Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Ok, so you are in your Shepherd's hut...I use that name because it is my preferred design...and there are practical daily problems to contend with.
If you can, you should do an outside toilet, if you have not yet purchased a composting toilet.  You can use an outhouse in some areas, but there are ways to make them much more palatable than the old fashioned ones.  Your outhouse should be on skids with large eye hooks in the end of the skids. 
Dig a shallow hole, and position your outhouse over it.  Keep peat moss in a bucket inside the building. 
Try to restrict liquids as much as possible, as there will be a problem keeping the smell down, as it will be hard to keep the surface of the accumulation dry, and you will use a ton of peat to absorb all that liquid.
Urinate into a sickroom urinal or a receptacle made for this purpose.  A wide mouth container will work as well.  You can glue or hook on a cup at the
front of the toilet receptacle that has a hose to drain urine into a dry well or a container to be emptied when you have done your thing, just cover it with a couple of hands-full of peat.  No smell to speak of though you can use a tiny computer fan inside a PVC pipe to exhaust air inside the bucket to the outside.
When the hole  under the outhouse is about half full, just fill it in with reserved soil, and slide your outhouse a few feet to one side and over a new hole. 
Lay a piece of exterior plywood over the old hole so no one sinks in as they walk over it. It should have settled properly by the time you move it again, and you can move the plywood safely at the same time. You can also just put a five gallon bucket under the seat, with a hinged top, and use that as a "hole" in the ground that you can empty and clean periodically, into your remote compost site, which can be engineered or just a big hole like what you would use for an outhouse.  Keep compost facilities far from and down hill from any water sources and sidelines of the property.
These days when so many people use bottled water, it really is a good idea to use it here for drinking and cooking.  You will be surprised how little water you use when you have to lug it everywhere, and store it.
When I was with my sister in her house that is off grid, I pumped about 30 gallons a day for all purposes, and that included a flush toilet (where liquids were saved up in the toilet, and solids were flushed immediately with half a bucket of water).
Showers can be had almost anywhere in your house.  If you are not piped into a system, where all plumbing is normal, you can heat water and do sponge baths with about two gallons of water or less.  I have a fabulous 19th century pitcher and bowl that I can use, but not for company unless they are very careful. 
Soap yourself with a cloth, wash all over.... dump out and replace the water, and rinse with fresh...use an old fashioned basin for this.  Do the same with a big wash tub on the floor if you like, and you can sit in it to rinse unreachable or difficult areas.
To shower, you can get an old fashioned galvanized tub for laundry as above, place it on the floor, and stand in it to wash and rinse.  Place a tub like this under a loft.  Put up a circular shower curtain-rod and curtain, above and inside the tub.  Place a bag shower above and shower that way. 
Alternatively, you can get a laundry set tub, sold in home centers.  Place it in the loft, pipe water down through the bottom of the tub and through the floor of the loft with a hand held or stationary rain shower, and shower that way with a shut off valve in the hose or plumbing.    Heat a couple of gallons of water and add cold. Pour or pump it into the set tub.  I have a little hand powered bilge pump from a boat to pump water up.  Do this while you watch a video or something.  Climb under it and shower.  If you watch the movie, "Memoirs of a Geisha", you will see the children doing this for the water in the house.
A composting septic system does not require peat moss.  My sister used five gallon buckets and used torn squares of newspaper laid over the deposit, which included urine.  When the bucket was full, she just dumped it out in a pile in a remote location, and walked away.  You can easily cover these piles with wood ash from your stove as well, or perhaps autumn leaves and grass clippings.  However, dryer is always better so separating the urine is best.
I use a very similar system here in Italy,  Only the gallons change to liters.
Many towns in remote places will allow you to use all these things.  A septic system will not likely be required if you are going to compost.  However, they will often require you to make a gray water system.  In my case, and if you are disciplined, you can use such a tiny amount of water that any system can be a little ridiculous to bother with. 
I typically consume about 2 gallons of water a day.  I do not shower every day.  The habit of showering every day is a rather recent phenomenon in this country.
It is something that is rare in many other countries, and where water is scarce.  Most people, who have access to good sources of water bathe once a week. 
Saturday night baths were a reality when I was a kid.  Once a week is not practical for me as I am very active and each individual must decide for himself what is best, a spouse will help you decide!!!  People having regular sex will likely bathe more often.  And people doing heavy work will also feel the need. 
If you are not in need of a daily bath, then the water requirement is further lessened.

Wash pots and pans and dishes with tiny amounts of heated water, and rinse in a second pan of cleaner water or pour a second container of heated water over the dish drainer to rinse.  Keep the meals simple and one pan and a plate, silverware a cup or glass will be all that is used.
In  Colonial America and in many places in Europe, it was common to have a large wooden dry sink, or a large stone sink(Elm is a common wood for sinks, dry or wet.)
The sink would have a 6 inch low spot cut in the wall of the sink on the back, where a chute was attached and led water and waste out through the wall to the outside. Sometimes these would lead directly to a garden.

There would have been a wooden block that slid into the hole to seal it up when not in use.  You can easily have a metal worker or industrial arts class make a rectangular copper sink with a spout/chute on the back from sheet metal.  Or you can just use a standard sink with the waste pipe leading out to the herb or better, flower garden against the foundation wall.  Or place a barrel there in warmer weather.  You are on your own in the winter!  Really, you just need to take a bucket
from under the sink and toss it out the door on top of the snow.  If you are in a cold area of the country, be mindful of frost lifting up the house or caving in a foundation etc. from sodden soil near the wall.
In past times detergents were not used.  Biodegradable soaps are available if this is a lifestyle you choose.  Chemicals and fats can build up if you do not do this, and the soil may not produce well over time.
You can also mix the water and kitchen trimmings in a barrel, and agitate it when using the water for the garden.  If you are watering plants that you will not put directly into your mouth, like flowers or fruit trees and shrubs, you can mix in 10% urine as an effective fertilizer.  Higher concentrations will burn the plant roots, though you may be able to fudge this a bit with blueberries, lingon berries or other acid lovers.
Some old houses would have a well inside the house.  One 19th century stone house at King's Landing in New Brunswick, had a well in the kitchen counter.  Just lift a hatch in the counter, and there it is.  Many rural houses have a well in the basement which can be very convenient in winter.  Just use a hand pump on the kitchen counter.  My house in Wiscasset had a plaster lined brick cistern in the basement, this could be good for roof water catching as well, but be careful of
drinking water that is standing for a while as bacteria may like it there.  Test your water regularly and keep a cover on it.  Perhaps a little chlorine?  In Europe these cisterns may be in the attic and often fill up with the most exotic bus and birds etc..  So keep it covered.
Many are lucky that they have a stand of cedar trees in the back of their property.  When it is time for screen houses and out buildings, you will be able to build with the cedar, and it will last a very long time.  Cedar peels quite easily in the spring when the sap is rising well, but it is not neccessary to peel them if you do not mind the look.  (This is probably not a good idea for a finished house interior, but for the summer house or shed, a rustic shelter or outdoor summer kitchen, unpeeled cedar would be ok.)  Also, a few protruding branch stubs make good places to hang things like towels and bathing suits.  I will have to find a similar tree in Italy now because it is very useful.  Study post and beam construction to get ideas for construction though you can always cut the logs into dimensional lumber if you have access to a portable sawmill.  Just be certain that the bottoms of posts and members like sills are not in contact with the soil or with rain splash from the soil.  Funguses and molds are in the soil and can be transferred to the wood easily. Big stones or concrete pads work well for supports to lift the bottom of the building off the ground.
A summer house can be built using a post and beam like frame.  This works well when covered with nylon or other screen, then in winter, use the clear or translucent corrugated panels that are now available to seal it all up for the winter.  This can be built virtually free up to the point of adding the screen. 
This could be a screen house, a shed, or even a bathhouse or sauna in private places.(peel the interior surfaces in a sauna so as not to support mold, and search out
ways to prevent mold and mildew.)  Leave gaps in the floor (that you can cover over with a panel) to drain water.
Now here is a really big issue, that few people will want to do.  If you are in an area where mosquitoes are a problem, Paint the inside of your house white or a light color.  If you love wood, as I do...Well...Suck it up!  Mosquitoes are a real disease carrier these days, and painting the interior of the house white will help you find them and eliminate them.  This is really important these days.  If you must have wood grain, pickle the surface and seal it.  Look techniques up on line.
There is absolutely nothing beautiful about the wood from the home center.  You might find the rare board with lovely grain, but mostly it is splintery, unremarkable spruce or pine. Bird's eye Maple or some other great wood is a different story, but construction grade wood is not worth it.  Also, your space will appear larger and you will need less artificial light in your house if you do everything in a light color! I have a white interior, and I can read till long after sunset even though the trees cover the sun earlier, with no artificial light.  My little stone house does not have windows on the west either.  Also, I can go on reading with just a candle or two if I like.  The walls reflect the light very well.
One of the great arguments for building and living in a tiny house is that it is very easy to clean.  I came back to have a short vacation in my Niece's tiny house cottage that I built for her.  I was only there a week, but of course it is not too hard to get a place that size dirty. 
I found that it may be true that it is easy to clean, if indeed, everything is built in.  However, I just cannot live that kind of a life. It somehow seems so sterile or institutional.  If I wanted to live a trailer lifestyle, I would have bought one. This space and my home in Italy are like old fashioned cottages.  There are jelly cupboards, and chairs and the built in book cases and bed. 
It takes an engineering degree to get things moved around and moved away from the walls to clean under and behind.  Where you might take a second just to move a chair to one side to clean in a normal house, in this case, you have to lift it up, and move it away to the other side of the room to have room to clean. 
Also, the dog keeps on breathing and smelling, so the space smells like old dog very quickly.
Odors are a real problem.  In both places, I bring in evergreen bouquets to help the air, and I lay out a thick towel on the beds and mound up a pile of evergreen trimmings when I am away from the house for a couple of days.
You should make some provision to exhaust cooking oils and vapors from the house.  If you have electricity, this is an easy thing, as fans are no problem.  Otherwise you can do an outdoor kitchen as I plan in my house so that messy things are done there, year round.  I used to cook in my unheated ell years ago, summer and winter.  I plan an outdoor wood fired bake oven for pizza and other baking, as well as a grill over fire for meats etc.  It is a small thing to put a couple of gas rings in the same counter as they will occupy with a gas tank from the local hardware store below them.