** Updated: March 20, 2019**
One question we often get about living off the grid is “what about water?” Lucky for us, we get all of our water from the lake behind our house with a one-of-a-kind off grid water system. We don’t have to worry about water delivery, water hauling, or water shortages. And of the many challenges we face as newbies to living off the grid, this is one area where we’ve totally lucked out! Here’s how our off grid water system works.
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We live on a big lake
So we have a better situation than a lot of our homesteading and off grid friends do – we live right on a lake. A big lake. While other homeowners and seasonal cabin owners also have properties along the water (and there’s even a large campground/park on it), there’s more than enough fresh lake water for all of us.
We know of other families living off the grid in the area who aren’t quite as lucky – they haul water to their cabins in jugs, tanks, etc. Some of them even have truck bed plastic water tanks to make the best use of space in the back of their pick-up trucks.
There’s a lot of fresh, clean water
When we first moved off grid I couldn’t get my head around the fact that when we were out fishing, our neighbour (it was his boat we were on) simply dipped his cup in the lake when he was thirsty. After spending a lot of years living in the Toronto area, the idea of drinking water from a lake (think Hamilton Harbour – ugh) was jaw-dropping.
A few weeks later, I talked to a chemical engineer who lived on a property a few miles from us – also on the lake. She ran tests every spring, and said the water was perfectly safe. So there’s a lot of water, and it’s clean.
We pump it – even when it’s -40 out
Though we back onto a lake, it’s a fairly steep and very rocky descent down to the water. Yet we don’t have to haul our water up over the rocks in buckets, thank goodness.
Instead, our off grid water system depends on a permanently installed submersible water circulating electric pump. It’s 14 feet underwater in the lake. We’ve never had any issues with it.
Recently we returned to our off grid home after three years away – years during which we had shut down and winterized the property. We were anxious about whether the pump and all our off grid home systems would run after all that time sitting unused, but everything started up without a hitch. (Well, except our hot water tank, but we’ve been heating water on the stove for baths or swimming in the lake – it’s summer, after all.)
Our off grid water system includes pipe
We pump water uphill through 225 feet of insulated water line protected by 3- inch PVC pipe. For our family of four, we only need to fill our 1500 gallon water tank about once every three weeks. In the summer, when we’re ready to pump we simply switch the water pump on at the breaker panel. Then it takes about a minute to hear the water coming up the line into the tank.
And a 1500 gallon tank
Our off grid water system works so well that our tank fills up pretty quickly. Of course, it depends on how low we’ve let the water level go. we usually fill it in under one hour. Especially considering that we’re pumping 1000 gallons (give or take – we never let the tank run dry unless we’re winterizing it) of water through a water line uphill over the rock!
And a really loud horn!
We have an extremely loud horn (sounds like an air raid siren) that sounds once the water level reaches a certain point. Then we know we have a couple of minutes to switch off the pump so it doesn’t overflow.
A circulating hot glycol system heats the water line in winter
Because we live so far north in such a cold climate, our off grid water system includes a propane-fired line-heating glycol system. So in the winter, after the lake ice begins to freeze, our water pumping routine includes turning the glycol heater on to warm the glycol line. It runs alongside the water line in the insulated pipe.
Usually, we heat the glycol for about 30 minutes, then turn on the pump (there’s a switch right in our water tank room), to let the glycol pump for about 20 minutes to melt ice in the line.
When we lived in the city (and in the suburbs) we rarely gave any thought to our water supply – we just turned on the tap and there it was. Now, however, as with so many other aspects of our off grid life, we’re far more aware of where our water’s coming from, how much we’re using, and how safe our water supply actually is. Whether you’re dreaming of a move to the nearby country or to a really remote location like we live in, do some research on your off grid water system options early on in your planning.