Monday, July 15, 2013

Off-grid living with water catchment...in the desert!

I've been thinking a lot about two off-grid homes I toured in New Mexico, so I may as well release that brain-steam here. Both were solar- and wind-powered, not tied into the electrical grid, of course. Both had composting toilets.

I learned that wind power, unlike solar, must always be doing something. Wind is Type A. So, there is a small inline heater that uses the excess power once the batteries are full.

One couple uses a SunMar, non-electric toilet. I asked about "things," and they explained that the urine is separated, and is diverted into their graywater system.

The other uses what they called an "indoor outhouse." They have three bins going: active, used-to-be-active, and looks-like-dirt-to-me. I ran my hand through bin #3 (which is also #2); it's at least one year old. They rotate these bins every six months.

Those things are most excellent, but the part that caught my attention was the catchment-only water supply. That means there were no wells, and no septic systems. [Both homes were built with graywater systems for disposal.] Imagine how inexpensively you could set up your homestead without needing to 1) bring the conventional  power supply to your home, 2) dig a well (an uncertain endeavor that you'll pay for regardless of success), or 3) plant a septic system. Wow! Haul me in a Tuff Shed and let's get started!

Both couples were friends of my friend (hi Betty!), and they were very generous with their time and explanations. The homes were beautiful. Different in styles and sensibilities, but both extremely appealing, and built in soul-soothing places. Best of all, I talked poop to my heart's content. Discuss urine separation? Not a problem! Can I see your composted dookie? Right this way! It's the kind of afternoon Judy would have loved.

I got all excited by the catchment system, because this is high desert. Monsoon is when they gather most of their water (winter snows are good, too, when they happen).

Chuck explained his "first flush" system that cleans his roofs (catchment areas) before the cleaner, later water is stored in his tanks. I wish I had taken a picture, because it's a simple system I'm having trouble describing. The water rushes off his roof, down a pipe that runs downhill and is capped at the end. From there, it backs up into the storage tank inlet, leaving sediment and bird plop down below to be flushed out.

I asked Chuck what happens when it's still raining and all his cisterns are full. He got a pained look and told me he opens the cap and lets it run. We observed a moment of silence. They use metal roofs for the cleanest water; you can use whatever you have, but asphalt shingles will need more filtration, he said.

One couple purifies their water with a UV light. The other just filters out sediment and drinks it like it fell from the sky. Everyone looks healthy. This is an area far from industry, and at a fairly high elevation.

ETA: For every 1000 square feet of space you have a roof over, 1" of rainfall will deliver 623 gallons of water.

You might expect these homes to be shacks or rough cabins, but that wasn't at all true. They are modern, fully-equipped, beautiful homes that you wouldn't suspect of being so radically conservative unless you started asking.

While I was in that area, I met Peggy and Eric at the campground. They own a beautiful conventional home on the river in Washington State, not far from Portland, Oregon. They are both ready for a change and so they're in the market for just such an off-grid home. I hope one day they'll stop in here to let me know they found it.



Now I'm in Flagstaff, soaking in kind, gentle energy and babies. Two of the cats (the bonded pair) are here. They're sticking closely to me and each other right now, but they're enjoying the other people. They got to meet the neighbor's dog this morning, and have now declared themselves indoor cats.

Gargoyle with salt water.








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32 comments:

Sue Soaring Sun said...

Beautiful pictures! And I'm so glad that Bob and Penny are with you.

Kate said...

No, no, you explained the first flush system perfectly that is BRILLIANT and so very easy. It's automated without, well, automation.

Before I decided to go on the road I was looking into off-grid stuff, but I hadn't got to the water bits. Funnily enough, I was still focusing on 'what happens to my poop'.

Gaelyn said...

I love to know that folks have innovative ideas to live off the grid.

Nan Talley said...

So, what is the cost of establishing these systems compared to bringing utilities in? Did they say?

Good Luck Duck said...

They didn't say specifically, Nan, and I didn't think to ask them. The composting toilet would be a straightforward comparison: cost of the toilet vs. cost of a well + cost of a septic system. Soil doesn't always cooperate with a septic system, so there's that consideration.

A catchment system would be the cost of the tanks/cisterns. I imagine that would be a constant up-front cost, whereas you don't know what you'll end up paying when you start digging a well. It's possible the front-end cost would be comparable.

Solar would probably be more expensive up-front, unless you're a long way from the nearest power. I've heard that systems are inexpensive and efficient enough now that you recoup your investment in seven years.

It would be SO great if someone dropped in who could answer this from experience. Or even research. Someone less lazy than a duck.

Me, too, Gaelyn. I find it exciting.

Oh good, Kate. Yes! Isn't it elegant in its simplicity? Don't discount the "what happens" question. It's important individually, and collectively.

Thanks, Sue! Me, too. It's good to be with them again.

Anonymous said...

No elves in that there tree, huh? Tony would be SO disappointed. Be well, Marianne

Judy and Emma said...

Ha! My kind of afternoon my eye! My only thoughts of elimination were about X ing the rest of the post. :P

Good Luck Duck said...

Then let's not tell him just yet, Marianne. Might as well wait until he needs to know.

Judy, you're poo-pooing my post?? :D

Jan Goldfield said...

I'm gonna start building my water catchment system as soon as I can find parts. Excitement! If they can do it in the desert, I can do it in the Ozarks. Thanks so much for the info.

Good Luck Duck said...

COOL Jan! You sure could!

heyduke50 said...

it is most definitely doable and without great costs I do believe... you just have to get past your dookie maybe ending up in the garden and drinking bird poo filtered water... yep I too may end up down this highway one day...

Good Luck Duck said...

Dookie in the garden: I'm past it! Drinking bird-poo water: I may have to remedy that before drinking, but okay!

Teri said...

My family owns a tiny lot near Taos, NM (Tres Piedras) I would love to build a small off grid house on that property some day. I loved reading Mother Earth magazine and seeing all of the innovative houses that people would build.

Good Luck Duck said...

Lucky! How tiny is tiny? It didn't seem to require a huge amount of land to accommodate all their systems.

Nancy said...

Are you ready to find some land? Make it enough so you don't have to have people around you unless you choose to do so. I love these ideas and the thought of off grid life.

tstda62 said...

We got a lot for sale next to one of these two houses. :o) Gorgeous view of San Augustin Basin 10 acres.
Roxanne going to forward this to Judi and Jerry, Chuck and Linda. They will love it.
We dug a well 7 years ago & we had to go 490' and it cost $13,000 then. Chuck & Linda originally dug a well and no water.

John and Pam (ohtheplacestheygo.wordpress.com) said...

It is nice to know that there are people out there that really do take wonderful care of our environment.

Love the tree "on a stand!"

Chuck said...

As the owner/builder of one of the homes in NM toured by Roxanne I can provide the following figures for our water collection system. We have 5 separate storage tanks collecting water off the roofs of three structures (residence, workshop, garage). The tanks cost about $3k and provide a little less than 5ooo gallons storage capacity. The tanks, ranging in size from 550 to 1550 gallons, are made of a poly plastic and are designed for use above ground only as they are not strong enough to withstand being buried. Associated PVC pipes and valves cost maybe another $200. Our current storage capacity provides enough water for our approximately 10 gallons per day personal consumption (drinking, showering, washing dishes - we use a laundramat for washing clothes when we go 70 miles to town for grocery shopping)and some watering of a very small garden in May and June before the monsoon rains arrive. To irrigate a larger garden would require more storage capacity and/or a wetter climate. We get about 6" of rain during the summer rainy season which normally fills our tanks for the rest of the year. If you live in a wetter climate with say 25-25" of rainfall per year you could have enough water to irrigate a garden, wash clothes and flush your regular toilets with even less storage capacity than our nearly 5k gallons since you would be collecting rain several times a month (we often go 2-6 months without receiving rainfall).

Good Luck Duck said...

Chuck, I am so glad you spelled this out for us! These are excellent details to think about, and we're glad to know what the initial outlay was. Compare that to Betty's $13,000 (and your original disappointing try), and wow! Thank you for this information!

I just remembered, Chuck, that you mentioned rotating your tank usage so that you were pulling out of the more protected one during cold weather.

And a lovely 10 acres it is, Betty! Plus, I know where to get breakfast not far away (no, no your house!).

Nancy, I'm not ready for anything. It took me 45 minutes to figure out how to take a shower this morning. But, I do love this idea a lot, and I really like the area I toured. People don't agree on stuff, but they still stick around and form a community.

Pam, it tickles my heart, too. I also love how becoming more self-sufficient intersects with stewardship and conservation.

Trees here are so avant garde.

Sherry said...

Great post. I love the MUCH lighter footprint idea. These folks are amazing and so are you for explaining it all. Glad to hear about the cats. Things sound fine with you. Glad to hear that too.

Good Luck Duck said...

I love it, too, Sherry. Thank you!

Silver Fox said...

You should check your twitter account, it's started sending out spam links and bad links in tweets and DMs. I checked one of them - goes to "secure twitter logon, reset password." Yikes!!

JO said...

Great pictures, love the tree. I'll keep my thoughts on all the poo to myself. :(P

kp Catalano said...

if you look at the web addy link it says-

http://///twitller.com////ewa1nw////verify////?&account///_secure///_login///

I stuck in a bunch of hash marks so it would not link to anything...

very sneaky because the page looks legit enough

-k

Good Luck Duck said...

Thanks for telling me about the jacking. I think it's under control (?) with a password change. Yes, that is a sneaky address, for sure.

Contessa said...

Very informative post. Just ordered "The End of Growth" by Jeff Rubin today as well as "Everything Under the Sun: Toward a Brighter Future on a Small Blue Planet.

Silver Fox said...

And btw, I love the photos with trees and boulders -- I'm in a boulder-tree sorta mood, I guess.

Good Luck Duck said...

Those sound good, Contessa. Let me know if you recommend them.

Thanks, Silver. You must be feeling steady and grounded.

Jo, everybody poops!

Shirlene said...

So I am glad you have the cats...just curious if you are taking the cats with you on the road, of if there is going to be a road, or if you are just settling in Flag for awhile...It is a lovely place to settle for a while. Also don't forget about the hummingbird festival in Sedona, just float on down the hill and look for our booth in the Community Auditorium...hope to see you...

Geri Moore-Hajek said...

Your readers and Teri maybe interested in this website about Earthships, a self sustaining home. There are several dozen near Taos NM and they give tours. They are really quite amazing!

http://earthship.com/

Enjoy!


Good Luck Duck said...

Shirlene, these are great questions! I don't know the answers! My hope is to get a teeny bit more grounded before I fly. I don't know that I'll settle in Flagstaff, even though it's very appealing to be with and near family.

I HAD forgotten the Hummingbird Festival, so I'll look it up again.

Thanks, Geri! Those things are cool! You know how hard it is to pry $7 out of me, but I think I might let it loose when I get to Taos close enough to tour.

Geri Moore-Hajek said...

If you just do a search for "earthships" many more sites will pop up and maybe save you $7 !!

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