Going off grid part 1: Water

When I was first planning this I hadn’t nutted out all the details (or any of them) and figured I could run off an extension lead and the garden hose if it really came down to it.  To start with I’d set myself a minimal budget, figuring that if I was going at this alone there was a pretty good chance I was going to end up with something not unlike a shoddy cubby house. And trust me, I’ve built plenty of those in my lifetime – shoddy being the very operable word.

I based my budget and the guess of how much I’d be able to manage on other people’s experiences, I didn’t have any other framework to go on. I’ve never built anything before (one wooden pencil box in high school and many shoddy cubby houses aside) and it seems I’ve effectively avoided buying any house related goods, pretty much, well…ever. I had no clue what I was in for. In case this blog has not already informed you of that fact.

Thankfully, I had a Tom. Suddenly, the quality of what we were building felt like something worth spending my money on. It felt less like a gamble. Well, no, not true. The whole thing still most days feels like a total gamble. But now, on the cusp of having something beautiful, something worthy of the belief that got me to the starting line in the first place, it seems silly to skimp or not go the extra mile. This is where things get serious. Do I really want to go down the easy road and run off a cord and hose from my sister’s house? It certainly seems like a quick, cheap option. Setting this tiny up to run off grid would be expensive, a steep learning curve, and yet perhaps the only way to really walk the talk in this project.

So: off grid options mean I’m looking a rainwater tank, composting toilet, solar power and a home made grey water system, to start with at least. The power, plumbing and technical elements of the house have been swamping my brain, night after night, for a few months now. I want to document as much of it as I can – firstly so I don’t forget it all as soon as I move on to the next step, and secondly because it might be useful to anyone else out there starting from scratch.

Baby steps this week include: I bit the bullet and ordered my rainwater tank! Who knew these things were so expensive? Sigh. If you’re not sick of me saying that yet, don’t worry, you soon will be. I didn’t know! I guess that’s who. I haven’t really chosen the cheapest options for many parts of this build, so I’m sure there are ways to cut costs. But someone (or a few people) said to me right at the start of this: you either have money, or you have time. Second hand, budget and do-it-yourself- options are all well and good if you have time to scour every shop, every supplier, every scrap yard. If you only have a day and a half each weekend to actually get something done and you need your materials good to go and made to fit, then you’re going to fork out a little extra, simple as that.

I found a tank supplier that makes slimline tanks, a nice oval shape that I’ll be able to mount on the front of my trailer. They were flexible in the dimensions and make the tanks out of colourbond steel, plus I get free delivery! Tanks smaller than 1,000 litres seem less common so options were also limited by my choice to go for less. Originally I was thinking something tiny, maybe a 200 litre tank. I’m not sure why, it was just the first size that popped into my head. Plus, 200 litres sounds like a decent amount, right? Well it did, until I had a look at some of the figures that make up average daily water usage.

Melbourne metropolitan water usage in 2011-2012 clocked up at each person averaging 149 litres of water per day. Tell me that doesn’t boggle your mind a little. Imagine trying to carry that much water. Or drink that. Or even imagine what size container you’d need to hold it! I’m sorry, my mind is boggled. That seems pretty ridiculous.

Showers use around 8 litres a minute, average shower length is 6 minutes (40 litres). Average flushes of a loo per person per day is 3 and even using the most efficient toilets and using the half flush, it’s 3 litres a pop (9 litres). Add to this washing hands, washing dishes, whatever you cook and drink with…it adds up! Fortunately, I don’t have a laundry to consider and the compost toilet will be discussed later. But if I’m anywhere near that kind of usage, 200 litres isn’t going very far. In the end, based on practicality and price, 600 litres seemed like a safe enough bet. If I’m using 40 litres a day, I’ll be able to last two weeks with no rain. That’s not a lot when you think about an Australian summer. Certainly changes the way you think about things, if you have to ration your resources out and can’t rely on what often seems like infinite access to whatever we want – power, water, food, you name it! Giving up convenience is a daunting thought when it’s been so hardwired into our lives.

When I placed the order, I had to specify where I wanted inlets, outlets and overflows positioned – not something I’d thought about but fairly common sense. A bit of research never hurts to see how other people do it. In case you’ve ever wondered, here’s more info than you probably want on what happens inside a rainwater tank:


So much of our current lifestyles are unsustainable. We continue to flush clean, drinkable water away as waste, while people all around the world struggle to access any water at all. Girls in so many countries miss out on getting an education or employment, face dangerous conditions and walk unthinkable distances to supply their family with water. Here I am complaining about the privilege of spending money to connect running water to my house, when it’s a total gift to even have that choice. So, so lucky.

On a less serious note, that water report has made me a bit curious I must admit. Is it weird if I start keeping a tally of how many flushes I get through in a day? How many litres do you think you’d use on an average day?


3 thoughts on “Going off grid part 1: Water

  1. Nicole says:

    Oh wow that’s so much water! I’ll start counting mine too. And try to keep showers under 6 mins :/ I think we will be heating water on the stove and using a camp shower (which is a bag with holes in it) until we get everything sorted so hopefully we can get in the habit of shorter showers.
    Great diagram by the way, I’m totally going to mooch off your research!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. sarahsmeth says:

    Yes I think I’ll probably set up some kind of outdoor rig for the summer months, there are some decent looking camp showers out there. I think keeping track of it and getting familiar with the limits you have to work within will be the key – we are nothing if not adaptable right?

    Mooch away! The more mileage these research hours get the better, I say! 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s