Water Projects

Old well

Some readers have emailed me lately asking what’s going on and if I had stopped posting. There’s nothing to worry about, it’s just that it was a long and busy winter away from the cabin. I try to keep this blog focused on building the cabin, without any off topic posts or personal ramblings, so when I’m not working on the cabin, I’m not posting. I’ve started several new projects over the last couple of months and, interestingly, they all have to do with water.

First, the bad news. The old well that I had high hopes of restoring is beyond repair. When I bought my property many years ago, there was an old, but still functioning, cast iron deep well hand pump. It wasn’t long before someone stole the pump, which unfortunately is not an uncommon experience up here – I’m sure it’s looking good in someone’s garden right now.

I was originally concerned that the well was hand dug, so I had my neighbor dig around it with his excavator last fall and found that it had a 4″ casing – good news, I thought. I contacted the local well driller this spring to see what my options were.  If they could fish out the old drop pipe that the pump thieves had sawed off and let drop into the bottom of the well, they could clean up and restore the well for around $1,000. A couple of weeks ago they tried to get the drop pipe out, but ran into an obstruction 4 feet from the bottom. With the old drop pipe still in place, the well is a dead end.  A new 80 foot drilled well will cost about $3,500.

Water system

Once I do get my well in place, the water supply system will be ready.  My water system is purposefully very simple, and has more in common with an RV than a home.  It consists of a 30 gallon water storage tank/drum, SHURflo Classic 12V pump, and a “2 gallon” well pressure tank. For now, the tank is filled manually with water brought from home.  In the future, it will be filled from a hand pump on the well via a hose and connector on the cabin.

Many of you will probably ask “where’s the hot water heater?”. I could respond with a comment such as “real men don’t need hot water”, but it would be untrue since I enjoy a hot shower as much as anyone. I gave this a lot of thought, and felt that the type of short visits this cabin gets would not justify a hot water system at this point in time. I can always add one later, and have made provisions in the plumbing to allow for that. If the occasion ever arises where I do need a hot shower, I have a low tech workaround in place.  The pump has an alternate inlet that will allow me to feed the system from a different container, such as a 5 gallon bucket. I can partially fill that with cold water from the tank, and add enough hot water heated on the wood stove – not convenient, but functional.

Bathroom in progress

The bathroom and plumbing is as simple as the water system and consists of just a waterless urinal and a shower/tub with exposed copper plumbing. The waterless urinal is probably the most controversial, as it’s not female friendly, and only deals with half of the issue. I wanted to avoid the cost of a septic system, and also not have to worry about winterizing and dewinterizing a flush toilet system throughout the winter.  I have a great outhouse (with a beautiful view, I might add) that functions in all weather conditions and is about 50 times cheaper than a legal septic system – Wisconsin is strict when it comes to septic systems.  If I was going to live there for an extended period of time, though, I would give a lot of thought to installing a sawdust toilet.

Outhouse

The shower will be somewhat of a multipurpose wash tub/shower consisting of a 35 gallon galvanized tub and a shower curtain on a galvanized conduit ring suspended by magnets on the metal ceiling.  I’m elevating the tub on a 32″ square cedar deck to keep the trap and much of the discharge plumbing inside the cabin.  The traps I’m using for the shower and sink bear mention since they are waterless and cannot freeze. The HepvO waterless drain waste valve uses a one-way elastomeric membrane to allow the passage of waste water into the drainage pipes.  These traps have an added advantage in that air can also pass one-way through the valve eliminating the need for a traditional vent stack or even air admittance valves. The only winterizing I will have to do before winter is to drain the supply side plumbing.

Rock pile

On a non-building related note, the rock pile next to my cabin, which is also the largest one on my land, is being taken away. It’s been somewhat of an eyesore, and years back I was tempted to have the pile buried but never wanted to pay to have it done. It turns out that weathered field stones are now sought after for landscape rock. One of my neighbors asked if he could buy them, but I was happy enough to get rid of them that I traded them for the removal and some other cleanup on my land.

22 thoughts on “Water Projects

  1. Wayne

    Coleman, and I am sure other companies make a “solar shower”. Essentially a plastic bag with a spray hose attached. Rather than stick it in the sun and hope the sun will take the chill off the water, you can always fill it with warm water and hang it up in your shower area to use.

    If you put a hook near the kitchen sink you could hang it up there and have hot water to do your dishes with.

    Another advantage for the solar shower is that it could potentially keep the water usage to a minimum and use less electricity for the pump.

    Reply
  2. Jesse

    Glad to see you back. I am actually working on our water system as well. Just had a hole dug for a cistern, and we will collect the rainwater. Is that a composting outhouse?

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Jesse:

      My outhouse would best be described as an unlined pit privy. If I was going to go through the trouble of composting my outhouse waste, I would probably just install an indoor sawdust toilet. I’ve thought about using a sawdust toilet with biodegradable bags and disposing of them in the outhouse after each weekend trip. If I ever change my mind it’ll be easy to do.

      Steve

      Reply
  3. Michael

    I have a Coleman hot water on demand for camping that has a built in pump and runs on disposable propane canisters. It provides unlimited hot water from warm to very hot. I use an adapter that connects to a standard BBQ tank and just recharge the units power source from the lighter in my truck. It has a built-in faucet as well as a plug to connect to a hose for showering. If you connected the inlet to your pressure system you would not need to use the Coleman pump and the battery would last for weeks since it would just be used to ignite the gas. The system cost about $225 from Cabelas IIRC and is the size of a carry on bag.

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Michael:

      I’ve seen these before, but they are designed for outdoor use only. There are on-demand propane water heaters that some people use without venting, but I won’t do it. If I ever decide to get a hot water heater, I’ll probably just get an on-demand unit that gets vented outdoors. I just don’t feel a great need for it now.

      Steve

      Reply
  4. warren

    I have a cistern but have been trying to get things set up to actually pump water from it (long story) but I dig your idea of making a faked out well with a barrel. I think you have just solved my short-term problem!

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Warren:

      I’ve been giving a lot of thought to a cistern lately. My water needs are so minimal, and I could probably rig one up for $1K or so. The biggest hassle for me is that it would need to be underground to prevent freezing in the winter.

      Steve

      Reply
  5. Fred

    You can make a great pressureized shower for $35. Get a 3 gallon metal bug sprayer from Home Depot. Replace the metal sprayer handle with a kitchen sink spray hose. You’ll need a splice fo the hose and a couple of hose clamps. You can fill the tank up with water, put it on the stove and in just a few minutes you have a very nice piping hot shower. Buy or get a second tank and you can take about a 20-25 minute shower with all the hot water you want. I made one of these for elk camp, they are great.

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Fred:

      See my comment near the top where I have a poly version of this. While I can’t heat it directly on the wood or cook stove, I can add hot water to it from another container. It also has the added advantage in that it’s a solar shower that heats itself in the summer.

      Steve

      Reply
  6. KR Prepper

    Hello, I’m new here. but I love your cabin.
    I just bought an on demand water heater from fleet farm for $120. It’s great. It has the option of running off propane, or D Batteries. It’s really nice

    I do have a question for you.. Did you have to sand blast the inside of the container to get rid of the pesticides? I want to live in one, but am afriad of that step

    Take Care
    KR Prepper

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      KR:

      I did not sand blast the interior of my containers. I’m sure the paint has heavy metals (not pesticides) such as lead in it, much like the paints I grew up with in homes as a child. As long as the paint is not flaking, or dust created by sanding it off, I don’t see much danger in it. In fact, virtually all of it will be encapsulated when I am done. The walls already have 2″ of spray foam insulation on them, and the ceiling will be covered with several coats of interior latex when I get around to it this summer.

      Steve

      Reply
  7. Dan

    Hi Steve,

    I just purchased a timber log cabin that my wife and I are going to live in. No running water but we do have electric… I am planning on doing a 65 gallon fresh water holding tank and a pump like you did and hauling water for a couple of years until we can afford a well. I am planning on building a drywell like yours too…. I just wanted to say thanks for the inspirational ideas and it feels good to know that I am not the only nutjob left on the planet. lol

    Reply
  8. Andre Ewert

    What about a sturdy black corrugated plastic water tank? Maybe we can adapt that technology for northern climes. They use them in Jamaica, put them on the roof and it heats the water. They re probably sturdy enough to withstand frost but in the winter in the Northern Climes, you can have them at one third the fulll level so that the frost action will not bust them. As for the pipes, they’ d have to be well insulated. Main advantage is you use passive solar energy and the tank is out of your feet.

    Reply
  9. Jason

    Steve,
    Have you ever considered adding gutters and using a rain water collection/filtration system to meet your water needs? It would also add to the off the grid factor without the cost of digging that well.

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Jason:

      I’ve already done the cost comparisons between a cistern and well, and have starting to lean more towards the side of a well. The biggest problem for me with a cistern is the climate in northern Wisconsin. I would have to bury, and probably also insulate, the storage tank to keep the water from freezing. I figure a 525 gallon cistern system (tank, excavating, gutters, pump, etc.), would cost about $2,000. An 80 foot drilled well with a good hand pump would cost about $5,000. Considering the advantages of a well: unlimited water, freeze tolerance, and lower maintenance, an extra 3K is not that much in the long run.

      Steve

      Reply
      1. Jason

        Steve,
        I didn’t take the Wisconsin Factor into consideration. I guess that’s a side effect of living in Texas where freezing water is Rarely a concern.

        I love your project by the way, Its really helped to inspire ideas about how we are going to approach the cabin we want to build for our hunting property.

        Reply
  10. Nathan

    Regarding your hot water. They make smaller electric “on-demand” hot water heaters that are made for homes. Lowe’s has this little one, AquaPower 120-Volt AQM 3-1 3.0 kW Compact Point of Use Electric Tankless Water Heater ( http://www.lowes.com/pd_481493-50857-AQM+3-1_4294765367 ) Not sure what your electrical output is with the solar panels but this might be an option. Another option would be to have a second water container that is placed near your wood stove to absorb some radiant. Or you could build your own heat exchange and pump some water through the wood stove’s exhaust and heat it that way.

    Just some thoughts. Love the plan and execution of your cabin though.

    Reply
  11. Nona Meers

    Have a nice cabin in the mountains – collect rainwater for bathroom, installed small septic tank. Get 100 gallons of county water as needed and drain into holding tanks on side of cabin that my husband installed. Heat water for showers on electric stove – using old used vacuum cleaner tub with sprinkler type head – works good. Problem is I have had several bladder infections or UTI in last few months. Could it be the plastic holding tanks or plastic vacuum tub that holds the hot shower water? All were thoroughly cleaned. Holding tank barrels were used originally for transporting olive or cooking oil to restaurants. Cannot afford a well yet. Would a ten gallon galvanized tub work better? I heard
    things about galvanized stuff too. Thanks for any input.

    Reply

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