My partner Andy and I recently made the move to living off grid after selling our conventional town house in March 2013. This is something we have wanted to do for several years; we were trying to live a low impact lifestyle whilst connected to mains water, gas and electricity and finding ourselves paying much more money in standing charges than we were paying for the actual amount of energy and water we used.
One thing we couldn’t find a way of doing better while we had our house was getting clean because our house was a mid terrace with nowhere private outside that could easily be used as an outdoor bathroom so we relied on the electric shower and the occasional bath (with water heated by a gas combi-boiler).
Although it was really convenient to just turn on a tap or pull a cord, we much prefer the arrangement we have now for showering, the bucket shower, which we find much more wholesome and enjoyable!
Doesn't rely on electricity
Simple: only five components and no pump
No temperature shock from opening shower door/curtain
No mould, very little cleaning at all!
Enjoyable and exhilarating
After six months of off grid living using various washing methods we have settled on the bucket shower. At first we used a solar shower bag that we have had for a few years for camping trips and festivals (one of the more expensive models). We found it to be great on sunny days to get easy hot water but otherwise we found it difficult to fill, the on/off valve was difficult to use (and eventually snapped), the handle broke from the weight of the water (even though we never filled it to its claimed capacity) and it developed a leak where the pipe came out of the bag. In constant use it only lasted a couple of months so when it became unusable we made a bucket shower instead.
The bucket shower took us less than ten minutes to make and only has five parts:
Watering can rose
15mm lever style tap (for water)
15mm x 15mm tank connector
Short length of copper pipe (approx 5-10cm)
The lever and tank connector we bought from the plumbing section of the local builder’s merchants and they cost around £5 each. The only tool required is a drill with a suitable sized bit to drill a hole in the bottom of the bucket to take the tank connector. We thought we might need to make a rubber seal from a piece of old bike inner tube to stop any leaks but this was unnecessary as the part tightens either side of the bottom of the bucket totally sealing it.
The copper pipe fits into the tank connector and the lever just pushes onto the other end of it and tightens. Then the watering can rose just pushes onto the bottom of the whole thing (they tend to be universal one size fits all and this is a perfect fit).
We used to shower totally open to the elements with the shower hanging from a tree but Andy has now built a spiral wall out of waste slab wood to shelter us from the wind and give us somewhere to put our soap and shampoo (biodegradable ones of course!). There is also a simple pulley system to lower and raise the bucket to the desired heights for filling and showering.
We stand on a slatted wooden platform that I made out of wood offcuts so that the water drains away and being on very sandy soil water never collects underneath but just soaks in.
We heat our water in a five litre Kelly Kettle on a 16 brick rocket stove which takes around five minutes. On cold days we use about six to seven litres cold water to five litres boiling water and this is enough for a quick hot shower for two people or a luxury shower for one! This is about four minutes with the tap on full but the lever can be set to any position from a dribble to full force of gravity.
How to use a bucket shower
We take ‘navy showers’ - i.e. turn the shower on and get wet, turn it off (or onto low if it is a cold day) while soaping then rinse. This is the most effective way to save water and get the most out of the showering experience.
I like to go to the shower in a dressing gown and hang it with my towel within arm’s reach so that when the water runs out I can have a quick rub down with the towel then pop on the dressing gown and run back to the log burner inside to finish getting dry and dressed!
So far the record time for us to go from lighting the rocket stove to being showered and dressed ready to go out is 16 minutes! I love the whole experience and don’t get cold even on bitter nights – in fact I have much hotter and luxurious showers than I ever had when we had a house with a cold damp bathroom!
Kate Fox graduated from The University of Wales, Aberystwyth, with a degree in Rural Resources Management and went on to work in conservation and the environment. She spent the last five years trying to be as self sufficient as possible from a small suburban garden which won several awards and completed a Permaculture Design Course in 2012. Kate is currently developing work in permaculture design for small spaces whilst living off grid and saving up for a piece of land. Please see www.katefoxmicroholding.co.uk for more ideas on self sufficiency and self reliance.
Watch: Off-grid Living