Unplugged!

lessons learned on the journey toward independence

Water Systems

Anything to do with water system that are set up in an independent manner and don't require utilities in order to operate.

How much water does the typical family use? Probably a lot more than they need to. Here are some estimates of the typical water usage:

  • Average Adult or Child = 50-100 gal./day
  • Clothes Washing Machine = 30-50 gal./use
  • Shower/Tub = 25-60 gal./use
  • Toilet = 4-7 gal./use
    (source: USDA Water Systems Handbook)

These are probably rather high estimates. But water is not something that you want to underestimate. One thing to decide when setting up your water system is, how conservative are you willing to be with water usage. The largest offender in water consumption is the irrigation of one's garden and lawn. While watering your lawn could be something you are willing to give up, a garden is very critical, and irrigation is key for good productivity. Information on low water consumption irrigation systems. If one is careful with water usage, the figures above can be improved upon. Using the minimum figures from the USDA, 3 adults would empty our 1,200 gal. cistern in approximately 4 days or less. In actuality, it usually lasts three of us 5 or 6 days. PLEASE BEAR IN MIND, though, that this is only domestic use. Irrigation for agriculture can be quite vital to success in many climates. Depending upon your needs and the climate you are in, this could take 2,000 gallons per day or more for an orchard, garden, and domestic use combined.  Please do not overlook this important consideration.  Water truly is "liquid gold"!

Conservation
Another topic to consider is how to conserve water. A few very simple ways that do not affect your lifestyle are switching to a conservative toilet, using a shower head that that yields a good shower with less water, and using a Staber Washing Machine. Also, making sure that the washing machine is on the "large load" setting only when it truly is a large load. And as mentioned above, low water consumption irrigation is very critical. That is where you can experience some major water savings.

Shurflo 9300 submersible dc water pumpEven before I moved into my current temporary home, one of the early issues encountered was water.  The submersible pump was quite undersized and could hardly pump water to the surface, let alone pressurize the water system.  So I needed to make some changes, including the pump.  I decided to go with a DC pump for a number of reasons:

  • Greater energy efficiency
  • My well is very slow and most DC pumps are also slow, thus giving the well more time to produce extra water during the pumping cycle
  • A DC water pump is more likely to function after an Electromagnetic Pulse as it does not depend on an inverter for AC electricity, but rather is powered straight from the batteries which should survive and can be charged from solar panels/hydro/wind which (debatably) should also survive if properly grounded and shielded
  • Since the inverter is not required to power the pump, there is less to go wrong with a DC pumping system

The Shurflo 9300 is not a top-of-the-line pump but does come at a fairly affordable price compared to some others ($700+).  It is capable of pumping 230 vertical feet to an unpressurized cistern and is not recommended for pressurizing a home water system because it is so slow.  But that slowness is what I was looking for when dealing with a very poor well.

This unit is capable of pumping over 80 gallons per hour when connected to a 24 volt battery or 36 gallons per hour when used with a 12 volt system.  If your system is 12 volts and you want the faster pumping speed that 24 volts brings, a transformer may be used to step the voltage up, provided it is capable of handling at least 4+ amps.  When our pump is in operation, it uses plus or minus 100 watts, which is pretty amazing.  The 9300 is also rebuildable, to a certain extent.

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One of the most multi-purpose tools on the homestead is a wood cook stove.  Ours not only cooks the food and keeps the house toasty warm; it also heats our hot water!

Wood cook stove range boiler hot water systemThe two main components, aside from the wood cook stove, are a water coil (#6 & #7 on the pictures below) which is a pipe that runs through the fire box to heat the water, and a range boiler (picture on left) which is a large tank that holds the hot water before and after it circulates through the wood cook stove.


Active vs Passive

There are a couple of variations on the "hot water from your wood stove" scene.  One involves the use of an inline electric circulating pump to force water through the water coil; the other uses the simple principle of heat rising to accomplish the same thing.  It is called a thermosiphon system.  "Active" systems (using an electric pump) have some advantages, but in the opinion of this writer, not enough to offset their negatives for most people.  An active system can produce as much as 50% more hot water than a passive (thermosiphon) system, and since more water movement takes place, there is less chance of water overheating and creating dangerous pressure levels.  But anytime you unnecessarily involve a mechanical or electric device in essential systems, you are asking for trouble.  For instance, if electricity is lost during winter, you would have to potentially shut the wood stove down or dismantle the hot water system to prevent dangerously high temperatures and pressures.  And some inline pumps have a poor reputation for reliability.  Even if you are on a renewable energy system with a very efficient DC inline pump, it still uses electricity throughout the day while the stove is running, and that can add up.  Bottom line?  Whenever possible, keep it simple and go with a thermosiphon system!  And that is what we are going to focus on in this post.

 

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