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CostHelper > Home and Garden  > Driveways, Pools & Outdoor Living > Cistern

Cistern Cost

How Much Does a Cistern Cost?

low costDo-It-Yourself Cistern: $100-$1,000average cost150-350 Gallons: $150-$660high cost500-10,000+ Gallons: $500-$10,000+
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Cistern is a general term for any tank that holds water, but more specifically a cistern is used to store rain runoff from a catchment area (like a roof) and/or water delivered by tanker truck. Essentially it's a large-scale version of a 40-80 gallon rain barrel. Unlike a water well, cisterns aren't used to tap an underground water source but rather to store gathered water. Cisterns can be made of metal, fiberglass, polyethylene (plastic), poured concrete, concrete blocks, stones or wood. Cisterns typically have a secure cover, and can be aboveground, partially buried or underground.

Typical costs:

  • Total costs for installing a cistern system depend on capacity, whether the water will be used for irrigation or indoor residential use, and how the water is delivered to where it will be used (hose or underground pipes, gravity flow or discharge pump).
  • Expect to pay $150-$300 for a small, prefabricated cistern made of polyethylene or galvanized steel and holding 150-200 gallons, typically to be used for landscape irrigation with a hose and gravity feed (no pump); and $300-$660 for a similar 300-350 gallon cistern made of fiberglass or a fiberglass/steel composite.
  • Larger cisterns (500 gallons or more) start at $500-$3,000 depending on size and materials, but can hold 10,000 or more gallons and cost $3,000-$10,000 or more. Other prime factors in the cost are whether the cistern will be aboveground or underground, and if the stored water will be used for irrigation or indoor residential use. (A typical residential cistern in Florida is about 5,000 gallons, according to the Unviersity of Florida[1] .) For example, at[2] a 550-gallon poly underground water cistern costs $645 and a 2,500-gallon poly underground water cistern is $2,590; while[3] sells aboveground 3,000-9,000 gallon cedar cisterns for $2,100-$8,800 for just the wooden cistern kit.
  • Installation (including a discharge pump, trenching, pipes, filter and other features) can bring the total cost to $2,000-$20,000 or more, depending on whether the water will be used for irrigation or human consumption. For example, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council[4] in Massachusetts reports that installing an 800-gallon two-tank system with pump and drywell structure for irrigation use costs $3,000. And[5] in Portland, OR, estimates that for irrigation use, installing an aboveground 1,500-gallon plastic cistern costs about $1,500, while an underground 1,700-gallon cistern with pump costs $5,000; while for indoor residential use installing a 1,500-gallon aboveground plastic cistern system (with pump, roofwasher[6] and filtration) costs $10,000 and a 1,700-gallon underground plastic cistern system is $12,000.
  • Costs for a do-it-yourself cistern vary significantly depending on size, capacity and the materials used. For example, permaculture consultant Dan Dorsey built a 500-gallon aboveground cistern[7] for less than $100 using off-the-shelf supplies, while the Low Impact Development Center estimates a 3,000-gallon reinforced-concrete residential cistern[8] can be built with volunteer labor and about $1,000 in materials.
Related articles: Rain Barrel, Well Drilling, Rain Harvesting, Gutters

What should be included:
  • Installing a cistern system can take one or several days, depending on if it's aboveground and needs a concrete pad poured or underground and requires excavation. Other factors include whether new rain gutters are installed at the same time; if a discharge pump is included; and how much piping is needed from the cistern to where the water will be used.
  • Seattle Public Utilities provides DIY instructions for installing an aboveground cistern[9] and Southern Arizona Rain Gutters posts photos illustrating the installation process[10] for a 1,700-gallon aboveground 6'x8' metal irrigation cistern. Innovative Water Solutions hosts a video showing construction of a 5,500-gallon metal cistern[11] .
  • Cisterns providing drinking water should include a water filtration system and be tested for water quality at least twice a year. The Low Impact Development Center describes cistern maintenance[12] .
Additional costs:
  • Installing a cistern to capture rain runoff may also require getting new gutters and downspouts, which on an average home with 120-250 feet of rain gutters can cost $350-$1,250 for vinyl or $500-$2,400 for aluminum.
  • Some water districts pay rebates for cisterns. For example, the James City Service Authority rebates 1/4 to 1/2 of its lawn irrigation system fee for installing a cistern with at least a 1,000-gallon capacity.
  • Sharing a cistern between multiple properties reduces the per-household cost because there is only one installation/excavation, one tank or set of tanks, and one pump.
Shopping for a cistern:
  • A cistern needs to be properly sized for the amount of water flowing into it, and for how the water will be used. The New Mexico Office of the State Engineer provides a worksheet for sizing a cistern[13] .
  • Some local hardware or gardening stores sell cisterns, and lists rain water harvesting vendors by state[14] .
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