9 Lessons Learned From Living Without Running Water

Have you ever stopped to consider the wondrous miracle you have of turning on your faucet and water coming out?  While I used to take it for granted, I look at it now as a luxury.  Not only is plumbing a pretty recent invention in mankind’s history, but if you have running water you are in the minority of people in the world today.  One source I found estimates that only around 20% of the world’s population has running water.  And over 1 billion people do not have access to clean water.  That’s pretty humbling, isn’t it?  What we see as a necessity (running water) is really a luxury.  What is a necessity (clean water) is a struggle for so many.  We take so many conveniences for granted.  I never looked at water this way before living off grid.  Living without running water has taught me a few things.

  1. I’ve learned that water is precious.  well-pumpWhen I lived with running water, I never thought about where the water was coming from our how much of it was available.  I simply would turn on the faucet and have access to as much as I wanted.  I took water for granted.  That’s pretty easy to do when it feels like there is an unlimited supply and it’s available at the turn of a knob.  Unfortunately, the consequence of taking water for granted is that it is easily wasted.  Water usage automatically goes up when it is so easy to obtain.  A friend shared with me a quote from Joel Salatin (remember Food, Inc.) recently.  He says, “When you have to carry all your water, it becomes precious. You don’t waste it. You shepherd it and reuse it.”  Because I do this on a daily basis, I know that pumping or drawing water and then carrying it into the house causes me to be aware.  It makes me want to conserve!  And it gives me very beneficial knowledge about the amount of water my family really needs.
  2. I’ve learned how to conserve water.  This point is so important that it is an entire subject in itself.  From dishes, to laundry, to showers (no baths!) using a camp shower-bag, I’ve learned how to use water most effectively.  Look for an article devoted to this topic soon.
  3. I’ve learned how much water my family uses on a daily basis.  shower-bagI have heard the suggestion that a good rule for storing water for a disaster is one gallon of water per person per day.  This is a bare minimum for survival, just cooking and drinking.  Because of my experience, I know that this is not enough for my family, especially in the summer.  Our Big Berkey water filter holds 1 1/2 gallons of water.  During the heat of the summer, I usually fill it three times a day for my family of two adults and two small children.  That’s 4 1/2 gallons of water that is only used for drinking.  Of course, we need much more for other daily necessities.  On an average day, my family uses between 10 and 15 gallons of water for drinking, cooking, cleaning (other than laundry), and shower-bag showers.  I believe that it is essential to understand your water usage before storing water.  When  a disaster happens you will be aware of how to use that water and how long it will last.  If you need help in learning how to determine your own water usage, look for an article on that subject soon.
  4. I’ve learned that water is heavy!  Before moving off grid, I did not have a clue about how much water weighed.  What stay at home mom needs that information?!  Now I know that a 5 gallon bucket full of water weighs almost 42 pounds.  That’s pretty good exercise when you are carrying one full bucket in each hand!  Who needs to go to the gym?  Carrying water has made me strong.
  5. I’ve learned that water hauling is a woman’s job. rebecca When we first moved off grid, my husband helped me pump and carry our water.  I was still healing from a recent c-section and needed his help.  But as time went on, the job naturally shifted to me.  What I realized is that women are the ones who use most water in their daily work (cleaning, dishes, laundry, cooking, etc).  I’ve realized that women have always been responsible for hauling water.  Many times as I’ve pumped water, I’ve recalled the Biblical story of the servant looking for a wife for Isaac .  He went to the well in town because he knew that was where he would see all the women when they came for water.  “He had the camels kneel down near the well outside the town; it was toward evening, the time the women go out to draw water.”  (Genesis 24:11)  I imagine that they had completed their other chores for the day and this was the last chore before the sun went down, to get water for the next day.  I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I am doing the same thing as millions of women throughout the centuries before me, as well as many women living around the world.  I guess I feel a bond to these women that I would have never understood without my drawing and carrying water experience.
  6. I’ve learned that water is a daily need.  This may seem obvious, but living without running water has taught me that water doesn’t take a day off.  I don’t have the luxury of deciding to just do it tomorrow.  With the exception of one day off a week, I pump and carry water every day.  It usually takes me about 30 minutes to pump, draw and carry all the water for our daily needs.
  7. laundry1I’ve learned that pumping and carrying the water is only half the work involved.  The rest of my water chores involve putting the water where it needs to be used.  We use a Big Berkey water filter for all of our drinking water.  I fill our shower bag for our showers.  I fill a pitcher next to the bathroom sink that we use for brushing our teeth.  I fill pots on the stove reserved for heating hot water.  I carry buckets of water into the bathroom where I do our laundry.  A crate of water bottles sits on my kitchen floor all the time.  When they are emptied, I take them out to our well and fill them again.
  8. I’ve learned that I get tired, but that I am resilient.  When we first moved off grid, I expected that my water hauling days would be very short.  We planned to hook up our travel trailer to a water tank and the problem would be solved.  Things didn’t work out as we planned.  And when the glamorous newness of off grid life wore off, I had to find it in myself to keep going.  Currently, the plan is to wait until the spring when we will hook up a solar powered pump to our existing hand pump.  The water will be pumped into a tank behind our well.  From there, it will be pumped to holding tanks on our roofs where the water will then be gravity fed to our faucets.  As time has passed, I’ve had good days and bad days with my attitude about water.  Recently, I spoke to a friend who also lives off grid.  She and her children also carry all their water into their home.  They get the majority from rain barrels and supplement from a spring on their property.  Talking with her gave me the boost I needed to continue for the long haul, if need be.  It always helps to get encouragement from others!
  9. wellI’ve learned that many people think I am crazy for pumping and hauling water like I do.  I think they really believe that I am punishing myself by doing something that it completely unnecessary.  I don’t see it that way.  I mentioned above that I am grateful to have a link with the women of the past who worked hard for their water and understood its value.  Not to mention women around the world today who go much further for their water than I could ever imagine.  Having one well (not to mention two) right outside their backdoor would be such luxury for them!  I don’t think I’m crazy.  I think that I’m living a normal life.  I just have a different definition of normal.  I think the way people have lived for thousands of years is normal.  My family is trying our best to live what we consider to be a normal life.

Water is so precious!  Without it, life cannot be sustained.  Why do we waste something so valuable and take for granted that it will always be there when we turn on the faucet?  I’m grateful for the lessons that I’ve learned by carrying water.  Running water is not a necessity.  It is a privilege.  I believe that we should all begin to try to see water more realistically and be grateful for the precious gift that it is.

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About JaimieB

Jaimie lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead known online as An American Homestead. They live with their two sons and her parents Tim and Joann on 50 acres located deep in the American Ozark Mountains.

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  1. I couldn’t imagine living without running water – good for you!

  2. I have running water most of the time, but the power goes out several days/week a year, the water line freezes even though it has a heater line on it. I have 300 gals by the back porch and 10 5gal containers on the back porch. Be prepared. The hardest time I had was when the water line and holding tank froze and the milk cow drank every drop of water in less than a week and was crying for more, that will motivate you to drive to the nearest creek and use a hand pump to refill the 50 gal drums until the weather warms up

  3. Being a blogger, I have over a hundred pin boards and I value them all but there are a few that are just for me and not necessarily my followers. Every single one of your posts seem to end up in my extra special board. Keep ’em comin’!

  4. Water was drawn in the evening so it could “settle” in the pots. That is the sediments could fall to the bottom and be as clear as possible. The water was dipped out from the top to cooking and washing. People did not want to go out in the morning for water. Too much chance of snakes.

  5. We have a well so most of the time I have running water. If the power goes out, as it does from time to time out here in the woods, we have no running water. I have to be very careful to not run the well dry when I’m watering the chickens, ducks and pigs. We don’t shower and then immediately wash dishes or something during dry times. And even when there’s plenty of water, we conserve because using too much would be an easy habit to get into.

  6. Great post!

  7. I am really appreciating your realness of living off the grid. We will have to be MUCH more careful with water this winter. Our water system didn’t get finished and it froze for the winter. So hubby and his brother and the boys will be going up once or twice a week and pump out of the creek to fill our water tank. We will have to be VERY careful how we use our water, as we should be anyways.


  8. Thank you for this post. My family of four is living off grid and we are carrying water from our rain catchment. We intended to have running water from the start, but our dreary gray mountain winter means that we aren’t making enough solar power to run our pump. We are adapting and finding new ways of doing things, but it can be dicouraging sometimes. I’m so glad to hear about someone making similar decisions for similar reasons, and even using the same black shower bag, lol!

  9. I recently got my water turned off because I do not make enough money to cover my bills. When it happened I was determined to stay strong so I went online looking for inspiration to get me through this time. As a child I did not always have the luxury of an indoor toilet or running water inside the house. I was born in 1956. We later got both, but I consider it a valuable experience because I am able to cope with the state of poverty I live in here in america, without freaking out. Having running water in my was a priviledge, but not having it will not break me. I will seek a water bag for my shower. Thank you for this information. I believe many will find this information both practical and necessary to their survival if like me there is not enough income to pay all the bills. I believe that in light of the fact that so many in this country are jobeless, that there are many people living without a working toilet and without being able to turn on a faucet to wash dishes.

  10. I can SO relate to some of the things you mentioned. We have been off grid with our water for almost five years. I carry two five gallon water coolers with me every day when I go to work and fill them on my way home. We have a well but it’s not capped so we have been hesitant to use the water for household use due to the possibility of contamination. We do use the water for the garden and the animals however. Most people think we are crazy but at this point it’s just a way of life and I will have a much greater appreciation for running water one day. Hang in there and enjoy the fact that we have learned some lessons that most will never be able to appreciate.

  11. I love your philosophical views on the matter.

    • We live the plush, spoiled lives of city folk currently, with plans to move to the country within the year. This morning, in an effort to have some EP water stores, we rinsed and filled several 50-gallon barrels. It was a lot of work, and a taste of what so many endure every day.
      Recently, as a family, we read aloud “A Long Walk to Water.” I highly recommend it for children and adults alike.

  12. I wished I had a shower bag the times I was without running water hooked up . I did pretty well though using a 3 gallon pump up sprayer . Makes one aware of just how little you really need compared to how much we usually use . I enjoy you guys’ posts . Hope all keeps going at least as well as it is now . Good luck .

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