First Year Off Grid Living in an RV: Our Water Solution

One very common question that is raised when discussing our our off grid journey is “What are you doing for water?” This topic conjures fear, or at least anxiety, in many people unless you’ve done this before, and for good reason! We need water to survive and can only go a few days without it. We also see that a lot of folks really don’t know where to start and what it means to have the water you need versus the endless supply of city utility. We’d like to share  a solution that’s working for us and hope it helps you find your own solution.

When you first dream of living off the grid and having a homestead, you dream up all sorts of crazy ideas. We envisioned buying 5-10 acres of land on a year-round creek with water rights or a natural spring, having a thick, beautiful forest with enough lumber to build an entire house without the forest looking bare, lush soil for growing endless food, a spot for a pasture to raise livestock, a view (a southern view at that for the solar potential), not too far off a county road so that we wouldn’t be responsible for plowing too much of a driveway (for starters), good drainage for septic, within our price range, and that the owner was willing to carry the contract.

Before we put an offer in on our property, we were admiring this river, and secretly (or not so secretly) hoping that we could find a lot that had similar river frontage.
Before we put an offer in on our property, we were admiring this river, and secretly (or not so secretly) hoping that we could find a lot that had similar river frontage.

Sound familiar?

While we all have our perfect dream of what starting a homestead or living off grid should look like, the reality is that unless you’re the 1%, your first property won’t have everything that you want. In fact you’ll likely end up working the pros/cons list pretty hard to decide what you’re willing to give up and can live without.

Bringing that fantasy back to the point of this article; we don’t have a natural free flowing source of water on our property. While everyone wants these, they aren’t everywhere and even then they aren’t all rainbows and unicorns. When you’re property hunting on a budget expect to make sacrifices. So we have a few options, one of which is drilling a well to tap the aquifer.

Water front property is romantic (if you even have rights to the water), but at what cost?
Water front property is romantic (if you even have rights to the water), but at what cost?

The problem is that drilling a well costs money, and potentially a lot of it! When you’re first starting out, financing your off grid projects is often one of the biggest challenges. Wells can run $3,000 to $15,000+ and it all really depends on how far down you need to drill. While you can look at other wells in the area to make an educated guess as to how far down you will need to drill to hit the water table, nothing is guaranteed. Then add in the pump, pressure tank, getting power to the pump, pipe, fittings, insulation… you get the idea!

We chose not to drill a well yet (we will address this concern at the end of the article). We did find a solution for water that is working, is simple and meets our needs. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Glamour and ego aside we’re after meeting our basic needs at this point.

Our Basic Off Grid Water System for Our RV

The first month living on our land, we took our travel trailer to get water and dump the septic every five days or so. This was inconvenient, exhausting, and actually took a lot of time, keeping us from getting important work done on the property. I think we were just foggy-brained due to the move and the fast-pace of life, because it didn’t even occur to us right away that we could bring the water in! While that seems obvious now we had a lot going on and we were looking for a proper solution not a temporary fix. Sometimes we overthink things (okay we do this a lot!) and make life harder than it needs to be.

Taking our trailer to the septic dump every 5 days was really, really inconvenient.
Taking our trailer to the septic dump and to get water every 5 days was really, really inconvenient. I can’t stress that enough.

We were shopping one day for a few things and in walking past the RV department in the store a light bulb went on that we could maybe find some water jugs. We looked and looked, but found nothing that was a good fit. We even asked at several hardware stores with no luck. They kept offering us buckets… BUCKETS?

Some time later we were shopping again and decided to look around a bit and VOILA! we ran into some camping canteens. These were rugged 6-gallon water jugs with a removable nozzle at the end. With 4 of them we could easily fill up the 25 gallon water tank in our 19″ Fun Finder RV. We had to use a funnel to make it work, but it was manageable.

watet2

The Cost of Our Solution

One of the most attractive qualities to this rudimentary solution is the low cost. These 6-gallon water jugs are just $20/piece. We ended up buying eight of them, so our total cost was $160.00 to have our water needs completely taken care of.

At first, we hesitated getting a bunch of jugs in case we were able to come up with a different solution in the meantime. It didn’t happen. Investing in these water jugs is not money down the drain- we could likely resell these, put them to use on our homestead, keep them as backups or even just use them as easy-to-access water storage when we are done with them.

Water is 25 cents (it’s coin operated) in town for more water than we can handle (rumor is 400 gallons, but we’ve never had enough need to find out). We fill up our water jugs maybe six times a month, so our water bill is about $1.50/month. This is a water station provided by the city and is used by a large number of off-grid households who don’t have water provisions. It’s also used by the fairgrounds for livestock during rodeos and other events, so it’s a nice public service and is available all year around.

water1

How We Took This a Bit Further

We did have one small pain point with our solution… even though we could both easily lift and transport the 6-gallon water jugs when they were full, it was somewhat difficult to do the initial hoist into the air, and it it took a lot of muscle control to hold the jug steadily as to get as much water into the tank as possible. Due to the design of the water tank inlet, we had to pour slowly which mean even a greater strain on our muscles! We’ve said it before; we don’t want to risk injury, especially when this is a task we need to do pretty much daily. Apparently no one who designs RV’s intends for water to be added by hand?!? Who knew!

Jesse looked through a few of our reclaimed materials and found some basic parts to create a gravity-fed system for filling up our tank. It entails a short water hose (more on how we ended up with this hose in a minute), two funnels and a small shelf to set the jug on while it drains. With this in place, all we need to do is attach the end of the hose to the water jug spout, lift it onto the shelf with one big lift, and come back when it’s done or when we remember to add another jug.

gravity-fed-system

I do have to be honest… the height of the shelf makes it difficult for me to lift the jug. When I was a practicing rock climber I had a lot more upper body strength, but not climbing any more it’s faded a bit. Once, I tried my best but my lack of muscle control caused the full jug to fall on my face just as it was about to settle on the shelf. But the important thing to note is that I am capable one way or another of filling the water tank by myself if Jesse isn’t available. Something we needed in case he ever needs to leave for a while for any reason.

Pros to Our Solution

The benefits to this type of solution may not be obvious to others and to some it doesn’t seem thought out at all, but some of the reasons why this works so well include:

  • Cost-effective: Reducing costs when going off grid is a something you have to be diligent about. Not only did this cost us under $200 to set up ($180 for the water jugs and less than $20 for both funnels), but our monthly water bill is under $2.00/month. Not only that, but we didn’t have to fork out thousands of dollars for a well yet which is important because we had a million other things to spend money on… things we deemed more important such as installing our septic system.
    Mmm... water! If only having a water spiggot on your property when you arrived was simple!
    Mmm… water! If only having a water spigot on your property when you arrived was simple!
  • Lightweight: Some folks think that bigger is better when it comes to water storage. In our case, smaller jugs are actually better because we can both lift them with enough ease. If we went larger than six gallon jugs, it would be difficult to lift them in and out of the car, drain them into the water tank, and move them about in general. 6 gallons is about 48-50 lbs. It’s heavy, but manageable. We found some 7 gallon jugs. Believe it or not, that added gallon makes this an injury risk. So 6 gallons it is!water4
  • Don’t need a trailer or vehicle for a water tank: Some think that it’s a better idea to go with say a 250-400 gallon truck, livestock or IBC tank, but this would be too heavy (2000-3500 lbs!) for our utility tralier, and we use the back of our truck for storage nor do we want to drive it in the inclement weather during winter to get water. Our Subaru also would not tow that heavy of a load, so you can see quickly that we would need to buy a new vehicle or a more suitable heavy-duty trailer… both would cost money and would be short-term solutions… aka poor investments.
    Transporting water for our off grid homestead
    A water/supply run is easy in our Subaru
  • Keeping your water from freezing: It’s still funny to us when we talk about keeping thawed out and people usually respond with “Oh why not just use INSERT OBJECT WHICH REQUIRES POWER“. For example, “Oh it’s easy to keep an RV from freezing. My parents did it in -40 F in Nebraska. All they did was use heat tape.” WHICH REQUIRES POWER!So yet another problem with many water solutions is that freeze ups come into the picture. While a truck tank or even an above ground storage tank sound awesome, we’ve had 10 day stretches at 0 deg F. Keeping anything from freezing at that temp without electricity is challenging. During super cold snaps, we keep our water near the wood stove in our cabin addition to keep it from freezing up. This has worked well. A few times we mistakenly left it close to the walls which resulted in some slushing in the jugs, but getting it near the fire we were able to thaw them back out. Not a perfect solution, but workable.water-wood-stove
  • Fits our current routine: We run into town 1-2x per week for errands, checking the mail, getting propane or fuel for the generator, doing laundry, etc. so when we are in town, we simply swing by the local watering hole and fill up any empty jugs. Usually it’s 5-6 jugs at a time. It ads an extra 10 minutes to our trip and we never have to leave strictly for a water run.

How much water can you expect to use?

This is actually a very important number to have as it makes this type of water solution viable. We had spent hours reading and doing “calculations” on things like power needs, water needs before we arrived to our off grid property. However until you’re actually living off grid you simply can’t know what your needs will be. So now we can actually share some rough figures!

We had some experience with water conservation already.

If you’ve read our prior posts you know we spent several weeks car camping as we we searching for an area to homestead and selecting an off grid property. During this time we used four 1-gallon water jugs and these would last us conservatively about 2 days. We used them for drinking water, cooking food and doing dishes at the campsite. Each time we were in town, getting fuel or at a park we’d top them off. So we sort of had a rough idea that we’d like need more than 4 gal/day, but weren’t sure exactly how much.

Grr... that mini van and the people that came in it!
Grr… that mini van and the people that came in it!

Our Current Water Usage

Currently, on average, we use about 2 jugs (12 gallons) per day. This means we can go about 4 days before needing to refill our water jugs. We’ve been at the consumption level for 3 months now, so it’s VERY consistent. Some days we don’t use that much, but the days we both shower (we take full showers on average every other day and a quick rinse daily). We also do dishes at least 2 times per day with breakfast and dinner. We flush our toilet generously to help the rv waste tanks dump easier. Based on our usage when car camping and when we first arrived this consumption level isn’t being overly conservative.

Long-Term Plans

While this is working now, it is not what we want to stick with forever (obviously!). Clearly once we start building we’ll need water for concrete. Once we have a garden we’ll need water for that and many more things. This isn’t the end-all off grid water post. It’s a getting started water post! Here is what we want to do over the next couple of years, in order of preference (we think).

  1. Get a cement cistern buried on the hillside: A plastic above-ground tank isn’t ideal for many of the reasons mentioned above. We want to go for a solid solution. We were hoping to have a 3,000 gallon concrete tank or so on the hillside so that we can have a gravity-fed system in place already, but it wasn’t meant to be before winter hit. Super low tech!The problem is that we need to find a contractor that is willing to do this for us which surprisingly has been difficult. The tanks are easy to come by, but putting it on a hill isn’t so straightforward. With winter here it’s just that much more difficult. Ideally, we’ll have a local water trucking service deliver water once every 3-6 months which we’ve priced out to be about $150/visit. We’ve considered hauling our own water and installing our own cistern. We still have many options and decisions ahead of us.
  2. Drill a well: Because this is such a variable, and large, expense, it’s not really an urgent priority. We then hope to have a solar-powered well pump that will fill the cistern when there is sun. This would be a very passive system instead of “on-demand” which would require far less power and much less stress on components.
  3. Install a back-up manual pump: Last on the priority list would be installing some sort of manual well pump so that if all else failed, we’d have a rudimentary way to get our water. This could be timed well so that we would have around 7 children capable of pumping the well round-the-clock (we kid… hopefully you know us well enough by now!).
  4. Rain collection: This is on the list, but it’s reliant on many other things like building our timber frame barn. So while we have a lot of precipitation now we don’ t have the means to collect, store, filter and access it. So in time, this will be a fun project! One thing at a time. :)

Why didn’t we choose other water solutions? Let’s take a look.

Small Water Tanks (Truck Tanks, IBC Containers, etc.)

When trying to solve the problem of holding up the water jug while filling our RV tank, Jesse had brainstormed a few ideas to solve the problem. One was putting a small tank in the attic of our small cabin addition and letting gravity do the work but there were numerous problems including: fitment, filling the tank would have had it’s own challenges and yet again we would need to spend several hundred dollars on a temporary solution.

Lots of folks suggested getting a livestock tank or IBC tank. All good ideas! We looked at them at they’re affordable, portable and have a much larger capacity.

Except… we don’t have a way to keep things form freezing that are exposed. We don’t intend to burn our wood stove all winter unless the temps drop lower than 25 F. Thus we’d have to consume more wood or risk freezing up. In fact we haven’t run the wood stove for nearly two weeks except to remove moisture in the cabin, thus conserving resources.

Mechanical Pumps

One day we were in a hardware store for some other items and put the problem to the gentlemen helping us. He suggested using a drill pump. The idea hadn’t occurred to us and seemed like a great idea with low cost. We had recently purchased a Makita drill kit and could easily pump without the heavy lifting.

So we grabbed a potable water hose (mentioned earlier), the pump and off we went. Long story short, it was a stupid idea! Those pumps are low quality junk at best. Maybe they’re good for draining a clogged sink or bath tub, but they’re not something you want to rely on for your daily water needs. We had already cut the potable water hose so kept it and returned the pump. Our new gravity system uses the same hose and zero technology. Reliable as gravity!

Keeping Water From Freezing While Living in an RV

With very cold temps keeping anything from freezing is hard work
Low temps make freezing a real risk

For those considering homesteading in a winter climate, and even for those who are more temperate but can have cold blasts, this is a major consideration. We’ve been holding nearly 32 F for over a month which is much easier to manage than the 1-5 F temps we had during December.

What we’ve found is that we can fairly reliably keep our trailer from freezing down to about 25 F by keeping the cupboards cracked so the heat can get into these areas and warm the pipes. Our fresh water tank is under our bed with a large storage area. On sub-freezing nights we keep the door fully open under there. Once it dips below 25 F we have to fire up the wood stove to protect things.

Also the way our trailer is designed the pipes are exposed in the back of the cabinets, making it easy to keep them warm. Not all RV’s are this way and if you plan to take on a winter in an RV, you’ll want to look at plumbing layouts. Stay away from any that store the plumbing in the floor. Guaranteed frozen pipes.

Time to Address Your Fears & The “What Ifs!”

Like we said before, water is a very scary thing for most people as we can only live a few days without it. Here are some common concerns and we’re not saying that our way is the right way, but we’d just like to share our thoughts on these matters and you can take it or leave it as you see fit.

If you don’t have your own well, aren’t you completely dependent on someone else for water?

Yes. We are not self-sustainable (yet) when it comes to water. We are not self-sustainable in many ways today, but we’re a million times better off than when we were living in the city. We’ve taken a huge step towards self-sufficiently but you need to learn to crawl before you can walk or run. We don’t let the fear of not being perfect hold us back. If you want to have the dream off grid property on day one, then you better buy a fully-developed home on day one and be okay with paying the price and very likely having a mortgage payment for the next 30 years. We believe that by using a simple water solution now will help us be fully self-sustainable quicker.

Shouldn’t you drill a well first and if there is no water, find a new property?

I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer for this question. For us, this is a journey of becoming self-sufficient, and we are okay up-leveling over time. We consulted with a well driller in the area prior to purchasing and based on surrounding properties, there is a pretty good / very good chance we should be able to get water at a reasonable depth. If the answer was a flat out “NO”, we would not have bought the property.

That said, if we drill a well or two and get nothing, we’re okay getting water trucked in once or twice a year or hooking up to the local water membership if a spot opens up, or seeing if we can work out a deal with a neighbor for sharing their well. Heck we might be able to make rain collection our sole water source. We can’t know all of this yet. Too soon.

Not ideal obviously, but we also aren’t certain this is our “forever property”. It’s more like our “training wheels property”. We are keeping in mind that we may want to sell it one day for one reason or another, and many people don’t prioritize being off grid. Either way, we’re better off than living in the city where your water supply can be shut off immediately or you don’t get a drop unless you pay whatever ridiculous fee’s the conjure up at the latest “everyone needs a raise” board meeting which no one has time to attend… Rant over. :) If we had a cistern, we’d likely always have a bit of water on hand, not to mention we’re in an area surrounded by self-sufficient people AND lots of water in general!

our-land
We love our property! Even though our systems are rudimentary and we aren’t 100% self-sufficient yet, how is this a bad place to live? How is this worse than living in the city?

What if sh*t hits the fan and you can’t get water in town, your neighbors won’t share, and your jugs are empty?

First of all, if this is your concern I suggest you read our blog post about well-meaning critics and the fear-driven society we live in (not to be rude, just to give you some insight as to why you ask such things. It’s not your fault and you shouldn’t feel bad for being afraid).

If we want to be 100% self-sufficient today, then Jesse and I should probably both go get corporate jobs that pay extremely well for 1-2 years (which would require living in the city), we would be paying high rent, high income tax, should say goodbye to our property, and get the best damn mortgage we could get! This isn’t something a lot of people want to talk about. It’s a bit of an elephant in the room.

Fully self-sufficient, beautiful off-grid properties aren’t cheap… how many of you would qualify for a $300,000+ loan if you wanted? I was approved for $150,000 when I was making $40,000/year. Oh yea… the banks also don’t like to finance on off-grid properties, so you’d probably have to buy the property cash, or if the owner was willing to carry the loan they would likely want 25-50% down. Who has $75,000 to $150,000 in cash laying around? Not most folks! That’s why many off grid properties are being bought up by Californians or people other massive economic centers who’ve had higher than average wages for decades (stop me if I tell a lie).

The reality is that you can only do what you can do. On a journey such as this, we all start out as little baby infants, and we can’t change that no matter how hard we try. All we can do is put one foot in front of the other and up-level throughout life, and before we know it, we’ll be a pretty sufficient adult. And for you speculative extremists… if we DIE because we chose not to get a well immediately, then so be it… we’ve had a pretty good life, obviously weren’t smart enough to figure things out and would die happy knowing that we gave it our best shot!

What if we decided to go for water supply first?

Funny… we actually have someone write us on our Instagram and mentioned they chose to drill a well first. We were curious what this might look like had we taken that path. It turns out they have also have a unique problem… getting rid of waste! Their solution was to use a portable waste tank and dispose of it at a local waste site.

So having a water supply doesn’t get rid of problems, it creates a new one. As you might recall we chose to have septic installed first. This created a lot of debate on our Youtube Septic Installation video and blog post about off grid septic installation. Of course the waste “experts” out there will have a million solutions to their problem, but the reality is waste is a big problem and unless you plan to just dump it in your back yard or in the creek you’ll need a way to properly dispose of it. And we’re not just talking poop here peeps. You create a lot more waste water than poop. It all has to go somewhere.

Just ask yourself this question, which would you rather haul, waste or fresh water? We chose fresh water.

Oh yea… our local septic dump also turns off the water in the winter season which would mean that we couldn’t rinse out the portable tank, hose, our hands, any spills (it happens!), or anything like that. Doesn’t sound fun for anyone.

Wrapping It Up

GENIUS water hack for living #offthegrid in an rv! Great for anyone starting their #homestead from scratch. #boondocking #offgrid This turned into a lengthy post! When people ask “What are you doing for you water?” we know that behind the question is more than an inquiry about water solutions. It’s often infused with a lot of fear, because lack of water is one of the things we fear the most and something we don’t all have years of experience to call upon. We thought that we would address some of the real concerns people have when they ask that question, and for those of you that try to understand our message, we hope that this is motivating to you and gives you another perspective to size up your own situation!

On all aspects of your off grid journey, you need to weigh the pros and cons of every option, and ultimately decide what is going to help you achieve your goals the quickest. If having your water needs taken care of is your #1 priority and would give you huge peace of mind, then make it happen and don’t look back… sacrifice other areas instead! Just make the best decision for you and your family.

Get Involved!

We’d love to hear what water solutions are working well for you and your family. Did you decide to drill a well first? Do you have a spring on your property or even a creek with water rights? Did you get a large storage tank? Are you doing something similar? Let us know (try to keep the comments positive)!

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I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.

Comments

  1. Nilda says

    Hi I am lucky enough to have family land in Puerto Rico with water running thru it, but I did have to fill and carry gallons of water daily to fill IBC tanks, It takes a lot of time and energy but we finally got a deep well pump we plan on installing in the creek, but where I plan on building its still costly, the price of PVC pipe and everything else that goes with it. So just like the two of you, I weigh out the pros and cons. Until we get that all done, my dad now has gotten a used water pump, so we’re now able to fill up a 55 gallon drum with water, it’s in the back of truck and then we drive up the hill and transfer the water into the IBC tank. Let me tell you this has helped me out tremendously. I was filling gallon jugs everyday, making 2 to 3 or 4 trips. It took me several hours. I don’t know why I never thought about finding 6 gallon water jugs. Lol lol

    • Andre Hardman says

      Hi Nilda,

      My wife and I moved to PR about one year ago. So far we have been renting but our goal is to get off grid somewhere. We don’t know much about the regulations with that in PR and were curious if you have any insights. If we buy some land and don’t intend to get water or electricity to it, can we just build without permits and live in what we build? Any advice you have would be much appreciated!

  2. Bob says

    When I had my Ranch in Oregon, and need to store water so it would Freeze we bought bottles like yours and stored them in Old Chest type Freezers, because they were designed to with stand the Temps, Our Winters would drop to -25 and lower so it worked and I always had Coffee water.

  3. Jan Sullivan says

    This is a great video! The information you’re providing is essential to others. It is so important to conserve and keep things simple. I agree too that there will always be compromises when buying land. Off grid does not necessarily have to translate to being in an isolated location with no services either. Loving this video….

  4. Plinker says

    Alyssa I will send you a few pictures of a sort of bug out cabin near me, the chap installed a large water tank in the loft and fed the water to a kitchen and bathroom through plastic pipes. Even if it was to freeze it seems the expansion was not a problem.

    I was given permission to go and look and actually enter the place and see what had been done. There is no power, telephone but I think there is a well someplace and the chap uses a small water pump battery operated to fill the tank. Rainwater could be used and collected as well with a water treatment unit at the output.

    As I said its a bug out cabin so the sewage is fed into a sweet pit or woods. As you said sh_t but really it becomes something that goes back into nature and is recycled.

    The cabin has no basement and is on piles, the bottom is competely insulated and sealed so the cabin even without heat seems warm. They have but one airtight to warm it!

    Plinker

  5. Craig says

    I can sure say that you both have thought of the pros/cons of the water situations. Thanks for updating this blog and describing how you handle the water situation. My thoughts are, go with what works for you and don’t let others give you any crap. Once winter is over and the freezing conditions are gone I am sure you will find ways to handle your water situation that make living a little easier. I know I have seen utube videos of people drilling there own wells but not sure looking at where you are that would be very easy to do.

  6. Melinda says

    Thank you so much! You have answered several questions and inquiries we had. You made me question myself even more about the perfect off grid land at the right price existing. After two years of searching, we haven’t purchased land yet. We have everything in place and have been working toward homesteading off grid for three years now. Selling our home, properties, down sizing, quiting my good job and moved across the country. This past summer we even bought a RV. We are ready. We just need land…. My expectations are to high for that perfect land and community to live in. We can live anywhere and we have chosen Northern Idaho. We will buy land this year as we are that determined. Thank you for your article as you guys are an inspiration and the motivation we need. I look forward to your next post.

  7. says

    Who knew a water solution could be as simple as a few jugs and some scrap wood!? We’re hoping a move is on the horizon for us…but it’s still in its infancy stages right now. Not quite off-grid, but acreage and room for livestock at least! Keep the great info coming guys!

    • Jesse says

      Kelsey! Good to hear from you. You’re family is doing amazing things already so bask in your accomplishments. It’s only a matter of time before you’re where you want to be enjoying it to the max. Tell the hubby and kids we say hello!

      Jesse & Alyssa

  8. John Brunton says

    Like your video on water!

    Regarding cisterns – some time ago I learned people in Bermuda fill their cisterns with rain from their roofs. In fact, my wife’s parents for years owned property which they struggled with the water issue. They were no off-griders but the property location just didn’t have good water. I know of at least 4 wells they had drilled over the years and in the later years were blessed by the county running water down their road. They had water trucked in for many years also but also supplemented with rain water. True, it had to be filtered and they couldn’t use it for drinking and cooking but they could bathe and flush – a big help with three children.

    • Jesse says

      Thats absolutely right John! One benefit to not getting all of our wants right away is that we’ve been blessed with time to observe the land and learn more about how the weather works, wind works and more about the winters. We’ve been pondering a multiple cistern approach so as to not even need a well.

      This would be simply large water catchment areas like roofs, tarps or other things with large surface area, channeled into a ground level cistern and then pumped up to a cistern system in/on the hillside. This should net us a very large water supply and with conservation you’d think it’d be plenty.

      These thoughts even has us rethinking how we will build our barn. Just goes to show how it’s a very holistic things to fully develop a self reliant property.

      We’ll keep working on these ideas and see what transpires. For now, it’s nice just to be living here and have water available!

      Be well and thanks for stopping by!

      Jesse & Alyssa

      • jvalentour says

        Jesse,
        I spent a lot of time and effort harvesting water from the roof, trucking it in and having it delivered. I decided on a below ground cistern with city water delivered AND harvesting water for the garden from the roof in a separate storage system. Warm weather causes water from the roof to spoil. You do not want it in your house for anything in warm weather. When I say anything, I mean anything.
        Be prepared to install a HQ filtration system, for your health.
        Soon you will be tending to your garden, you will need a lot of water. The rooftop is great and cheap. Stay away from the white storage tanks, get the black/dark ones. Forget about homeowner kits for storage, go big, you won’t regret it. For a family of 4 you should plan on 3-5000 gallons of storage. Most delivery trucks only handle 2500 gallons anyway. (I know you are only two but plan for resale or expansion). Make sure you can pump water from your storage, consider the inlets/outlets prior to purchase. I’m a couple years ahead of you but I enjoy your site.

  9. says

    I never know what I don’t know until I learn it. (Huh?) This post has some very well thought-out ideas and scenarios. Most of which I wouldn’t have thought about, but will now.

  10. Virginia Dickenson says

    Some other things you might consider, Alyssa:

    – Build a hill a around your cistern, as opposed to putting it IN the hill. You could dig a small pond and use that dirt. Or purchase some round bales, place them around your cistern and cover them with dirt. They will form an organic layer fairly rapidly.

    – Dig a shallow well and treat the water you pump (sand filter and charcoal? UV light filtration?). In TX, most areas do not require a well permit for wells less than 400 ft. If you rent or have a neighbor with a tractor, you can actually dig your own shallow well using PVC pipes stacked end to end as you dig. This requires fairly loose soil (sandy / loamy v gumbo), but if you are near a river / lake that is supporting a pine forest or similar, I assure you the water table is likely somewhat shallow and fairly extensive. And likely, “clean” from water traveling through sandstone for many many miles. (I didn’t say potable)

    Use the auger on the tractor, then add the pvc and use the auger to drive it down. Once you hit the water level you wish, simply drop in a casing and a pump, or use a manual pump or a windmill. I know it works because my ingenious redneck neighbor did it in his pond about about 50 ft.

    Your water would need to be treated to be potable, but of course, and there are sustainable ways to treat it (sand/charcoal filtration, wetland beds, etc.) but at the very least, you could do minimal filtering and use it to bathe, to flush your rv toilet, wash dishes, irrigate, water plants, water livestock, etc. You may only need to purchase potable water for drinking.

    All of this depends on your regs in the area regarding water usage and digging. You can get away with a great deal with strictly personal use. However, if you have guests and they are trying to drink your shallow well treated water that you drink yourself, make them sign a waiver or drink store bought water! While the water is going to be safe for livestock, if you have people bringing horses, etc, make them sign a waiver as well. (Please remember – livestock drink from ponds)

    And you cannot rent space on your property and let folks drink this. You will be required to meet county specs.

    – For your septic, since you are in a wooded area but using a low water flushable toilet, have you consider tree bogs? Very simple and low cost. Honestly, a very simple treebog that would simply be a hole dug in the ground (5 – 6 ft, 3-4′ across) , lined with chicken wire or similar, with two feet of smallish concrete chunks (increased surface area) and the rest sand, with a pipe (top solid, rest perforated) going in with total gravity feed should do. The key is ensuring you have the nutrient pig trees surrounding it – pine and willow are the faves. They will grow to the waste, and weave their roots through the chicken wire to get the solid waste. This is based on a family of two. And in a household, one for each separate toilet.

    Using a small amount of water ( a cup maybe – for your rv type toilet) is not out of the question with this method and it is essentially maintenance free. You might have to dig a new one in 30 years? I don’t know….

    – An alternate approach to septic would be to obtain several 50 gallon drums (you can get them from honey farms for about 20.00 each or less). Build your home or toilet off the ground, up high enough that you can dig a little area underneath to set these things. Cut a hole in the lid and place a seal that will enable you to attach a sizable piece of pvc, which will be the pipe from the toilet itself. I have toyed with putting a little plexiglass sight in the top or at the top on the side, so I can see when this is getting full without having to open it. The lid with the pipe will stay behind, so the pipe is never removed.

    Ensure the area that you are placing the barrel is designed that when the barrel is full, you simply open the lid (yup, you need to wear gloves and wear a little filter mask), and slide a complete lid on the barrel, sealing it. Use a dolly to move the full barrel out, and replace with an empty barrel. Secure the lid with the pipe. With a family of two or three, you are likely looking at changing a barrel maybe twice a year? Without water, a few humans just don’t generate that much waste.

    Move the full barrel somewhere into your woods and just leave it. I can vouch that tumbling compost is overrated; if you are very periodically throwing a small amount peat moss, used coffee grounds, or shavings down your toilet, you will have a very healthy composting process happening. Throw some worms down there too, if you like. And if you really want to fire it up, before you do your swap, throw some chicken poo or chicken poo compost down there. Man, that stuff really fires up your composting process!

    After six or 8 months, check your old barrel. (Nice to put a sight glass in those as well.) Wait a year if you prefer. Plenty of time for the product to compost. When you have beautiful dirt that you can test yourself to ensure it is environmentally safe, feed your trees or garden with it. Reuse your barrel. Many states will not allow you to feed your food gardens, even when the compost soil is tested clean. Americans are fecophobic. typically. However, you can use it around your trees and your decorative gardens with no issue.

    If you are living in a highly regulated area, you cannot do this, because the barrels may be considered hazardous waste. But if you are in an unincorporated area in a more non-regulated state, it shouldn’t be an issue. Also, there is not going to be a problem rinsing a very small amount of water in there periodically. That is not going to hurt your composting; you just don’t want to fill up your barrel with water.

    – Create a 2-3 stage water recycling system. Use your untreated or gray water one or two times more. Stage 1 – gray water is fed into holding tanks or barrels (or can be gravity fed), where it is lightly treated (depending on the initial use), and run into a hydroponic system or into a farming fish tank. Or use it to flush the toilet – you know, the toilet that only uses about a cup of water? If there is runoff left from that or when you clean the fish tank, run that water directly into your outdoor garden or plant beds. I have never understood the whole grease trap thing – why not run your kitchen water directly into an outdoor garden bed? Plant some nutrient pigs and keep them happy!

    When you pull your gray water off of your black water septic and start reusing it responsibly, suddenly waste management becomes nearly negligible. And when we start using lightly treated but not necessarily fully potable water for the things that really hog our water, water conservation becomes quite easy.

  11. Corky Peacock says

    I have two suggestions which I believe would help:

    1> Look at “Solar Cabin” on YouTube. He has an excellent thick, but inexpensive
    book on homesteading, which also can be downloaded with many links.

    He’s in the cold part of Utah. He drilled his own well by renting the gear and
    made it work.

    I have studied all of the self-built house types, and his is the cheapest to build
    and could be done fast. It is only 14×14 to be officially a shed and avoid codes.
    It uses conventional construction, and has a loft for sleeping and a desk.
    He got his windows & doors free and spent only $2000 on lumber, etc.
    using the simplest foundation of only blocks.
    At the very least this could get you a warm place to be quickly, before
    building the more ambitious barn by (it seems) the post and beam techniques.

    2> The other house to look at is one by Andrew Morrison (in Oregon) who built a
    sensible so called “Tiny House” which has exceptional room inside due to a
    shed style roof at about the 13 foot level with two lofts. It is laid out
    exceptionally well, so seems to have plenty of room, emphasized also by
    opposing glass windows and door for flow-through light. He spent $23K on
    this very well built house on a steel trailer bed, He then added in very high
    level quality cabinets and full-size kitchen appliances for another $10K.
    I’m quite certain you all would decide to reduce that $10K substantially as
    they used top quality on the cabinets and kitchen components.

    Please look at these videos, which I am sure will shortcut your project beyond
    what you could imagine now, without sacrificing quality or livability.

    “Solar Cabin”‘s house is so simple & cheap, I’m sure you build it even in the winter.

    Here ‘s a link to the well built Morrison house on wheels; please have a look:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSzgh3D7-Q0

    Here’s a link to the actual step-by-step video on building Lamar’s “Solar Cabin”
    house:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qghZ2ao7GKM&list=PL34F7ECFEEB05659B
    He also has a great philosophy on homesteading and government interference,
    that you guys will certainly appreciate.
    Also he has a few other videos available like on his solar power. He uses propane
    for the stove & fridge, has the solar for power, did his own well (doable) and
    although too late for you, did a super simple septic system of his own design.
    Get his book, which is almost a bible for homesteading.

    Also I do not have it to hand, but there are classic books on homesteading from
    decades going way back.

    Please let me know if this helps.
    You could build the simple house by “Solar Cabin” first and then tackle the
    very much more difficult heavy-duty barn.

    Love,
    Corky

    I feel certain that you can have a livable house sooner this way.
    The Morrison home could be done in the spring & summer.

    Please let me know after you give these videos due attention.

    • Jesse says

      Hey Joe!

      No filtration at the moment nor is a need for such apparent. Periodic cleaning and sanitizing of the water jugs is just good housekeeping though. We camped for a total of several months with a few gallon jugs with not problems. The water being stored and used within 4 days means it has little time to become a problem.

      Cheers!

      Jesse & Alyssa

  12. Brian Ludlow says

    When I still lived in the interior of Alaska with sustained temps of -25 to -40F for 6-7months I had a 1500 gallon poly cistern type buried tank that had been spay foam insulated and buried 4 feet below grade and it never froze. If I were to do it again I would install the same tank with a hand powered well pump. I gravity filled this cistern with a 150 gallon tank that was in my Pickup. You are now my neighbor here in the Northwest if you want to exchange ideals over coffee I would welcome the chance. — Brian

    • Jesse says

      Howdy neighbor! Thanks for stopping by!

      This is our observation also Brian. Subsurface water storage has huge advantages, especially when air temps frequently dip to sub zero. Getting below the frost line with the tank and plumbing is vital to having a reliable water supply. Also the cooler water temps reduces bacterial growth and need for treatment so it’s a win-win.

      This is the route we’re gunning for as the next step. The logistics have proven a bit challenging, but we know it’ll get done!

      Thanks for sharing the experience as it reinforces our thinking for water storage!

      Keep in touch!

      Jesse & Alyssa

  13. Shana says

    My husband and I are about to start a journey like yours (with less money to begin with) so we’ve been thinking these problems over. He wondered if you had thought about building a greenhouse around an IBC tank? The greenhouse would store solar energy, and with the right design and a solar-powered pump, it could take you completely through a Northwestern winter. I’m thinking specifically of putting it in a walipini (underground greenhouse) which could also grow your winter fresh stuffs without spending much on insulation or similar things. Also, you might do some research on air wells. Here’s a good place to start: http://www.permies.com/t/23408/homestead/Air-collecting-water-air
    We plan to put in several air wells as soon as we can manage it. They can be stupidly cheap and produce at least 10 gallons a day most days, if not more, of distilled drinkable water.

    • Jesse says

      Hey Shana!

      Thanks for topping by. The greenhouse with IBC tank sounds viable, but for us doesn’t fit our long term goals. What’s easily overlooked is that the solution provides is simple and is easy to get started. Get jugs. Fill jugs. What this allows for is getting started with obsessing over more complicated, though viable, solutions. It removes the fear and inhibition of getting started. That’s where most people are stuck. There is so much research out there in the internet that the outcome for many is analysis paralysis. Often taking big risks with an exotic solution that ends up not working only further reinforcing their anxiety on the matter.

      As mentioned out goal is to work towards a permanent solution which I can only imagine after some time has passed and the project load is diminishing to some degree these projects will advance in complexity, self sufficiency and hope fun factor! Getting stuck in the middle of “simple” and “permanent” is all too tempting. As with many things just getting started helps much of the rest of things fall into place.

      Those air wells do look interesting, but I can say that for a climate such as the Northwest, excluding the coastal areas, they wouldn’t be viable due to long sustained arctic cold fronts. We don’t thaw out even our roofs enough to capture what little moisture remains in the air at sub zero temps (very cold air is very dry as the moisture is unable to remain suspended). For desert areas which have high daily temperature swings or coastal areas with high humidity and rare freezing I can see how amazing this design can be. We’ve bookmarked that page as it has many ideas on water collection. Look forward to reading more on them. The things humans have done to survive is fascinating!

      Thanks for the share and god speed to you and your Husband as you embark on your journey! Keep in touch and let us know how it’s all going! :)

      Jesse & Alyssa

  14. Jennifer says

    We have a river running along the back of our property. We have a well, well
    Pump, electricity etc (we opted for the fully functioning, on the grid, mortgage type homestead and will develope off the grid options for increased self sufficiency:-) so now we are looking into ways to bring the river water into our with or without electricity, permits that need to
    Be obtained, etc…. One of our biggest concerns with the river water is bacterial contamination- requiring a separate holding tank from the well to
    Avoid contamination, and Then the process of filtering the water for making it safe. Always obstacles no matter which route you take!! We live in weather that is below zero all winter, and had 5 days without power earlier this winter- that was a shock before we were ready!! Hauling water from town in jugs like you- but the roads were icy and dangerous- so we were melting snow on the wood stove for non potable uses…. It was a fun eye opener that’s for sure!!

    • Jesse says

      Isn’t that the truth Jennifer? Certainly everyone will have such unique circumstances that it’s simply not possible to have a “one-size-fits-all” approach can anyone judge or criticize anyone for the route they take.

      We have the same sketchy road problem, but ours has been manageable. The solution presented is a “getting started” solution. So it’s good enough to get started, but we can definitely see that if you tried to make this your “forever solution” you would be opening yourself up to some big risks. For example we’ve so far been spared long stretches of below zero temps, but had we received an arctic blast this would all have been MUCH more difficult.

      Surely you’ll find a water filtration system that can harvest some of the river water. While we don’t fully understand what river you’re located on, it’s often surprising for many how “clean” river water is. Obviously it travels many miles and during the heat of the summer it grows a lot of things with the warmer temperatures, but even at that when hiking in the mountains we often seek water from a stream and if we aren’t certain it’s immediately drinkable a filter straw works well.

      Keep in mind it’s easy to get blinded by what seems to be the “obvious” water solution. If you have snow and rain, perhaps catchment can provide a year long water supply through a large underground cistern with little treatment? There are certainly many options and choosing one rarely excludes the others out of existence. Which means we can always try again! :)

      Keep up the good work and keep us posted with what you find out.

      Jesse & Alyssa

    • Expat says

      I had a small stream in Colorado that I used for water. 2×1,000 gal fibreglass tanks. One in the stream and one in the basement, 300′ above. It’s always an aggravation having surface water as it’s susceptible to freezing and contamination – always, but it can be mitigated.
      As to contamination, whilst my bacteria count was 100 times acceptable it never bothered me or anyone else, but who wants that? I didn’t want chemicals in the water so used ozone. Ozone is a temporary form of oxygen. Once it’s generated via a “black light” and distributed via a small pump (little giant pump) and venturi it converts back to oxygen is a couple of seconds. This system brought the bacteria count to zero. It also kills giardia cysts and viruses. Cost is a couple of hundred dollars but it does need a storage tank to be effective and no metal should be near as ozone will cause rust
      As to freezing, almost any ground will not freeze if the surface is cover with a thick stand of grass. A tank does not have to buried very far underground. Hay bales would work too and in spring would be useful in the garden – heck put a straw bale garden on top of the tank.
      As to manual pumps or small electric pumps, check out marine suppliers. Sailboats have been using electric free or nominal electric for decades.
      BTW – My off grid well at my new retreat cost $15,000 and was well worth it!!

  15. says

    Hi Alyssa;

    Thanks for sharing your water solutions. Great for those who are just starting out or thinking of going down the off grid road.

    We live off grid on 33 acres. Built a retirement home and spent way more money than anticipated even though we did much of the work ourselves.

    We had a well drilled (200ft down) and came in dry, not even a trickle. Next day they came back and pressure blasted the well and now we have a flow of 5 gallons per minute. We spent $10,000 for well, pump, pressure tank and installation. I would advise getting the largest pressure tank you can get as this will reduce the demands on your batteries. (fewer off and on cycles for the pump)

    We know folks here who have drilled 2-3 wells before hitting water, just no guarantee.

    We love our house and our systems work better than expected. We do a lot more with our 2.8kw system than we ever expected to do. You will be delighted with what you can accomplish living off grid and raising your own food and livestock.

    All the best and thanks again for sharing

    Check out our blog at: a-minbancroft.blogspot.ca

    Art

    • says

      Hey Art! That’s awesome that you were able to get some water in the end! $10,000 is no small amount of money, but I suppose that’s what we’re expecting to pay at least, and if it’s anything less than that then we will be stoked. We do a bit of reading here and there and it seems that drilling a well shouldn’t be so hit or miss, or a complete guessing game, but what do we know after some internet research. Thanks for the recommendation of getting a large pressure tank. Glad to hear that you’re loving your house and your systems, and the satisfaction that comes with off grid living! We are excited to accomplish similar things and feel the same about our property as the years go by! Cool blog, looks like you have a lot of fun on your property. I don’t know how long it took you to add blinds, but in our house rehabbing project we had to add blinds to a huge house with many windows…. most of them were all different sizes, and the windows weren’t square so the tops of the blinds fit but then we couldn’t lower them… it was a mess. Hopefully your blind hanging went smoother :-) Cheers!

  16. Laura says

    Have you considered a composting toilet? There is some great info on having one in a RV posted by Nikki and Jason on Gone with the Wynn’s. I look forward to following your blog.

    • says

      We did briefly but ultimately decided it wasn’t the best thing to focus our energies on at this point in the game. More info on that here: purelivingforlife.com/why-we-installed-our-septic-system-asap/

  17. Rob says

    You might find some helpful info at the following website: http://humanurehandbook.com/. The book it refers to can be read for free on the site.

    It deals with water use and grey water as well as compost, sewage and gardening. It was written by Joseph Jenkins and based on more than thirty years of personal experience. His methods are now being used in many parts of the world.

    Rob

    • says

      We have visited this website more than once! It’s a very intriguing idea and I think in the future we will see how we can dispose of our waste in a way that could better benefit the environment. We said it in another blog post and video… but we haven’t out-ruled the use of alternative sewage systems, it just is something we chose to not focus on yet was a huge pain point, so we decided that a traditional septic system would be great to get off the ground and allow us to direct our energies to things that would help us get our feet under us a bit more. If you (or anyone else who reads this comment) want to learn more about why we installed a traditional septic system ASAP, it can be found here: http://purelivingforlife.com/why-we-installed-our-septic-system-asap/

  18. Caron says

    Hi Alyssa,
    Living off the grid has been a dream of mine for several years now. My husband and I are slowly working toward our goal. Your issues on water have been mine as well and after talking to a water well drilling company (who were extremely knowledgeable and supportive) it was recommended to me to rather go with a culvert system. If you are not familiar with this system it only works if you have a high water table. Essentially you would bring in a tractor with an auger attachment to drill a hole into your ground water. In my case that would be about 15ft. The hole is then lined with a culvert style tube and you put an insulated cap on top. This saves a lot of drilling costs and your water is brought to the surface via any method you choose ( windmill, hand pump or electric pump).
    Happy homesteading!

  19. Gary says

    Hi Jesse & Alyssa,
    I wonder if it would be possible for your uphill neighbor who has a well to run a water line down to you. This would require their cooperation, some fees to them and a recorded legal agreement to protect all parties. It may also require government review and approval. I’m just brainstorming here. Your water usage is pretty light right now. The neighbor may have excess supply and may be open to this or just say no. They might just let you fill your jugs saving you some travel into town. Go up and visit with them and see if they might be open to helping you out. The generosity and willingness to help your rural neighbors might surprise you. It will depend a lot on how you approach them on this so stay friendly and don’t be pushy or disappointed if they just say no. If they do say no tell them you understand their decision and that you respect it. That will go a long way with them and they will probably try to help you in other ways.

    • says

      Hey Gary… this is something that we have talked about as a possible solution if all else fails. Obviously we can’t count on this being a solution as it totally depends on a neighbor’s willingness to share, and we would never feel entitled to someone’s water, but you’re right that they may have a surplus (we know one well close by produces A LOT of water) and it may be a win-win for both parties if we were able to pay them monthly rather than having water trucked in. However, I think ultimately our goal is to really be in control of our own water supply. But it really is good to look at all options because hitting water when drilling a well doesn’t seem to be 100% guaranteed and it’s a large investment. I think the important thing to note is that there ARE other options, and it’s great to look at the pros / cons of them all. Regardless, we are trying to get to know all of the neighbors as we see the importance of a strong community that works together.

  20. Jim says

    I just read your blog post on water solutions and you have done well on working out something that works for your current situation. My wife and I live on about 1 acre of land (on grid) and we are also trying to be as self sufficient as possible, raising chickens, rabbits and pigs, as well as growing a large garden. We have a spring fed dug well, but in drought conditions, we really have to watch how much water we use. You mentioned rainwater collection and had it at the bottom of your list of solutions. One of the issues you mentioned was filtration and purification, but that really isn’t a requirement for irrigation or watering livestock ( or flushing the toilet for that matter). I have an 8’x10′ shed for my pigs to get out of the weather. It has a single slope roof with an eavestrough on the back that empties into a 50 gallon water trough. I do have to top it up with water from the well on occasion, but it not only takes away from the volume needed from the well, but eliminates work for me as well (think semi-automated watering). I have plans for another, larger setup for watering my garden and fruit trees. If you plan on gardening this year or raising any livestock, a very simple rainwater system, could be used in addition to your current solution without a lot of expense. Maybe your cabin roof feeding an IBC tank for example? There is no need to winterize it as you don’t need the additional water in the winter, just drain everything and wait till spring.

    Jim

    • says

      Those are all great recommendations Jim. We’ve had A LOT of rain the past week and wish we were collecting the water, but we are still putting that off even if it is simple to do. We don’t plan on gardening next year or having livestock… it will take everything we have just to get the barn up I think. But yes, I love all of those ideas, and that not all water needs to be filtered. I think there are lots of creative ways to have self-watering systems, especially during the wet seasons. The nice thing too is that it can be scaled and you can build some sort of system to water many things automatically. Great point on it being okay if the water freezes. Seems we could collect A LOT of water over the winter and have many IBC tanks full come spring / summer? Oh, the possibilities! :-)

  21. Patty says

    It was so good to hear from you guys again this week. I so look forward to see where you guys are in your journey. It has given us some great insight in to what we are in for. lol
    Well we just went to pick out our plots and we went to find out at the County office what all we needed to have in place before we can move, full time , out there. We found out we do need to have a septic tank in place and a drive way to the site. We have a well and electric so it is the only thing we needed anyways. We took a page from your book and decided to buy a travel trailer to live in to start with. Once we read your blog on the subject we determined that was the smarter option to get us on our land with little to no debt. Then we were told if we are going to be in a travel trailer then we could use the holding tank for the time being till we build the cabin or a more permanent shelter. Then we will have to have the tank in place. So, so far all is in line and all is good. I do see what you mean about, one way or the other you are going to have to take care of business. Either way going in or coming out lol!!! If we didn’t have the water in place already I guess it would have to be first on the list. We were just blessed that electric and water are already in place. I am so excited. It is all I talk about at work and all I do when I get home. I study web sites and blogs, look at craigslist, to see if we can find the perfect camper at the perfect price. lol It is all so new and exciting but I do know it is going to be some hard work. I just hope it being something we have been dreaming of for so long will make it feel less like work and more like an adventure. We are looking up toys to show us how to get it done. We wont have the financing you had in place but I’m hoping to get a little ahead of the game as the summer goes through. We live on the beach where it is all seasonal work, so it is work as much as you possibly can during the season and pray you make enough and put enough back for the off season. Most people would want to be out here but we have lived this all our lives and all we want to do is go to the woods and hide from all the people lol.
    I will be waiting for the next episode with baited breath lol. Stay warm and keep up the great blogging. You guys are great and I wish we were closer so we could stop by but I guess the blog will have to do .. See you guys soon.
    We will send sunshine from the Simply Sunshine Homestead. ( Hope you like the new name)

    • says

      That is so exciting!!! You worded it correctly… “great insight to what we’re in for”. Haha, I think you will enjoy the adventure so long as you try to keep a positive mindset. When things get ugly for us, we try to laugh about it (so long as nobody is in danger), learn from it, and do whatever we need to do to resolve the situation. Sounds like you found a pretty good piece of property, and that’s a sigh of relief that you don’t need to put septic in right away. Also great that you talked to the county to see what you can and can’t do… some folks think they can do what they want with their property and while this sounds logical, you totally can’t! I think you will find that an RV doesn’t have to be a permanent solution… you can always sell it and do something else, and it makes it really easy to get started! You may find that you don’t mind the small space at all, or you may find that you hate it and want to do something else ASAP. In our case, we’re pleasantly surprised how much we like it. We thought we could only tolerate RV living for six months but if we are in the thing for two years I think that will be okay, although it does get stale at times as we only have so many places to sit! Can’t have it all though, and if you want it all then don’t expect to be debt-free. We totally understand living in a place where others want to live, but being ready for a change. Seclusion is definitely nice as well just to take a break from the business. We do love the new name of your homestead… we are deciding if we should name ours! If it’s mean to be, I’m sure the right name will make itself obvious :-) I’ll then carve the name into a slab off of a tree stump and make it official! And that’s the great thing about blogging… you get to connect with like-minded folks all over the world as we aren’t always surrounded by them in our day-to-day lives. Come say hello on our blog anytime, and keep up posted on moving to your land!

  22. Tobey says

    There are lots of low cost opinions. I think I remember you are buy a creek. There are pumps that go in the creek and pump water without power. I am sure you have good filters for you water. If not there are cheap Ways to make one and can be cleaned for reuse. Build it solar.com is a great place with lots of ideas.

    • says

      There is a small creek but we don’t have water rights to pull out of it… and it’s a seasonal creek, and is basically livestock runoff so it may be good for irrigation, but I’m not sure that we’d want to drink it. Basically there is more than one hurdle with that option. We do hope to have a solar-powered well pump, and are also excited to look into rainwater collection. All when the time comes. Thanks for the website recommendation, will check it out!

  23. says

    I run a coffee farm up in the mountains of Central America for 20 years; and had no water nor electricity. The water problem was resolved from collecting rain water from the roof; then collecting it on 55 gallon drums at the downspout of the gutter. You can set them in the 4 corners of the house… this will fill up 220 gls Hope this helps!!

    • says

      That is awesome Francisco! We were just talking about that today… I wonder how far rain water collection alone would get us? How long would it take you to fill up 220 gallons? That would surely last for a while… probably just under a month for us.

      • Bobby S Ramsey says

        If you use roof runoff remember to put a few drops of bleach in the barrels. Mosquito larva will find a way into it. Grew up with this. One good rain will fill all the barrels.

        • Jesse says

          Excellent tip! It’s amazing to us how the discovery of chlorine changed water treatment forever. Surely there are other ways, but to start that’s a pretty simple way to get started and be safe!

  24. Jessica says

    We currently live in an RV but we are hooked up to the grid. Our water line freezes in the winter so we keep water stored as well. We found the same 6 gallon Reliance jugs at our local Walmart. We just installed gutters on all the animal shelters so that we can harvest rain water to feed back to them. Love the videos!

  25. Mike says

    Enjoyed your post, very good stuff.

    Have you considered this type of temporary (or maybe permanent) rainwater collection system?
    http://www.rainsaucers.com/products.htm Lots of water can be collected quite quickly and cleanly.

    Also noticed a couple of things regarding the handling of your 6 gallon jugs:

    1. Might it make sense to carry some sort of short special hose with friction connector so that you can leave the empty jugs in your vehicle and fill them with a hose without having to lift each newly filled jug back into the vehicle? Would save some lifting.

    2. Gravity works even in inches. Do your jugs need to be shelved so high for them to drain out? It is easier to lift to a low shelf.

    Again, water is an important and exciting topic.

  26. Jeff says

    Thanks for sharing your progress and your decision process! When I was a kid, my parents bought and developed a property in Central Oregon. We ran into a couple of issues when it came to digging our well. First, all of our neighbors had lived there 30+ years and their wells were pretty shallow. These shallow wells were grandfathered in and they could keep them that way. When we came around, we had to follow newer county code and go much deeper. I believe we were at 110ft. The second challenge was hard water. Specifically, an iron deposit. The well digger said that we could go down further but there was no guarantee that we would get away from the iron and that all of the wells dug in the surrounding area that had been dug since the newer codes came into effect had the same problems. We had to buy an expensive water softening system that only improved the taste of the water but all of our clothes were stained orange. Being a teenager, I couldn’t have orange clothes and took my clothes to the nearest laundromat. That was expensive. The whole thing was expensive but I wouldn’t give up growing up in Central Oregon for anything. On a positive note, the person that is living at the property now says that there is no longer an iron problem. I guess it just took 25 or 30 years to suck it all out.

    • says

      Hey Jeff, you’re totally right! You can’t be a teenager with orange-tinted clothes… that is just WAY uncool and would make any teenager look like a total loser! Haha! That is interesting to hear. I think what I’m learning through all of these stories is that wells aren’t guaranteed, and often come with their own set of problems, but the other option is connecting to city water that you are dependent on. That said, city water can be easy and cheap to connect to and solves a lot of problems, but you also don’t have your freedom. We can’t take the pros of city water without the cons. We aren’t sure what we will run into with a well yet but are waiting until we have some funds we are comfortable letting go of to that project, and then we will deal with any issues that arise and deal with them as best we can.

  27. says

    Water supply.
    For our “offgrid” retirement house we are using large rainwater tanks 2 x 13000 litres ( maybe 3000 gallons each) with an electric pump ( run off solar power) with a 100 litre pressure tank to minimise the number of times the pump needs to start up. Our roof area is 170 square metres with an annual rainfall of only 700mm . We can have the tanks filled for about $180 by a locl contractor. Rainwater from the carport feeds to a seperte tnk for the laundry.

    We use the grey water for gardening , with plans to have a well drilled later and fitted with a solar pump.

  28. Dhorn says

    Just a few things that come to mind:

    Moldering Toilet (Used one built my Michigan DNR, no smell) Get septic when you get the well?

    Super Siphon – A cheap, why didn’t I think of that.

    Are you harvesting your shed rainwater for washing and irrigation of your raised beds? A little bleach (cheap) can go a long way, Municipalities use Chlorine gas which is the same. Could prolly filter and drink it as it is soft.

    Are you going to hunt for rural protein?

    Can Alyssa run a chainsaw safely by herself (she’s a one a million of so)? My wife thinks the thing is a “Maimer” I have 4.

    I would seriously consider a External Wood Fired Boiler for Domestic Hot water and Heated floors in Barn (ifyour gonna heat). Cost is high initially then much cheaper. Use existing free standing stove till you can afford. They are about $5K and the Pex set in concrete floor is cheap. Assuming your going to have a concrete pad?

    I’d be looking for a good used Tiller as soon as weather breaks, but that’s just me.

  29. Off Grid RV in northern Minnesota says

    My water supply comes from melted snow. Shovel clean-looking snow into a 50 gallon stock tank: heap the snow high and pack it tight. Drop in about 30 feet of skinny nylon hose. Pump hot water through the hose — part of a hot water recirculation system that protects the RV. Heat from hose melts the snow in a few hours. Gravity-siphon melted snow into the RV’s holding tank, filtering it along the way. Yield is 20-30 gallons per melt. The RV’s water heater is powered by propane; propane is hauled-in once or twice monthly. Snow is expected to be available through May.

    What a luxury a well would be! Perhaps one day I could afford one…

  30. Michael says

    U was looking for some kind of pump to move water I have great luck with a inline universal 12 volt file pump I run it off my golf cart battery and I have a small solar panel that keeps the battery charge u can get the pump at any box auto parts store for around 30 to 40 dollars and I have been pumping water for about 3 years with it and it works for me just a idea that might help good luck with ur homestead

    • says

      Thanks for the recommendation Michael! We’ll keep that in mind if we decide to go the pump-route again. For now, this solution is working for us, but I’m sure we’ll need plenty a pump in the future for various projects. Cheers!

  31. Paula says

    I think in your situation – septic was the only good option.

    You’ve stated before, this isn’t your forever property and it’s obvious it won’t be because of the lack of flat, arable land for crops and animals. Eventually, you will have learned what you needed and will be ready to move onto something more suited for the ‘forever’ and growth. Being local, you are now in position to find the perfect land for that forever self-sustainable farm off-grid.

    So, your looking at resale down the road. Resale will be 1000 times easier and more profitable with a septic setup. It also makes the ‘now’ much easier. it’s obvious that if you are going to want to ever install one, it makes sense to do so before you do other land improvements that may have had to be moved or worried about w/ large equipment bashing something. Sounds like the inspector nixed your original location for septic for technical difficulties 😉 but if you had them out AFTER building gardens etc, you may have been looking at digging up the exact land you just spent lots of time purposing for something else and losing your work. Digging the test holes was easy on bare land, not so easy if you already had gardens, outbuildings, barn foundations etc in the way.

    Septic is foundation work – so it should be done first if you plan to ever have it and to appeal to a larger base of buyers – you need septic.

    To me, that’s the whole argument there.

    This is ‘foothold’ land, in 5-10 yrs you will want / need a different setup and land that will enable that growth but you can’t get there w/o having the foothold land to get you into the community, make contacts, and learn the skills you want to have mastered before you tackle the forever land / home combo. For a sports analogy – your doing your time in the farm teams & minor leagues before heading off to tackle the major league! So when you get there, you will actually have a clue and be able to really hit the ground running because you learned and made your mistakes on another property. You’re developing your knowledge base so you will know what you like, don’t like, what works for you and what your true forever home will be like vs an amorphous dream you had when you didn’t have the experience and knowledge your gaining NOW.

    • says

      I really, really like this comment Paula. You’re absolutely right about many of your points. Septic seemed to be the way to go for many reasons. We did ask our contractor whether it was best to put in septic before or after building a home, and he did say that it really depends and he has seen problems / benefits both ways. Sometimes, septic can encroach on your home building space and it could have been better elsewhere, but other times, it makes sense to put it in first. In our case, we have plenty of space to build our home and we are okay building around our systems… we want the systems to go where they make sense and we’ll build our home around that.

      You’re right too about this being our starter property. We dream of living in an even more secluded area (what we think now, of course, that could change over the years) with water rights on our property, with plenty of lumber, larger areas for livestock, etc. but it’s completely unrealistic to get that on the first try with limited funds. However, if we get a house built on this property, we will likely find ourselves with A LOT of equity. Flipping the property would definitely be an option and even if we keep it, we hope that our wealth will snowball once we have zero debt and a low monthly overhead, which would open up more options for purchasing land and doing it all over again, or even using money to save ourselves some labor when that really isn’t an option right now.

      Basically… there are LOTS of options out there! Just gotta consider them all and play your hand as best you can! This might be our forever property or we could sell it in a couple of years.. who knows! We roll with the punches and are opportunists!

  32. David Gibson says

    Yes having a water source on the homestead is very important. On our homestead we first used to haul several 55 gallon barrels to be filled at the lake just a quarter mile away that was used for bathes and clothes washing. We had an old gas powered wringer washer. We heated water in a 55 gallon drum and took bathes in another 55 gallon drum.
    For waste we hand dug a hole for an out house until the house was near done and the septic was all hooked up.
    We needed a well for water but had no source of power to run a pump. As a family we prayed to God on the very spot for a well drlled 100 feet deep and that it would be an artesion one so we would have flowing water. Well we got our flowing water but we drilled to 180 feet. That artesion well has been flowing for 40 years and hasn’t stopped but has ran slower surfing the hot summer months. We installed about a 1500 gallon cistern in the ground and plumbed the house with 2 pitcher hand pumps, one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom. We thought we was living modern then with water pumps in the house.
    Oh how I miss the old homestead, I hope to move back out there someday.
    Take care and God bless.

  33. jpm9909 says

    Hey guys, love the project – so happy y’all are doing this, hope do the same myself soon…

    Was thinking while reading post, . . I remembering the story of Henry Ford having had made car body out of hemp resin that was so strong he could hit the fender w a sledge hammer…. have you guys thought about, or looked into any types of resin to mold into your cistern.. not sure if this would be cheaper than concrete… just thinking out loud! :-)

    Keep it up! You guys are inspirational – Jay

  34. Katajojo says

    (note: please post this message and not the first one that came through, as the first one was submitted accidentally. It wasn’t done nor edited….and if you’d delete thist prescrip note before submiting id appreciate it :) )

    Iam a biochemist and Grainger plastics makes a state-of-the-art flatbed water towing solution that i think might solve your problems of towing AND filling the RV. Please check these out, as they are not what anyone thinks of when thinking of “truck water tanks,” nor are they anything like an IBC tank.

    http://www.grangerplastics.com/watermate.html

    They are long and flat, only 6 inches tall, and sized in length and width according to your specific truck bed dimensions, and are affordable. (No, i don’t work for the company, i just LOVE these tanks.)

    The plastic is highly safe, rolled molded plastic (uses no toxic chemicals to release the plastic from the mold), food grade, water grade, non-toxic and specifically made for potable water.

    With these flat water tanks you can still store hundreds of pounds of other stuff on top of them! They are indestructible.

    Also, for what i think will benefit you even more…they have a top fill opening at the end, (not the center) so they can be filled without removing them from the truck. They also have a side spigot.

    I believe you could just back the truck up to your RV and fill your RV water tank directly from these tanks without lifting a finger. Otherwise, a pump siphon and a hose would work perfectly.

    To fill them at the water station, you CAN attatch a hose to the water station spigot. (Most station spigots are 3/4″ male. If not you can purchase make shift hose attatchments.)

    In snow and ice, the universal axle weight distribution of these tanks adds weight evenly over the axle no matter how ful or drained, the water adds an even weight distribution for better traction in snow. They can be insulated with reflective roll insulation, and foam to prevent freezing. Also, you could purchase -30 degree below zero regulated sleeping bags from any caming store to wrap them in.

  35. Peter Leisen says

    Thanks for sharing. It was great to have the numbers. Could you remind me what the video was that was an inspiration for when “getting kicked while down?” Had a need for that today after having to haul rock to make the driveway. It will go well again I know but needing a little inspiration today.

    • says

      Hey Peter… sorry to hear you had a bad day! I’m not sure what video that was… that does sound familiar but can’t recall it for the life of us. Not sure what the driveway and hauling rocks entailed, but know that you’ve made progress today and that good things don’t happen overnight. Rest up and you’ll be ready to get back in the saddle in no time! Would love to see pictures of your driveway, feel free to share them on our Facebook page!

  36. Deb says

    Love your blog and your RV. I know a young couple about your age that are living in an RV in a campground near town and continuing to work their 9-5 jobs as well as taking extra jobs. The young man was even mowing yards after working a long day of construction. His wife was babysitting on Friday and Saturday nights after a 40 hr work week, so other couples could go out and have a good time. They drive beaters and they take brown bag lunches to work. What drives them in this sacrifice is their homestead goal!

    The monthly cost of living at the campground they live in is so cheap, the water, garbage, internet, pool, cable is all included. They pay for their metered electric, but they are saving every penny they can so they can do what you are doing. They want to roll their RV on some land and build their place with cash because they don’t want to be under anyone’s thumb and don’t want to pay interest, nor do they want to rely on monthly payments of anything. So they save all of her income and more than half of his and I think in no time they’ll have a place.

    She said that true freedom is forgetting what day of the month it is, and to not be concerned with running out to pay bills. So part of their goals is no debt and pay things like taxes, cell phones and insurance and things like that annually. Sometimes they will give you a deal if you pay up front!

    I will definitely pass your blog onto them. Like you, after living in an RV, they like the idea of not accumulating a lot of stuff that pretty much owns you. But they have their hearts set on a place near a year round creek and that one’s a non-negotiable. They’ll keep working till they can afford it, I’m sure.

    One other thing they are doing is easing into “country” work skills. The husband can do mechanical work on farm implements from learning from a man he knows as well as other skills that are necessary out in the “frontier” of homesteading. She is learning useful country skills too, things they can do to earn money when they get on their homestead.

    Your method is most adventurous though. I know they are really going to love the story of the reusable lumber from your tear down . That was genius! Good luck!

  37. Sheryl Irizarry says

    We started an off-grid life in 1989. Prior to getting a hand-pump well on site, we set a large rain cistern up on a platform higher than our camper. A hose brought the water down, simply via gravity, to the kitchen which went through a filter before coming out the nozzle (which was a $3 stop/waste valve). In the winter here in PA we wrapped the tank with insulation but before a big blizzard, filled up some jugs kept inside just in case of freezing. It worked well and was both self-reliant and powerless.

  38. says

    I spent a year working on a remote ranch i Nevada. I lived in my RV, and the water pipes did freeze in the beginning of the winter. I bought this at home depot, and taped it around the pipes;

    http://www.homedepot.com/p/UltraTouch-48-in-x-6-ft-Radiant-Barrier-30000-11406/100656748?cm_mmc=Shopping%7CTHD%7CG%7C0%7CG-BASE-PLA-D22-Insulation%7C&gclid=CjwKEAjw-abABRDquOTJi8qdojwSJABt1S1Oaxh3VGlfvM3XEoE8cYpmWiHlZByubc-2UEa3hc77NBoC1xzw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

    Very cheap, and it worked! Even when temperatures where in the 20’s for several weeks. It’s interesting to follow your journey. Best of luck with everything this winter.

  39. Tyler Dahlman says

    I am wondering how you dump your gray and black tanks in the winter? I am looking at also bringing water to my TT but not sure how to dump tanks when it’s -30 outside in the winter??Thanks

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