If one is going through all of the effort to build a house in southwest central Texas where water is scarce and the sun shines brightly most of the time, then it makes a good deal of sense of build that house as energy efficient as possible. And to capture as much rainwater for household use as possible during the infrequent but often heavy rainstorms.

Throughout the planning and head-scratching phase I always assumed that I would insist my builder use very good insulation methods and high efficiency windows and doors. Then there are the passive methods that cost little or nothing that one might take advantage of, like the orientation of the house and overhangs. With the plan I am working, there are overhangs aplenty via the porches and by a brilliant stroke of luck, the very best location orients the house along an east-west axis with the front porch facing south.

During a central Texas home tour in the autumn of 2013 I happened to encounter a builder showing a recently constructed home with a feature that immediately grabbed my attention and fired my imagination. The home had a comprehensive rainwater harvesting system, collecting all rainfall from the roof and channeling it into a 30 thousand gallon cistern located a short walk away and tucked into a cluster of cedar trees. And while the homeowners did have a water well, it was for auxiliary purposes. The rainwater system serviced the entire water needs of the home. The builder was kind enough to show me the entire system in detail and was obviously very dedicated to promoting not only rainwater harvesting but green building overall. Our conversation gave me a lot to think about and led to many, many hours of online research and reading of forums.

At that time, Texas was in the midst of one of the most horrendous droughts in its modern history. Wells were running dry in the area as the aquifer continued a steady drop. So how, you ask, does that make rainwater harvesting a good option? Because even in drought it does rain sometimes, albeit briefly. And heavily. If one has a large expanse of roof dedicated to capturing this rain, the storage adds up quickly. The calculation usually used is 600 gallons per 1000 square foot of roof per inch of rain. One big downpour can add a lot to that cistern.

I went back to the property, on the way, crossing a river that was barely flowing. If I am going to live here, I thought, I need to respect the land and be very mindful what I ask of it. I had begun to gain a better perspective on the larger situation.