Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Off grid water in my tiny house

Yes my house has plumbing, running water, hot water, all those things you'd expect in any house. The difference is how the water gets there for me. All of those things only have water to run and heat if there is water in my internal 26 gallon tank that hides under part of the kitchen counter. This could be filled easily and constantly by hooking it to a standard garden hose. And this would be great if I lived near a garden hose and if it wasn't way below freezing for much of the year. As it is, my tank only has water if I put it in there. So here's how my system works.

Those two jugs you see above, which have now actually been expanded to four just to make my trips more efficient, are the core of getting water into my tank. A friend has a well with great water about a mile up the road from me. So, when my tank is running low, or the weather is warm making the job a little easier, I load up my jugs and drive over. These jugs are pretty sturdy, but they have been abused a bit over their life so they do leak a bit around the vents if I fill them the whole way and then hit some bumps while driving back. So positioning them to hang over the floor board there is on purpose to keep my carpet dry.

This is where you add water to the tank from the outside of the house. The closed one is for the easy hose hook up if you have that option. The open one is what I use. You can also just see a little third hole, this is where the water starts to overflow back out of the tank if you try to keep putting more water in after it is already full. 

As you can see below, sometimes a little water puddle will freeze right in the bottom of the trap but it is always easy to pop out with something like a screwdriver.

This is my hose set up that allows me to pour water right from my jugs and get around the uphill trap in the plumbing going into my water tank. The white part of the lid is the standard setup for these Reliance jugs and they have a threaded hole in the center for a spigot. I simply took that out and threaded in a hose fitting. I think this one is a 1 inch on the threaded side and goes to a 3/4 inch on the hose side. Then it was easy to just push about 18 inches of flexible hose onto that fitting. It seems to be an easier set up that trying to find a funnel with some kind of flexible end that can get around the trap.

Now all I have to do is shove that hose into the pipe until it's far enough in to be over the uphill part and drain into the tank instead of back outside and on to the ground. 

And then stand on the nice little old mounting block, prop the jug on my knee, and wait for it to empty. Oh, and repeat this three more times if I am trying to go from an empty tank to a totally full one. None of which is really hard, but it does take some time, and kinda sucks when it's way below zero outside.

Inside, I also have a water jug like this that I use for things like filling glasses to drink from or any other little thing that only needs room temperature water. This keeps my (relatively high power use) water pump from needing to run as much. If you are building your own place with a water tank like this, I'd recommend putting the tank just high enough to gravity feed your plumping so you don't need a water pump at all. But this jug set up helps some with that in my house, and if I ever spill anything, it's positioned right over the sink where it shouldn't be a problem at all. 

This amount of work does make one very conscious of your own water use, much more than I ever was when living just hooked up to an apparently unlimited water supply. I seem to average about 140 gallons of water a month here at my house. That covers all my cooking, dish and hair washing, watering plants, etc. I do usually shower at the gym and my toilet is a composting one, so it uses no water. This is about the same amount that the average American uses per day, so I know this system has made me much more careful with how I use water. Before, I could not have told you how many gallons I used a month, as I have no idea. But it was more that 140 I am sure.

In case you are interested in a similar set up for your tiny house or RV, following are links to some of the items I use and describe in this post. If you buy them through my link, you will be helping me pay the bills here in my tiny house!


  1. Hey Ariel! Thanks so much for opening your home to the internet! It's so nice seeing a home built for winter - this is a common problem I run into when drawing up plans for my own tiny house someday. I'm wondering if you could offer me some insight on your greywater setup? Where does it go in the winter? Canada has more tight zoning/building code rules, and I can't figure out how to set up greywater in a tiny house in winter. Thanks for any help you can offer me! -Ainsley, 23 years old, Ontario, Canada

    1. Sorry I tried to reply to you a few days ago, but just realized it must have vanished into the interweb. So I'll give it another shot.

      My grey water drains into the surrounding landscaping. I am in a remote area and the land owners are ok with this. I doubt it is ok according to code but I'm not sure.

      My grey water is mostly dish water and some from washing my hair since I don't use the shower at my house. And I only use products that are biodegradable so I don't think this is any kind of concern health wise. All the water just drains from my discharge pipe without any freezing problems so far, even when the temps here were well below zero, probably because the water going down the pipe is somewhat warm.

      If I was going to set up a better system, which won't happen before the ground thaws next summer for sure, I would probably do something like bury a 55 gallon drum filled with gravel and run the drain pipe into that. Letting the water all filter through that and then into the surrounding ground. I hope that's helpful!

    2. My name is Kevin and I am hoping to be building my tiny home before winter. Living in New Hampshire, I have concerns about freezing grey water. How far from the house does the water drain? Doesn't it create an ice rink or a slippery spot somewhere? I can't imagine how the drain stays thawed, especially in a harsh winter climate. We did have a record breaking winter this year, maybe that's why I'm so nerved up about it. Also, there has to be a better way to fill the water tank than 5 gallons at a time, no? Once again I have freezing concerns. Any suggestions?

    3. Sorry for the delayed reply. I don't use a ton of water so there is never a lot running down my drain. The drain pipe actually drains right under the edge of the house. Almost strait down from the sink so gravity drains it right away and it doesn't have a chance to freeze.

      Depending on the kind of surface you have, I could see the ice rink being a problem. The ground here is pretty gravely so it sinks in within a few inches of the drain pipe and is not a problem.

      My water tank can't freeze unless my whole house freezes since it is inside. Filling it from water jugs is my best option because of my remote location. I have 4 jugs that allow me to haul 24 gallons of water total at a time so it doesn't take too long. If you have access to a garden hose, that would certainly be simpler.

  2. Just a suggestion but maybe every other month or so you might want to add a little chlorine to your tank. You can use regular household bleach, about 3 drops per gallon to get what a municipal drinking water system is usually at. This should take care of any biogrowth in the system.

    1. I guess I may have to do that eventually. I think if I do, I'd just want to run it the chlorine through and then drain it. I don't want to use chlorinated water, but I suppose I may need to clean the tank eventually.

    2. It should disipate on it's own at that level. But if you want to use some while this is going on, use the old trick that is for city water to be used in fish tanks, and leave in open container overnight. All the chlorine will dissipate because it is very volitile.

  3. Wow, the water system you have is actually great. It is a bit simple, but it sure has all the features you need for a hot water and the likes. Also, I think it’s great that you have a water jug inside your house, as it is much more convenient and safe than drinking tap water. Thanks for sharing this with us, Ariel. All the best!

    Augustin Pavel @ AXEON Water Technologies

  4. Dear Ariel,

    I am building a tiny house with a water system similar to yours in Michigan. My campsite has "city water" April - October, but I will be hauling water from the clubhouse during the winter. I had expected to manually fill my tank from inside the trailer (set jug on stool, spigot on jug w/ short hose to "inspection lid" opening in top of tank?) but am considering your setup also.

    What is the "trap" you refer to between your fill opening and water tank? Is it part of the factory inlet hatch or is it something you added to the inside plumbing? If you added it, why? I know nearly nothing about plumbing.

    Thank you!

    1. Filling it from the inside would probably be nice in the winter. My house is just set up like an RV so it has a little upward bend in the intake. Kind of like a sink drain trap, just in reverse. I think it prevents any dirt and such from being able to accidentally get in there while driving or something. If I was doing the building myself, I don't think I'd use it since I plan to move only rarely if at all.

  5. I have to say that your off-grid house is truly an inspiration to me, but when it comes to gravity fed plumbing, as I'm doing more research because I thought that was what I wanted to do in mine... gravity fed is only about 2psi so you get next to no water pressure and the less water you have in your tank the less pressure you have. I just wish I knew exactly how much power your pump actually uses, and exactly what kind of pump you have.

    1. Yes I wouldn't have very much water pressure, but mostly what I am doing is dish washing and I don't need much for that. If I actually used my shower, then I would probably want to have a pump still for the pressure. I have a Shurflow pump. I'd have to pull the old one out to check the model for sure, but it is at least similar to this one.


    2. (sent a comment earlier, but not sure it went through!? sorry if it doubles up)

      Wow, I'm so thankful I found this post and all of the commentary. Its been so so helpful. I'm in Colorado and am building a tiny house "JStalls Tiny House" on Facebook. Its been such an amazing process so far ..although I'm such a newbie to it all.

      I have decided to sell my fiberglass shower and work on an outdoor solar shower down the road once I finish the home. It sounds like you don't use yours much (or at all?). In place of the shower, I'm hoping for some extra storage and to build a cabinet that can hold a large 'gravity' water tank to serve my potable water needs. I'm also planning to have a second system that would pull from rain barrels via a manual (by foot) water pump.

      Would you be SO kind to share:

      - what kind of water tank you have?
      - the kind of accessory/intake box that you have (and maybe where you got it) pictured above that allows you to fill your tank from the outside with the jugs?
      - and maybe any things I should think about from what you've learned with what I'm hoping to do?

      Thank you EVER so much ~ ; ) !!!


    3. No problem. I didn't get two copies. And hey! I know your house! I mean, I don't actually know you, but I certainly have seen your house and name all over the place. I kinda feel like some celebrity just commented on my blog. ;)

      I do not use my shower at all. It does all work just fine, but due to living off grid and hauling water, it's way easier to shower at the gym or at my friend/neighbor's (who I work for) place. I use mine as a hanging closet with storage for other items underneath. But I kept the shower in case I should ever need to do something different in life and sell my house. Most people will probably want a shower inside their house, and I can still use it as storage. Just my thinking.

      I'd love to use rain water, but here I get way more snow and very little rain so I don't think it would work too well for me.

      I'm sorry, but I don't know where exactly some of those things came from since Tumbleweed built my house for me and I didn't do it myself. (It would have been way cooler to build my own, way to go you!) I'll be happy to look up what info I have on that. Feel free to email me and I'll give you my phone number. Maybe we can call and chat some afternoon. ariel.c.mcglothin at g mail dot com.

  6. Ariel

    Because you are off grid and transporting liquids to and from your TH may I offer the following that I am considering in my TH design.

    Consider thinking of being able to separate or/and combine water systems depending season and available resources.

    My assessment of the resources;
    Rainwater catchment - collected on-site, natural good for washing, bathing, cooking
    Potable general use water - your tank today, fill from rainwater catchment of transported
    Potable drinking water - transported, use for drinking, and cooking

    Grey water - non toxic, biodegradable discharge from sink, shower
    Black water - urine only when composting toilet is used

    For Potable drinking water storage and dispensing..
    Top Bottled Water Dispensing Systems
    From "http://www.aquaezflo.com/"

    For potable general use water transport and storage....
    WaterBrick Stackable Water Containers
    From "http://www.waterbrick.org/products.php"

    You have your grey water under control

    I posted a concept idea in your composting toilet blog post

    all the best

  7. If I understand your water delivery system correctly, you could add an inexpensive brass shaker siphon, to the tube that feeds from the bottom of the jug, and you just need to ensure the bottom of the jug is above water level in the reservoir and it will fill without you having to hold the jug on your knee. Beautiful country and a nice home.

  8. Can you share which water jug you bought and what to look for? I'm trying to make something just like that for a gravity feed from the top of my fridge to a sink basin. Not gonna be plumbed in, I just want a hose coming off a jug draped into the basin.

    1. I have a couple of these - https://amzn.to/2VJ5nYj and 4 of these https://www.theoutdoorworld.com/reliance/reliance-jumbotainer-7-gal-water-container-3019 They both work well for my use.


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