(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.
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?