'Living Without' series - Part 3
When I tell people we live off-grid, the questions they ask usually start with 'how do you live without (...)'. The first one being 'How do you live without a fridge?', which I answered here. How we lived without lights can be found here.
Asking about what off-grid living is yields as many answers as there are people living it. In theory, the definition of off-grid living simply means that a house is not connected to the electrical grid. That’s it. It doesn’t mean people are automatically living without electricity, it just means that they are finding other ways to provide electricity (some choose not to have it entirely).
When we started our journey, we decided to have certain amenities and made the conscious decision to forgo others (we had internet right away, but no fridge for example) because we wanted to do everything ourselves, and we had a limited budget. We knew we needed shelter, so we started with building the house. We also knew we desperately needed water, but knew that we could survive a few weeks on a small stream we have on our land, and friends’ water. The well and septic design took longer than anticipated. Instead of only a few weeks without running water, we had to last 8 months. We couldn't have done it without friends and neighbors, who allowed us access to their water supply, sometimes even opening their showers to us. Every now and then, I still use their generosity and take advantage of a friends' hot shower, that doesn't require any planning or hauling to be enjoyed.
I originally started writing about every detail of our water arrangements, and because water touches so many aspects of our lives, it turned into a novel instead of a short blog post. So on the topic of water, I decided to change the format a bit and add more pictures than usual.
Drinking Water & Everyday Use
Getting ready to do dishes. We refill the 2.5-gallons dispenser once or twice a day for potable needs (drinking, cooking, and washing dishes). We got them from friends after they used them for their wedding, and I think about them every time I pour water. Adding a little shelf to hold them allowed us to use them just like a regular faucet. Doing dishes for a day uses up about 2.5 gallons (1-gallon hot water, about 3/4 cold, and a bit over a half gallon for rinsing), depending on the amount of cooking I’ve done in a day.
We hauled the water for showers from this stream, even when the temperatures were below freezing. It is about a hundred yards from our house that you can see in the background.
Pre-well fall/winter showers: We would fill black buckets from the stream once a week, and we would haul water from there during the busy week.
For summer: Leave a black bucket filled with water from the stream in the sun for 8 hours, enjoy a nice bath outside at the end of the day.
Summer showers: My husband built this awesome outside shower. It provides more privacy than the previous system, but still remains open to enjoy the view on our land. I always liked the idea of taking baths, but this is another level of awesomeness: the water is hot, the wind cools me down, and the view is part of the experience. The two black bins heat the water in about 5 hours. We bought this handheld portable shower that is chargeable in the car or on our laptops.
In the fall, winter, and cold days: We take showers/baths in front of the fire. We create privacy by placing furniture to delineate the room. It takes about 1.5 gallons of water to wash my hair (that I cut short before moving to our tiny home) and a gallon for my body. My husband decreased his use from using 5 gallons per shower to 2.5 gallons.
In the fall & winter, the stove is used not only as a source of heat for the house, but also as an oven, and to heat water for showers and dishes
In the summer: we use a camping stove to heat water and cook. Our diet changes drastically in the summer, we eat mainly fresh veggies and bread. I did all my canning on this little stove this year, and it worked great. I open all windows and make sure there is enough air moving around the house.
We lived 8 months without a well, from July 2015-April 2016. The system now vs then is quite similar, except we would haul water for showers from the stream, and potable water from friends and neighbors. Now we haul it all from the well instead. The well is 385 ft deep, and the hand pump is from Houlton Maine, trying to keep our business local as can be.
First drink of water from our well.
The only plumbing in the house: while waiting for our septic to be ready, we used a garden hose to get the water out of the house. It made a huge difference to not have to haul used water back outside. It literally cut work in half.
In the fall and winter, we used the local laundromat
In the spring and summer months, I use an old-fashioned washing tub using cold water from the well. It takes about 25 minutes a day if done every day. Drying clothes outside takes about 5 hours.
The main lesson I have learned is how much water is important in our lives. When we had company this summer that stayed with us and explaining how we do things around the house, I realized how much I think about water throughout the day. To do any tasks in our house requires planning ahead, and it is true for water too. We have learned to combine tasks that are very messy, to save on hauling water for baths. We approach our days with more planning and routine because preparing the showers or even the water for the dishes requires planning ahead. It has changed the flow of our days, and it has changed the way we approach tasks. It is time-consuming but it is not hard work.
At this point, we have many ideas about moving water closer to the house and harvesting rainwater for the garden. But for the next few years, we have a system that works for our actual needs.
We use about 20 gallons a day for 3 people, including our flock of chickens. An average household of 3 uses 300 gallons of water a day
I also write about other subjects and have been writing about the NewVistas project unfolding in my town. You can read all my stories at dailyUV.com/VeryVermont. And you can sign up for email updates HERE.