Saturday, June 13, 2009

Flushing With A Bucket: Off-Grid Water Supply Realities

I have just been reading Jim Dakin's ebook, “Homesteading Under $3000” (which may be downloaded for free at his webpage), and was prompted to write a few comments about waste disposal, based upon my own experiences. My point here is not to find any fault with Jim's commentary, but rather to add to it. I understand that one writes about what one has experience with. That's all I am doing, too.

Jim is an advocate (as am I) of buying a cheap piece of land and living thereon, in an off-grid manner, in a cheap, older travel trailer. He recognizes that a deep well and accompanying pump is financially and logistically out of reach for most who are contemplating or living such lifestyle, and that this fact results in severe water rationing in many cases, whether one is hauling water or using rainfall catchment, or a combination thereof.

Within this context, Mr. Dakin talks about using a pump-up sprayer as a shower, using water heated on a camp stove or, in winter, the woodstove. Jim puts forth the small hand-held sprayers, those lacking any sort of hose, as ideal. He also is a believer in the sawdust toilet as a solution for human waste disposal. Of course, even such a frugal use of water creates some greywater from showering, washing dishes, etcetera; and Jim advises a “drywell” comprised of a 55 gallon oil drum with holes punched in the bottom, filled with rocks and buried.

This makes a lot of sense, and is a workable solution. In fact, I have used just such a system, exactly as presented. I have also used similar systems which incorporated larger pump-up sprayers (which I much prefer), stove or solar-heated (I have a 1.5 gallon black plastic pump up sprayer which, filled with water and placed in the sun, quickly gets hot enough for a nice shower), as well as various types of RV and portable toilets. What I eventually ended up with and used for awhile was a system which far surpassed any of the foregoing in convenience, and in fact would be sufficient as a permanent solution.

The way it happened was, I stumbled across an old single-wide house trailer that needed to be moved from the trailer park it was in, so that I was able to acquire it for the grand sum of $50. This trailer was replete with, among other things, a standard flush toilet in the bathroom. At the time I had been using an old portable toilet and, while the portable was a workable solution, I fairly relished the possibility of having a standard flush toilet. So once I got the “new” abode in place and leveled (relatively speaking), I used my old WWII-era Marlin bolt-action .22 rifle to shoot a few holes in the sides and bottom of a 55 gallon drum, then sunk it in a previously-dug hole. Instead of filling the drum with rocks as in Mr. Dakin's drywell, I left the drum empty and filled the hole around it with rocks, as a sort of leach field. This, I covered with plastic sheeting and a layer of soil. Then I ran a sewer line to the drum from my newly acquired toilet and proceeded to start utilizing same, flushing it by pouring about 3 gallons of water directly into the bowl from a mud bucket*, previously filled from my rainwater catchment tank.

I was happy as a lark for awhile, but then I decided to improve on things by setting a 55 gallon drum on a stack of concrete blocks outside the (exterior) bathroom wall behind the toilet, run a line from the drum to the water inlet of the toilet, and direct the water from one gutter to the drum. Ah, such luxury! I no longer had to flush via a poured bucket of water; I now had an actual flush toilet, with the little handle and everything! The only thing I had to do in the way of maintenance was, if there was an extended period of no or little rain, I had to go to the creek and get a jug of water to pour into the tank before I could flush. Or, as was more often the case, I would discover this when the water actually ran out, resulting in no action when I pulled the handle. In such cases, I would usually just go ahead and pour the water directly into the bowl as before, after returning from the creek several hours later (surely you don't expect me to go to the creek and not fish!).

During one such dry spell, upon reaching back to pull the handle and discovering that it didn't work, I started wondering if I should just use the water I had allocated for dishwashing rather than make the trip to the creek. Unfortunately, this would necessitate putting off washing the dishes for another day or two, and I was out of clean dishes, and paper plates for that matter. Then it suddenly occurred to me that I could use the water for both purposes! By golly, just because water has been used for washing dishes, does not preclude its use for flushing a toilet!

Up to now, I had been allowing the greywater to just run out onto the ground in the yard, using the greywater drainpipe already installed in the trailer. I showered in the tub using my pump-up sprayer, occasionally took an actual bath when it rained enough that I was flush with water; used water bottles and the standard lavatory for hand washing, toothbrushing and shaving; and heated water in a stock pot to fill the kitchen sink for dishwashing. All that greywater, going to waste. Enough of that; I found my hacksaw and proceeded to saw off the drain line from the kitchen sink and the lavatory, capping the end that went outside and placing a mud bucket under the stub coming from the sink/lavatory to catch the water issueing therefrom. I setup a 55 gallon plastic drum outside at the end of the greywater line, to catch water from the tub. All this water, I used for flushing the toilet.

This worked well. Indeed, it worked so well that I began having a problem with mosquito larvae growing in the now-rarely-used toilet supply tank, as well as water overflowing and running under the trailer, so that I finally removed it altogether and diverted the output from that gutter to a new fish pond. But that's a story for another day.
Of course, I was back to flushing with a bucket again, but that's not such a big deal, is it?

*5 gallon plastic bucket, so called because “sheetrock mud” is sold in such a bucket.

1 comment:

azurevirus said...

when I was 13, we moved into my dads hunting elctric, plumbing or anything..we used an 'Outhouse" and a woodstove for heat and cooking..oil lamps and a dome light from a car hooked by wire to the neg/pos post of a car batt would give us a light for several nights before the batt needed recharging..just thought I would mention this as it may spark some ideas.