Tanks a Lot, Philippines

A few weeks back I wrote a post about local home water supplies, pressure issues and related lore for the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine, Coping With The Pressures of Philippine Life | Live In The Philippines .  Today I was out walking and took a few more water tank pictures, just for fun.  All these pictures are taken within a few hundred meters of our little house here in Marilao, Bulacan.  Like many other things taken for granted in the US, even basic necessities like water is often a “roll your own’” issue in small towns.  Our house is in a subdivision known as Saint Michael’s Home.  In total there are about three hundred sixty houses in St Michael’s and there’s an incorporated Home Owner’s Association which provides the water system, pays for and maintains street lights and provides a heck of a lot of local politics … there are 13 members of the Board of Directors and all run for office each and every “Election Season”.  We don’t (as yet) have sound trucks plying the streets with political slogans, but the local board elections are quite a topic of conversation and I suspect, based on some rumors I have heard, that it won’t be long before I’m going to be asked to consult on some political web site work.

(Making Money in the Philippines hint: I won’t be getting into that, I live here and I have family members involved, but my goodness there are thousands and thousands of these home owner’s associations and other private utility ventures … al of them need management assistance, online visibility, accounting, billing membership, etc. assistance and there are dozens of online tools already built to serve some of these functions … if this isn’t an underserved market, I never saw one …)

How to Move to the Philippines Manual

Of those 360 homes, about 300 are connected to the home owner’s water supply, a few others are connected to another water supplier … yes, we have parallel, competing water mains from different corporations under some of the streets, a few homes have been disconnected “for cause” and a few others never have had a water connection.

The folks not connected to the mains typically buy their water from roving tank trucks every day or two … the mobile water distribution business here will be the subject of another whole post.

Of those connected to the “regular” water mains, a number just connect conventionally with a pipe from the water meter directly into the house.  But this would not be the way I prefer to live, because the water mains only have water three times a day, 0500-0700, 1130-1230 and 1800-1930.

Why isn’t the water on all the time?  Really too many reasons to go into here, some of which have to do with the idea that the longer someone has access the more they will use, and others connected to the very real fact that there are many leaks in the piping system and if the pipes are only under pressure three times a day, only so much can leak out.

Big_Daddy water tank Philippines Big Daddy:  This is the main tank, located at the end of my block and around the next corner on the way over to Mita’s parent’s house.  It just occurred to me that I never asked the actual capacity.  (update, it’s something a little over 50,000 gallons)  The tank was erected when the first homes were built here, about 35 years ago.  It’s not readily apparent from the photo, but the legs supporting the tank are the second set … the first set failed during the big Baguio earthquake back in 1990 and the present set are specially made extra-high quality Australian legs, specially imported for this project … (props to all our friends from Oz 😉

Under the tank is the Association’s deep well (about 540 feet) and a 20 horsepower, deep well pump that transfers the water up to the storage tank, where it flows by gravity out the mains to people’s houses whenever the guard manually walks over and opens the valve.  There have been mornings the guard forgot, but someone is usually waiting to do laundry at 5 am and if the water doesn’t flow, the guard will get a quick reminder call, that you can bank on.

Not too long ago a fellow emailed me about prices here in the Philippines and he mentioned something like “I know the cost of electricity is nearly what we pay here in the US”.  Ha!  Don’t I wish that were the case.  Electricity here in the Philippines is the second most expensive in the world, second only to Japan.  The last time I ran a little survey here, on average, electricity costs a lot more than in the US … in some cases, 10 times as much.  The pump that supplies our water consumes an average of PhP 130,000 (about $2700 USD) worth of electrify per month, and that is at a special commercial rate.

Let’s move along down the street and see how some individual homes deal with their water supply.Philippine water tank

tall home water tnak philippines Some Go Tall:  The higher the distance water flows to your tap or shower head (in  engineering this is commonly known as the “head”) the stronger the pressure you’ll notice.  To get a typical pressure that most Americans would consider “good”, say about 45 psi, you need a tower about 100 feet tall.  You won’t see many, if any, this tall, but some people in the neighborhood have done their best to get close to that height.

Some Not Tall At All: Many residents (and this includes my house) don’t use the water tank for much of a pressure boost … the bottom of my tank, for example, is only about 8 feet above the ground, but we find the tank very valuable just to have a Low philippine home water tankconstant source of water.  This isn’t as important to  some, since this house is more than 30 years old and it never had a water tank until we moved in.  Tanks Cute Philippine wtaer tank even lower to the ground than ours are not uncommon,

Some Are “Cute:  This one looks for all the world like a kids playground toy to me, it’s obvious that the home owner here wanted to make sure his tank met all personal safety codes and really reflected the care and attention he paid to his home.

There is also a tendency for some people to sort of disguise their tanks … this one is right across the street from us, I don’t really know what the structure is, between ourselves my wife and I just refer to it as the “bird house”.

And some need More Philippine birdhouseThan One:  Obviously, if you  have a multi-family structure, you need to provide one tank per unit, since the tenants Philippine apartment water tanks may have water provided from competing companies, each one needs their own water meter, and some may chose to keep their tank more full than other tenants do.

Hope you’ve enjoyed your little trip down “Tin Tank Alley”.  The fascinating thing to me is, all these pictures were taken (actually I took many more) within a few hundred meters of my house.  Can you imagine how many more examples there are across the length and breadth of the country?

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  1. says

    Hi Philly,

    For personal use, would it not be cheaper to put a fibreglass tank underground and then install a pressure pump from that to the house? Or is the electricity as erratic as the water? I lived on a lighthouse for more than 30 years. We collected rain water (which could be done there too) from the roof and stored it in half of the cellar. Earlier it was pumped by a wig-wag pump to a tank in the attic for distribution to the house. Later, with the advent of electricity a pressure pump was installed. Those overhead tanks are prone to corrosion, and other damages.

    • says

      Well putting tanks underground is out of the question on many lots here, houses have been expanded right out to the firewal between one house and the next. Also, you would then _need_ a pump, and many people just are not going to spend for that, period. Free gravity is very appealing.

      Here in mid-Luzon it would be difficult to collect enough rain duting the dry deason, you would need one heck of a big tank.

      Naby above ground tanks, like mine, are stainless steel and modern piping is all plastic, so there’s very little corrosion problem. They sure are not beautiful, but they certanly are unique.

  2. Tommy says

    Dave what i am wondering is … why like i have here at my home and every other home here because we don’t have city water or sewer why can’t you drill your own well and septic with a well pump and a aerator ?

    • says

      Good question, Toimmy. The answer, if you look close, is in the figures for the main water tank. A 500 plus foot well would easily cost more than the average house/lot here. People don’t have that kind of money, nor the signifcant cost (and energy waste) of running a deep well submersible pump for ~300 odd houses. Mearalco (the electric company) wiould be licking their lips over that idea) 😉

      Most of these homes, our rental inclused _had_ their own well when built. Teh well head piping is still in my back yaerd underneath my own water tank. But these are shallow wells, 25 or 30 feet, and this part of Bulacan has had significant grioubnd water pollutionb probkems. Not to mention that all these homes are on their own septic system …. thus, deep well for me.

  3. Tommy says

    and i am sure alot have thought about this as well but if electric is so expensive wouldn’t it be a little more cost effective to run a generator for a period of time when demand is high ? again just piqued my curiosity

    • says

      Good thought, but:

      10 months or more out of the year the pump essentialy runs 24×7. There are no ‘peaks’

      Te last time I ran the figures, I think gas prices have dropped agin since then, generating your own electricity here with an individuakl house size diesel generator would be 7 times as exspensive per kwh than Meralco, Granted a larger commercial-size diesel would significantly reduce the sodt per kwh, but certainly not seven-fold. And, of course the numbe rone question, who is going to fund the purchase of the genset to begin with?

      You have unintentionaly brought up one of the major cultural differences that frequently trip us Westerners up. The future. In the US, even little towns in the country typically have munipal water and sewer systems. In fact in most states you can’t build homnes commercially without making that sort of investment up front. And there are state and federal programs that help communities issue long-term tax free bonds, or even get outright grants to do this sort of thing. It doesn’t work that way here. If there is water enough for tomorrow, and if the septic tank is not backed up today, life is fine. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

  4. says

    Philippines is World’s #2 in Geothermal Power Capacity. It is closer to to the equator that it has more solar energy hours than Germany which has solar farms supplying its grid. It is located in the typhoon belt that it can harvest more wind energy than Denmark’s wind turbines. It has long coastlines than Great Britain and Portugal than it can harvest substantial tidal energy.
    Philippines can supply Asia’s cheapest electricity and it should.
    Something is just terribly wrong.

    • says

      Hi Philip. Thanks for reading and for your comment. You’re preaching to the choir here, at least to me. You should read some of my other articles, same subject, and some of the artiucles I have written for the LIP macazine. In particular, I’m proid of this one: The Philippines as an Energy Tiger | Live In The Philippines. read it. And read some of the myopic comments, especially from educated Ameridans who are still parroting the “it costs too much” dogma of 20 years ago. If an “expert” says it can’t be done, it can’t be done.

      Actually, I wasn’t aware the Philippines was number 2 in _commercial_ geothermal production, I thought is was number one in the world in actual working geothermal geneating power that is already ‘on grid”. But more importnatly, the governemnt of the Philippines is out seeking a loan/handout to build yet another coal fired plant to serve the growing needs of Cebu, when the city is currently using mostly geothermal from nearby Leyte. The physics of the matter and even the pesos and centavos of alternative power mean nothing if the leadership of the country is bent on taking things in the wrong direction.

      Some will grumble and say, “Corruption” .. the standard excuse here for evry ill you can name. Perhaps. I don’t have any evidence, though, that corruption plays a measurable role in this isue. Instead I subscribe to Napolean’s thought: “Never ascribe to malice what is adequately explained by ignorance”. (and before people lambaste me for calling the leadership of the Philippines ignorant, let me point out I mean ignoramnce of a majority of my fellow westerners as well as agencies like the World Bank who blithley lend money for the “wrong” solutions to tomorrow’s problems, becuase that is their function … to leand, not to think ahead. And, if a country can get a long-term laon just by asking for it, then who is to fault them for doing so?) Indeed, more than one thing is terribly wrong.

  5. pogidaga says

    Dave, I’ve read many if not all of your energy-related posts with interest. I think we’re on the same page regarding the importance of renewable and carbon-free sources for the future. Do you know if anybody has tried to figure out what the pay-back period would be for an HOA like yours to install solar panels to pump water from the well to the tank?

    On one hand the kWh rates from Meralco are very high. But on the other hand the Philippines has abundant sunshine and even has a plant that manufactures solar panels (or did before the global economy blew up). If the HOA somehow raised the money for a solar array, it shouldn’t take long to recover the investment and start saving money each month on Meralco bills.

    I wonder if that solar panel plant has some excess inventory due to the economy. I wonder if they could be persuaded to see it in their interest to help develop a local market to sell to when exports are down?

    • says

      You know what one of my favorite hobbies is? We get 4 hours a week of World Poker Tour on one of out cable channels and my wife and I (neither of whom actailly plays poker) never miss an episode. We love watching players show their patience, occassionally make mis-pays, sometime “catch lightning in a bottle” on the river card an dmost of all execute expert bluffs. The winner of any given hand, especiallt in no limit Texas hold ’em, is seldom the player with the best cards, but most frequently the one who makes the most timely and audacious bets.
      Well, I think someone has just called my bluff. Why hasn’t anyone done such a staudy? Beats the dickens out of me. I will get busy on that, right now, today, and reporrt back. Thanks for the ‘kick in the pants’.

      • pogidaga says

        Go Dave! If you want any help gathering info, send me an email. I’m not a professional solar installer, but i know some. My interest is partly personal. Someday when we get around to building a house on the lot my wife owns in Marikina, i’d like it to have solar panels.

        I’m guessing the biggest obstacle to widespread adoption of residential solar arrays in the Philippines is going to be Meralco. I expect they will drag their heels on allowing customers to tie their solar systems to the grid. Grid-tied solar systems are the most practical and affordable. But if you have a solar array whose only job is to pump water, it doesn’t need to be grid-tied. Meralco can’t say anything about it. You can even keep your pump connected to Meralco and switch it back and forth to the solar array through a transfer switch as though the array were an auxiliary generator.


  6. Chas says

    Hi Dave,
    In view of discussions here about power sources, i found this site a while back when doing some browsing.The company is based in Malaysia and sells mainly to US market as everything priced in USD,however they distribute worldwide.
    Although specializing in battery care they sell solar panels also,may be of interest.
    regards Chas.

  7. William Fortney says

    My wife had a house built back in 2003 (before we married) for her mother in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. Now that my wife is a US citizen, we are trying to sell the house in Bacolod and bring her mother here to live with us. However, I think that, in order to make the house more marketable, it needs its own gravity tank. There is water provided through the subdivision where the house is located (Palmas Del Mar Executive Village), but, as you probably well know, the service is unpredictable at best. Do you recommend any particular manufacturer? How about a reputable installer?? We live in Indiana, and we just can’t get to the Philippines as often as we would like. Thank you for any advice.


    • says

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for writing in. You picked an easy question for me .. there’s only one tank manufactirer that seems consistent, across the whol country … Best Tank.
      You can get them at ant Ace Hardware or thousands of independent hardwar outlets. And you can ask the place to recommend an installer, they usually know reliable people. Best of luck.


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