Sales of water tanks have exploded as Auckland's water shortage shows little signs of easing. Jane Phare looks at the booming tank industry and what rules and costs are involved when installing one.
Go shopping at Mitre 10 or Bunnings in Auckland at the weekend and you're bound to see someone stagger out with a large plastic water tank balanced on their trolley. As the region's drought wears on, water-tank manufacturers are flat out trying to keep up with demand and installers are scrambling to keep up with installation work.
One tank manufacturer warns customers on its website to expect a 12-week delay when placing an order. Another says customers wanting a 30,000L tank for a holiday home or lifestyle block will now have to wait until February for delivery.
And it can't be blamed on delayed shipments from China. Most water tanks are made in New Zealand but local factories simply can't keep up with such unprecedented demand.
"Ridiculous" was the most common word tank suppliers used when asked about the level of orders since the Auckland Council imposed a hosing ban in May. One tank company manager is getting up at 4.30am each day so she can try to keep up with orders, a task which includes dealing with customers who become angry when they're told how long they'll have to wait.
This time last year, rain water tanks weren't a big sell. Now they're the new must-have in the region as parched gardens wither, cars and boats grow grubby and outside windows become grimy. The whole city feels like it needs a good hose down.
But turning on the garden hose feels wicked and there's always the chance someone will dob you in. Watercare's dob-in line and the "report water misuse" option on its website have received more than 3400 complaints since water restrictions were imposed in May. June was the busiest dob-in month, with 865 complaints being registered.
Watercare follows up the complaints, using an educational approach. Staff say no-one has had to be told off more than twice, usually for washing cars, hosing decks and driveways, and watering gardens.
But for unrepentant hose users Watercare can recommend that Auckland Council takes legal action which involves a fine of up to $20,000. So far, no-one has been prosecuted for flouting the hosing ban.
Watercare's dams are 67.8 per cent full, compared to the normal 91.4 per cent level for this time of year. Ahead is a long, dry summer and with Aucklanders still using around 400 million litres a day, the region's water restrictions are unlikely to ease any time soon.
Concerns that tanker deliveries of water to areas not on town supply might be rationed in the future have caused a surge of orders for large tanks. And urban Aucklanders wanting to keep their gardens alive and wash their cars have caused a boom in smaller-sized tanks, particularly from 250L to 1000L.
Micah Johnston, of Silverdale, had a good house washing business before Covid-19 and the drought. All of a sudden he found himself unable to work during lockdown and then the introduction of the hosing ban saw his business evaporate.
"So I changed from something that was going to use water to something that would save water.
He set up Rainmen, selling and installing water tanks. Business has taken off to such an extent that he's recently had to take on an extra worker. Most of his clients are private home owners but he's also quoted for car dealers who want their groomers to be able to wash cars on show.
With the drought getting on for nine months, people are future-proofing, he says.
"Nobody can see it (business) slowing down anytime soon."
Aware that some local tank manufacturers have huge backlogs, Johnston is trying to source tanks from companies with a lag time of weeks, not months.
Apart from selling tanks and pumps, Johnston is busy with installation and works with a plumber to complete the job. Clients will ring saying they've bought a water tank but they need help installing it.
Claudia La Hood, sales and marketing manager of Aqua Tanks, says the company is also struggling to keep up with demand which has surged by more than 50 per cent in recent months.
The company, which manufactures tanks at its East Tamaki factory, has a warning for customers on its website. Expect a 12-week delay.
Before May's water restrictions were imposed, the lead time was between two and four weeks, La Hood says. Lockdown caused a backlog and then the drought.
"Sales went nuts. It's usually our quiet time," she says. "We're trying to keep up but then everyone's wanting one. The demand is just ridiculous at the moment. We've completely run out of stock."
Tanks, including seconds, that arrive from the factory sell the same day and all the staff can do is take orders, she says.
Alison Hastings, manager of The Tank Girl, gets up at 4.30am most mornings to try to get on top of orders. Possibly fuelled by 12-hour days, Hastings lets rip about what she calls Watercare's mismanagement of Auckland's future water supplies.
"Watercare have a lot to answer for, big time. It hasn't just happened, this goes back years."
The Tank Guy and The Tank Girl companies manufacture their own tanks and sell throughout New Zealand. Since the drought, orders have trebled.
"We've always been busy but in the last three months it's been absolutely ridiculous," Hastings says.
Popular orders are from 1000L tanks up to 30,000L and everything in between.
"At the moment everything is popular. We can't keep up."
The lag time for small tanks is four to five weeks. For the big tanks, customers are having to wait until the end of February.
"Anyone who wants a big tank prior to Christmas, they won't get one," La Hood says. "It's a good way to be (in terms of business) but it's very frustrating for people as well. We get it on the other end of the phone."
Mitre 10 and Bunnings stores are also doing brisk business in tanks, pumps and rain diverter connections.
Mitre 10's merchandise manager for building products, Jared Bernard, says sales have grown exponentially this year. "Week to week we are seeing some really positive figures."
Stores are struggling to meet demand, he says, with some models selling out. The company is working closely with local suppliers to restock popular tanks. Demand is strongest in the Auckland region, and in Northland which has also been hit by drought.
Aucklanders are recognising that the drought will be a lengthy event and probably not the only one they'll face, Bernard says. The issue of sustainability is also affecting people's decision to put in water tanks.
Smaller tanks are popular but Bernard says that although 250L size is a good seller staff recommend larger tanks depending on the intended use.
"Your average garden hose will use about 10 litres of water a minute," he says. "A 250-litre tank is not going to last you that long."
And if customers can't hide their rain tanks around the back of the house, a new range of Slim Jim tanks introduced this month have an option of a hanging garden kit to attach to the side.
Bunnings also reports a strong increase in water tank sales. Ian Clark, the company's builders and timber category manager says customers are not only interested in catching rainwater, they is increasing interest in reusing "grey water" from showers, baths and washing machines.
"It's one of those environmentally responsible things to do as well, everyone doing their bit. It's a great product."
Buying a water tank comes with extra costs
Installing a decent-sized water tank isn't always a cheap or straight forward process. Apart from the cost of the tank itself, home owners face additional costs including an electric pump, rain diverters and pipes, and installation costs which might include levelling the ground base. In addition, if the home does not already have an approved outdoor electric plug for the pump, an electrician will need to install one.
A 1000L tank, including installation should cost around $2000, but the cost of an electrician fitting an outdoor plug for the pump will be extra.
As a general rule, a rain water tank intended for outdoor use, such as watering the garden, does not need a building consent from the Auckland Council. However, resource and building consent might be needed for tall tanks, those too close to a boundary or properties in a heritage area. The council has temporarily waived the resource consent fee but resource consent will still be needed, and there is still a fee for a building consent.
Rainwater collected for internal use, such as in washing machines or flushing toilets, will need a building consent and a qualified plumber will need to install the plumbing.
Reusing grey water, from the shower, bath or washing machine, will also require a building consent and the water will need chlorine treatment.
Guidelines are clearly laid out on the council's rain water tank page: www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/rainwater tank. Home owners can email a council help line and a staff member will call them back to talk them through options that will not need building or resource consent.
Never mind the veggies, what about the boat?
It was his runabout's inboard engine that South Auckland man James Johnston worried most about when the region's hosing ban was imposed in July.
As the dry weeks dragged into months, he worried about the condition of his Sea Ray's engine. After every boating outing and fishing trip, the IT sales person said he religiously washed the boat, used Salt-Away and flushed out the engine.
"My number one main concern was boat maintenance," Johnston said.
But the hosing ban meant that engine flushing was impossible. "It annoyed me."
An admitted car buff, he could also not wash his late-model car and truck; and the vegetable garden he and wife Joyann had planted was dying.
Now the couple have a 1000L slimline rain tank attached to the roof guttering of their Wattle Downs home and the problem is solved. Johnston, 57, thinks the $1995 he paid Rainmen for the tank, pump and installation was a fair price. Apart from the lack of rain which meant the tank took two weeks to fill, he has no complaints and is now happily using a hose outside.
"I was beginning to wonder if it had been worthwhile but we seem to be getting enough rain to keep it topped up."