Living without Running Water, How Hard Could It Be?

Categories: On The Farm

For the past two and a half years on our homestead, our family has been living without running water.  Instead, we live with what I have heard referred to as “walking water.” In our case, the walking part has been quite literal – walking hundreds of gallons of water in buckets from one place to another.

I admit, living without running water has been one of the bigger challenges of developing a homestead from scratch, particularly when our dreams, plans, and actions include planting hundreds of fruit trees and two large gardens, raising chickens, ducks, lambs, bees, dairy cows, and keeping a family of four clean, fed, and hydrated.

Why no running water?

Honestly, when we moved to NE Missouri, we didn’t set out to live without running water, but we were very excited to try water catchment. We had a well at our Oregon homestead, and several of our friends and neighbors here in MO have city water.  But we chose to build a home at the end of a 1/4 mile gravel dead end road, atop a hill.  The logistics and expense of piping in water or digging a well were overwhelming to our budget.  We decided to start with water catchment and see how it went.  Two and a half years later, we’ve learned that it is a viable option for us, if we continue to add to our water storage capacity, preferably with an underground cistern.

Where does our water come from?

We collect water from two sources: 1) Every metal roof of our homestead, and 2) a homestead pond. We were so fortunate to move onto a piece of property that already had a large, deep pond within close distance to our home site. The pond is ringed by willows and cattails, is remarkably clear and cold, is fed from a watershed completely housed on our land, and is incredibly private. We use pond water for animals, gardens, bathing and some household use.

We also collect rainwater from the metal roofs of our house, toolshed, cow barn, and chicken coop.  Water is collected via gutters into 50 gallon food grade barrels (which we purchased at our local Pepsi Co. distributer). We have a total of 550 gallons of water storage, as well as a 50 gallon stock tank. In in the winter months, freezing is an issue, so we take our barrels “offline” but do collect snow melt and rain water into open buckets and containers that we store indoors.

Water for drinking and cooking

We have a Berkey water filter/purifier that we use to render our cooking and drinking water potable.  We use rain and snow melt exclusively in our Berkey, although in an emergency situation, we could filter pond water. Water for drinking and cooking represents a mere fraction of our overall water use; I’d estimate we use about 2 gallons per day.

Water for animals, plants, and household use

Because this is the bulk of our water usage, we end up fetching most of the water we need for plants, animals, and house from the pond, carrying five gallon buckets by hand. We have thought about purchasing a solar water pump to move water from the pond to our home site, but we’re still debating over the investment.

The chicken coop and cow barn both have barrels/stock tanks to meet their water needs, so in the summer months, watering our animals is quite simple. Winter months are a bit more difficult (see this post for the details of how we collect winter water).  That leaves the following:

  • Garden
  • Dishes
  • Fruit Trees
  • Bathing/Showers
  • Miscellaneous water use

The fruit trees have been the easiest to keep watered, because we use the greywater from our dishwashing.  We collect our greywater in five gallon buckets, and water our trees in rotation.

We are committed to very clean dishes (no greasy residue), so that means heating water on the wood stove, rocket stove, propane stove, or in the Sun Oven for each and every batch of dishes.  We’ve found that washing dishes with cold water just does not cut it. We pour hot water and biodegradable dish soap into a plastic bin for washing, and simply pour clean water over dishes to rinse.

The garden’s water needs solely depend on rainfall.  I’ve gotten very good at following the forecast, anticipating the rain, and sowing seeds accordingly.  And when we are blessed with rain every 1-2 weeks, the garden needs very little irrigation. However, in a drought situation, we have to hand water, and this involves many, many trips to the pond. This summer’s two month drought meant that some plants just didn’t make it. I ended up with a much smaller fall/winter garden than I had planned.


In the summer months, we swim daily in our homestead pond. This keeps us all pretty clean, and we also take showers in the super-awesome outdoor shower that my husband built this spring.

In the winter months, we keep things very simple. Every Sunday is “Bath Sunday” and we each have a turn taking a bucket shower in front of the woodstove. It’s so very Little House on the Prairie!  We also have a YMCA membership, and workout time leads nicely into hot shower time.

Future Plans

We seem to be able to tackle one large homestead project every six months. First, our house, then a tool shed, next our solar electric system, followed by a cow and cow barn, and then this summer’s root cellar, which I am so excited to share, but simply haven’t had the time to write about (but if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll see lots of progress photos!!). We were able to watch our neighbors construct a concrete water cistern this summer, and learned much from their experience, and also from our experience constructing a root cellar. Next summer, I imagine we’ll install an underground cistern for house water, and perhaps a solar water pump for our gardens.

In some ways, it’s ironic, and perhaps a sign of our times, that we have high-speed Internet, but no running water! And some days there is a lot of stress involved with not having a faucet that turns on and off. But most of the time, I feel a huge sense of relief that we are able to provide our family with amazing tasting, clean, and non-treated water.

via HomesteadHoney

Here below, Eric Reimer show's us his version of rain catchment: "There's a lot of water to be had if you are able to put up storage:  I've got half the house and the whole shop draining into 3400 gallons of storage. It takes about 4" of rain to fill it. Last year it carried the garden through the end of our droughty summer after our other water sources gave out in August."

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