Reserve Water Tank ~ Part II ~ And Our Art Studio Below

Part I of the water tank happened way back more than three years ago. Continuing on way back then, Armando, Alex, and I formed and poured the roof. We bent the vertical rebar in the walls at a 90-degree angle so that the roof and walls would be tied together to withstand the water pressure:

Next, we poured the roof. Alex raised the buckets of concrete with the rope and pulleys, I grabbed the buckets, unhooked them, and hefted them up to Armando. I was much younger then:

The next photo is of the interior of the “finished” water tank. It holds around 1,300 gallons of water. I say “finished” because when I filled the tank, water leaked out and dribbled down the walls. I’ve never built a water tank before so I was going off of local knowledge. Tanks like this are built all the time Armando said; perhaps they just put up with little leaks as inevitable.

I drained the tank but it was impossible to find the leak point. I decided to fiberglass the interior of the tank. This was my first ever fiberglass work but it went quite well if I do say so. A respirator on my face and fan in the hatch was vital as the fumes were brutal in the enclosed space.

After letting the job sit for a few weeks to out gas I refilled the tank. All looked great! — for about ten days. Then I noticed a bit of water dribbling down my shop wall just like before. Insert expletive here. So I drained the tank yet again and let it dry. I spent a lot of time pondering in the tank. I re-fiberglassed a few spots that looked suspicious and refilled the tank, this time only about a third full. And still a couple weeks later it was leaking. Not a lot, but any was too much. I drained and dried it again.

This time, I couldn’t find any likely leak location. Except — maybe around the PVC pipes for the floor drain and the pipe out to the pump. I tackled the area with a hammer and chisel, removing the fiberglass all around the PVC pipes where they came through the concrete. And wouldn’t you know it — the concrete was water saturated for several inches around the pipes.

In a big duh moment, it seems that fiberglass doesn’t adhere well to PVC. Who would have thought it. A professional would have, but hey, I’m a generalist and am making this up as I go.

Google to the rescue. Those in the know say to rough up the PVC with sandpaper and clean it with acetone. Then mix up some two-part epoxy and spread it over the PVC. Now fiberglass over the epoxy and life will be good again.

So after nearly a year of hair pulling trying to fix the leak(s), we finally have a viable reserve water tank!

I installed a water pump and pressure tank and connected the new system to the house water line. Now when the power goes off for a day or more, I can turn two valves and bypass the pump. This gives us enough gravity-fed water pressure to have drinking water, flush toilets, wash dishes, and have a dribble shower. Success!

Above is the tank pre-fiberglass. The yellow float is like the float in a toilet tank. It allows the tank to stay full but not overflow. The hanging float on the right shuts the pump off if the tank runs (nearly) out of water. The pipe low in the corner was one of the culprits. The other one is the floor drain for cleaning the tank.

Here is the finished tank operational and painted:

But wait — what is that stuff on top of and around the hatch?

I had an extra grab bar hanging around so I used it as a step up to the hatch.

This is guano of some sort. I showed the photo to all our Panamanian workers and friends and came up blank. Armando thought it might be a mountain cat. Someone else said “snake.” And yet another said “toad.” This was a mystery that had to be solved. So I went on Amazon and ordered an inexpensive trail cam and set up on the roof of the tank. After a couple days, right at dusk,the culprit showed up:

An iguana! And now the question is, how many of them are there? Here is a smaller one in my shop a couple months later:

Wow can these critters run. Just today Cynthia and I saw one run along the fence line. FAST!

After the tank was initially “finished” we decided to build out the area under and around the tank to create an art studio. Here Armando and I are blocking around one of the two windows:

I don’t have any more construction photos, but here is the completed studio from the rear property line:

Cynthia has the back end of the studio. Her space is in a bit of turmoil because I am getting ready to repaint the wall where water had filtered down from the water tank. She is anxious to get back to making glass beads:

I enhanced Cynthia’s glass rod storage rack that I built some years ago to double the space. A glass artist can never have too many colors:

The letters running on the left side of the rack correspond to a spreadsheet where she has information about each color of glass.

My watercolor painting area is at the other end of the studio. I have a new painting underway:

We have a nice view out the windows. The palm shades us from the morning sun:

So this marks the end of this project. It is very pleasant to have a supply of water in case of an electrical outage or a pump failure. It is also very pleasant to work together in the studio.

In other news ~ Good Bye Hit Counter. WordPress, the platform that this blog is written on, recently posted an alert to me saying that I should update the WordPress authoring software. So I did (thanks for the help, Zach) and my blog stopped working. As Zach said, “It blew up.” Long story short is that the Hit Counter, which had displayed more than four-million hits, was not playing well in the sandbox. It is now missing from the right side of the site but other than that, all is well. I’ll miss the ego boost but I’ll get over it.

In other news ~ This probably is not what the designer of this dinnerware had in mind:

Sitting in the waiting room and prepped for surgery, this person is dazed and confused just before getting a nose job.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by. Fred


17 thoughts on “Reserve Water Tank ~ Part II ~ And Our Art Studio Below

  1. Now you have your emergency water supply, now you need to add a solar panel system… I’ve been watching some of the YouTube channels about the latest and greatest and it’s very interesting.

    Saludos my friend!

  2. Thank you for showing construction of your concrete water tank. Good idea to line interior with Fiberglas reinforced plastic from epoxy resin. And to build a roof and secure hatch above the cistern to keep critters and impurities out.

    Could you explain why you decided to build the water container in concrete instead of mounting a store bought polyethylene tank on a steel frame, which would be more earthquake resistant. ? For appearance sake (and ventilation) i am planning to build a 35 degree roof above three 20’ containers (an A-frame house) and to mount several independently plumbed plastic tanks in the attic. I do not want leakage from the tank reaching the second story bedroom or dripping on the containers below it (causes rust). Any ideas? I have been searching for shallow plastic pans big enough to go under the tanks and collect any drip.

    Is your home located in the new Panama West province, to the SW of Lake Gatun ?

    Right now I wish I had already completed the move from southeast Florida to the vantage point I selected, five years ago, in the shadow of the Volcan Baru, trading hurricane risk for the risk of volcanic eruption. I figure that if the mountain should ever become active again, my containers could be transported away, and the other improvements that I HAVE BUILT on my lot abandoned. “If you can see the mountain, the mountain can see you”; to paraphrase the saying they have about the ocean. this is why my place is named: The Finca Samarrra.

    All the best.

    • Hi Tim,

      I chose concrete for its ability to keep the water cool. Our gardener Armando said his water is in a black tank and he hates drinking the warm water — he has no refrigeration at his house. Also, concrete was more work and more money so given my propensity to overbuilding, I went with concrete!

      Ideas about a pan under your tanks — cheap/easy = a couple layers of tarps. Money and work = fiberglass.

      Sounds like you have a nice location and a good project going on. Saludos! Fred

      We are in the El Valle de Anton (locally called El Valle), about 2 hours from Panama City.

  3. This is so bizarre: I’ve enjoyed your project since the early days, but stopped receiving notifications of new posts about the time you put the house on the market. I was shocked that you could put your labor of love up for sale, but figured that was the end. Then today I got notification of this new post! So glad you and Cynthia decided to stay, and looking forward to catching up with your innovations!

    • Thanks for your response with information on building with concrete in Panama. I have been very interested to see how you cut and weld the steel of the containers; something I have been resolved not to do. I bought four twenty foot one way containers from THE BOX for about $ 4,000 apiece, right after they were practically discarded in a fire sale by the insolvent Hanjin company. Except for the bolt holes needed for installing roll down shutters to protect the swinging doors, after they have been closed and locked, my architect’s plan calls for no holes in the containers. Due to rust problem where the paint is disturbed.

      However, all of this may come to nought. I have been unable to obtain approval of the design by the building & zoning department (Bomberos) office in Bugaba, Chiriqui. They will not tell us if they basically disapprove of the use of shipping containers as permanent residential structures. Or do they have a different objection. Hence my question to you; Because you have, obviously, secured official permission. Congratulations, Tim

        • Thank you for helpful reply. Valle de Anton is the finest residential community in Panama. The most established families in the country maintain second homes in your town and they maintain high standards. From the point of view of appearance, if the building and zoning authorities permit container based homes to be constructed in your town, it should be OK in the rest of Panama.

          Ever since my first visit. In 2009, I have wondered why one sees very few manufactured homes and modular homes in Panama. Unlike Florida, there is no danger of hurricane winds. In an earthquake a trailer would be safer for the occupants than a masonry CBS house, the predominant type in Central America.

          Because I expect to be awaynfrom Chiriqui during the rainy months I need a burglar proof structure. Conotainers can be securely locked. The criminal would need to bring a cutting torch or electric saw, which would make a racket.

          My plan features a very large roof, wide overhangs and a big attic (with powerful electric fans) that provides shade and lots of air space for ventilation around the hot boxes and the black polyethylene water tanks mounted up under the peak. You have a brilliant idea for the drip trays that have to go under them: make em out of Fiberglas. Would need a a55 gal. Drums of resin and hardener. Where can this be bought in Panama ? Thank you very much. Tim

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