Living Off The Grid – Part 2, by V.F.

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

In October of the first year, I remember going out to take a shower in the “shower room” outside. By the time I had finished I was sobbing, crying incoherently, full of pity for myself. You see, it was already freezing cold and while I thought of solutions like adding a heater and so forth, I realized that I just didn’t want to have to deal with this anymore. But I had made my bed and I was going to have to sleep in it as the old saying goes. I let myself cry for a bit, then I made myself think of a solution. Heating the outdoor shower room was not going to solve the problem. The Zodi shower is not perfect. You can’t run it inside of a building, it needs to exhaust. It is also pretty finicky to get the temperature just right. The water flow is dependent on the battery, so if the battery needs to be charged, the water flow is slower and hotter. Many times I was taking a shower that started out fine but ended up way too hot or too cold.

Ending the experience with freezing cold temperatures outside was a situation I could no longer deal with. The solution was simple. The shower had to be inside. So I put a 20 gallon Rubbermaid tote (they are pretty stout) in the bathroom we had made in the closet of the bedroom. Next, I grabbed our old outdoor shower tarp that we used to use with our solar camping shower. These are sold in the camping section of stores. I hung it up securely, it fit perfectly, then I ran a hole in the wall to feed the shower nozzle through and reattached the shower head on the inside. I found an old shower head holder that would keep the shower head in the right spot so I wouldn’t have to hold it anymore. I set up the Zodi shower system in the bedroom in front of a window. Then I added a 35 gallon water tank and set it next to the shower stuff. It was small enough to fit under the window and not be seen from outside and it was small enough that I could clean it in between fillings with the swipe of a few paper towels to remove any rust that would build up.

Now I could hop into the shower, my husband could operate it and adjust the temperature for me and open the window while it was on. I had the bathroom (closet) door closed, so I didn’t get cold. Voila! A shower in your home completely independent of plumbing. When I was done showering, I emptied the water outside. I discovered that there are rolling totes and that made it easier to empty the water. It wasn’t a problem really for taking a shower, because I only used about 5 gallons of water. My daughter on the other hand, took baths and that was about 10-15 gallons of water (at the age of 4). The really nice thing about the Zodi for the bath was that we could run in the water, then recycle it once by moving the water pump from the fresh supply of water to the water we had just run into the tub. This would make the water twice as hot. Only recycle the water if it is clean, not after it has been used, since that would gunk up your lines.

Our Kitchen

The Amish house had a very large kitchen. It already had a chimney in the living room and one in the kitchen for a wood stove. Before we moved in, I found a beautiful wood cook stove for sale and installed that. It had warming drawers on top and an oven. We also installed a wood stove in the living room. That was the only heat source we used. We tried the Little Buddy heaters and a little propane garage style heater but regardless of how they claim to be “vent-free” there is always a funny smell that I just can’t stand, it gives me a headache. We only ever used those if we left home for more than a day, but only to jump start the heating process of our home, since we had an infant. This is one thing that has to be considered when living off the grid. Since we didn’t have any traditional plumbing, we didn’t have to worry about the pipes freezing if we left the house for an extended time period.

We could have used the Zodi for all of our hot water needs, like washing dishes, but we didn’t. We kept hot water in a kettle going all the time on the wood cook stove. The wood cook stove was used on average for 9 months of the year. The other 3 months we used a Coleman camping stove set up in front of a window. It took one kettle of boiling water plus some room temperature water to wash the dishes. We only washed dishes once a day and when my daughter was older we washed dishes every other day. When we were done eating we would wipe out everything with paper towels, or leftover napkins.

You need two washbasins, one to wash and one to rinse. When I was a child and watched my grandmother was dishes this way, I thought it was so gross that the dishes kept being rinsed in the same water. My whole adult life I have always washed dishes as soon as they are there, and rinsed everything in hot running water. What a waste! A person doesn’t realize how good they have it until they don’t have it anymore. When you have to fill up 5 gallon water jugs and haul them around to where they are needed, you learn to appreciate every drop. After the first year, we paid a plumber to change our water well from a gas engine pump to an electric pump and pressure tank that we connected to our solar power system.

The Firewood Chores

I would be remiss if I left out the wood chores. For those of you familiar with this, please excuse me, but having to make all of your own wood to heat your home is a never-ending wearisome task. When my husband was ill, I had to chop wood. I already had tendonitis and this was painful for me. One thing you learn when you are living off the grid is that NO ONE IS GOING TO SAVE YOU; EVERYTHING IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. The other rule is that you must ALWAYS BE WORKING. If you are not working, something is not getting done. Even though we had an indoor wood room, we still had to haul the wood from there into the house, we used a wheel barrow. We needed one wheel barrow of wood per day for the two stoves. My husband said we burned six cords of firewood each year. Our first winter in Wisconsin was really hard. We ran out of firewood. We had to go out in a blizzard and cut down trees. Thankfully, the standing dead timber had already been marked, but it was still very hard to wade through waist deep snow and cut down trees. We hauled them back to the house in 6 foot sections on a toboggan. My husband kept saying…”Isn’t this romantic?” No, it was not….but looking back on it in hindsight, maybe a little bit of nostalgia lingers.

A Five Year Test

I lived like this, off the grid, for five years. It seems unbelievable to me now. It didn’t seem like that much time passed. Could I survive….I think so, I hope so…I have the essentials of living covered. I know how to garden and raise my own food and preserve it. I know how to raise animals. Now I focus on honing my skills to survive others. I hope it never comes to that, but it could and so I prepare.

The number one enemy when the sun goes down will be yourself! The real battle that people will fight is in their own mind. Many people will just not be able to cope with the changes they will have to make. Denial is not your friend. Every success story you ever heard, when someone faces some terrible circumstance, revolves around the person accepting the situation and then thinking of a way to overcome it. Preparing for every problem isn’t realistic, but no one is going to save you. You have to save yourself!

I had a friend from Chicago tell me once that they had a plan to leave the city and they were going to haul their decrepit dog on a wagon behind their bicycle. I laughed so hard I embarrassed myself, but yes, they were serious. Folks, if you are still in the city when things shut down, you are not going to be able to get out and neither is your decrepit dog. So use this time wisely to think of the things you might need or someone you know might need to team up with. Then get ready. I hope you never need to live this way, but you might and it is so much easier if you have the knowledge ahead of time rather than learning on the fly.

It all seems rather daunting when you first try to picture yourself living Off the Grid. But if you tackle one thing at a time, it is doable. You don’t have to stock up one years worth of food immediately. Just buy one or two extra of whatever you can afford everytime you shop. Extra toilet paper, paper towels, batteries, water jugs, wet naps, duct tape, etc. Don’t buy things you know you will never eat, like canned asparagus. I have been at it for a while and I have learned that I don’t like throwing food away that is expired more than 10 years, so I don’t buy things other than what I use regularly, and I rotate.

You can get ready if you start now. It isn’t something that you do once or twice, it is a regular frame of mind to always ask yourself, do I have enough of …..fill in the blank?




21 Comments

  1. I enjoyed the article! “NO ONE IS GOING TO SAVE YOU; EVERYTHING IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.” It is what young adults of today need to learn. If you live on a homestead, whether on/off grid, everything is your responsibility. Everything labor is prioritized, every dollar accounted for, every item used over and over again until it falls apart. Animals, vehicles and tools must do their jobs first, then maybe you can find sport in them, if you have any energy left to do so. You help your neighbors if they need you and pray they will be around to help you when you need them. On a homestead, you earn your freedom.

    1. Yes, Animal House. No one is going to save you.

      I know a man, who on his first patrol in Vietnam, 1967, came under fire and hit the dirt.

      His first thought was, “Somebody should call the cops.”

      His second thought was, “Uh-oh, I ‘m the cops.”

      Carry on

    2. My husband (61), adult daughter (25) and I (57) have lived off grid for over 4 years. No solar, no showers. We have an outhouse and have never had fly problems. We use a natural powder called Eliminator that breaks down the waste, so no build up and it never needs to be pumped. We have a portable fiberglass tub we bathe in. We wash clothes with a hand powered wringer. We use an ice chest to keep our food cool. In the winter we can put it outside. We only have cell phones for gadgets. We use kerosene lamps for lighting. We love it and would never go back to “modern” conveniences…they are too noisy. Thank you for the well written and thought provoking article.

  2. Very wise words, VF. Thank you. I can’t help going back to your constant assertion that the amount of work involved in keeping up this lifestyle is so vast. It occurs to me that it would be almost essential to have an extended family or group (w many young bucks) to contribute to the harsh labor needs. The elder members (like yours truly) who can no longer labor intensively for extended periods can contribute in the capacity of a knowledge base and sit mostly at the helm in attending to and teaching the younger sect.

    Merry Christmas all.

    Grunty

  3. When my young wife and I were first married and just graduated university, we moved straight to the Interior of Alaska in January 1974. I was able to find a log homesteaders cabin rent free if I did repairs and upkeep. It got to -70F that winter, with no wood supply, no electricity, no plumbing. But just as VF has done, we got busy and made that 12 x 16 cabin our first home, had our first child there, grew a bountiful garden, had wonderful adventures, and frankly it WAS a romantic time in our lives, but work. Having a subsistence permit was a blessing, since we could lower a fish wheel in the Copper River and bring in the king salmon. Then sit up all night with a 30.06 in your lap because of the fresh fish on the stringer! The next morning the thrill and trepidation of seeing fresh grizzly sign 15 yards from the camp! It was an amazing adventure, but I don’t know if I would choose to live that lifestyle today.

  4. This article was an excellent combination of practical solutions and personal insights. It was an interesting and fun read for us even with many years of prepared living under our life-belts. We laughed. We reminisced. We talked about new ideas for age old challenges. We enjoyed lots of great Christmas morning conversation inspired by the stories shared by this writer. We hope it will also be enjoyed by many who are newcomers to the preparedness community!

  5. Hi V.F. excellent article! Lots of useful insights.

    Your comments about dish washing are spot on. People erroneously think hot water rinsing sterilizes dishes but it just wastes hot water. Soap isn’t even necessary for dishes where no fats/oils are involved so if I’ve eaten a bowl of fruit salad from the garden, it gets a quick cold-water wash/rinse then into the dish drainer.

    “The number one enemy when the sun goes down will be yourself!” No truer words were even spoken. So many of us have romanticized the idea of the grid going down but we still haven’t made the realistic preparations required because we love our modern conveniences too much. We share your chuckle picturing your friends bicycling out of Chicago with their dog but at the same time, many of us would be in no better condition than they are in a nation-wide grid-down situation. We live off-grid but we still depend on the nation-wide grid. I spent 13 months finding the perfect off-grid propane kitchen range (most ranges by law plug into a 110 outlet) but still haven’t gotten my built-in rocket stove kitchen finished for that day when propane is but a distant memory. Your article was a wake-up call to get some things done in 2020 that I have been procrastinating for way too long. Thank you!

    The other point your article drove home was that we learn best by experience, not book learnin’ or user reviews. You can’t buy a Zodi shower, Buddy heater, or any other product and pull it out of the box the day the SHTF and try to get it to work. Some things are hard enough to get to work in the first place, even harder when you are in panic mode. If we buy things and get proficient with them as you clearly demonstrated, we’ll know ahead of time whether or not we can depend on them when the chips are down.

    Again, this was a very enjoyable read and thanks for sharing. 🙂

  6. Good article, many parts very personally familiar. The most telling comment is the one that will make or break people with off the grid destination in mind is: “The number one enemy when the sun goes down will be yourself!” Easy enough to lie to yourself during the day when you are busy, but when you shut off the Coleman light and there is no TV, it is like the night holds a mirror up in front of your mind. You don’t look the first or second night, but eventually you will look. It can be a blessing or a curse, and sometimes you can’t tell the difference.

    1. This is a remarkable comment JE, and it provokes much thought. Bottom line, one must be at peace with himself and his God, otherwise the darkness will be a curse. Thank you for sharing. God Bless.

  7. Good article, and responses. I was thinking about writing about my pitiful little experience of being without power for a couple of weeks after a snow storm. I think I will just humbly learn from all of you. Thanks for your insights.

  8. Recirculating Shower,

    I’ve seen several videos on this reduced water idea, but I’m not sure how viable it is???

    Water-saving shower: Showerloop recycles used water for long, guilt-free showers – TomoNews
    (YouTube Video)
    TomoNews US
    Apr 3, 2016
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWKWA93-nmQ
    Duration – 1:32

    AN Tour: Recirculating Shower | How to Shower in a VAN
    (YouTube Video)
    Wando Tales
    Jul 17, 2019
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fY7-ahE9wE
    Duration – 8:47

    004 – Introducing the Hour Shower. Limitless showers while boondocking on a half gallon of water.
    (YouTube Video)
    Gone Boondocking
    Aug 7, 2019
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgF9OoX0-w0
    Duration – 19:15

    005 – The Hour Shower – Part 2. Limitless showers while boondocking on a half gallon of water.
    (YouTube Video)
    Gone Boondocking
    Aug 9, 2019
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGznaA2qIbQ
    Duration – 10:56

    011 – Hour Shower 2.0 – The Heated Hour Shower!
    (YouTube Video)
    Gone Boondocking
    Nov 7, 2019
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8s3jsleHXcI
    Duration – 24:12

    Recirculating Shower Tech Talk – Van Build Series E – 3.
    (YouTube Video)
    Snow & Curt
    Sep 14, 2019
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0AR4COFJng
    Duration – 23:27

  9. We hauled water 5 years while living in Alaska. We arrived with 2 children and left with 3. We had a large galvanized tub that i placed our children with about 5 gallons of warm water that i heated on our wood stove. I then had another gallon or two that i used to rinse them off with. My husband and I took dip baths just heating up 4-5 gallons of warm water. We just kneeled in the tub, poured warm water over us to get wet. Washed with a soapy rag and then rinsed off. It’s not hard and you get clean. In winter we did it in front of our woodstove. As for washing dishes, I washed them once a day. We just used a rubber spatula to scrape off the dirty dishes . Then I would place the silverware in the bottom of a large pan . I had a pitcher of hot water that I used to wet a soapy sponge then washed the plates cups , etc. I rinsed then with the pitcher of hot water pouring it over the pan. I could get all our dishes done with 2 gallons of water at the most. And yes, I cooked all our food and made our own bread and used regular dishes. I felt it was more sanitary to always rinse in clean water. It takes adapting and definitely is more work but really we’re just spoiled. People have lived for thousands of years without modern plumbing. Of course, I do prefer our modern plumbing. But we’re set up with the ability to be on or off the grid so if we need to we can get by.

    1. Modern plumbing also does a great deal to prevent half of your children from dying before adulthood, which is the historic norm. Not the long, hot showers part, but the clean dishes, clean water, and sanitation part.

  10. Merry Christmas all.

    Here is more from Tara Ross

    This Day in History: George Washington’s Christmas trip across the Delaware

    On this day in 1776, General George Washington makes a harrowing trip across the Delaware River, in the dead of night. The tremendous feat came just when it was needed most.

    Washington’s army was reeling from a series of crushing defeats: The British had won important battles in New York and had chased Americans across New Jersey. Early in December, a defeated American army had narrowly escaped across the Delaware River.

    That river provided a barrier from further British attacks, at least for the moment, because Washington had ensured the destruction of every boat for miles around.

    It was then that British General William Howe made a decision with serious ramifications for the British war effort. The weather had become much worse, and Howe decided to retire to winter quarters in New York City. He left behind a series of outposts in New Jersey to protect the ground he’d won.

    Washington did not realize that Howe was gone (or he may have thought that it was simply a trick). He had roughly 6,000 men fit for duty, but many of those enlistments would end on New Year’s Day. He needed to recruit new soldiers or inspire the old ones to stay. The year had gone badly, and he needed to end it on a high note. On Christmas Eve, he met with his officers, and they finalized the details of a surprise attack. The army would go back across the Delaware in three different locations. The men would march to Trenton during the early morning hours, and they would attack before sunrise.

    Washington’s army began its crossing on Christmas night. One of the American officers, Henry Knox, later described the “almost infinite difficulty” created by the icy conditions in the Delaware River. Making matters worse, a northeaster sprang up during the night. The bad news was that it made the crossing more difficult; the good news was that it covered up any noise created by the Americans.

    Amazingly, the army managed to cross—even getting horses and cannon across the river. Yet conditions were so difficult that the army completed its crossing 3 hours later than planned. Washington knew the element of surprise might be difficult to achieve if his troops arrived after sunrise, but he determined to push on anyway. They had come too far to turn back now.

    Washington could not know that the officers in charge of the other two crossings along the Delaware had called off their own troops, deeming the crossing too difficult. Washington’s planned three-pronged attack was down to only one.

    The army pushed on relentlessly, through snow and ice. Knox would later write that the march was made “with the most profound silence.” Another lieutenant later wrote that Washington rode among the men, repeatedly telling them: “For God’s sake keep with your officers.” The weather was so severe that two men literally froze to death during the course of the night.

    The army reached its destination, outside Trenton, at about 8 a.m. on December 26, three hours later than planned and one full hour after sunrise. Could the element of surprise be maintained?

    Tomorrow’s post will tell you what happened next.

    Primary Sources:

    David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (2004)

    David McCullough, 1776 (2005)

    Edward G. Lengel, General George Washington: A Military Life (2005)

    John Ferling, Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence (2007)

    Letter from Henry Knox to Lucy Knox (Dec. 28, 1776) (reprinted HERE)

    Carry on

  11. Please, please, please tell us how you burned poop. The method used by troops in Afghanistan is too nasty, not to mention toxic (involves diesel fuel and a lot of trash).

    In a grid down situation, where septic cleanout companies are nowhere to be found, burning certainly seems like the most sanitary method of sterilizing poop. And the ashes should make good fertilizer.

    All ground burial methods have the risk of leaching into the water supply. At the turn of the 20th century, a nice suburban home in a good neighborhood might have a widow in it, whose husband died of disease from his own well.

    It would be a great kindness if you would tell us what you did.

  12. Inexpensive option:
    https://www.amazon.com/Portable-Outdoor-Handheld-Camping-Shower/dp/B01J5W1NZE/ref=sr_1_11?dchild=1&keywords=12vdc+shower+pump&qid=1577336412&s=sporting-goods&sr=1-11

    DIY using the parts in the photo, or buy this kit. I’ve used my original build for years without trouble. Adaptable to a variety of needs such as water supply to a shower or sink, and be made portable. Can pump water from any surface source, or act as a transfer pump. Pressure switch turns pump off when valve is closed, mimicking pressurized water supply.
    https://www.amazon.com/SHURFLO-PRO-WASHDOWN-KITTM-Ultimate/dp/B00AJVJWZ4/ref=sr_1_23?dchild=1&keywords=12v+dc+shurflo&qid=1577337498&s=sporting-goods&sr=1-23

  13. Sun-up or sun-down, the worst enemy you have 24 hours a day is yourself.

    That said, great tale. We’ve been off-grid for 25 years in the Northern Rockies and there was a helluva lot of deja vu in her essay regarding our first few years.

    It’s six degrees out, so it’s time to reload the stove.

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