Getting Fresh Water Off Grid

To live off grid in a house we build ourselves, there are many things we need. We have some items that can be used and adapted, but there are still a lot of things we need to get and prepare for this next phase of our lives. We want things to be stable, comfortable enough, self sufficient, independent, and reliant as possible on no one else. We want security and peace of mind, and we want to do it ourselves.

How do we do all this? We prepare, we accumulate, we purchase, and when we get to the place we will be living, we just go there, put it all together and assume there will always be things that will not work as planned.

The Basic Requirements

The main things we need are food, shelter, water, and security. To break those down into those categories covers just about everything we absolutely need, though there will be other creature comforts things we would like eventually. But we obviously need a roof over our head, food to eat, water to drink, a way to keep our property secure from both animals and people, and really, that is all there is to it.

The things we can start with shortly after buying the land are water and food.

For water, we will need a well and a waste system. Depending on how we deal with water waste from faucets and our own human waste, we can either have a way to treat and dispose of the water and waste ourselves, or get a septic system installed. I will have to look into cost, legal requirements, and feasibility of a septic system, but I’d rather not use one if possible. If we can away with a grey water treatment system and a composting toilet, that would be the best solution.

First I have to find land, figure out which county it is in, and contact that areas zoning commission and find out the rules about waste treatment. If we can have a grey water catchment system and then use that water for watering plants or return it to the ground, that would be best and easiest.

For a composting toilet, then we do have compost to be emptied, but we can find a location to dispose of it safely. I know not to use human waste on plants we will be eating, but with enough land, there will be somewhere to dispose of it safely. We can mark off and area just for that and grow plants that have no food value to keep it being recycled into nature.

Cost: $960 for composting toilet. $40 for a solar powered vent fan, adapted from an RV model.
Total Power Draw: Zero.

For drinking water, we need a well. Drilling a well in a somewhat remote area can cost a lot, but Wisconsin tends to have high water tables, so hopefully it is not too expensive. We can add a water pump with a solar panel and battery to keep water flowing all the time and have a backup power source. The well itself will probably be slightly removed from the house to make it easier to access and repair if needed, but not too far away to reduce cost of running pipes to the house.

We will also need to filter the water, no matter what the quality is, we will always filter our water. We can get a really good water filter for under the kitchen sink for about $300 and it includes a tank for water to that faucet. If needed, we could even place it in a location to connect to the bathroom sink as well to have clear and clean water there as well. It may be a bit of overkill, but we want to remain safe and mineral free with our water.

Cost: $300 for water filter. $240 for water pump from well. $390 for 5000 Watt inverter for water pump. Unknowns include battery and solar panel/charge controller for water pump as well as miscellaneous supplies like wiring and pipe.

While having the water pump be on its own battery and solar panel may be a little more expensive, it will also require less wiring to run to the pump as well as a backup in case the main system fails and will still allow us to have water.

The only remaining two pieces of the water system then are heating the water and figuring out something to do with the gray water.

For hot water, we can go back to the RV model and get something designed for smaller uses. Because we do not use a lot of water with only two people, we do not need a large water heater. Instead, we can go for either a propane water heater, an electric one, one that runs on either, as well as having the option for a tankless model. Since we will have at least three, if not four points of hot water needed, small tankless ones may be the easiest to set up and we can shut them off when not needed to reduce power use.

The four points of hot water are:

  • Kitchen Sink
  • Bathroom Sink
  • Shower
  • Laundry

Kitchen sink is easy since there will be plenty of space underneath for a tankless heater and hooking one up to work from the start (as opposed to retrofitting one), will be straightforward. For the bathroom, we need to get a larger, more powerful model since a shower is longer than washing dishes or hands.

For laundry, it depends on how big of a clothes washer we get. For the beginning, we can go with something like we have now and hang dry our clothes outside. It doesn’t require a lot of water, certainly not all hot water, and it does not require a lot of power either. It may not be a long term solution, but it has served use well in our RV for a year now, so there is no reason not continue it. We will have to figure out something about drying clothes though as I’m not sure we want lots of laundry hanging inside the house, but if it is not raining outside or too cold, we can have a clothesline for that. We cannot do that in a campground though, so we have made do with what we have.

Cost: $200 for 7-gallon tankless for bathroom, $150 for kitchen, $150 (maybe) for laundry. All run on 120v power at about 12amps, so can be plugged into the main power system.

Disposing of Gray Water

To get rid of gray water, I have to figure something out. A full septic system would be overkill and expensive, and if we go with a composting toilet, we wouldn’t even need a septic system. That is assuming local environmental laws allow for a composting toilet and no septic, of course. Gray water is far less dangerous than sewage though, so if we can get it into a cistern that separates the particulates, filters out anything, and then puts clean water back into the soil, then we are set.

Once we have the land, we can figure out where we will be planting things like gardens and decoration plants and run drip lines in that area. They would have to be deep enough to avoid freezing, so it will require a lot of digging on my part. The whole system will also have its own water pump, but I think I can build a box in the ground that has access to the area inside and is insulated to avoid freezing damage. If we need to, we can even add a small heater along with someway to monitor the temperature inside to make sure it stays above freezing. If done right, I can tie that monitor and control into the main smart home system so I can check on it at any time, turn the heater on if I need to, or even get an alarm if something is wrong.

I do also plan to have a monitoring system for everything I can think of. Temperature and power outages are the most important, which means having something that can tell if power has gone down and notify me wherever I am to come check on it and repair it. I don’t know how many off grid housing systems have ethernet running all over the place, but ours certainly will.

Cost: I have no idea. This is going to require a lot more tinkering.

While I have to work on the gray water system, for now, this is pretty much a complete description of what our system will be like eventually.

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