Living in a “dry cabin” saves not only water but also money. While this may not be the reason you chose to live in a dry cabin from the start, the longer you do it, the prouder you become when you realize that you only waste one bucket of grey water every two weeks or so.
Dry cabins are perfect for off-grid lifestyles, but after a while, some people may begin to look at options for running water systems to cut down on hauling water and paying for facilities regularly. Converting a dry cabin may seem expensive and time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some ways to dig a well and install plumbing or bypass the extensive system for something simpler and more suited to your needs.
Before you go out and start digging a well, take your land survey to a state geological office to decide how deep you need to dig, what layers you will be digging through, and if water conditions are suitable enough to draw from. Also, take a trip to the local utility company and make sure there aren’t any sewer, gas or power lines near where you plan to dig. When deciding where to place your well, make sure that you are far away and uphill from any contaminated areas, such as outhouses, septic tanks and marshes. Always pull any regulated building permits for your area as well. Once you have chosen a safe spot, it is time to start driving the well.
Wells can be dug in a number of ways. It depends on your preference, use, and how much effort you plan on putting into the project. Do some research and decide what type of well you want to dig, find diagrams and check for parts lists, all of which are available online.
Choose a “well-point” type and the material you want to use. Galvanized steel will resist corrosion, but PVC works just as well if you are digging manually. Some people may choose to rent a drill or backhoe, but these methods aren’t always necessary unless you need to dig below sedimentary rock layers. Depending on the pipe you use and the well-point type, with a little hard work and a day’s time, you can easily twist and muscle a sharp-toothed pipe through the sediment by hand. Make sure that the piping you choose to use is slightly larger than the screen that you will be placing down the tube, as attempting to pull out the pipe will typically result in the hole collapsing.
Once you are down far enough and the screen is intact, you can easily set up a water pump and filter and call it a day. While there will inevitably be a few different methods used, driving the well far enough down and placing the screen is the bulk of the digging work. From here, you need to decide what type of plumbing you will use to bring water inside. You also need to dig the lines to your cabin and determine where you will be drilling from the outside of your home or cabin deliver water. Make sure that you purchase a pump powerful enough for daily use, depending on your water consumption, and always seal the holes surrounding plumbing with spray foam to keep pests and rodents from gaining an access point.
If you don’t want to dig a well and install plumbing, there are still ways to introduce running water systems to your dry cabin. Consider using an RV water pump and attaching tubing from a water tank stored in a convenient location to gain enough water for showers and dishes. Installing a large grey tank system under your home with holes for drainage is a great way to get rid of used water from dishes, showers and laundry. Pump models such as the Shurflo 12 VDC or 115 VAC are excellent choices and do not require an accumulator tank, which works great when hooked to a tankless water heater. If you choose to use an RV pump, think about attaching the system to a solar panel to save on batteries, and use a ball valve on your shower to control water use.
For large amounts of hot water, do some research into tankless water heaters, such as Paloma or Excel, that work by utilizing natural gas to heat water through copper tubing. When water begins to move, a natural gas valve will open, heating a combustion chamber and moving water through the coiled copper tubes. This method is space- and cost-efficient, and saves electricity used to continually heat and store hot water during times of non-use. There are also electric models available, but if you are running power from a generator, gas may be a simpler and cheaper option.
Another quick and easy solution is to collect water from a local water source or excess run-off rain water and harness it in a 55-gallon drum. Add a filtration system that is attached to your chosen heating source and then seal and pressurize the drum with a tire pump, up to 20 pounds, making sure not to exceed the limit and burst the drum. The pump will give the water enough pressure to work a small heater, such as the Paloma, and provide sufficient water for showers and dishes. Also, if you aren’t looking to completely convert your dry cabin, but you would like to have a larger water source that won’t freeze in the winter, try digging a hole below the frost line and adding an old well bucket or dumb-waiter type pulley system to store water.
A simple search for any of these ideas will render diagrams and all the essential parts necessary to get started. There are hundreds of options for converting your dry cabin to accommodate running water. The real issue is deciding what space you are working with, where water and tanks will be stored, and how you plan to use your running water on a daily basis. Economical methods, both price- and water-usage wise, are available if you do the proper research. Where you live and how you plan on extracting or harnessing water are all factors to making your running water system work best for you.
Look at the slope of your land and take some measurements in your home to decide whether or not you should store water inside or out, and if you choose to dig a well, make sure that it is dug deep enough to be efficient. One of the biggest mistakes is not digging far enough down, so always do the math and make the effort to ensure a properly running system the first time.
Converting your cabin doesn’t need to cost a fortune, and if it’s done right, can provide you running water for years and years.
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