I live off-grid. This winter will be my first without the comfort of running home to my friend’s warm basement when the elements get too much for me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
:A year ago, almost to the day, I left a job north of London and bought a travel trailer with the intention of converting it into a tiny home. Too late! Winter hit before I could make the trailer winter-ready. In fact, it took until almost Christmas just to find a place to put my trailer. A few messages out to social media garnered a response, and a gentleman who owned a farm near Clinton extended an invitation for me to park near his hobbit-home. He, too, was living off-grid (for the most part.) But when the temperatures plunged below 3 deg C, I realized I just couldn’t do it, even with a robust wood stove. I just hadn’t made my trailer fully winter-ready.
So, I waited. My lovely, kind, patient, understanding friends took me and my two kitties in. Sadly, I am not the city type. By March I was depressed and antsy. I began looking for another property.
Suddenly a beautiful property made itself available to me! Okay, it’s not something that just anyone would want. You must be a diehard off-gridder to live on it. There is no running water (you can’t even dig a well) and you can’t build a foundation.
That suited me. I had my trailer, and I was okay with bringing jugs of water in. I had bought a composting toilet, so I had what I needed. My wood stove also allowed me to cook and make tea. It was great for drying herbs, too. I had built a raised flame-retardant area where the dining area had been and I eventually tore out the stove and oven, which had been directly across from the wood stove. No sense having both, I reasoned. Besides, I thought it might be too dangerous to have a wood stove AND propane.
I know. I’m making it all sound so easy. But wait for my next instalment and you’ll see that it’s not all roses sans thorns.
We all know that water is the essence of life. Without it, we cannot live. When I moved onto the property where I currently live, I knew I wouldn’t have access to well water or municipal water.
The local grocery store (and most stores) sells large jugs of water, like the ones you get for water coolers in your company lunchroom.I started buying these. After buying several, at about $5.50 each, and recycling the bottles, I found out that I could fill them for 1/2 the price.
I bought a small wire device that holds and tilts each jug at the right angle to use, and comes with a dispenser cap. I just squeeze the spigot and can fill my kettle, dog water dish, and plant watering can.
But it would still be nice to have a constant supply of water. I still have to wash everyday, do laundry and dishes, and cook. Those chores are a little more challenging without a steady flow of water. But I manage. As long as the water doesn’t freeze, I’m okay.
I have two large pails and one small pail. I fill the small pail with boiled water and some cold water to wash in. I dip my head in, then use a cup to finish wetting my hair. Then I shampoo. I use diluted apple cider vinegar to rinse my hair into a larger pail. Then I use the rest of the water in the small pail to finish rinsing my hair and wet a washcloth to wash the rest of my body.
For a full, luxurious cleansing, I travel to my friends’ house in London about two to four times a month. There, I do my big laundry, have a long shower, fill jugs, get my fill of socializing, and occasionally use their electricity to charge my smaller solar battery. Having friends is essential to off-grid living!
Some days I wish I could turn the wood stove heat up or down. Today it’s a balmy 7 deg C outside. Inside, it’s 26 deg. And it’s only 12:30! By afternoon, it will be much hotter. I didn’t have to put a large log on the fire, but I need to boil water for some washing. My wood stove is my stove, kettle, clothes dryer (not directly, of course!) and my source of heat, especially at night. But last night it was so hot in here that I had to order my dog outside. He was panting, and wouldn’t drink water on command.
Yes, I know that using spruce and other coniferous wood puts out less heat than deciduous wood such as maple. But when everything is mixed in my wood pile, I just don’t feel like sorting through. I buy wood by the face cord (that means 4′ x 8′ and either 12″ or 16″, depending on the seller) or I scavenge for wood along the side of the road. I have a respectable Dewalt battery-charged chainsaw that I keep in my car just in case I see a desirable felled tree in a ditch. I also need plenty of twigs, branches of various sizes, leaves, cones, and disposable coffee cups. With the waxy insides, they are great for starting a fire!
If you smoke, and are careless with your cigarette lighters, thank you. When I find a discarded one, I save it. They go into my pile for lighting my fires. Matches and new lighters can get costly. Reuse, reduce, repurpose, recycle–I’m into all of that!
The way composting toilets work (at least, the way mine works):
You need composting material that looks like wood chips. You should also have microbiomes that help eat up the smelly stuff and turn everything into what could almost be added to your garden (ALMOST–but don’t. Our diets don’t usually allow that.) Also, there is a spray that helps to keep things from sticking, and also aids in quickening the process.
Every day, about 1 cup of composting material is added to your waste. A little extra for solid waste. Every other day, you pull out a crank from the front and turn the drum 7 times. The drum has a door that is always facing up (you can imagine why) but there are 7 panels in total. You turn the drum so that the door comes back to the top. While it is turning, the door closes so everything stays inside and is mixed thoroughly.
When waste accumulates, and you want to start to empty the toilet, you pull out a button and turn the crank in the opposite direction (keeping the door open) until it comes back up to the top. The drum will deposit some of the waste into the drawer underneath. You will leave the waste in the drawer for at least another week or two until it cures more.
Don’t worry. Nothing should smell! The microorganisms are already at work. As soon as you add the composting material, it covers the waste and helps to keep the odour under control.
And there you have it! More ways to have fun. All natural, no wasted water, no smell, and no impact on the earth. Even animals aren’t unduly attracted to your home. If this description disgusts you, maybe this life isn’t exactly for you.
I have a composting toilet. It is self-contained and uses no water or electricity. It has a holding tank for solid waste and a bottom area for liquids that are supposed to evaporate in heat. But in winter, especially in a separate room from the wood stove, there is not much heat. So there is an overflow pipe. It leads outdoors. To what, you might ask? Er, uh . . .
Well, I have a bucket outside. It is large. It doesn’t have a lid. The pipe wasn’t insulated. The liquids didn’t evaporate. The balance of the trailer is critical, by the way. The toilet must be tilted back just a bit. The reservoir for liquids is at the back, but under the solids drawer in the front is a space for overflow.
Are you getting a visual? Sorry about that!
And yes, it overflowed. A couple of times. Not fun. I used up many, many paper towels, and sacrificed a couple of towels. I am now the proud owner of rubber gloves that extend up to the elbow, similar to those used by farmers who are helping to birth farm animals. Oh, yes, and I tossed a couple pairs of pants. Better to trash them than to wash them, I always say.
So, there is a facility nearby that takes human waste from RV’s and other campers. All I had to do was place everything into buckets and transport them over. Small problem: Once the lids were on the liquid buckets, the temperature differential caused the lids to suck firmly onto the plastic buckets, rendering them impossible to remove. I practiced at home, and finally decided to leave them ever. so. slightly. UNattached during the ride.
Four buckets of solid waste and two buckets of liquid (rescued from solid ice blocks of wastewater in my outdoor buckets, on a warmish day, after the pipes thawed sufficiently to remove the ice buildup encased in the tube) went to the facility. The facility manager, a lovely woman named Michelle, directed me to the flowing river of waste and told me the best way to dump my buckets. Liquid or solid, it didn’t matter. Just don’t lean on the fence, she said. You may regret it. Quite the understatement, I’m sure!
I will repeat the process as needed, and the pipe is now completely insulated.
Oh, and the outside bucket now has a lid. Rainwater helped to dilute the waste, but also caused the bucket to fill quickly and overflow onto the rocky parking pad. Not the result that I wanted. Live and learn, as they say.