How to Winterize your Outdoor Water Systems

The freezing point of water is 0℃ or 32℉. It is the point at which liquid H2O turns to a solid which we then call ice. Water expands as it turns into ice, therefore can cause damage to pipes and other items which are exposed to freezing temperatures. Depending on your local winter temperature, you may need to consider winterizing your outdoor irrigation before freezing temperature approaches.

Lets examine the winterizing procedure of each component of your outdoor irrigation system, starting with the timers.

The Link-Tap system and the Netro system are both wi-fi connected smart timers that are virtually identical in function and composition and so the winterization process is the same.

To winterize your water timer, first power off the device and turn off the faucet, remove the irrigation pipe or hose from the timer, then remove the timer from the faucet. Clean any debris on the gasket if necessary. Gently shake the device to remove the water inside. Lastly, store the water timer indoors to avoid freezing temperatures that may damage the device. In addition, if the water timer will not be used for over 5 months, it is best to remove the batteries to prevent battery leakage from damaging the timer.

Please note that there is no need to unplug the flow meter connector from the main unit or to delete all watering schedules from your user account when winterizing your water timer.

All the watering schedules and configurations have been saved in the cloud server. When next spring comes, you just need to log into the app, reconnect your hose timer to the faucet, then your system is ready to go

LinkTap Pty., Ltd., Australia, Frequently Asked Questions

Drip tubing and emitters are almost always safe from damage due to freezing temperatures. The tubing is buried underground and also meant to drain after each watering cycle so it is okay to leave it all in place. Some systems have a blowout valve at the far end of the tube and if so, you can leave this valve open during freezing temperatures for extra assurance.

Outdoor faucets also called hose bibbs which are connected to the main plumbing can be protected by several different methods. Scientifically speaking, running water will freeze at a lower temperature than still water and so you can let a faucet drip overnight to prevent freezing. Of course here in the desert we really don’t like to let water just run out with no specific purpose so adding insulation is preferable. Pipe insulation sold specifically for this task is available at the hardware stores but you can also use old t-shirts, towels or blankets. Exposed outdoor pipes can also be wrapped with electrified heating wrap.

Hoses should be disconnected from faucets, rolled up to be cleared of water and stored in a protected area.

Water tanks generally do not freeze solid in our mild winters although the single-digit freeze we had in 2011 put this statement to the test. It is the valves on the water tanks which are susceptible to freezing. This is an important thing to protect as a break in a valve can empty an entire tank. For the greatest protection, close any valves and disconnect any hoses then insulate your valves with old towels, blankets or even an old cooler. PVC valves and associated pvc plumbing are most susceptible to freeze so be extra vigilant in protecting those components.

An insulated valve cover made from an old cooler

We typically get our average first freeze of the season mid-November. This year we a right on time for that scheduling. In true Texas weather fashion we could have highs back into the eighties next week and some plants may want water again. It is up to you to determine whether to go back through the process of un-winterizing your outdoor water components when the heat rises again. Mid-March is the average last frost and it is the time we can assume that we are finally in the clear again as far as freezing temperatures go. The four months of “could be winter” in between are always up to individual preference and determination. It’s one of those things that keeps Terlingua living exciting.


Citation and Attribution

All content by SustainableTerlingua.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License unless otherwise noted.

LinkTap Pty., Ltd., Australia, Frequently Asked Questions, 2015-2022, https://www.link-tap.com/#!/, All Rights Reserved


A Guide to Using Rainwater for a Water Source

rainstorm in Big Bend

The single biggest mistake when harvesting rainwater is to NOT do it at all. If you don’t harvest rainwater, you are missing an opportunity to collect a vital resource that is being delivered to your house for FREE. Even if you are on city water or have a well, harvest rainwater too and water your plants with it because it is higher quality water! If you have no other source of water on your site, you must harvest rainwater so please read on.

The Design Process

Let’s start here with these videos. Both households depend exclusively on rainwater as their only water source and both guys do a great job at walking through their systems and explaining how the components work. Roofs, gutters, debris excluders, tanks, valves, pipes, filters, pressure components and final treatment are links in a chain of the whole system that brings water to our homesteads.

The following guidelines when designing or upgrading your water catchment system will help to keep the chain connected and the water flowing:

  • Collect the highest quality water. Follow the Treatment Train to keep contaminates out: prevention, exclusion, sequestration, filtration, inactivation
  • If you plan to use your rainwater as a back up to Study Butte or Lajitas water there are specific regulations to consider up front.
  • Yes, you can drink rainwater if you keep it clean and filter it, it tastes wonderful.
  • Plan for future expansion
  • Gravity is energy free and works! Pumping water uphill is wasteful of energy and will reduce the lifespan of your pressure components.
rainwater collection tanks and plumbing

This 9,000 gallon system uses metal gutters to collect rainwater from the roof and is stored in 3- 3,000 gallon Wylie tanks each with an independent overflow. Outflow plumbing consists of Banjo Valves, PP reducing fittings, compression fittings, hdpe pipe and brass components for longevity. This piping is later buried. A top side hose bib allows for access to water at the tank as well as complete drainage of lines. Each tank can be isolated for maintenance without draining the entire system.


Financial Incentives

The state of Texas encourages rainwater collection by making it sales tax exempt. Section 151.355 of the Texas tax Code exempts all rainwater harvesting equipment and supplies from state sales tax. To claim this exemption, the purchaser must furnish a Tax Exemption Form 01-339 to the supplier at the time of purchase.

Click HERE to fill out your sales tax exemption form


Building Your System

For the DIY, all of the materials you need for a long-term, low maintenance system can be purchased locally or online.

You can’t throw a rock out here without hitting a welder so your collection structure should be easy enough to get built by a local. The size of your collection surface determines your storage capacity. Square footage of roof x .62 = gallons per inch of rain. Familiarize yourself with local rainfall: Rainfall Patterns in Terlingua Texas.pdf

Wylie storage tanks (the black ones) are trucked in locally by All Energies 432-244-7656 terlinguasolar@gmail.com or you can also purchase Enduraplas tanks (the tan ones) from Outwest Feed and Supply in Alpine. Water cubes or any other white or clear plastic tanks used for long term storage will grow algae and they will not last many years but they can be used for garden water if kept seperate from your house system.

You need a solid base for your tank that is level, compacted and free from pokey things. It does not have to be concrete but can be. Most tanks will be just fine on the native compacted soil after raking or removing the rocks and sticks. If you need more material to create the base, A word of caution here on ordering a truck load of sand for your base. There are local sand dunes that are mined primarily for use as a masonry additive. It is a fine, clean, dark grey sand that is easy to get and when dumped out looks like a superior product and it is for a lot of cases. However, it has been deposited over millennia by being blown by the wind and that means it does not compact into a sturdy base. If you need to get material hauled in, there are better choices like road base or creek bed sand. Talk to the person hauling your material about what you don’t want (ie. no stucco sand aka. black sand)


If you feel like you need help building your system I’m here to help! Please schedule a call


On your tank you will have a 2 inch bulkhead and it needs a 2 inch Banjo valve on each tank. No PVC here! This is the first and most important link in the chain! Banjo valves are more expensive than PVC but they are built to last and the seals can be replaced when needed. You can buy online at the link above or call me at 432-371-2501 to get one. The hardware stores do not carry these valves and although Outwest Feed does, it will be the most expensive route.

Protect the system from freezing.

If you have exposed pvc or copper pipes they will freeze and break, guaranteed. Insulate those pipes!
Use a valve cover and the rest of the pipes can be buried. 6 inches of dirt is all you need for your pipes to survive a “normal” desert freeze.
In case of exceptional freeze (ahem, 2011) here’s a tip from Dan P:
“If you have the electrical capability, wrapping the outflow valves and any other exposed pipe surface in heat tape, followed by insulation, provides peace of mind, although there’s always the possibility that the power will go out.”

Beyond the valve you have several options. PVC is an available and economical choice but since these components are susceptible to breakage from freezing and uv degredation, not adaptable over time and are environmentally toxic to manufacture, I personally go as far as we can beyond the valve to avoid it’s use.

My preferred pipe material is HDPE pipe (a.k.a fast line) for the superior quality and longevity of the material, no plastic can beat it. Buy pipe from Outwest Feed and Supply in Alpine and fittings from HDPE Supply. Compression fittings first, they are more expensive than locally available barb and hose clamp fittings but they also are extremely reliable. Watch the video below to see how to use these fitttings.

Another option for connecting fast line is socket welding. The welded pipe is the most secure attatchment for hdpe pipe. Outwest Feed and Supply in Alpine sells the weld fittings and has a welder available for rental for a very reasonable daily price if you want to go that route. I can also weld hpde pipe.

A few more things to note about putting all of this pipe together

  • Draw your system out and count all of the elbows and tees you will need
  • Where the valve connects to the pipe, use a removable fitting such as a compression fitting or union so each tank or valve can be removed and serviced without disrupting the rest of the system.
  • A good idea is to add a hose bibb connection on the top side and bottom side so you have hose conections for a drip system, or moving water from one place to another, or shutting the system down and evacuating the line if needed.

Pump, pressure tank, filtration and treatment are the final links in the chain. There are many different factors to consider in choosing these components and the depth of that topic will be covered in future articles. If you feel like you need professional help building your system I’m here to help! Please schedule a call or you can also call Keen Contracting on the finishing components and interior plumbing.

Drip Irrigation

Compared to surface irrigation which is 60% effecient and sprinklers at 75% effeciency, drip irrigation boasts a 90% effeciency rating. If that doesn’t get you excited consider that drip irrigation is also the slowest method to apply irrigation and in heavy clay soils like we have around here that means the deepest penetration of moisture into the soil, not to be wasted to evaporation into the atmosphere. Setting up a drip irrigation system in Terlingua is 100% the best way to water!

Drip irrigation systems can seem complex to the uninitiated but they really are not if you know a few design details ahead of time but let’s get one BIG issue out of the way first:

If you install drip irrigation correctly, you may never SEE the water that your plants are drinking and this may be a hard concept to embrace.

We humans have lived our whole lives training our subconsious to derive satisfaction from watching droplets of water fly through the air and onto plant’s leaves, the soil, the mulch, and sometimes the sidewalk. Ah, the smell of rain or the sprinkle from a hose is so lovely and cooling that the plant must love it too! But the truth is the plant can’t smell, it only wants to drink, and all that water flying through the air is for human enjoyment only. When you drip irrigate, you cannot SEE the water. Your subconscious will fight you and tell you that it is not working, that your plants are not getting the water they need!!! You have to fight your subconscious back and watch the behaviour of your plants to know if your watering schedule is correct. This is hands down, the hardest part of drip irrigation, trusting the process.

Now onto the important design considerations to start with:

  • Water source must be clean, first time use water, not greywater. (Check out Working with Greywater Sources for more info)
  • Drip Irrigation requires backflow prevention. If you click on that link I promise you will learn everything needed to know about backflow prevention. You can skip learning and just read on about what to buy, but you must promise me that you will use backflow prevention.
  • Pressurized water is the easiest to implement although gravity fed systems will work too with some differing considerations. The two sections below address differences in pressurized vs. gravity fed systems.
  • Thirsty desert critters will try and sometimes succeed to get to the water in your lines so it is important to protect and occasionally check your lines and it’s also nice to put out a shallow drinking dish for the critters too.

What about soaker hoses aren’t they just as good? No–they work for a while (maybe 2 years) and then you will toss them in the trash, they clog up, they split open and are not as effecient as the pinpoint accuracy of drip irrigation.

Basics of an irrigation system:
A hard piped irrigation system that uses a hardwired multi-zone controller, 24v solenoid valves, underground piping, laterals, risers, and heads is a yard disturbing and expensive system to install and is most often used for lawn sprinklers. They can also run drip irrigation but the cost is complete overkill for the benefits, plus no one should have a lawn out here anyway. These systems are ultimately wasteful of resources and it really doesn’t fit into context in Terlingua. There are only a few of these systems in existence in South County, most of them in Lajitas (makes since right?)
Most households will be interested in the cheaper and easier to install irrigation system that starts with an outdoor hose bibb. All of the remaining information assumes we are building the system off of an outdoor hose bibb. No hose bibbs? Contact your local plumber Josh Keenan and he will hook some up for you.

Building the system: Pressurized Systems

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Let’s jump right in with parts buying at DripDepot.com I buy my main supplies from them, they are consistant, quick to ship and send you candy. (plus they sell kits) In addition, there are informative how-to videos and tutorials on their site if you need to learn more.

If you would rather shop in an actual store, Rain Bird parts can be purchased at True Value Garden Center in Alpine. Most pieces are essentially the same but I don’t like the Rain Bird connectors as much because they can be almost impossible to reuse. I have certainly stabbed myself in the hand trying to cut a tube piece out of a $1 connector, not worth it! However, an actual store is especially convenient when you need to grab a few pieces quickly.

For the main connection to the hose bibb you will need these parts in order, clicking the links will take you to the exact part.

Any discussion needed on these parts? Why of course, yes! let’s start with timers.

The cheapest solution of all, the manual timer, based on the mechanics of the dial and spring, they run about $10. I’m happy to report that they work as intended until the plastic eventually breaks down in the sun but at least failure should not lead to catastrophic water or plant losses. You do have to turn the dial to make it come on but the good news is that you don’t have to remember to turn it off, it ticks along until the spring turns back to 0 and the door closes and the water shuts off. There is still room for error from freezing or general breakdown but if you have to walk over and turn the thing on, then you are likely to walk around and admire your plants and then more likely to check your emitters too which needs to happen occasionally and then you are just as likely to notice a total breakdown in your $10 timer as well. So this is my most recommended timer, the cheap yet reliable one. This recommendation only applies if you are living at your house full time. If you leave for the summer, you need to pick a different option.

The next level of timers are automatic timers that run from $20 to $70 depending on options. There are a plethora of different brands but most are based on the same type of actuator. Some have a solar panel for recharging the battery, which I like a lot. Most have an LCD display for setting your watering time and frequency and are pretty easy to set up and use. I have used many, many different types because every one of them has broken or malfunctioned and then I switch to a new brand to see if maybe this one will last longer. So far, I cannot recommend one over the other as I have never had one last for more than 2 edit: 3 years. In the worst case scenario, the electronic malfunction kept resetting the time so that the water never turned off! causing flooding across the road and a high water bill for the owner. (ok, I’ll say it, It was an ORBIT timer that did this!) What I can recommend is that if you use one of these “automatic” timers, consistantly check to make sure it is coming on and going off as it is supposed to. Wow, not so automatic then but it will do when you need to leave town for a vacation.

Powered by the sun, this wi-fi connected timer is insanely feature rich. I have been using these for my clients that have second homes (ie. they do not manage the lanscape, I do.) I now have 8 of them running and it is so far so good. I’m talking about the Netro Pixie, btw. Everything is controlled through the free app which means I can change watering schedules without setting foot on the property. Plus the settings are highly configurable, much more so than the not so smart timers. The watering schedules change based on the local weather so in many ways they are just set it and forget it timers, check in on the app occasionally and make sure everything is rolling well.

Speaking of checking in, the biggest problem I have had with these timers is a that low wi-fi signal knocks them offline and then they do not water if they cannot connect. Bummer, just be sure you can really get a strong wi-fi signal at your hose bibb before investing in one of these.

Moving along, WHY A pressure regulator only for Study Butte or Lajitas water? Because realistically, that water system is the only one capable of creating enough pressure to damage your water system and blow your fittings apart. If you are on a well or off grid, you are likely safe from this problem, but you can add a pressure regulator if it makes you feel better.

You should definitely use a screen filter before the water goes into the tube, and a flush valve at the end of the tube, even if you have a filter on your water already, this is extra protection for the emitters. There is no advantage in skipping these parts and letting the emitters clog up with gunk. The screen filter is cleanable and there is nothing more to buy later so just add it.

Tubes and emitters

I am going to tell you what I use and don’t use with a little bit of the why.
I use a 3/4 inch mainline and branch off to 1/2 inch drip line with 0.5 gph emitters built in at 24 inch spacing. This is a one size fits all solution that works in almost every situation. 3/4 line has a maximum run of 400 feet and 1/2 line has a maximum run of 200 feet so theoretically I can cover an area around 80,000 square feet off of one hose bibb with this combination. (number of emitters contingent of course) You could use only 1/2 inch but the reasons that I don’t are: A) 3/4 matches the size of the hose bibb connections and allows for a higher flow rate throughout the whole system. B) I use a barb takeoff connector to connect the 1/2 to the 3/4. The barb takeoff uses a large punch and easily snaps right into the larger mainline. I like this system for speed and ease of putting it together.

I rarely use any smaller line like 1/4 inch because it is much harder to work with all the tiny line and the tiny connetions AND the bunnies eat it.

drip line withe emitter built in whooch can be buried
Drip Line with emitters built in which can be buried underground (Photograph courtesy USDA)

24 inch spacing for emitters?? Yes, counterintuitive to what may be rational thinking that this is the desert and the spacing should be closer together, since we have such high clay soils, the water travels much further laterally than in sandy soil. 24 inch is just a general spacing though. Loose soil needs closer spaced emitters so if you have a raised garden bed with a lovely amended loam you might want to space emitters closer together. You can get the same pre-built drip line in other configurations such as 1.0 gph at 12 inch spacing.

Having the emitters built into the line is just another speed, versatility and convenience preference. I buy pressure compensating drip line so it can be used on flat or hilly ground and can also be buried. The individual emitters that you punch in the line should never be buried and hence are not as protected from the world.

Don’t forget the various elbows, tees, couplings and maybe more that you will need to put the pipes together. Perma-loc fittings are my go to for ease of use and reuse, but you can get cheaper ones. You can do what ever you like!

A lot of these choices come down to personal preference, experiment and find what works for you. Drip irrigation systems save so much water and time that the effort and money spent is completely worth it so just do it!


I buy my drip irrigation supplies from dripdepot.com I have been doing business with them since 2019.

DIY Irrigation Supplies

Building the system: Gravity Feed Systems

Now most of the basics are the same but we have to take our shopping list and modify it slightly, clicking the links will take you to the exact part.

Let us begin again with the discussion of timers. Err… the one timer that you can use.

You have very limited options and the reason for this is all in the type of valve. Most timers require at least 20 psi for the valve to operate properly and most peole have pressurized water so it is no big deal. It took a company to make a completely different valve mechanism to make gravity flow timers work. The Irritec Zero Pressure Timer uses a motorized ball valve that physically opens a hole to let water through. It works with zero pressure! Well it wouldn’t actually work with zero pressure but close enough.

After the timer, obviously don’t need the pressure regulator and we can eliminate the filter to preserve flow rate. But I already said the filter is needed to keep the emitters from clogging up! Don’t worry, we aren’t using the same emitters for gravity feed. Eliminate that elbow too, keep all the runs as straight and as short as possible to preserve flow rate.

Tubes and Emitters

3/4 mainline is the way to go here, the more water in the line the more pressure behind it. This is one of the few instances where I will use small tube. The best emitter for this system is an adjustable emitter which can help restrict the flow down to a drip. If it clogs you can unscrew the top and clear the line. You will need a small punch tool for attaching a barb and 1/4 inch tubing to the mainline. All other emitters create too much resistance and you won’t get any water out.

Drip irrigation used on vineyards in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico (Photo by Jeff Vanuga, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service)

It will take some adjustments to get all of this right as gravity flow is sensitive to even tiny elevation changes. Just keep working on the details and adjusting to get exactly what you want. Don’t forget the goof plugs if you need to change a line’s location.

Conclusion

Drip Irrigation is a very effecient way of watering and can save a lot of water over the long run so it is worth the investment. There are several different ways to set up the systems so it is wise to draw out a diagram and make a parts list before you buy. If you just love to read and want to read some more about gravity feed irrigation click the following link and open up a wormhole into an even more extensive discussion of all things irrigation, starting with gravity feed systems. ***Irrigation Tutorials*** If you need additional help with outdoor plumbing call our local plumber Josh Keenan and he can help you. If you have any questions or want to talk more with Jenny about drip irrigation you can schedule a call.


Post featured image of drip irrigation and carrots by Matthew.kowal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License


Working with greywater sources

Greywater is defined as water that has already been used in a household water supply that does not come from the toilet. (Toilet water is blackwater) Water from sinks, showers and washing machines qualify as greywater. It is too dirty for people and pets to drink but not too dirty for plants to drink as the plants are able to filter out the nasty from the water and just use the good stuff. A properly designed greywater system in essence, is a biological filter for your home’s wastewater.

Creating a greywater distribution system can be very simple. A bucket under a handwashing sink catches the draining water, at the end of the day you take the bucket out and dump the water onto a tree. That’s it! The concept relies entirely upon redirecting the greywater that would have otherwise ended up in a wastewater system onto a secondary source such as a shade tree, that can then add further value to a home.

But it does not stop there, the concept can be refined and elaborated upon to create a system that works time and time again without any additional user input and requires minimal maintenance. These are the systems that I design and install and it just takes a little more information from the basics to get there.

Construction of wetland for cleaning and distributing high amounts of laundry water
Construction of wetland for cleaning and distributing high amounts of laundry water

Important Safety Considerations

First off, greywater is only one step away from blackwater, ie. poo poo water, so we need to address and understand some health and saftey concerns and state regulations before beginning the design. Texas is not a highly regulated state but there are in fact, state regulations regarding the distribution of greywater, mostly regarding spetic tank sizing. That should tell you something right there about the importance of a correct design. The State of New Mexico also has some additional regulations that are worth reading as they are more specific about the actual practices of using the greywater.

An interesting point to note about Texas and New Mexico regulations is that a common source of greywater, the kitchen sink, is NOT allowed in greywater reuse systems. Think for a minute about everything that might end up in a kitchen sink like animal blood, grease and larger pieces of vegetables. What if you just did an oil change on your car and you need to wash up? Having the kitchen sink drain to the septic helps keep potentially toxic water out of the greywater system and out of the biological filter that you are building in your greywater treatment plan.

Pro Tip

If you are happy to DIY then I highly recommend to buy this book by Art Ludwig, there is no better resource with regards to greywater technology. Create an Oasis with Greywater
Most of my designs are based entirely upon or modified slightly from the concepts in this book and Art’s decades of experience in greywater systems. For immediate satisfaction you can browse the site OasisDesign.net to dig deeper into the information.

First things to consider

The following are expectation checks for Terlingua greywater systems just to get you started before you start designing.

  • Designs are best before construction begins. A newly conceived outdoor shower or washroom is an excellent candidate for greywater reuse. An existing fully plumbed in-slab system that drains to septic is not.
  • If you leave your homestead for several months at a time, create a backup plan for the plants that depend on your greywater system. This could mean a neighbor using your clothes washer or a system designed only for annuals.
  • Our soil is salty and alkaline and greywater irrigation increases the salinity by the addition of pee, sweat and soaps (yes you do pee in the shower and almost all “natural” cleaners contain sodium laurel sulfate) Soil quality will degrade over time without periodic flushing of salts or replacement of all soil, only conceivable in a containerized bed.
  • Grewater is best if it infiltrates the soil immediately, holding onto greywater by draining into a holding tank or letting it pool at the surface is not good practice.

Should you grow food with greywater?

The chance of contamination from greywater goes up the less water is filtered and the closer it comes to your mouth. The best practice is to leave greywater for growing shade, not food. You should balace your risk tolerance on a scale of 1-10.
1 (least risk) = using greywater for sub surface watering of landscape plants
10 (most risk) = directly pouring greywater on lettuce plants and not washing the leaves before fixing a salad.
Somewhere in between is using greywater for an edible fruit tree such as a pomegranate– you must be the judge and I will make no claim that I told you either or.

garlic
Garlic grown with pure rainwater only

Conclusion

Data compiled by the EPA indicates that, as a national average, landscape irrigation is by far the largest single use of water at both residential and commercial sites, using 59% and 35% of water, respectively (EPA, 2013) In hot climates, outdoor use ranges from 59%-67% compared to 22-38% in cooler climates (AWWA, 1999). There is no doubt that water is our most precious resource so if we can use rainwater and use it twice then we can achieve a much greater efficiency in our landscapes. Using greywater to water roots, which then grows to provide shade to our living areas just makes perfect sense.