Water without plumbing

It was -21°F with wind chill this morning…again.  There was frost on the INside of the yurt door…

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Josh decided to make banana bread, just to add some more heat:

How do you get a stick of butter to “room temperature” in this place? Everything but the woodstove is about as cold as the inside of the refrigerator.

These were the kind of days that I expected would be the hardest when not having any plumbing.  Because not having plumbing means we must venture outside no matter the weather.  As Josh brought in more firewood this morning, I carried out the 5 gallon bucket of dishwater, then pumped and carried in 13 gallons of fresh water for drinking and washing.  And as I pumped that water I thought how not only is this still okay, it is great.  The cold gets into your breathing and your fingertips start to turn cold even through your gloves…  But the air is so very fresh outside, everything crisp and beautiful.  And it feels good to be moving instead of cooped up inside.  I do look forward to it warming up, certainly.  But this weather doesn’t have me regretting our lack of plumbing…yet.

In the beginning of our dreaming about a move we never imagined we’d ever not have plumbing.  Because, really, that seemed ludicrous living in these times.  Way back when we first contemplated the idea we were met with straight out incredulity.  Why would anyone, without being forced to, go without the comfort and convenience of water running from faucets, into and out of toilets, into and out of bathtubs, into and out of washing machines?

We didn’t take a straight line away from our last house with 3 bathrooms, kitchen sink, dishwasher, refrigerator water dispenser, showers, bathtub, washing machine, outdoor hoses.  The first step we took in deciding if we could simplify was considering life without a dishwasher.  And that might have been the biggest step, the first tipping point.  Wasn’t the dishwasher such a huge timesaver? We go through so many dishes…  How could we possibly do without it?  But somehow, inexplicably, the idea grew on us.  I love to wash dishes, to feel the warm water and systematically take a pile from dirty to clean.  Many times the dishes that came out of the dishwasher had to be recleaned, had scarring on them, or soap residue stuck to them.  Yes, we could do without a dishwasher.

And then the house we stayed at while waiting for our house to sell, the house Josh’s grandfather had built 25 years ago, had more to teach us about plumbing.  We witnessed the septic system failing, the leach field becoming a swampy, foul-smelling mess, a washing machine overflow and break down, a toilet leak and stop flushing, the well pump going kaput and being replaced, pipes bursting when the heater failed…  These “conveniences” were causing an awful lot of inconvenience that required myriad expensive people who knew how to fix them to get involved.

Of course this isn’t a usual year in most modern houses, this many things failing at once.  But it was enough to push us over the edge into thinking that a year or two without plumbing just might be okay…

The first step was making a humanure-style compost toilet (more on this later).  The next step was getting a water source on our land.  Even if we didn’t have plumbing run into our temporary yurt, we still needed a way to get access to water.  We decided to have a well drilled and planned to put a Bison hand water pump on top.  I was nervous that we might have a problem with the well being too deep for a hand pump to work.  So to add any possible advantage, we went out to the land one day with dowsing rods in hand…  We all took a turn dowsing, and the rods kept crossing in the same spot for all of us.  So we put a stake in and the well company came out and drilled in that very spot.

It’s possible the dowsing worked too well…  We did not have to worry about the well being too deep.  Instead, we had water constantly pouring out the top of the well!  Apparently it was a true artesian well, where the pressure from underground causes the water to be forced up to the top.  This seemed like it might be a good thing, too much water, until we realized that a hand pump could not go on top of such a well or the water that was above ground would freeze.  Not to mention that the ground all around the well was becoming a muddy mess with the water constantly flowing out.

So a trench was dug and a pipe attached to the well under frost level to run the excess water off down the hill.

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This was the water source we used when we first moved into the yurt.  I always wanted to turn it off after filling our buckets, but the water just keeps coming.  And now the deer are constantly in our yard, gathered where this water flows to drink.  We don’t really know what to do with it at this point, but are hoping this summer’s permaculture course provides some ideas.  The children are lobbying for a duck pond.

Once the overflow was diverted, we were then able to put the Bison hand pump on top of the well.

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Josh built a cedar platform around it (circular of course…)

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And this is where we pump water from every day, many times a day!  The Blue Hill Co-op gave us several food grade buckets that get filled and stacked in the kitchen.  We use them to fill a ceramic crock that sits by our kitchen sink, complete with a spout for “running water.”

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Water from the kitchen sink goes down the drain and collects in a five gallon bucket that gets taken outside when filled.

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We fill our Big Berkey water filter for our drinking water.

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We fill an enamel pitcher and a little copper pitcher in the bathroom for wash water.

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Water goes into and gets hauled back out of the galvanized bath tub.

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Water coming in and out, in and out, day after day.  I imagined it’d get old quickly, especially in this kind of weather.  Not yet.  I’m not sure why, whether it is the simplicity of it, the rhythm of it, the way it forces us outside, stronger arms, the empowerment of it…  There will never need to be a specialist called in at this point.  No part of it can “fail” unless we fail to bring in water or bring it out again.  Or from user error on our part, like when someone poured water into the kitchen sink without the drain stopper in while someone else was outside in the process of pouring the bucket out…

18 thoughts on “Water without plumbing

  1. Stay warm my friends! I’ve been thinking about you guys this week and it’s not nearly -21 here. I’m impressed you’ve only had 1 kitchen mess. I’m fairly certain this would be a common occurrence for me as I’d forget I had a 5 gallon limit!

    • I didn’t mention all of the messes as my less-than-graceful self tries to pour the buckets of clean water into crocks, water filters, kettles… The floor gets unexpectedly cleaned quite often! 🙂

  2. Brrrr! I remember the sound of a full bucket of water under the sink! I love your sentiment about a breath of fresh air, it is the same I feel each morn and night taking care of the chickens! Don’t forget that soapstone bed warmer! Warm hugs!!!

  3. Having read your latest and now sitting in my comfortable chair with Izzie putting off her heat, a couple of thoughts occur to me.

    1. I greatly appreciate the description of your families encouner with the cold. True, the freshness of the chilly morning air and the tingling in fingertips tell me I am “fully” allive! Yes cold has it’s inconveniences. Nonetheless we are the privilidged in the world! More than half the world lives in conditions far worse
    than we. More than half the world has no running water, toilets and poor sanitary conditions.

    Two weeks ago Pilar and I were in Colombia and for 4 days lived in a indigenous community of Arhawak who live w/o running water, W/o toilets and w/o conveniences of the modern world. They are a happy, healthy ppeople even though I would call many of their day to day living habits in unsanitary and unhealthy living conditions. These people were in Colombia before Columbus! Today their threat is not themselves but the White Christian “modern” culture. Honestly, I missed a clean toilet with a toilet seat and toilet paper. I missed a shower and the confidence kknowing the water I was using was sanitaryy and clean.

    2. Youu & Josh have chosen your lifestyle. You are not stuck “forever’ like so many otheres who are stuck in the poor living conditions.
    You & Josh are not stuck and your conditions are not uunsanitary or poor…..only inconvenient according to “our” familiar standards.

    Intend no criticism…only affirmation for the journey you are on. Your blog and wonderful pics touched the nerve of privilide vs poverty; being stuck vs. poverty
    Write on I look for the next intallment!

    Blessings & Peace,


    • Indeed. Even as we’ve stepped back in the ways that we have, we are still very much aware of how connected we are to the privileged world we live in, and how much we depend on it – our access to food beyond what we can grow, to schooling we feel good about, to gas for our cars (for those long car rides to family… :)), my ability to work from anywhere, not to mention access to the knowledge that teaches us how to live this way, access to the Internet to be able to connect to people making water pumps, fabric yurts, water filters…

      What sticks out to me is the idea that the Arhawak people are happy and healthy. They are living these simple lives, lifestyles that have sustained for generation upon generation, and are happy and healthy. It’s unfortunate that in our land of privilege so very many people would not be described as happy or healthy, and not just those who live in poverty. So many people seem stuck in a lifestyle that does not feed their soul or their bodies, but instead feeds their mortgage and the trappings that are taken as the norm in this modern world.

  4. My husband and I are enjoying your blog so much! We are very interested in voluntary simplicity, and your family is a shining example! When I first told him that I found a blog by a woman who recently moved into a yurt with her family, he was really interested. When he sat down to read it, he said, “WHOA, they live in MAINE!”. I asked him where he thought you guys lived, and he said down south, somewhere much warmer! But I’m with you, I love that cold, crisp weather. I’ve lived in New England my whole life and I just love it. I imagine your children as adults with this wonderful experience to tell the world about and all the memories they will have of this exceptional childhood. Thank you for sharing your journey, I am touched by the positivity in your words and the brave spirit of your family!

    • Thank you Lisa! I am so glad to be a resource, as it wasn’t always easy finding them when we were setting out on this path. And that is just too funny about your husband’s reaction. I couldn’t imagine doing this anywhere else! Dare I say I’m maybe even more hesitant to see what it’s like in the summer, hearing that it can get very hot in a bubble in the sun! I might be wishing for that New England cold back again. 🙂

      • I wouldn’t want to go back to that way of living. That’s pretty close to how I grew up. Yours is more sanitary, but only wood heat and the galvanized tub is the same. We won’t even talk about the bathroom situation. It was better in the woods, when you have 10 people in the house! At least you have a good water supply. We had a shallow dug well that went dry every summer. Don’t you dare flush that thing. The woods was a better option! I’ve grown way to fond of those creature comforts to go back, unless I had to. I still enjoy heating mostly with wood, about 99%.

      • I still wonder sometimes how we ended up living like this, even after I grew up hearing how it was for you growing up. Those stories certainly never made me think I wanted to try to live without a good supply of running water, ha! But I imagine it makes a big difference having the kind of resources we have now, to do a google search and figure out how to create a sanitary no water toilet that doesn’t make you want to run into the woods. And it also makes a BIG difference when that toilet and the galvanized tub are in use for two adults and two little people, instead of TEN! Goodness, I can’t even imagine. 🙂 I can’t say I’ve completely written off creature comforts either, because boy did I enjoy have a running hot water shower when I visited last weekend! The shower might be the thing I miss most. Here’s hoping the solar shower we plan to build this summer does the trick! It’s at least a step up from the tub. 🙂

  5. I have tears in my eyes reading this. what a beautiful and simplistic solution! your blog is definitely going to be re-visited in the coming months as my small family (3 of us!) plans for our big move into our little yurt!!

  6. hey there!

    we live in a yurt too, moved in last month, and i devised a system just about the same as yours in terms of dish doing. however, i’m getting pretty frustrated getting our bigger pots under the spigot. part of it is that we had a double basin sink that i jigsawed in half to make a sink basin that is just not deep enough for our pots. although, i’ve been thinking up some little stand for the sink crock so that the spigot is higher up. any suggestions?

    we’re in coastal washington, it doesn’t ever get that cold here. although we did have an ice storm a couple years ago that had everything dangerously slippery for a week.

  7. Hi! what Berkey do you have? I have a royal berkey and was interested in that water stand you have I was wondering if it would fit, do you know the name of the stand or where you got it from? Thank you!

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