Water off-grid

Water. It’s necessary for life, and it’s pretty handy to have around. Drinking, cooking and cleaning, you need water. This will be a 2 part article, the first part discussing how we have water living off-grid (ie with no city water), the second part will discuss how to make sure you have water if you are living in town but services get interrupted, that will be also part of the “Prepping on a Budget” series.

Since I live off-grid, that’s what I will talk about first. When we first moved to our off-grid home (the sky castle), there wasn’t much to it, we had 1 room, 16×16, no plumbing of any sort. We did have a community well a couple of miles away that was free for the property owners in the area to use. We were prepared to use that, but it turned out that our neighbor, who had a well offered the use of his well in exchange for some handyman work.

We had purchased a cube shaped 250 gallon tank, it originally contained fruit punch concentrate, that’s what we were going to store water in, in the beginning, our water had a slight Koolaid scent, it wasn’t bad though, and eventually with enough water and a little bleach going through that scent went away.

Inside the sky castle, in the kitchen area, we had a clean, plastic 55 gallon drum, we filled it with water and used a 12 volt pump we rescued from an old travel trailer. That was plumbed to the sink, by then PB had plumbed the drain on the sink to the outside, I could at least run water down the drain. The 12 volt pump worked great, it was self priming and didn’t use up too much power from our small solar system, and most importantly it hooked up directly to a battery so there was no need to go through the inverter.

The drawback to that pump was the noise it made, every time I turned on the water, the pump came on, it was somewhat loud and obnoxious, putting some foam between it and the wall helped, but it was still loud, you didn’t want to run it at night if someone was asleep.

Eventually we acquired a pressure tank, that allows the water to be pressurized and will run the water for a while before the pump has to come on, that was nice, but when the pump does come on, it runs for a longer amount of time. I would say that it does lengthen the life of the pump, it isn’t cycling on and off each time I turn on the water. We now have an on/off switch on the wire going to the pump, mainly so we can control when the pump comes on, sometimes during the cooler times of the year, the pump will randomly come on during the night, did I mention it’s loud?

Even though our water here is good water, I still want to use a filter for our drinking and cooking water, we chose to get a Berkey Light, it requires no water pressure or power to run and the filter elements are able to be cleaned and reused. The black filter elements that come with that unit are the only ones of that style allowed to be called a purifier, all other filters of that sort can only claim to be a filter.

You can get the Berkey Light or for just a little more, you can get the stainless steel version, I would also recommend the sight glass spigot if you get the stainless steel version.

The next thing we wanted and needed was hot water, the cheapest, easiest and quickest method for us to heat water was using a portable, on demand propane powered water heater. We now have 2 of them, I wanted an extra one as a backup, we have one right over the kitchen sink, the second one is in the shower area. Another good reason for having 2 is I don’t want long runs of pipe running from these units, since our water is limited, I don’t want to have to run the water for long periods of time waiting for the hot water to get to me. Also, with the portable units, it’s important to be able to touch the controls on the front panel to adjust the water temps. These bring the temps up so many degrees from what is going into the unit, so depending on the temp of the water going in, that determines the temps coming out, so if the weather has been warm, the water coming in is warmer and will come out warmer, and when it’s colder, the water is colder going in, you get the picture.

These portable propane water heaters are supposed to be outside, and I would tell you if there is any way to do that, then do it, the one we have in the kitchen is inside, it’s mounted on metal and has a metal deflector (besides the one it comes with) to keep the heated air from directly contacting anything. I’m not worried about fumes building up, our sky castle is not insulated and it’s far from air tight, and in the kitchen I’m not running hot water for long periods of time. If your place is tighter than ours is, then I would recommend at least venting it to the outside. Please follow all directions that come with these water heaters, especially the parts having to do with hooking up to propane, no one wants to get hurt or killed and no one wants to lose their home because of a faulty or incorrect installation. Be safe! :)

In the shower, that is a different story, that one is vented to the outside through the roof. I run that one less often, but for longer periods of time, so it definitely needs to be vented, again I have the unit inside the shower, where I can easily adjust the temp of the water.

The other place where we have running water now is my wash room, this room is a combination laundry room, closet and storage room. I don’t have hot water in there yet, that is on the list of things to do eventually, which means either getting another on demand propane water heater, or perhaps getting adventurous and building a solar water heater.

Eventually I plan on having a water well, that’s how we will get our water in the future. Now we have a large 1550 gallon black poly tank, it’s up the hill behind the sky castle, it is plumbed to the sky castle and down to the edge of our property so that we can have the water delivery tank hook up to it and pump it full of water. It’s also available to fight wildfires.

Our total water system is small, short runs of pipe and such, we have out system set up to be able to drain easily for those nights (and occasional days) that get below freezing. It drains back into the small water tank so we don’t lose any precious water. One winter, a particularly cold winter, it got cold enough inside the sky castle to break the top part of the water pump, fortunately it did not flood and it was a replaceable part so no real harm done, but it did teach us a valuable lesson, protect your pipes and such from freezing.

If you are looking at property to build your off-grid home, you will need to figure out how you are going to get water. You can drill a well, or maybe there is water on your property, a lake or pond, a spring, a creek or river, just make sure you are allowed to tap that resource before doing it. Another method is capturing rain water, that takes a little work in the beginning, you will need to use your roof to capture the water and funnel it into a tank, the more rain you get in any given year means you can get by with fewer or smaller tanks (or cisterns). If you live in an area that has seasonal rains (monsoons) you will need more and larger tanks to store the water for year round use.

You can also haul your water or pay someone to bring it in. If you haul it yourself, you will need a truck that can handle that much weight, ideally you will use a trailer with a tank, you can also use the truck bed, but that will be much harder on your truck. With the cost of fuel now days, that might not be ideal for the long haul.

Be sure to look for the part 2 of this article coming out by this weekend. If you have any questions about how we deal with our water, please don’t hesitate to ask. :)

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3 Responses

  1. Where does the used shower and sink water go as it drains? Do you just let it go on the ground, or do you have some sort of catchment/filtration system. I live close to the Chesapeake, so what happens to used water is a big deal around here. I can go off-grid easy enough with the toilet, but the showering and washing of dishes has me concerned with the Bay Protection Act here.


    1. Chris, our water essentially runs out onto the ground, but it isn’t going to waste, living in a high desert, with the exception of the rainy season, it’s pretty dry out here, the plants and trees enjoy our “waste” water, we have a homemade grease trap on the line that comes from the kitchen… eventually I’d like to better filter the water and use it for gardening purposes. Hope you can find a way to deal with your waste water.

  2. Sounds like you have a nice setup going. We don’t have a backup water source per say but we do collect rain water in a 55 gal drum. I mentioned on another post somewhere, we use filters on everything pretty much and as you mentioned even though its not needed we like it too. I made my own water filter system for hear at home, similar to the berkey, it works very well. Thanks for a great post, that was a good read.

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