I’ve just sent a very long email to a friend, in advance of their impending visit laying out precisely how stuff works here at the moment. It also answers a question in a comment below about water, sewerage etc.
We currently live totally off grid in terms of mains water, gas, electricity and landline, however we manage to have plenty of home comforts and should we want it there is supplies of everything down in the village that we can tap into and contribute towards. For example we have an arrangement where we add money to the electricity meter in the community boat shed and keep a running tally of what we use and can charge up our batteries and power pack if our solar panels don’t quite keep up with our usage.
But we are pretty close to self sufficient up here on the croft and although we have longer term plans for fine tuning what we do which include dreams of a washing machine, bath-house and wood burner for cooking, heating and hot water in the future we have a pretty good set up which seems to work well for us just now.
The static has 12v lighting and water pump which runs off a leisure battery which is trickle charged by a solar panel. We sometimes need to boost it with a charge up down at the boat shed and I think when the daylight hours become less in the winter and the need to have lights on increases we will need to re-look at this. Our current intended solution is more torches, candles etc. The kids have solar lanterns and lights which they put out each morning and soak up enough solar power to light them for the hour or so they need at bedtime for night lights before they go to sleep.
Our electric needs are mostly met by a five bar connected to an inverter attached to a 12v leisure battery trickled charged by another solar panel. This powers our internet nanostation, wireless router, vonage landline phone, charges my netbook, our mobile phones, cameras, kids games consoles etc.
We have a power pack which we charge at the boatshed once a week and this is used to listen to music or watch dvds three or four times a week. We have a little battery powered radio for listening to Popmaster 🙂
Water is collected from the river (perfectly safe for drinking – us and the livestock are all fine on it, we could boil it first if we were worried), sometimes down in the village if we are down there anyway and the river is running particularly high (dangerous to get too close to) or particularly low (tricky to get water from, tend to scrape the river bed bringing up mud and silt into the water) or as of our delivery last week from the water butt attached to the guttering on the static. As one of the rainier places in the UK rainwater harvesting is probably our very best bet for most of our water needs. This morning I had a super long and luxurious shower based on the overnight rainfall – we have a hose leading from the waterbutt into the jerry can that fills it back up as the waterpump empties it for the shower. Infact we’ve been so pleased with the success of the waterbutt that we have another one on order :). We do have pretty minimal water needs and are conscious of being as sensible with water as we can. The fact we flush our toilets, wash our clothes and ourselves, water our gardens and fill our paddling pools and clean our cars with drinking water in the UK has long been something that has outraged me in the UK. I am very pleased to no longer be guilty of joining in with that.
Sewerage – our washing up water drains into a bucket which goes to our pigs – we use eco friendly washing up liquid and this means they get all of the dregs and plate scrapings in their water – delicious, nutritious and waste preventative. Obviously conscious of not giving them meat based stuff. Cooking water (drained from pasta or rice for example) goes the same way.
Toilets – the biggie! We have two portapotty camping loos set up in the bathroom – one for wees and one for poos. The pee potty gets sprinkled around the edges of the croft, wee is excellent deer deterrent and so helps stop the deer roaming around on the croft and getting too close to our crops, currently just some soft fruit bushes but hopefully next season a whole load of tempting looking morsels for rampaging deer! The poo loo gets it’s contents buried a couple of times a week in a series of holes being dug on the croft. Fortunately we have enough space to bury it away from water and anywhere we’ll need to go any time soon so that it gets to decompose down and even provide food for some of the little critters that like that sort of thing!
It’s definitely a different life, one that has large amounts of time spent just providing the basics for ourselves and viewing the strangest of things as luxuries. There is also something deeply satisfying about it. Anyone who has ever chopped the wood to build the fire, caught the fish themselves for dinner, grown most of the contents of their dinner plate from tiny seeds themselves will know what I mean by this.