Getting Water Off Grid

If you have ever gone without running water or electricity for any period of time, I think you would probably agree that water is so much more important.  Electricity is a modern convenience.  Mankind has really only had electricity for one century.  That’s nothing compared to our history.  Functioning without it is definitely a learning curve for those of us who have depended on it for our entire lives.  But water is essential for life.  There are two issues when it comes to water.  Finding a usable water source and getting that water to where it is able to be used in an efficient way.

One of the most important criteria for purchasing our homestead was that it would have good sources of water.  We wanted a nice piece of land with a beautiful view, but if it didn’t have assurance of water, we weren’t interested.  We were excited to find everything we wanted with our property.  It actually had a 19th century well and two ponds!  (The picture above is Kaleb and me picking daisies at our fish pond.)  After we got settled, we brought a well driller in to dig an additional well near our homes that we now use with a hand pump.  Even when covered, we found that our old well collected debris: small twigs, some bugs, and dirt.  We wanted a source of clean water.  So we now have a sealed modern well.  Both of our wells are great sources of water and have never run dry.

We located our homes next to these water sources.  We were told that a better place to build homes would have been down our mountain where the view is more spectacular (because of cleared trees making the valley visible) and the road is easier.  But where is the water source?  Up the mountain.  Both wells are less than 40 ft. from my back door, an easy walk when I’m loaded down with up to 80 pounds of water.  Locating your home near your water source is important.  You never know when you may need to haul water.

wellWe use our wells daily for all of our water needs.  The 19th century well was dug by hand and lined with rock.  I often look down it and imagine the work involved in digging it.  I have no idea how long it would have taken to complete.  It is between 15 and 20 ft. deep and fed by an underground spring.  How excited they must have felt when they hit water!  Previously, they would have hauled buckets of water from the pond.  How this well must have improved their quality of life!

laundry-tankWe use this well for a variety of things: watering our gardens and livestock, filling our fish tanks for our aquaponics, and doing our laundry.  We fill tanks on our homestead using a transfer pump and tank in the back of our 4×4 pickup.  One of these tanks is at our sheep shelter, where we can easily fill the animals’ watering bucket.  Another one is at our outdoor laundry area.  In the spring and summer I even use this tank for washing my hair.  It feels great on a hot day!

We also fill 5 gallon buckets from our old well by drawing water the old-fashioned way.  We drop a galvanized bucket down and pull it up with a rope and pulley.  We found that in the winter, this old-fashioned system was a necessity and we were so thankful for our 19th century well.  This is because our outside tanks are really unusable in the coldest part of the winter as the water freezes solid.  The water underground does not freeze, so we were able to draw water to use for the animals and laundry.  I got used to hauling full 5 gallon buckets of water into the house.  I kept them inside overnight so that I would have water (not ice) to wash clothes in the morning!

well-pumpOur other well is a new one that we had dug last year.  The well driller went down 160 ft.  It took him about a day from set up to finish and we paid him $1850.00.  We installed a Simple Pump that we operate by hand.  At the end of the faucet we have a hose that is cut off at the right length to direct the water flow into the bottles we use.  Most of our bottles are 1/2 gallon juice bottles.  Ten of them fit very nicely in a black crate.  Many years ago, I bought 8 of these at Big Lots for a few bucks each.  It was a cheap way to organize the closet.  Little did I know that all these years later, I would be using them to haul water!  I fill about 15 gallons of water (3 crates) and carry them into the house daily.

The winter created a challenge for our Simple Pump.  Of course the water underground was not frozen, but our pump usually was.  Our solution was to boil a tea kettle of water (sometimes two) and pour this over the shaft and faucet of the pump while pumping the lever up and down.  It took some effort and patience, but we knew by the sound of bubbling and gurgling that water was coming and we would soon be rewarded.  In temperatures above 15 degrees, this usually worked.  I learned that below 15 degrees, it wasn’t worth trying.  Thankfully, our normal winter highs in the Ozarks are well above that.  But the winter of 2013/2014 was particularly cold and there were days that we could not get water out of our Simple Pump.  This was when we learned to conserve.  Perhaps we didn’t take showers that day or I would save all my dishes to wash at one time.  If all of my water bottles are full at the same time, I have about 30 gallons of water in the house.  We have never faced running out of water completely.

As you would probably guess, most of our water bottles are used in the kitchen for cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, and filling our Big Berkey water filter.  I keep a crate of bottles on the floor.  I put a couple of them next to the sink.  When I use one up, I put the cap on, put it in the crate, and get a new one.  Our house is a manufactured home, so it came with all the standard amenities.  One day, we hope to be able to use our faucets by having a holding tank on our roof.  But right now the kitchen faucet is pretty much just a drying rack for my dishrag.

shower-bagWe live off grid and we try to live simply, but we still have the benefit of modern inventions that make off grid living so much easier than it was 100+ years ago.  One of these things is the shower bag.  In my opinion, it makes living without running water possible.  Our shower bag hangs on a large heavy hook that is drilled into a stud in the wall.  We have a funnel placed in the opening so that we don’t need to take down the bag for filling.  We pour in bottles of room temperature water.  When it’s time for a shower, we boil water on the stove and pour in enough for the right temperature.  In the summer, we either take cold showers or sit bottles in the sun to warm them before pouring them in the bag.

Who doesn’t love standing under a hot shower?  I used to love that!  But my goal in taking a shower is to get clean.  I have not had a “real” shower in well over a year.  We can easily get clean using a shower bag and limited water.  The key is to get wet, turn off the spray, soap up, and then turn on the spray to rinse.  My family of 4 uses about 5 or 6 gallons of water daily for showers.  It takes more than that to fill my laundry washtub, let alone the bathtub.  I often joke that my almost 2 year old is probably the only kid in America that has never had a bath.  That’s right, in his entire life, he has never had a bath!  When he was a baby, I held him on my lap and sprayed him with the shower bag sprayer.  When he could sit up, he sat down for his shower.  Now, he’s a big boy and stands up like everybody else.

We are so thankful for our wells and the constant source of water they provide.  No, we can’t turn on a faucet, but we have learned how to get the water out of them and transport it to where we need it.

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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. Hi there, really love what you guys are doing. My wife and I are preparing to go completely off grid as well. I’ve really learned some great things from you guys! I wanted to ask what do you guys do to treat the water you drink? Thanks again for putting this site together, you guys are great!!

  2. Jamie,
    We, a family of four, lived on a 40′ sailboat for four years. Our fresh water capacity was 100 gallons. We collected a lot of rain water! Most of the time we bathed in salt water then just rinsed off with a small amount of fresh water. We learned a lot about living off the grid while we sailed. I really appreciate your info here. Some of it I am familiar with but I’m also learning some new things too. We are on 35 acres in the mountains of western NC and sure wish we were neighbors! We have so much in common and share a lot of the same beliefs. Keep up the great work. Looking forward to your new season.

  3. I’m curious whether there is any reason why you don’t just lay the shower bag out in the sun to get warm and then hang it back up. Unless you don’t have any sun, I would think that would be easier. Be careful, though, as it can get TOO HOT and then you have to let it cool to use it!

    • Shower bags are great for camping, etc. but you need to shower when the water is still hot. However, if you wait until the end of the day when the work is done for the day the water is cold by 7:00 pm so we heat water. Thanks for asking.

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