The humble rainwater tank sits silently, dutifully doing its part for the environment - and your wallet.Â Image: Michael Coghlan
Australia is the driest populated continent in the world, and yet our water consumption per person is among the highest on the planet. For Australians, water is scarce and how we manage this resource is a concern for us all.
It’s no surprise that people are looking to install some form of water catchment for their property. Recent data shows that 26 per cent of Australian homes have already installed a rainwater tank and an overwhelming majority reported that they are positive about the tanks.
From saving money on your water bills to the conservation of a valuable natural resource, there is a lot to like about the humble rainwater tank.
They can even have other positive flow-on effects for the community. For example, the use of rainwater tanks in urban areas can relieve pressure on public infrastructure because of reduced stormwater runoff. We’ve also seen the popularity of rainwater tanks increase year on year, with the ABS reporting that the total storage capacity in Australia has gone up by 30 per cent between 2006 and 2011.
This is all very encouraging news for the environment – but, it’s not all drinking water and skittles. Just like buying a puppy dog or a Tamagotchi, owning a rainwater tank comes with its own responsibilities.
A recent study we conducted with the Smart Water Fund has shown that households may not be aware of some of the maintenance requirements that come with rainwater tank ownership.
In the report, Survey of savings and conditions of rainwater tanks, we conducted extensive research into rainwater systems across Melbourne, looking at the efficiency of the tanks and the water savings that can be generated at an individual household level.
One of the most interesting findings was lack of awareness around maintenance. Only 58 per cent of Melbournians indicated that they have conducted some form of maintenance on their system.
It’s important to know that the installation of a rainwater tank isn’t a set-and-forget scenario. There are some maintenance tasks that are unavoidable if you want to keep the tank healthy and efficient.
So here are our top tips for rainwater tank owners, or those considering a purchase in the near future.
Top 5 tips for maintaining your rainwater tank
- Get your mind (and the leaves) out of the gutter – every 3 months
- Cleaning out the gutters is a simple way to improve the water quality and the efficiency of the tank.
- 4 per cent of tested households were found to have faecal matter in the gutters. In addition, 31 per cent of sites inspected were found to have half or completely full gutters.
- Look into installing gutter meshing.
- Mozzie mesh – every 3 months
- A rainwater tank is a great place for mosquitoes and pests to set up shop and thrive.
- Of the tanks reviewed in the study 91.1 per cent had mosquito meshing, but more than 10 per cent were in a condition that would allow pests or vermin into the tank.
- Poorly maintained mesh can pose a risk to the health of the community, particularly if populations of disease carrying insects are free to multiply in the rainwater tank hotel in your backyard.
- Spend some quality time getting to know your water quality – every 6 months
- A majority of households use rainwater for the toilet or the washing machine so cleanliness of the water is less important. However, for those properties that use the water for showers, drinking or cooking, checking the water is crucial.
- We found 57 per cent of tanks had discoloured water and 19 per cent had odorous water, while 25 per cent of tanks had medium or high concentrations of sediment.
- Pump it real good – every 6 months
- The condition of the pumps and outlets will affect the quality of the water and the efficiency of how the household can access and use the water. A well-maintained system can also protect against long-term damage.
- Our report found that in homes with pumps installed, 5 per cent were not functioning and 18 per cent of properties inspected were reported to have leaky pipes.
- It’s time to desludge
- Standards Australia recommends that households organise the removal of sediment with a qualified contractor once every two to three years.
- You probably don’t want to be dealing with this water.
The report also advises should check to make sure tank foundations are even, and that the tank has a reliable water switch.
If you would like to review the report in full you can find it here.