Expanding our Living Space, Part 2
In part one of this series, I took you up to the point that we had our new cabins connected. We moved our beds in there immediately so that we had more living space. The process of remodeling a space that you actually live in can be entertaining at times.
Water Supply Upgrades
Since our water supply was all potable, we didn’t want to use it for washing clothes, showering and flushing a toilet. We had two 275 gallon storage cubes that we had been given. I purchased a separate water pump and pressure tank and set up a completely separate non-potable water system. We planned to get our non-potable water from the community well.
You can see the crazy complicated plumbing job here. If the light were lower and the pipes made of metal, you’d swear you were in some industrial complex scene from a bad sci-fi movie.
It works. I won’t go into the gory details here, but it allows me to isolate parts of the pumping system as well as flush out the sediment filters I have both before and after the pump. Perhaps I’ll make a YouTube video that shows how all the bits work.
Next was to add another propane water heater. Originally I put a small unit here since I was able to procure it cheaply. You’re supposed to vent these things outside, but propane burns cleanly, so I decided that it wasn’t necessary. Heck, our propane cook stove and propane space heaters vent into the house, so why not let the water heater do it, too? We later discovered that the smaller heater wasn’t up to the job of keeping our showers hot and swapped it for the one that heated the water for the kitchen. Much better fit for the flow rates!
Since we now had the room, one of our neighbors that moved to El Paso gave us an indefinite loan of their washing machine in exchange for storing their electric dryer. I figured that was a pretty good deal, so we moved the washing machine in. This saved us enormous amounts of time and money! We used to have to take our laundry all the way into El Paso and spend time and cash at the laundromat.
We aren’t able to power the dryer, so we hang the clothes outside to dry. Since we live in a desert, it doesn’t take very long for them to dry. Most days, there is a light breeze that speeds that process along. However, on days when the winds are high (sometimes they gust up to 80MPH!), the clothes will wind up full of dirt. On days like that, or in the winter when it’s cold outside, we usually just hang them up on a piece of rope stretched across the bedroom.
The “Little Room”
One of the big reasons we got the extra cabin was so that we could add an actual bathroom with a shower and a flushing toilet. So first on the list was to get that up and running. Some of our neighbors who were remodeling had extra fixtures that they were replacing. Since they were perfectly serviceable, they donated them to us. So, we got a bathtub, shower fixtures, sink, toilet and even the tile and DuRock concrete back board that we needed!
I ran all the plumbing in the exterior walls and added a shower enclosure. I figured out where the toilet would go and started the tile. I had never done tile before, and I think it turned out pretty good!
For the first 18 months that we lived here, we didn’t have room for a flush toilet. So, we did our business in a bucket. It was smelly and gross and I had to carry the sloshing bucket over 200 feet to where we disposed of the mess. That was the biggest reason that we got the additional cabin. We were tired of that dang bucket!
If you’re thinking of going off-grid without a flush toilet and septic system, don’t mess around with the bucket. Get a real composting toilet. The bucket is fine for a week of camping or in an emergency, but for day-to-day life, it stunk.
In order to install a toilet, we needed somewhere for “it” to go. That means a septic system. Because we live in a rural area with no building or sewage codes, we dump our gray water into our garden area. So, the dish, laundry, and shower water all go to the garden. The black water, however, must go to a septic if you don’t want a horrendously smelly mess.
Since it’s just the two of us, and it’s only the black water from a single toilet, we elected to build our own small-scale septic system rather than pay thousands of dollars to have a ridiculously oversized septic dug in our yard.
I don’t have pictures of how we constructed ours, but here’s a great article for a similarly designed system.
Once we had the septic system installed and tested, I was able to install the toilet. For people who have lived without a flush toilet for long periods, you know what I mean when I say that we were elated. We got online and told everybody. They must’ve thought that someone’s three-year-old had hijacked our accounts since we were so proud of having made a dookie.
As you can see, we had the walls for the bathroom framed, but no coverings. Since it was just Linda and me, we didn’t really care all that much. We decided to focus on other parts of the project.
In the final post of this series, I will bring you up to date with where our new cabin is today. That will include information about flooring, electrical, insulation, attic access and a last-minute scramble to create privacy for a visitor.
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