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Life Without Running Water

People think we’re crazy when we tell them we have chosen to live without running water. I’m not sure why, since until the mid-1800’s, no human being had running water in their home. And they got along fine.

Of course, the people we talk to do their best to be polite and nod their heads in pretend understanding when we tell them and try to explain why.

But I think it’s safe to say that they don’t understand. Let me see if you can, just a little bit.

Why we don’t have running water

Plumbing problems occur all too frequently.

When I was single, I experienced multiple plumbing problems. One was my fault. I tried to adjust the float valve in an ornery toilet that didn’t want to settle down and pulled it off, sending a cascade of water shooting through the air.

The other times were accidents that happened in the apartment above me, a leak from the kitchen sink and then later, a broken water line in the refrigerator. Both times, my ceiling got soaked.

In our suburban house, we had two pipe leaks that I can remember offhand. One was in the wall right by the shower in the master bath, and ended up requiring that the entire shower be replaced. We had to repair or replace faucets and toilets on several occasions. And most occasions created stress and inconvenience.

Plumbing problems are expensive to repair.

We ended up spending several thousand dollars on plumbing repairs during our eight years there. We spent very little on electrical repairs, and only a couple of minor things when we were getting the house ready to be put on the market.

Having running water in the house encourages waste.

Most non-farming Americans use dozens, if not hundreds, of gallons of water every day. (Farmers, of course, use much more.) Much, if not most, of that is pure waste (“pure waste”. Does that make any sense?). It drove me up the wall the way B would let the faucet run just for the fun of it.

Speaking of waste…

How we take care of our bodily waste

We have a basic composting toilet, a five-gallon bucket housed inside a box under a toilet seat. Immediately upon defecating in it, we cover it with dirt. There is no odor, and no flies unless somebody (a-hem, our son) forgets to close the toilet lid.

Every day or two, J digs a hole somewhere and buries the toilet-bucket contents.

Urine is taken care of differently, and I’ll let y’all use your imagination there. Hint: it’s less complicated than the poop bucket.

How we bathe

Swimming several times a week during the summer takes care of most of our personal cleansing needs.

Beyond that, there is the old-fashioned sponge bath. It uses a lot less water than even the shortest shower. We also don’t bathe every day. Doing so does two things: first, it eliminates many of the beneficial microbes living on the skin. Second, when you scrub vigorously or use soap, you wash off the precursors to vitamin D that the sunshine causes to form on your skin. In other words, daily showering can create a vitamin D deficiency.

our off-grid "faucet" above the sink

How we do dishes and wash hands

Our faucet is the bottom part of a Berkey water filter, which is a stainless steel container with a spigot. Our “sink” is currently a plastic tub. When we move into the new house, however, we will have the Berkey set up above an actual sink, which will drain into a five-gallon bucket below.

How we get water into the house


The 1550-gallon tank that receives the rain from our gutters.

We have a couple of five-gallon water jugs that we keep more or less filled from our water storage tanks. We have two 1550-gallon tanks and two 2500-gallon tanks. The last large tank we bought is filled up by the gutters around the storage shed (not to be confused with the Tuff Shed, which I use as my she-shed, pictured above).

From these jugs J fills the filter part of the Berkey and we fill the faucet part of the Berkey. Water for drinking and cooking comes from one of three of the five-gallon buckets into which the water is filtered.

How I do laundry

I put water into two plastic tubs set aside for the express purpose of doing laundry. One tub is for washing, the other for rinsing. I do a small load every morning, and each day I wash certain items. For example, my clothes and my son’s clothes on Monday, then some bed linens on Tuesday, etc.

The perfect graywater system

When I finish doing laundry or the sink gets full, I carry whichever tub to whatever tree or part of the garden that I think at the moment needs a bit of irrigation. If it has rained recently, I dump graywater into a large black plastic container that is supposed to be a landscaping pond to save it for when the soil dries up again.

***UPDATE 8-2020: These days, we empty the tubs into one of four buckets sitting outside the house. As they fill up, J carries them around to trees to water them.

“But don’t all these things take a lot of extra time?”

The two things that take the most time are burying the contents of the composting toilet and the laundry. But, guess what? We have the time to do them. The other tasks only take a few minutes out of every day.

And having chores like those to do ensure that even when the weather is at its nastiest, we get some physical activity in.

In other words, living without running water just may improve our health. And to answer the most burning question my readers will have: no, we don’t miss a shower.  Usually.

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