There’s some pretty major family stuff up in our lives that is taking our focus, so please excuse our absence from posting much recently and in the coming weeks. We’ll update on that when more is known, but for now – I’m reposting something we did on water conseveration from before this blog was as widely read. Perhaps it will help instill confidence that you don’t have to use as much water as you think you do… Enjoy!
On board the Oliver, we have a fresh water tank that is 32.5 gallons, plus a hot water heater that holds an additional 6 gallons. Our grey water tank (which holds sink and shower dirty water) is 35.5 gallons and our black water (potty waste) is 18.5 gallons. The tank sizes, for the size of trailer we have, are actually quite large.
But obviously, 38.5 gallons of fresh water is not a huge amount either. When I lived in a traditional house, it was quite likely I used this much water for a single shower. For someone going to an off-grid event like Burning Man, they may do the math and say – wow, that’s 19 days worth of water! No problem.
Here’s how we conserve water when we’re living off-grid for extended periods of time:
Showers can easily account for most of our water usage. Obviously, you’re not going to be able to stand under hot flowing water for several minutes with this type of lifestyle.. at least, not often. I’ve gotten quite adept at taking a fulfilling 1-2 gallon shower. I turn on the water (usually capturing the initial cold water coming out of the tap into a jug to use for drinking water and/or toilet flushing later), give myself a good rinsing and then.. and here’s the big secret.. turn off the water! Our shower faucet has a quick button for turing the water on and off, while keeping the temperature settings intact. This makes it extra easy to not let the water flow when it doesn’t need to be.
I lather up with a little bath gel, not using anything other than my hands (as a rag, loofah or scrubby would take lots of extra water to rinse out). If I’m in the mood, I may shave my legs at this point. And then I rinse.
Notice I don’t shampoo my hair. I’ve actually not shampooed my hair since October 2007, and instead using a baking soda/apple cider vinegar routine once a week or so. Occasionally I will use a conditioner if I’m in a dry climate. My hair feels much more healthy than it ever did, and it really reduces my water needs, hygiene costs and environmental impact.
And when we’re in motion or living off grid, it’s not unusual for us to take a shower once every 2 or 3 days. We utilize Burning Man bathing (baby wipes) quite often, and use just enough water to wet my hair to comb through it. And the reality is, once I get past about 36 hour mark after my last shower, it’s quite natural feeling. I think here in America, we’ve gotten quite spoiled with our hygiene routines – you can look and smell great without taking a daily long steamy shower.
That’s not to say, that when the opportunity presents itself – I do indulge in a nice 3-5 minute long hot shower at a friend’s house or campground . It feels like downright luxury when it happens.
One of our tricks with dishwashing was following the advice of boating nomads I know. We got a dishpan that fits perfectly in our sink, and use that to do dishes in. And when in places where it’s allowed, we can then dump the greywater directly onto the ground instead of it going into our tank.
The dishpan makes it really obvious just how much water is being used. Again, the trick here is to turn off the water when not rinsing. We’ll often use paper towels to clean food debris off the plates as much as possible, rinse, spray sudsy water and then rinse again. A spray bottle with diluted dishsoap is extra helpful in conserving water and quickly applying soapy water. When needing to really conserve water, we’ll re-use rinse water for the initial rinse of the next dish. We’ve been able to do an entire load of dishes (which for us is usually a wok, two plates, two forks and two cups) with about 2 cups of water.
And of course, cooking with minimal dishes being made in the process is also key. I do most of my cooking with a single wok. And I try to avoid dishes that require boiling (such as noodles/rice) when we don’t have ample access to water. Avoiding dishes that leave behind a mess is also critical.
Teeth brushing / hand washing
Other big water users are brushing teeth and washing hands. The teeth brushing comes down to the very first water conservation lesson I remember having in the 3rd grade – turn off the water (notice this re-occurring theme). Hand washing is difficult because we don’t have on demand hot water (our heater is usually off, as we run it off propane most times – and it’s easy to waste a 1/2 gallon of water getting hot water out of the tap). For hand washing, we often combine cold water rinsing with sanitizing gel.
So how long do we last between dumping grey/black tanks and refilling fresh water? It’s been quite variable depending on what we’re doing. We’ve done Burning Man twice for 10-11 days with tank room and fresh water to spare (but were evaporating some of our grey water, and using the porta-potties). We’ve stayed 2-4 weeks in one location without access to a dump station, and did fine with supplementing using a real bathroom for part of that. I’d say in general – a week to two is easy to do without much thought. And we can eek out more when needed.
Any other tips for saving water when living off-grid?