Living Without Running Water

As you all know by now, I have been working tirelessly on turning the cabin on my homestead into a livable structure. When we first began this journey back in December, I hadn’t yet nailed down what I was going to do with the cabin. My preliminary plans had included building a new structure, big enough to hold the four of us comfortably and allow us all to have our own space. I was working a full time job then and we were planning on using a loan agency and semi-traditional means to construct our new home. However, life happened and that is no longer an option. After many sleepless nights and days spent looking at tiny houses, I decided that the cabin would be just the right size to accommodate all of us although it might just set the world record for the tiniest of tiny houses. Not to mention, the cabin was currently serving as a home for every animal in a 3-mile radius.

We had our work cut out for us…

There were lots of factors to consider going forward. Aside from the work we needed to put in just to rid the cabin of 40 years of dirt, dust, junk and critters, we did not have electric, water or sewer services.  Although we have since had electric hooked up, we do not have the luxury of running water and won’t for the foreseeable future as it is just not feasible financially. While this does not make it impossible to make our cabin a home, it is definitely going to be a transition that the kids may struggle with at first. I have tried to explain to them what that may entail as far as washing hands, clothes, dishes and using the bathroom but I don’t think they will fully understand until they are actually living that way. Luckily, my parents live just up the hill so hot showers, conventional laundry and unlimited drinking water are not far away.

In order to make the lack of running water a little less inconvenient, we plan to install a rainwater catchment system. It’s a simple system that utilizes the gutter system to catch rain water and stores it in 55 gallon drums. This will allow us to have access to water for cooking, drinking, washing, showering and watering plants through the 9-ish months that temps stay above freezing. I also have a Big Berkey water filtration system to filter any water we want to use for cooking and drinking so that clean water is always accessible for the kiddos. (You can read our review here.) Any grey water from washing will be used to water the gardens so that we are maximizing our water use. Just like any other home, we will have a kitchen sink that has a drain. The difference is that our grey water will run down the drain and through the trap to an outside tank used solely for the garden.

Now, to address the question you’ve all been asking: how are you gonna use the bathroom?

Well, we don’t plan on copping a squat in the woods every time we have to go. I mean unless we’re on a walk and, in that case, when nature calls, you go where you have to. Inside the house however, just like everyone else we will have a “toilet”. There are a few differences in ours and what you’re probably used to using. Most homes have a porcelain throne with a comfy seat; you push a little handle and away goes the poo! Weeeeeeeee!

For our bathroom, we had a few different options. There are two major types of toilets when it comes to non-sewer connected facilities: composting and incinerating. After researching both options, and factoring in cost, we decided to go with a composting system instead. Now, neither composting or incinerating residential units are cheap. While we did find a composting unit that was within our price range, I am all about being frugal especially now that my budget has dwindled to nil. Needless to say, the further I ventured down the rabbit hole of off-grid loo’s, the more I ran across people who were building their own composting toilets using a simple bucket system. While the idea initially seemed dirty, smelly and down-right dangerous, I found that many RV users and off-grid cabin dwellers were using this method with sweet-smelling success!

Basically, “the bucket system” is a system of 2-3 five gallon, food grade buckets and 2-3 fifty-five gallon, food grade drums. Most people build a box tall enough to sit a five gallon bucket under, affix a toilet seat to the lid of the box and voila! Compost toilet! The bottom of the bucket is filled with 2 inches of cover material (wood chips or mulch work best) and each time you use the bathroom, cover your waste with the same material. Once the bucket reaches the ¾ full line, a tight-fitting lid covers it and you switch it out for a fresh one. Once you have two buckets full, they are emptied into the larger drums in the backyard where the waste will compost down over the course of 9-12 months (depending on climate) into non-toxic material that can be used around fruit trees or mixed back into the earth, posing no health risks. The smaller buckets are rinsed and cleaned with bleach and left to dry until you need a new one. It really is as simple as that!

While I haven’t composted an entire drum yet, I can absolutely attest to the fact that the toilet doesn’t smell and really isn’t messy as the cover material soaks up any liquid in the bucket when used correctly. I’m sure you’re still trying to wrap your mind around this method, it took us awhile, too. While I could rant about how spoiled we are by our fancy indoor toilets, choosing this method was the most frugal, earth-friendly solution that I could find outside of spending an exorbitant amount of money that could be used for necessities such as insulation, electric (solar was not an option in our shady valley) and, of course, food.

Our system isn’t imageworthy just yet but check out Shaye Boddington’s post over at DIY Housebuilding:

This post has some really great info that was very useful to me in planning for my composting toilet. She covers her review of several different cover materials as well as how to keep things odor free, and detailed steps on use and emptying the buckets.

So far, the bucket system has served us well. I imagine that we will upgrade to a more sophisticated composting toilet down the road when we can afford it but for now, what we have is meeting our needs. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and that you’ve learned something new. For us, we are always trying to find new and interesting ways to do every day things and I think this one takes the cake so far. Every day is an adventure on our homestead! Stay tuned for more!

Peace, Love and Cheesecake!

One Reply to “Living Without Running Water”

  1. I’m also looking at going this route on my small holding in a small farm town. Hopefully once the lockdown is over I can do this.

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