Automated Caravan Rainwater Catchment

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Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that can amuse me. Rainwater catchment when free camping is one of them. At first we went with the simple and effective approach that many others do

This approach achieved the task but didn’t fall into my…… “I could automate that process” approach. Also the downside was I had to swap hoses etc over when ever I knew it was about to rain, or I had to get wet to adjust something when it was raining.

Sitting under the awning one day watching the rain pelt down I had this urge to automate the whole process. The following is what we have done to make our life during the wet days easier.



Basic Catchment Overview

When our 6 meter by 2 meter wide awning is extended, we can capture roughly 12 litres of water for every 1mm of rain. From the awning it runs down a hose to a 40 litre rainwater tank.

From that tank, a pump draws the rain water through a strainer to our water filters then into our main water tanks. This process is all done automatically based on electronic water level sensors and some home automation software I’ve configured.

The Awning setup

Every time we extend the awning I always set it up so that the front arm on the awning is extended fully and the rear arm is 3 notches lower than the front. This allows the water to always run towards the back of the van.

Also during setup, the valance on our carefree awning gets a dozen or so rain saver gutter clips attached to it. That way we end up with a rainwater catchment gutter system.

At the end of this gutter system we have a plastic leaf guard catcher we bought and modified from Bunnings. The leaf guard catcher is something Bunnings sell for people to use on a household roofing down pipe. To help capture leafs from the gutter rather than blocking up the pipes.



All I did was to cap off one end of the leaf guard and then fitted a hose connection to it and added some wire to hang it from the end of the awning.

I also made a gutter extension from some PVC pipe to extend the gutter so that it sits nicely over the leaf guard

So the process so far is

  • Water runs off the awning into the gutter system.
  • Water then runs through the PVC connection and gets redirected into the plastic leaf guard catcher
  • As the leaf guard catcher fills it has a screen which blocks the bigger junk like leaves and twigs. The smaller dirt particles that make it through the leaf screen settle on the bottom of the plastic container. While the cleaner water heads out of the hose I mounted down the awning arm. This hose is connected to our “rain water tank


Rainwater Catchment Tank

I needed someway to store the rain water from the awning side of the van if our main tanks were full. Alternatively, redirect it to the other side of the van, if our main tanks needed topped up.

For that purpose we added and 40 litre tank to the rear of the van. This tank stays empty if we are travelling so as not to add additional weight to our setup. However, if we are stationary for a while then this 40 litre tank is used to store as much rain water as we can take.

The Rainwater Catchment tank got fitted with 3 electronic sensors that detect the water level without the need to drill into the tank. I also made them WIFI capable with some extra circuitry which is handy for what I’ll explain later.

This rain water tank has external level sensors that read low level, mid level and full. I also fitted a water strainer to the outlet line just as a back up. This filters out any left over items from the Rainwater Catchment, before the water heads to the pump.

In addition to the tank we have a motorised valve which I also made WIFI capable and it’s mounted to the inlet hose of the rainwater Tank.



The process now is :

  • From the Awning rain is directed to a dedicated 40 litre rainwater tank then sent to the main tanks when needed

Rainwater Catchment Pump

I’ve always thought to myself, if we are in the middle of the outback and our water pump fails we have no backup pump. So, getting water from our main tanks would be a pain.

Therefore I bought another pump the same as our main pump which I mounted under the kitchen sink area. This pump is connected to the rainwater tank and to our main water filters.



The purpose of this pump is to send the rain water from the rainwater tank to the main tanks when required. I installed a WIFI switch, which makes this pump WiFi capable and therefore able to turn the pump on and off remotely. Additionally it’s our backup pump should the main pump ever fail.

Filtration

We have our usual three filter system mounted to the side of the van. When using the rainwater system we connect a hose from the rainwater pump to the filters and from our filters to our main tanks.

That way we’ve done all we can to help maintain clean water going into our van before use.

Main Tanks

We have two 82 litre water tanks and 1 x 82 litre grey water tank. All three tanks got fitted with the same electronic level sensors as the rain water tank did.

Only difference being, I added 4 level sensors to each tank. That being for, a quarter full, half full, 3/4 full, and full level.



The Automation

Some people like watching sport, some like knitting, some like running etc, for me I like being a closet geek :). I like to play with technology and smart home devices. However, I do it on the next level to some.

I like to do my own soldering of electronic components and write my own computer programs, all of which is self taught.

Knowing that a lot of people reading this won’t want all the technical details, I will outline just the basics of what I’ve done to make the rainwater system automated.

I have a central circuit board (Called a raspberry pi) in the van that is constantly receiving data from all the sensors we have on our van which are all connected via our WIFI. It’s all configured to work offline so no internet is needed for this process.

The Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi listens for a change in the levels of the rain water tank and based on the program I created it does the following

  • The Raspberry Pi listens for a signal from the rain water tank to say its at “full level”
  • If rain water tank is at full level it checks to see if it can fit that water into the two main tanks
  • If it determines it has space in the main tanks it turns the pump on and fills the main tanks
  • When the main tanks are full it turns the rain water pump off
  • If the rainwater tank is empty it turns the pump off also.
  • If every tank including the rain water tank is full the raspberry pi closes the motorised valve on the rainwater inlet hose so that the tanks don’t keep over flowing.
  • When the rain water tank level drops from “full” the motorised valve opens to start filling the tank again so it’s primed and ready to fill the main tanks when required.


This Is An Automated Process

We don’t have to touch a thing when it rains. Other than, make sure my home automation system knows the rain water hose is connected. Accordingly it will start monitoring the levels for us.

We also have the ability to ask “Alice” ( a offline voice assistant I installed and programmed on another Raspberry PI) questions like :

  • How fulls the rain water tank ?
  • How full is the fresh water tanks ?
  • How much water do we have ?
  • Turn off rain water monitoring
  • Turn on rain water monitoring

All of which she will respond with the appropriate response such as “your tanks are currently half full ” or ” you have roughly 80 litres of water left”.

On a side note. I’m also making up my own display panel to replace the boring black drifter panel that currently shows our water levels. It’ll be a touch display that can control pumps and show tank levels , battery levels etc. This is it from my computer, just got to add it to a separate LCD touch display now.

Rainwater Catchment Conclusion

As I say, some people like to watch sports etc, for me I like to play with technical stuff. To most, this is probably over the top and are quite happy to collect water in a bucket… If you are, try the RSG Accessories Rain Saver Gutter Kit

Nothing wrong with that Rainwater Catchment either, however this is how I wanted to do things “cause I can” …. “so I did ” ๐Ÿ™‚ and it’s also how I like to entertain myself during those quiet periods of our travels. Keeps the brain active ๐Ÿ™‚

This setup has been super handy in the last year. Not because of rain events but because of the farms we have been working on all have rainwater tanks that we usually connect to. Connecting the farmers low pressure rainwater tank to our rainwater tank allows our system to constantly keep the main tanks topped up, without having to manually turn things on and off.

When your washing work clothes constantly and showering every day its been real handy for us.

Back when we worked on the cattle station in WA. Each week we had to fill 20 litre containers of water from across the station and manually fill the tanks. That was about 8 x 20 litre containers worth of water. Never again I say ๐Ÿ™‚

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