Homestead Hot Water – Part 1

Running hot and cold water are taken for granted in this day and age and yet, it wasn’t that long ago, that all of our water was hand pumped and bucketed into the house by hand. For 20 years we did that routine until we “modernized.” In the next two posts, I’ll explain how, over the last 37 years, we’ve supplied the homestead’s hot water.

Bathtub and Stove in Maine

Antique Claw Footed Bathtub and Water Kettles on Stove

There are any number of ways to heat hot water for the home. Typically, a home has either an electric, gas or oil hot water tank. For anybody wishing to live off the grid, the electric powered water heater doesn’t make sense from an energy consumption perspective. It takes a lot of electrical power (watts) to raise the temperature of water adequately for daily use. That power could be put to better use elsewhere on the energy efficient homestead.

I have built and lived in remote exploration camps that have used “on demand” propane water heaters and that is certainly an option to consider. For an off-grid home, it is a more practical solution than an electric hot water tank. But it relies on a source of gas whether piped in from a utility company or from gas cylinders purchased/rented from the local propane company.

For us, it makes no sense to purchase cylinders of propane and then have to fly them in to our wilderness homestead for heating water. Especially when we are surrounded by millions of acres of forest. Additionally, we would lose the self-reliant aspect by relying on the gas plant and float planes. So we opted for a method of heating our water that uses our wood resource. In the next post, I’ll explain how we plumbed a wood stove to a tank for our hot water needs.

Heating Our Hot Water in Pots

But first I’ll explain how we heated water for the 20 years we homesteaded in Maine. We utilized the surrounding forest there too, but we were bare bones basic when it came to heating our water. We pumped the water from either the outdoor hand pump or the kitchen pitcher pump into buckets and then dumped those buckets into a large pot which was set on one of our two wood stoves depending on the season.

In summer, our antique cook stove did the water heating since Johanna cooked several daily meals on it. In winter, a pot of water was always heating on the main heating wood stove.

Thus, we always had hot water for hand washing, bathing or dishes. During the winter, the moisture added to the air from the heated water offset the drying effects of running a wood stove.

You might have an image of me taking a primitive sponge bath or me confined to some tiny round tub, but I was really “modern” when it came to bath time. Here’s an excerpt from my book describing the cleaning process.

“I purchased and installed an old cast iron bathtub, complete with the claw feet, which still functioned well for getting myself clean. In those days, I was doing a lot of dirty, physical work and occasionally I’d get around to lounging in the tub for a good cleaning. In preparation for taking a bath, I pumped buckets of water, and poured their contents into a large pot, which was then set on one of the stoves to heat. Once it was good and hot, I dumped the steaming water into the cast iron tub, added a couple of buckets of cold water so the water temperature was something less than scald, and I had the luxury of soaking for a few minutes before it cooled off.

Once I was done with my bath, in order to be efficient with the still warm bath water, I sometimes took the latest and greatest mechanical device for clothes washing, the wash board, and did a load of laundry.”

By comparison, our current wilderness homestead in the bush of Canada is truly modern with hot/cold running water and shower. I’ll explain how I set everything up in my following post. You’ll see how we use our cook stove to our advantage.

Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna

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