when beginning our climate observations on the homestead.
Along with climate data, we need to be very aware of the water sources that already exist on the homestead. This information will help us make responsible decisions about potentially adding more water catchment or improving our water use each year.
To get our minds wrapped around the idea of a water audit, let’s sit down with our homestead journals and ask ourselves some simple questions:
- How much water does my area receive each year in the form of rain and snow?
- What are the sources of water already on my homestead? Which is the primary source among these? (Municipal water supply, a well, ponds, streams, cisterns, etc.)
- How long could we survive if our primary source of water was unavailable temporarily? Or permanently?
- Similarly, do I have back-ups for my back-ups for the water supply on my homestead?
A Permaculture Homestead’s Primary Water Goal
From a permaculture perspective, capturing water and slowing its spread along the landscape is usually one of the very first things we look at from a homestead design angle.
Water is essential to life!! We must have it to live, to grow gardens, to see to our animal husbandry, and to generally run the homestead.
However, water is a finite resource even though it blessedly replenishes itself. If we live in areas of low precipitation, we probably feel our connection to water very deeply because it can be scarce.
Even if we live in wet climates, learning good water management is essential for growing food, animals, and people.
In permaculture, as I said, the goal of our designs should be to CAPTURE the water that naturally comes onto our homesteads and then SLOW it’s movement across our land to prevent erosion of soil and wasting of the water.
We need to design ways to SINK the water into our soil, thereby retaining it for later use.
You can remember these goals with the simple catch phrase, Capture-Slow-Sink. We can accomplish this in many ways, several of which we’ll discuss later in this article.
Before we can even begin, though, we must have a realistic idea of how much water we use so we can plan for how much water we need to capture, slow, and sink.
How Do You Conduct a Water Audit at Home?
There are many ways to conduct a water audit of the home and homestead and I encourage you do one every year, experimenting with a new template each time.
The following suggestions have been kept relatively simple on purpose so as not to overwhelm your brain if this is your first time really thinking about a water audit.
Some Water Audit Questions to Answer
Get a pad of paper or some paper on a clipboard and a good pen. Start walking around the home and homestead taking notes.
- Where do we use the most water in the home? Try to actually calculate the amount per day per person for things like showers, cooking, drinking. This may take some effort, FYI! (Use our water audit worksheets below to make this job a little easier.)
- As accurately as you can, take an inventory of how much stored water you have in your home. According to Ready.Gov, the bare minimum you should store is one gallon of water per person, per day for three days. This is only for drinking and some cooking; you’ll need more water for bathing and washing dishes and clothes. Put down in your notes how much you need to start acquiring and properly storing drinking water.
- Now calculate that for any livestock or pets on your homestead.
Homestead Water Audit Considerations
- Do you have a well on your property? Does it require any maintenance this year? Do you need to have your water tested to be sure it’s still pure? How is your pump working? Do you have a water softener attached to it that might need some care?
- Have you considered installing rain barrels or a cistern to harvesting water off your roof for either the garden or livestock (after purifying)? Is this a feasible project for your homestead? Or do you have a place for a stock pond to be dug on your land?
- If you already have a pond or spring, is there maintenance you need to perform on it this year? Clearing weeds, overgrowth or other organic materials or build-up? Are there fish in your pond? Do they need to be re-stocked?
It’s worth it to take some time to really think about this topic. Take notes now, ponder them, and then let it sit and ruminate in your brain for awhile.
Then come back to your notes and start making a plan. To help expand your notes and give you a little more data, we’ve created some water audit sheets that might be helpful.
Storing Water in Different Homestead Ways
There are a lot of different ways to store water on the homestead from rain barrels to cisterns to wells to ponds. After you’ve conducted your water audit, you will probably want to start slowly but deliberately adding some of these to your land.
If you don’t have the space or funds for those water capturing ideas right now, here are few water storage ideas you might consider implementing as soon as you can.
Prevent Evaporation on the Land:
When it rains, the water sinks into the soil and that is where we want it to stay, especially in our gardens! To prevent surface water from leaving the soil prematurely, you can prevent water evaporation by using mulch in the garden year round.
Materials to Use as Mulch:
- You can cover the soil with non-organic materials like old pieces of carpet, black plastic, and weed mats. If that’s all you have, use that. However, these materials take a very long time to break down if they ever will at all, and they don’t do anything to feed the soil like organic materials.
- You could also use organic materials like rocks, gravel, and sand. These stone variations will hold water beneath and provide a quality surface for pathways and patios. They absorb and hold heat in the summer, which can be uncomfortable.
- Mulch like straw, pine straw, wood chips, sawdust, newspaper, and even rough cut planks from a timber mill can be used successfully as mulch. They retain moisture in varying degrees and can also provide a quality surface for pathways.
FYI, straw will decompose quickly, especially in the heat of summer. Also note that any woody material will decompose quicker in a warm/wet environment.
Also, sawdust should only be used in garden soil lightly, never in heavy batches that clump and weigh down the soil. Sawdust clumps can become saturated with water and cause rot, especially in warm/wet climates.
You can see that each of these ideas has its assets and liabilities, which is probably why I use a combination of all of these depending on what’s needed in each section of the homestead.
That knowledge usually comes with good, ol’ trial and error, so get started experimenting as soon as you can. Don’t worry about getting it wrong every now and then – that’s how we learn!
What’s your favorite mulch?
Reduce Water Consumption:
A drop of water not used is one saved, right?
Even if you are connected to municipal water, that resource is not infinite. We want everyone to have enough water, not just our family.
Simple things like turning off the faucet when we’re brushing our teeth and only washing clothes when they’re actually dirty can lead to significant water savings over time.
As you conduct your water audit, really pay attention to where you’re using the most water around the homestead. As you design water storage systems, be sure to brainstorm water consumption reduction ideas, too.
It’s wrong to waste no matter how much of something you have.
Reuse Gray Water:
This isn’t legal everywhere, but on many homesteads it’s possible to reroute used water from the washing machine and the bathtub into garden areas designed to filter the water and slowly sink it into the soil. This is called gray water (or grey water, if you’re British).
(Gray water should never be confused with black water which is waste water from toilets.)
If you’re designing a new homestead, make gray water systems a part of your initial design to be water wise from the beginning of your homesteading journey. If you’re on an established homestead, you or a professional plumber can retrofit piping to allow for gray water delivery outdoors.
Be sure to check the municipal code if you live in a city; as I said, gray water systems aren’t legal everywhere.
Store Water in Plants:
Plants are almost entirely made of water, including their roots. The more perennial roots systems in the ground on your homestead, the more water is sequestered on site all year round. Their roots also actively collect water.
Annual plant roots (like lettuce) also hold moisture in the soil but they do it for a finite amount of time each year. Also, annual root systems are much more shallow than perennial because they put most of their energy into growing flowers that make seeds instead of into developing their roots.
- Perennial plants can be placed along the perimeter of your homestead to be used as a living fence.
- They can also be incorporated into orchards and food forests.
- Perennials can be included around outdoor living spaces to provide shade and even food.
- They can also be an integral part of pollinator and rain water gardens.
In short, perennials should be dotted all over the landscape of a water-wise homestead.
Use Cover Crops Between Food Crops:
Along the same lines as the suggestion above, growing cover crops in the vegetable garden especially can help retain moisture in the soil when there are no food crops being grown there.
Cover crops are grass or leafy crops that are grown for a time and then cut down and laid on the surface of the soil to decompose, or are lightly tilled into the soil.
The primary purpose of a cover crop is to feed the soil. However, a secondary result is that water is being stored in the garden soil while the cover crops grow and while they’re decomposing.
Each of these ideas also SLOWS water movement across the land and SINKS it in various ways.
One of my permaculture mentors, Morag Gamble of The Permaculture Education Institute described this process as “planting water.”
That’s exactly what we’re trying to do – plant water into the soil like the living thing that it is!
Build Rainwater Swales in the Garden Where Appropriate:
A permaculture swale is essentially a trench that’s dug along the contour of the land. The purpose of a swale is to capture rainwater, hold it in the landscape so that it can slowly sink into the soil.
Swales only work on land with some elevation, or in other words, a bit of slope. If you have a flat homestead, you can employ many other methods of rainwater irrigation, never fear! Many of them we’ve already talked about today like mulch and perennial plants.
If you have some tilt to your land, you can dig swales strategically in select places to capture precipitation. Perennial and annual plants can be placed on the hill of the trench, while the water capturing happens in the trench itself.
Visit Tenth Acre Farm to learn more about What a Permaculture Swale is and how to use them.
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