Photo Courtesy of Morgan Karanasios

Plumbing and Heating

We live in New England, where winter temperatures can plummet and stay plummeted, wreaking havoc on exposed water lines that will certainly freeze, expand and rupture. Most homes’ water lines come in through the basement, which is below the frost-line, so freezing isn’t a problem. However, not only do we clearly not have a basement; we don’t know where we’ll be getting water from in future locations.

Our solution is to store water rather than continuously draw it. This approach allows us to, once a week or so, depending upon use, fill our water tanks and drain the feed hose. Insulating and heating our water tanks and the subsequent lines leading into the house prevents them from freezing. This setup has a respective advantage in the summer,  as the insulation keeps the water cool instead.

Currently, we use livestock trough heaters to prevent the water from freezing in the barrels. They activate when the temperature approaches freezing, heating a protected coil until the water temperature reaches forty degrees or so. The copper pipes leading into the house are wrapped in heat tape and insulation, as well.

Though this system works, there’s a significant expenditure of electricity. Because we aspire to reducing our expenses, not to mention our carbon footprint, as much as possible, we’ve begun plans for a 2.0 system, which replaces the electric heaters with a kind of heatsink: a pipe will run from inside our house out into and around the barrel and then back into the house. Using a small fan, we can pump our warm air through line, allowing the water to absorb the heat along the way. Providing our barrel insulation job is sound, this should suffice in preventing the water from freezing. We also intend to use a similar system to keep our propane tanks from becoming too cold, which can cause the gas pressure to drop and the heater to fail (something we learned about the hard way this winter…)


The Interior

Though we had hoped our water barrels would bear down with enough pressure to power-wash an elephant, the result was less than satisfactory. If the barrel bottoms were cone-shaped, allowing gravity to emphasize a single point of relief, I’d be telling a different story. Even still, the water pressure would inevitably decrease as the water level drops. The solution is simple: a water pump. Once installed, not only will our pressure improve, but smart pumps mean that multiple faucets can run simultaneously by increasing pressure when there is a drop. This would improve even our summer setup, which was simple a direct water hook-up that bypassed the barrels; even that system lagged when you we tried to use more than one faucet.

Copper lines distribute water to a bathroom sink, a kitchen sink and to our shower. The shower is made from about thirty dollars of junkyard scrap-metal that we stripped, straightened and sealed. Sections of different sizes were pop-riveted together, after which we caulked the seams. Its door is made from plywood, and, note the porthole; it’s a Crock-pot lid we picked up for $1.oo!

The wastewater drains out through PVC lines, which lead to a hose downhill. We use only natural, biodegradable soaps, so the water is harmless. Nonetheless, we have plans to incorporate a distiller to improve the process further. We, of course, are using a composting toilet in the bathroom.