Concrete Water Tower

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Introduction: Concrete Water Tower

Concrete and Casting Contest

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Concrete and Casting Contest

Running water is a great blessing that many people take for granted.  My family spent years in Haiti where my family was without running water for years.  When we moved to South America my dad wanted a to give our family more modern conveniences, and thus we needed a water tower. This is an instrutables about how a concrete water tower is built from scratch in a third world country. 

The problem:
I live in a jungle village in the Amazon rainforest.  We are very fortunate to have running water that comes from the village, but it only runs three times a day and will not run at all some days.  It also doesn't have nearly enough pressure to run over a story in height.   As a family living here we wanted a better solution water problem

The solution:
The solution is a sixteen foot tall reenforced-concrete tower that holds two water tanks on top.  The tower holds 800 gallons of water equaling 6,672   pounds!  The water is pumped up to the tanks from a lower tank that collects rain water and the villages water.  Once in the upper tanks it is gravity fed to our house.  This system gives us water no mater if the villages water is running or if the electricity is off. 

Water towers like this one are nothing new in our area. Everyone who wants continual running water has to build one.  We originally built ours of  wood.  The wood held up for about thirteen years which is good considering this is a rain forest and termites are ferocious.  Once the wooden tower started making my Dad a little to nervous we decided to have a concrete one built. 

I didn't build it - a project like this is pretty significant - ,but I get to see how the workers did it.  The first step to learning is watching.  I want to show you in this instructables how local carpenters built this cement structure, and show you how you can do it too.  This is a big and dangerous project, so I would advise you to have have some knowledge on doing this.  This is an instructables geared more to get you thinking and give you the idea and basic instructions to building something like this.  Many instructables are things that I will never make or don't have the opportunity or need to make, but I appreciate the ideas and knowledge they give me.  Thank you instructablers for all the great instructables!   
 
I am not responsible for any injuries or problems that may come from making or using this water tower.  It is a big dangerous project, and the tower could be dangerous.    I am not responsible in any way for any hurt or injury you might face in building or using this project. 

Remember to vote for me.  I would love to win a concrete mixer.   (My back would love it too if I would have one here.)   :)

On to the building!

Step 1: Tons of Materials - Literally

Being that this tower is being built in a third world country and our village has no such thing as a cement truck, everything has to be hand mixed and manually made!  A LOT of manual labor.  Helping to mix large batches of cement is one of the most tiring jobs I have done.  Trust me it gets you TIRED.   The only power tool used in this project was a circular saw to cut the form boards and a chain saw to cut the form board from a tree.  In this material list I am going to give you the amount of materials a project like this will take.  Most people get pre-mixed concrete, but this is the materials needed to make this tower completely from scratch. 

Concrete:
Sand (several tons)
25 100 lb. sacks of cement (it is a job to carry these)  :)
Gravel - about two tons (offloading six tons of gravel by shovel from a truck = a sore back)  :(
Lots of water

Steel: (in 20' lengths)
32 pieces 1/2"
2 pieces 1/4"
6 pieces 3/8"
thin wire to tie the steal together

Other Materials:
Form boards - to form into molds to pour the concrete into (use old boards because the curing concrete draws out all the moisture from the boards bowing the board greatly and making them useless)
Plywood to form the mold for the top of the tower (we didn't use plywood, but it wood make things a lot easier)
Regular tools - hammer, saw, tape, level, ect.
Some sort of scaffolding

Step 2: Planning - Dimensions - Concrete

The water tower, as I stated, is pretty big.  The pictures tell it all, but if you want to be sure here are the specs. 

The footing or base of this tower is a rectangle 6 feet by 9 feet.  It is dug into the ground about two feet, but may need to be deeper depending on your soil consistency.  It has to be a rock solid foundation. 

The tow columns are sixteen feet tall and are 10 inch square.  The key to the columns is to keep them strait and level. 

The platform at the top is about 8 feet by 5 feet. 

Concrete mixture:
Since this project was done in a third world country, the concrete mixture is the way the locals do it here.  In more developed countries, concrete is bought pre-mixed, but here it is different.  Of course, in more developed countries you probably wouldn't need this tower.  :)
Ingredients of Concrete
Three loads of sand in a small wheelbarrow.
One sack of cement.
A couple of buckets of gravel.
Water to desired consistency. 
 




Step 3: Footing

This step is an important step.  It is key to have a solid foundation for this tower.  The footing is dug in a rectangle with a ++ like pattern in it, as seen in the picture.  The goal is to have each column resting on a deeper dug +.   The ++ part is dug two feet deep, and the rest of it is dug a foot deep.  You might need to dig it deeper or bigger depending on your soil consistency. 

More real pictures coming up. 

Step 4: Steel for Footing

One of the main things that makes concrete strong is the steel reinforcement in it.  This footing needs to be solid, thus a lot of steel. 
The base has a 1/2 inch steel rods tied together by wire to make a large steel mesh.  Eight 1/2 inch pieces of steel are also formed into six inch square columns to place inside the concrete columns.  They are tied into the steel mesh in the base.  The upright steel columns are also tied together be 3/8 inch pieces of steel.  You can see what I mean in the pictures. 

Step 5: Pouring the Base

Now that the steel is in place, it is time to pour it.  This is where things get hard.  Over fifteen sacks of cement  were used using the three barrels of sand to one sack of cement formula.  A lot of stone was also used in this step.  You can look at the pictures to get a better idea how it is poured. 

Step 6: Forming the Columns

Now you need to change from masonry skills to carpentry.  The boards that were used were really poor quality.  That is alright though, since they are rather useless once used.  (They were cut by chainsaw from a softwood tree, but since other supplies were so long in coming wood ants devoured much of them.)  They are sawed and squared to form a three sided ten inch square form.  They are about fifteen feet tall, so they are rather big.  They built this concrete water tower under a previously made wooden tower, so they had things to nail the columns of to to form solid and strait columns.   Once the three sided columns are placed around the steel columns a fourth board is nailed to enclose the mold.  About half way a form is made to hold the middle column.   The key in this step it to keep the columns strait and at a 90 degree angle with the base. 

Step 7: Pouring the Columns

The next step is to pour the columns full of concrete.  This is done by no other method then bucket by bucket.  This process was done in two steps.  The first part was pouring the columns up to the height of the cross piece and pouring the cross column.  After that had hardened the upper section was boarded off and poured.   About four sacks of cement and twelve loads of sand went into the two columns.   The previous wood tower was used as a scaffolding to stand on to pour the cement in.   Once poured it is good to let the columns sit for a week or so to let it dry well. 

Step 8: Frame Top Platform

Now it's time for the more technical part.  This step involves framing the top platform of the tower.  The top platform measures about 5ft. by 8ft.  A beam on top of the two columns runs the full length of the platform.  On top of each column a beam runs perpendicular to the long beam  running the with of the platform.  You can see what I mean by the pictures.  The ends of the ++ beams are slanted up. 

Wood cut to the appropriate length form the square columns.  The top is left open so that the concrete can be poured in.  For the space between the columns which is the bottom of the platform, wood planks or plywood needs to be cut to the right size.  Around the edge, wood needs to be nailed so that the concrete can be poured in.  Make sure everything is level and strait with the columns and the base. 

Step 9: Add Steel to Top Platform

Now for the steel in the top.  Steel is bent and formed into six inch squares and placed in all the top beams.  The columns extra steel sticking up is bent down and tied into a top mesh of 1/2 inch steel similar to the base's steel mesh. 

Sadly I didn't take any pictures of this step so you will have to think a little more on this step. 

Step 10: Final Pour!

Now for poring the top.  Once again the three wheel barrow loads of sand to one sack of cement formula is used.  Water and gravel is added as desired.  Once again the concrete is pulled by bucket to the top and poured into the form.  The concrete is poured about five or six inches deep for the top platform.  The top is then given a smooth and level finish. 

Once poured wait another week or so for everything to dry. 

Almost done!

Step 11: Finish It All Off!

Once the tower has set for a weak or so, all the molding boards are knocked off and removed.  The columns may need to be plastered with cement depending on the finish of the columns.  The scaffolding used to work off of are removed and a long extension ladder is used to reach the top.  The water tanks are pulled up by rope.  (A challenging job for my Dad and I.)  All the plumbing is connected in this step, also. 
 
It is good to wait about a week or two for the tower to fully cure and dry before filling up the tanks with water. 

Step 12: Finished!!

Done! A sixteen foot water tower holding 6,672 pounds!  Now we can have 800 gallons of water to use no mater if our villages water is running or if the electricity is on.  For some third world countries this is ideal and necessary. 

A great accomplishment using only one power tool! 

Now you know how to do it. 

Vote for me in the concrete contest if you think of it.  I would love to have a concrete mixer. 

P.S.  Sorry for bad grammar.  I am not much of a writer. 

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    61 Comments

    This is an amazing accomplishment! Great Work. I know this will serve your family well for many, many years to come.

    This is some great work!! You would never get it by here in Germany,, But it is great work!!

    wow! great job!, especially considering the difficulties in logistics! i hope you win the mixer!

    I found your blog to be very informative and interesting. On similar lines you can also check out at crb tech blog which is also a very good blog on this very topic. Request you to continue writing on varied topics as we would like to read.

    congratulations on your ingenuity and hard labor. I don't think a lot of your contributors have tried to build something in a 3rd world country before so they may not get that simpler is better. I used to inspect concrete and reinforcing steel in the U.S. on anything from fountains to office buildings. I can't see the minor details on how you prepared the steel or what the dimensions of the foundation really are, but it looks for the most part stable as long as you aren't subject to high winds that would increase the loading at the top. they are right however, it would never pass code here in the US because it was not professionally engineered and we have too many lawyers. do you mind if I ask how much this cost to build in labor and materials?

    Thanks for the comment! Sorry for taking so long to reply! It is a honor to have a person with such knowledge on concrete congratulate me on my project! Thanks!
    About the cost, the total for the build came up to about 1,600 us dollars. That includes labor and materials. I don't know if that is a good price or bad price, but that is what it cost. One reason the cost is high is the logistics of getting the material here. It is not simply calling a cement truck! All the material except the wood and sand were bought in here from the capitol city and had to be transported here by truck. The price of paying for a large truck to transport the material on jungle roads causes the price to go up. A project like this here requires an amazing amount of planning. For example, the wood was chain sawed from a tree in the jungle behind our house. Then the wood had to be carried to our house. Because some of the supplies were so long in coming, a lot of the wood got wood ants in it. That had to be dealt with too! Anyway, it cost about 1,600 dollars. We had some steel, cement, and gravel left too. Anyway thanks again for the comment!

    The maximum water pressure that this sort of gravity fed system will generate is around 7.35 psi. That would be at absolute ground level -- the water pressure at sinks would be less since they are a couple of feet higher. Here in the US, water pressure is usually at least 40 psi and in some areas, it can even be as high as 100 psi. I live in an area that is subject to infrequent high winds (thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes), so i would not trust that particular pedestal design. At the very least, I would add some guy wire cables from the top of it to various well anchored positions in the yard to make it more secure.

    When I lived in Kenya I saw similar 2 post designs made of concrete. To eliminate the need for sawn wood forms, the constructors would dig the forms horizontally in the ground and line them with visqueen (plastic sheeting). After curing, the columns were dug free and erected.