Water Use

(Updated 5/14/2016)

When we established our micro-homestead in Arizona, we decided that water conservation should be an inherent aspect of our life in the desert. The water use methods described below have proven to be simple, trouble free and a pleasure to use on a daily basis for many years. We use these same methods in Oregon where we spend part of the year.  


Our domestic water conservation methods are centered around a a 200 gallon galvanized steel stock tank which serves as our water supply tank. The tank is located just outside the front door, under a shade roof (ramada) with handwashing, dishwashing, showering and laundry areas conveniently clustered around it. When water is needed, it is dipped out of the tank using a 2 1/2 gallon bucket.


Dipping water from reservoir


Water flows from the water source, which in our case is a windmill, into the supply tank. A float valve automatically shuts off the water when the tank is full. A hinged lid prevents dust and light from entering the tank, keeping the water clean and algae free. The lid is counter-balanced so it stays open as we are dipping out water. This system would work with any water source, and especially with sources providing minimal or intermittent water flows, such as a windmill.

The water conservation aspect is deceptively simple: we are free to use as much water as we want, but we must lift every drop we use. To most folks accustomed to running water, this sounds too oppressive to be taken seriously. In practice, it is quite the opposite. Consider dishwashing for example. The dishwashing table is conveniently located beside the tank. Filling a dish basin using the bucket takes only seconds as compared with the minutes required to fill a basin from a faucet, especially if the faucet is fitted with a water conserving aerator as most are these days. Similarly, the laundry stand and shower are on the other side of the tank, making them equally convenient to use.

Our primary water use area is thus outdoors, as we can't think of a compelling reason, in a mild climate like this, to compromise our indoor living space with all the complications of plumbing, such as supply and drain pipes, vent pipes, increased chance of leaks, holes in walls and floor through which rodents can enter, etc. Although the lifting of the water causes us to be mindful of what we're doing, we use as much water as we want and don't practice any other type of water conservation for domestic water use. We use, on average, about 15 gallons of water per day for 2 people for domestic purposes.

Potable water

This system is somewhat akin to the community wells of old and, were it not for our understanding of germ theory, would carry some of the same risks of disease transmission. For this reason, we obtain our potable water from a hose bibb located along the water line just before it empties into the supply tank. In the event that water in the tank should become contaminated in any way, it doesn't affect the purity of our drinking water. We store potable water in 1 gallon glass bottles which are filled at the bibb. The bottles are stored in a dark place to keep algae from forming in them.


Filling drinking water bottles




Dishwashing is done at a small table located conveniently beside the water tank. Two basins, one for washing and one for rinsing, are filled from the tank, dishes are washed and rinsed, and the used water is immediately poured into mulch basins as described on the Water Reuse page. 


Dishwashing table next to reservoir


Emptying dishwashing water into bucket...


and then into a mulch-filled graywater basin

(Note: The basins we now use are significantly larger, 3-6 ft. in diameter, and encircle the trunk of the tree.)



Our shower in Arizona is located outdoors, beside the water tank. It consists of a slatted wooden platform to stand on. A 5 gallon plastic shower bucket fitted with hose, valve and spray nozzle is suspended from a hook above the platform. Our shower arrangement in Oregon is similar.


Filling shower bucket.  Note slatted shower stand.


For showering, the bucket is filled with hot water, tempered with cold water if necessary, and is then suspended from the hook above the platform. One filling of the bucket is ample for two people to shower. Graywater simply drips through the slatted platform into a shallow compost filled infiltration basin under the platform. See the Water Reuse page for more details. Mesquite tree roots extending into the soil under the platform make use of the graywater, providing shade, firewood and edible pods.

The shower bucket is made from a 5-gallon plastic bucket and lid and ordinary hardware store materials. The nozzle is made from a 1/2" PVC plug. Nozzle holes are drilled with a small #59 or 60 drill bit.

We usually shower just before going to bed in the evening. To those who haven't tried it, this conjures up an image of freezing in the dark while showering on a winter evening. It's true that in Arizona in mid-winter, temperatures are often in the 30's F and sometimes even the upper 20's when we shower, but the experience is quite different than most would imagine.

Winter evenings, we always have a fire going in the wood stove, so the cottage is cozy. Water is heated on the wood stove during the evening and is used to fill the shower bucket, tempered with a bit of cold water.  The 4 or so steps out to the shower are bracing, but one is quickly enveloped in a cloud of steam and is soon back in the warmth of the cottage.  Some of our most memorable showers have been on quiet evenings watching the snow fall while showering. Most evenings though are clear and we look up to see the magnificence of the heavens.     


Shower bucket


Shower nozzle


Handwashing is done at the shower stand, using the shower nozzle.



Our method of clothes washing is quite simple. We put a galvanized metal tub on the same slated wooden platform that we use for showering, then half fill it with water, pour in some bio-degradable or bio-compatible detergent and put some laundry in the tub. Then, standing in the tub barefooted, we agitate the water and laundry with our feet. A butt-rest built into the shower platform at a convenient height allows us to lean back and read a magazine or book while agitating the laundry.

Doing laundry

Note shower bucket and stand, reservoir to left


Because this method utilizes leg muscles rather than back muscles, it is much easier to use than the scrub boards of yesteryear. It is also much easier on the laundry than scrub boards are. After each "wash cycle", the tub is tipped to empty the used water into a mulch-filled trench beside the stand.  Mesquite tree roots extending into the soil under the trench make use of the graywater, providing shade, firewood and edible pods.

Built into the stand is a rack made of hardware cloth which provides a place for laundry to drip between wash and rinse "cycles".

Our daily water use quantities: These figures are our year-round averages for 2 people. Our water use is about the same whether we're in Arizona or Oregon:

-washing dishes - 4 gallons per day

-cooking, drinking and meal preparation - 2 gallons per day

-shaving, face washing, brushing teeth - 1 gallon per day

-showering - 3 gallons per day

-hand washing - 2 gallons per day

-laundry - (21 gallons per week) 3 gallons per day

 Our total average daily water use for 2 people = 15 gallons

2016 Update:

As of 2016, we are now in our 19th year of using basically the same water use and re-use systems.  The only significant change is that in 2013 we moved to our own land in Cascabel, Arizona.  We now have pressurized water from a solar pump and our single water use point is a spigot rather than a tank.  This is working fine and isn't substantively different from the years in which we dipped water from a storage tank as described above.  Our essential water-conserving principle is still in place, as we continue to lift every drop we use. 

See the bottom of our Shelter page for a few updated photographs of our current water use.      


Recommended reading:

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands by Brad Lancaster

Home page