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Regan Dixon
Posts: 133
Location: Zone 4b at 1000m, post glacial soil...British Columbia
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Conserving household water doesn't come naturally to me, as I have the good fortune to live beside a year-round, potable creek, its last stop before it hurls itself over a cliff, into a non-potable river.  I don't really see who or what would benefit from my non-consumption of water.  I tend to think that the vegetation downslope of my drainfield is better off when I use water, than when I don't.  At least pouring that water down the drain adds more of a meander of complexity to the creek's role in the hydrological cycle, than when it simply races to the sea. 

A gravity-fed water line runs to the house.  The not so good part about that is that from time to time, the water line will freeze in winter; usually for only a few days.  I have taken, and am taking, measures to correct this problem; but those measures are not the purpose of this meander.  My musings are about me adapting to having no running water for over six weeks, this winter. 

My own household needs can mostly be met with a stockpot of snow melting on the stove, which is already lit to heat the house.  As a lot of you know, a potful of powdery snow melts down to not-very-much water.  This year, I learned that instead of using up that little bit of water right away, if I instead take that big pot with its little bit of hot water back outside and pack it full of snow again, the hot water will cause the second filling to become dense slush as I pack the snow down, basically a full pot of water by the time it's done melting.  Two pot-filling sessions instead of many.  Why did this never occur to me, before?

You may be wondering why I did not just fill pails of water directly from the creek, even if it meant smashing away some ice.  Normally the ground is bare when the water line freezes (and also the reason why it freezes).  This year, there was good snow cover, which made for a treacherous trip back up the smooth, steep bank with a full, lidless bucket of water...do you see where this is going?  I will be making a set of stairs down to the creek, before next winter.

For the livestock, I caved in and filled carboys of water at work.  They go through amazing amounts of water.  But I was too stubborn to use that water for my own needs.  (I am sure there is material for someone's PhD thesis in psychiatry, here.)

I already had a humanure system going, which meant that there was no adjustment to make on that front.  And having a handwash basin of standing water is no different from camping.  Water that's no longer clean enough for face and hand washing, is still good enough for washing feet.  Having no sink plug and no bathroom countertop, the washbasin sat on the closed toilet seat lid, which meant a bit of back strain.  I was mentally redesigning the bathroom to function well without running water.  Something ironic, there. 

"Does my hair really need washing?"  I don't work in a filthy environment, and don't have oily hair, so no, my hair did not often need to be washed.  And then, hairwashing in front of a nice fire is sort of a luxury.  And the water left over from hair washing?  Wash shirts first, then socks and underwear.

Funny how I didn't prepare boiled foods very often, preferring frying or perhaps steaming, which uses only a little water. 

Funny how I decided to re-use my dishes throughout the day, rather than reach for clean ones.  Before washing, dishes were thoroughly degreased in the "dog cycle".  Then, scalding wash water, and warm rinse water poured into the largest bowl, then swished into the next largest bowl, until the smallest items were rinsed with whatever water hadn't been lost in the transferring. 

The water started running a day or two after I'd given up and laundered my large items elsewhere.  So I turned on the breaker for the big electric hot water tank, did dishes, washed the floor, and had a long, hot shower.  Then I wondered what to do with all the rest of that hot water on standby.  I was caught up with my washing needs.  The house was as clean as I cared to make it.  The pot on the woodstove held enough heated water to boil a big mess of potatoes and make a gallon of tea.  The critters had all the fresh, cool water they needed. 

What had I learned, then, over the six weeks without running water?
-I like having unlimited water, but it doesn't need to be running, and it doesn't need to be hot.
-If my woodstove is going, I probably don't need my hot water tank turned on.

How did this experience affect my permie goals?
-For summertime when I don't heat, I'd like to research the relative efficiencies of water heating with electric hot water tank, propane stove, and wood heater.  (Solar takes a heckuva long time.)
-For the laundry shed, which is an outdoor lean-to against the bathroom wall, I'm envisioning a rocket mass heater, perhaps, to give radiant heat to keep the plumbing pipes warm, rather than rely on a small electric heater (I did not design this house!); and to provide a hot surface for heating laundry water, once the hot water tank bites the dust; and for my human comfort, once the washing machine bites the dust--at least it doesn't complain about cold hands from cold laundry water--and to help dry said laundry, as one spin-off benefit; and to prove to my doubting friend that it can be done, as another benefit.

I find it interesting that six weeks of no water has led to a to-do list involving a stairway build, research into alternative water heating methods, and a laundry shed rebuild with rocket mass heater, but no plan to bury the water line any deeper.
 
Travis Johnson
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Regan, I know your intent was not to start a discussion on trying to prevent the water line from freezing, but I believe you have the solution to your problems right on premise.

We have a waterline going out to our house and there is a certain spot that despite insulation and burial, it is not low enough to prevent freezing. This is frustrating, so we take a bucket load of sheep manure and place over that spot in the line. It has never froze since doing this, the manure and hay bedding causing the area to warm up and stay running.

We do not have a lot of manure over the spot, may 2-3 wheelbarrow fulls, but it gets VERY cold here, we are talking -10 to -20 below (f) and it has yet to freeze. I am not sure if you have a tractor or not, nor do I know the length of your pipe, but maybe you could layer the pipe with your animal manure and prevent the line from freezing? (I might stay back from the stream edge so you manure does not foul it, which may mean burying your line a bit deeper there, but a wee bit of digging is better than a lot.

Just a suggestion! If you think it is silly, carry on my friend! I admire your ability to live without!
 
Regan Dixon
Posts: 133
Location: Zone 4b at 1000m, post glacial soil...British Columbia
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Thank you, Travis.  It's good to remember that burying something deeper, doesn't automatically equate to digging a deeper trench.  Piling materials on top can accomplish the same thing.  (Why had I forgotten that?)  After thaw, a neighbour with good water juju is willing to come over to "sense" where the problem spot is, so I can place soiled bedding effectively.  Mostly the water line runs away from the creek; worst case, I would have to cross-ditch the driveway to divert compost runoff toward appreciative plants.  I need to do that anyhow, to reduce the muddiness at the bottom of the driveway.
 
Travis Johnson
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Regan Dixon wrote:Thank you, Travis.  It's good to remember that burying something deeper, doesn't automatically equate to digging a deeper trench.  Piling materials on top can accomplish the same thing.  (Why had I forgotten that?)  After thaw, a neighbour with good water juju is willing to come over to "sense" where the problem spot is, so I can place soiled bedding effectively.  Mostly the water line runs away from the creek; worst case, I would have to cross-ditch the driveway to divert compost runoff toward appreciative plants.  I need to do that anyhow, to reduce the muddiness at the bottom of the driveway.


Oh Regan, you are too hard on yourself. I am a bulldozer guy so it comes as second nature to me!

This past fall I got a job at clearing 18 acres of pasture. On the pasture was 4 huge mounds of earth. People said it would take 5 years for the pasture to look good, it actually took 5 weeks, 38 working days. I never had to remove all the earth, I merely had to push half of it over.

When a 4 foot area has to be made level, a truck driver hauls in 4 feet of fill on the low side. An excavator operator digs out 4 feet on the high side, but a bulldozer operator cuts 2 feet from the high side and puts it on the low side so they only have to move half as much soil to get a level area.

I am glad my idea might be of use to you.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/email
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