Is cistern building a lost skill?

ClareBroommaker's picture

House-side rain barrels seem to be increasingly popular, but what ever happened to in-ground cisterns? I know when my Midwestern US city was young they were ubiquitous. They were brick and mortar lined. This was a brick and lime producing city, so those materials made sense, and they last "forever"

I wonder if dug cisterns might be a better choice than plastic rain barrels. My house has concrete surface all around, or else I'd certainly consider a cistern. I don't know if there is anything to consider beyond dig a hole, line it with brick, fit it with a heavy lid. Were there ever cistern specialists?

Having a cistern has been on my dreamy wish list for years. I am curious though, would bricks and mortar be water proof enough? I would think you would need something like the ways that some swimming pools are built, concrete with a plaster coat to really keep the water in the cistern.

I think cistern-building depends on where you live. I'd bet that plenty of third-world citizens still know who to build them because they're used regularly.

You'd need a hand pump to get the water back up but if you divert all your downspouts into the cistern, you'd have plenty of water.

Maybe people of the past didn't worry if there was algae in the cistern. Or they strained the water before drinking. Or boiled it.

lathechuck's picture

You'll need some way to get into the cistern, after it's built, to scoop out the muck that will eventually accumulate. But you'll need to make sure that no person or animal can fall into it, accidentally, and drown (or just be trapped).

If it's located next to a basement, the next person to consider buying the house will also worry that the cistern might leak into the basement.

I love my (three) rain barrels, but I don't love cleaning out the muck. And I'm glad that any water that leaks out of them rolls across the soil away from the house. They're mostly hidden from direct sun by shrubbery, and I think that helps the plastic last longer.