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10 Things Learned While Living Without Water

One of the most difficult thing I see for me is getting land, then figuring out my bathroom.  This is a great list from a guy who recently had his well go kaput on him and was waterless for 15 days.  The insights are pretty good and pretty funny too.  With Tiny Houses when you are off the grid your whole attitude has to change when it comes to resources, because they are scare and they take so much energy to secure.  So here it is.

10. Toilets are an engineering marvel: By keeping a bucket of water handy, we almost got use to manually filling the toilet tank whenever it needed flushing. I appreciate the fact that you can still flush a toilet this old-fashioned way in a pinch, and I can hardly believe that in this technological age someone hasn’t invented a “new and improved” toilet that would make it impossible to do so. Still, most older toilets use more water than is really necessary, so keep a water-filled plastic soda bottle in the tank to limit the excess.

9. Never take water for granted: Access to water — particularly safe drinking water — is truly a matter of life or death. Yet more than one billion people, nearly one out of every seven individuals on Earth, have an insufficient supply of potable water. Nonprofit organizations like Drop in the Bucket are working to solve that problem, and they deserve our donations and other support.

8. Clothes don’t really need to be washed so often: We went the entire two-plus weeks without doing any laundry, when normally we’d probably have done at least a couple of loads. And you know what? Our clothes and other linens still smelled and looked fine. Laundering clothes less often not only saves water and energy, but it also makes clothing last longer — and that all adds up to a closet full of financial savings.

7. I have the best wife on the planet: Of course, after 27 years of marriage (or, as Denise says, “almost three and half good years”), I already knew this. But my mate showed her true grit (not to be confused with her “true grittiness”) as she helped me clear a patch of land where the well could be drilled and kept her sense of humor throughout the entire waterless siege. Boy do I love that woman.

6. Remodeling an outdated bathroom doesn’t look like a financial priority post-drought: We’ve been meaning to remodel our bathroom, since it’s looking rather dated. But once you’ve lived without running water, you realize that functionality — and not fashion — is the important thing. Besides, I’m pretty sure avocado-colored bathroom fixtures will eventually come back into vogue, and then we’ll be ahead of trend.

5. You don’t need as much water in the kitchen as you might think: Without a flowing tap at the ready, we found that we could easily cut down on the amount of water we normally use — and waste — in the kitchen. Potatoes and pasta cooked just fine in about half the amount of water we typically use, and the still scalding water used to soft boil eggs in the morning was poured directly into a dishpan to scrub up the dishes from dinner the night before (later rinsed, of course). Even washing the kitchen floor with a small bucket of water and a handheld sponge rather than a mop saved us at least a couple of gallons.

4. Individual bottles of water are a sinful waste of resources: We never buy bottled water (heck, I’m so cheap I don’t even buy bottled wine); even during our recent dry-spell, we just filled pots and buckets at the neighbor’s house. But one day some friends — attempting to be kind — dropped off four cases of individual 500 ml bottles of water. We graciously accepted, and for the first time in our lives relied pretty much on those as our daily drinking water. We were horrified to see the plastic carnage that was created, literally overflowing our recycling bin within a few days. The amount of oil used to manufacture disposable water bottles for the U.S. market would fuel more than 100,000 cars for a year. If you drink only bottled water, on average you’ll spend more than $1,000 per year to get your recommended daily amount of H2O, as opposed to just 49 cents for a year’s supply of just as healthy tap water.

3. Cold water is so much better than no water, and HOT water is very, very special: It’s amazing how many things you normally use hot water for that can be done just as well using cold (e.g. shaving, washing clothes, dishes, etc.). When you have to heat up every drop of hot water you use on the stovetop, you learn to cherish it. About 15% of total home heating costs is attributable to heating water for domestic use, and that expense can easily be cut in half through

2. The Earth is an amazing place — but it needs our help: Call me naïve, but I was awestruck by the fact they you can drill a hole in your backyard (at least where we live) and be guaranteed by Mother Nature that you’ll eventually hit a plentiful, pure supply of water. Silly me, I expected a celebratory scene like out of There Will Be Blood when the drillers struck water at around 400 feet. Instead, the moment passed without so much as comment. But on an ominous note, Bob, the sixtyish foreman, told me that when he started out in the business, the water table where we live was at around 200 feet, only about half the depth of today, depleted by rampant development going on in the area. I vow to never water my lawn again.

1. Never look at yourself in a mirror when taking a sponge bath: Sponge bathes get the job done, sort of, but if you ever catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror while taking one, you might just realize that the lack of running water is the least of your problems.

  1. Hi,
    Very good post, so many people post about the subject and know nothing about living off the grid. You are obviously speaking from experience. Over the last 16 years we have went through 2 hand pumps just like the one pictured above. We carry water to our house which is only a few steps. but… later this year we should finally have our solar water well pump operational, living off the grid has been wonderful and we would not change a thing.
    Keep on with the tiny life,
    All the best,
    Les and Jane

  2. That’s a most excellent list and a very insightful post.

    I have a little cabin I spend a few months per year at and it doesn’t have a ready water source except for the river which is 1/4 mile away. I have learned to live on 2 gallons of water per day while there. That takes care of drinking, coffee, cooking, water for my dog, and washing the dishes. I don’t have to do laundry because I never stay there over a week at a time. I heat the water for washing in a solar water heating bag I got at Target for $10. It only takes about 3 hours in the sun to get very, very hot.

    When back in the city, it amazes me how much water I waste. I have read that the average American “uses” 100 gallons per day, that would last me 50 days at my casita.


  3. “Cold water is so much better than no water, and HOT water is very, very special”


    A great post to remind me of just how much abundance I have in my home in the form of flowing taps and flushing toilets!

  4. The timing of this article is just off-the-charts synchronistic for me, as the well where I live developed technical difficulties just last night!!!

    My “landlord” doesn’t want to pay weekend repair rates, so I’m “without” water til Monday at least. Fortunately, I once lived in a cabin in Vermont without running water or electric for 2 months (but heck I was 21 at the time).

    I put “without” in quotations because I do have a clean seasonal creek running right next to my home. Great for cleaning and flushing. I also keep drinking water in gallon jugs to get through maybe a week without well water. But not having a HOT shower every morning – that’s almost too much to bear 🙂

    BTW – I agree with points 10-2, but number 1 just simply is not true for everyone 😀 LOL!

    PS – I understand now why the Earthship Biotechture system only uses water cachement systems, never wells. Just one more reason why I want to live in a Tiny Earthship <3

  5. Great post Ryan. Very good reminder of how valuable water is for all those that tend to forget. We take a lot of care of water where I live.

    My wife grew up in this town where water was scarce most of the time and now, although water is more available, we still use it with care and efficiently.

    Could the guy you say wrote this be Jeff Yeager? The bottled wine thing sounded familiar.

  6. I have lived without running water for two years now.
    I haul in 15 gallons of drinking water every two weeks, water for washing dishes and mopping floors and bathing comes from collecting rainwater. Soapy dish water is reused to water plants, rinse water is reused to mop floors.
    Using a sawdust toilet system eliminates that water problem.
    Living without running water can be done and it’s not as difficult as you might think. We’ve all just become a bit spoiled….

  7. We’ve lived without it for 11 years, both on and off grid. We have a spring about 100 yards from the house. We use a gasoline pump to pump water to a storage tank where we use buckets to bring it into the cabin as needed. Hot water is heated either with propane on the stove in the cabin or with a solar thermosiphon heater. Laundry is done with a washboard and the toilet is a sawdust composting toilet. We use a slow sand filter for drinking and cooking water. We mastered the art of the 5-gallon bucket bath long ago. 🙂 I figure the extra work keeps me strong. Weight bearing exercise if good for middle-aged ladies. LOL

  8. They spend 15% of their energy on heating water! Why not a cheap home made solar water heater assuming the climate allows for it? An old fashioned max flow shower head with a manual timer (chain pull) allows a complete drenching with minimum water for 30 seconds (not as little as a sponge bath perhaps) for soaping up and another 30 seconds for a reasonable rinse. Beats the heck out of a 15 minute shower with a low flow shower head.

  9. I want to thank you for this article. This past winter in my mobile home (not tiny, and not efficient) the water here (I live in Oswego NY) froze not for a few days, but almost 2 months solid. I had to rely on bottle water, until as you mentioned, the mess horrified me. Buckets of water weren’t an option, but changing to refillable 10 gallon water jugs was. Bathing was once a week at a good friend’s house, and laundry was washed once a month at the laundry mat. The entire thing has pushed me even farther into the camp of people who is decided to go smaller as soon as possible.

    • I too was waterless for a winter. Having a modular
      Spec home put in by a BAD lieing company from your way. I was living in a RV trailer(7 dogs). Had to drain the water lines after T-day. I had power & heated my face cloth in Mirco for 10 sec. After that, I still do as the demand water heater is so far away from the bath sink. It wastes so much water to get TO the sink, for what? a cup of hot water?
      My last house design has all water set ups very close together & near hot water heater.

  10. “When you have to heat up every drop of hot water you use on the stovetop, you learn to cherish it. About 15% of total home heating costs is attributable to heating water for domestic use, and that expense can easily be cut in half through” Sorry to sound ungrateful, but where is the rest of #3? Btw great post.

  11. nowadays, we are seeing some water shortage and water conservation is even more necessary,..

    • Charlotte NC just got out of a 2 year drought, it was pretty bad

  12. I’ve been going through some changes following cancer treatments. And I find taking a bath is fine if I’m going to the doctor. Otherwise, I change clothes maybe once a month, bathe once every 6 months (but wash my hair once per month), but keep trash and garbage to zero. I never go anywhere thanks to most free delivery deals from Walmart and Amazon – and several other outlets. When ordering things, I have tons of time to check prices and then I buy for the Free Shipping dollar level. So I don’t have to worry about silly stuff at the grocery when it’s delivered free. For me to go grocery shopping would take 2 days of recuperation of rest leaving bags of groceries in my car until tomorrow. I have learned over the time following Chemo & Radiation that I can survive as cheaply (AS CHEAPLY) as I’ve ever lived. Taking a Bath? If you check the history you’ll find that most people dismissed that daily bath before the 1900s. And the old adage, “Bath? It isn’t Saturday, is it?” was a factual idea. If you lived in Chicago in the 50s, you know that in most housing/apartment places, that hot water was a time-based luxury. And to get a good warm bath once a week was the American Way !! To believe in the commercials of body washes, shampoos, body-enhancing soaps and treatments is fine if you’re a person that wants to Smell. I prefer no smell at all. So I wash myself with periodically with antibacterials designed for military and scientific personnel lacking the sauna and swimming pool in our back yard. It works perfect well according to my socialize, tax-payer medical here in the US. (I refer to, by the way, as the Veteran’s Administration’s Healthcare System hospitals – – the perfectly established American socialized medical facility).

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