Water Supply — WildSnow Field HQ — Updated


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | July 7, 2017      

This post was first published a few years ago, when we installed the water tank at our backcountry diggs. Figured I’d bring it to the top with updates regarding our camping water system.

Everything we’re doing up here in the high Colorado mountains is temporary, both due to costs but also the land use code requiring most structures or shelters to be portable (preferably on wheels or skids) unless they go through the full permitting process. Those kinds of larger projects are unnecessary for us at this point. While we do probably want to build something “real” in the future, that’s way way in the future. Meanwhile, the idea is to enjoy the place and not get into a big expensive project.

So, the water upgrades. Our property is mostly on steep grade. Inconvenient for building stuff but makes for easy location of gravity feed water. Burying a freeze-proof water line down to the camping shelter tiny house was way too big and pricey a project, and not temporary enough. So we first built a small insulated closet-like structure about 30 linear feet downhill from the tank. I buried and insulated a PEX pipe, terminated at a freeze proof hose bib inside the closet. During winter, we fill a water jug here and man haul it the hundred feet or so down to the cabin.

For summer, I ran a PEX line on the surface (hidden by rocks for cosmetics) down to the cabin. Another hose bib on the porch gives us convenient water. Vertical drop is about 15 feet, which while not providing standard residential pressure, gives about 6 PSI and squirts plenty strong for filling the teakettle and dish bucket. This part of the system is drained and valved off during winter. For fun, I also experimented with bringing a water line to the sink, but with only a bucket as a drain system that can result in a flood disaster if you don’t notice even a small drip. So I’d call that a temporary test for sure.

Those of you just beginning this sort of project might be curious as to what it took to insulate a freeze-proof shallow buried water line (the one between tank and closet). I only buried that 3/4 inch PEX about 18 inches, while code probably calls for something like 4 feet at this elevation. The trick is digging a fairly wide ditch, about two feet, then laying several layers of blue foam over the line, then covering. Expensive, tedious and non-code, so only good for this temporary type stuff at short distance. But it works for us.

2013 post below:
The camping scene at our “tiny house” has worked well over the past few years. Small at about 16×9 feet, but comfy with a wood stove and 12 volt solar lighting. We put in a gravity feed water system using a 5-gallon jug in the loft, but got tired of hauling water from town for every visit. Instead, why not haul H2O just a couple times a year and fill a big tank on our property, which could then be used like a spring, or even hooked up with a hose during non-freeze months? With a big enough tank we would have more water than we’d ever need just a few steps away.

Annual refill for the water tank

Annual refill for the water tank. Silverado Duramax truckosaurus is the correct tool for the job. The 200 gallon tank in the truck is used to fill a 400 gallon tank in an insulated enclosure.

We engineered a solution by acquiring a couple of above-grade pickup truck water tanks. (Cheap used tanks are available, but for drinking water you have to buy new ones since you have no way of knowing what’s been in a used tank.) We enclosed the 400 gallon tank in an insulated stick-framed box. The tank is set a few feet into the ground to discourage freezing and allow the cover box to be shorter in height. Since the tank enclosure box needed a roof, we built a tool shed on top. While engineered for extreme snow loads and depth, everything was done small and portable so as not to create problems with building codes.

For a water tap, we buried about 10 feet of flexible hose a few feet below grade and daylighted that down the hillside from the tank via a freeze proof hose-bib faucet like you’d use on the outside of a house. During winter, a tarp and a few logs create a snow cave where we access the faucet and fill water containers. (See update at beginning of post for our latest hose configurations.)

Filling the tank is done once or twice a year using another 200 gallon truck tank, as shown in photo above. If I ever wondered why we own a truckosaurus, those ponderings have been put to rest. Water is heavy and our two-track vehicle access is steep.

Once a year we “flash” treat the permanent tank using bleach. More, for biological safety we filter or boil any water we drink out of the permanent tank — though the H20 remains clear, cold and clean since we source heavily chlorinated residential water drawn from our house in town.

One lesson learned: the caps on these tanks have an air vent that small insects such as ants can climb through. Install screen mesh over or under the cap to prevent interesting little floaters from appearing in your water supply. To clean debris out of the source tank, mount a fine screen dipper on a stick like the tool you use to clean stuff out of swimming pools.

Once winter weather begins we lay a few slabs of rigid “blue foam” insulation over the ground where we shallow buried the hose tap. It froze for a few days last winter during an extreme cold snap (20 below zero F), but otherwise stayed usable due to ground warmth keeping the freeze at bay. The water in the tank never freezes due to it being on the ground in an insulated box. We cover the hose bib with a small foam cover sold for that purpose, and blanket the whole assembly with an old synthetic sleeping bag when not in use.

Ventilating the insulated tank “house” is a challenge. Too much air flow and the water tank will freeze. Too little venting and humidity builds up to the point of damaging the covering structure and encouraging mold. Last winter we had a bit too much humidity. Improved solution is a vent in the door and a riser on the opposite end of the cover box made from 4-inch black plumbing pipe that warms in the sun, thus encouraging air flow. I’ll monitor temperatures this winter and restrict air flow if it looks like we’re risking a freeze.

Water storage tank in insulated enclosure.

Water storage tank in insulated enclosure. I used 2x6 floor joists above to reduce height of final structure, instead of 2x8s or 2x10x. They're a bit over-spanned, hence the bracing. Plenty of storage for stuff that's not moisture sensitive. This is really just a 'cap' over the tank, sitting on landscape timbers so as not to have a foundation and get counted as a permanent structure. A tool shed sits on top, again, very temporary, all assembled with screws and could be moved around by dragging on skids.

Hot water pot with spigot, 5 gallons.

Hot water pot with spigot, 5 gallons.

Incidentally, I was doing some “recreational” internet shopping, looking for water related items. I’ve always liked those large hot water pots they have at some huts. You know, the pots that sit on the woodstove, full of hot water accessed by a convenient spigot, perhaps used for snow melting. I found a nice one at Backcountry, check it out.


Comments

14 Responses to “Water Supply — WildSnow Field HQ — Updated”

  1. Brian September 30th, 2013 10:43 am

    Lou, do you have any pics of the installation of the tank?

  2. Ralph September 30th, 2013 11:11 am

    ever consider harvesting water from the roof of the cabin? seems like an easy source for at least cleaning/grey water needs. add some filtration and boiling, as you already do, and you might be able to drink it.

  3. Lou Dawson September 30th, 2013 12:26 pm

    Ralph and Brian, I was working on my writing “skills” (grin). But sure, I’ll grab a photo or two up there. The water is actually drinkable as far as I can tell from “testing,” but best to be careful so I took that POV. If making it 100% drinkable from the tap is essential, it’s a simple matter of adding the correct amount of bleach to the tank. Water off the roof can work, but involves filtration and other issues to make it potable, and you never know for sure as it comes off a painted metal roof. More, believe it or not you actually need a permit to harvest and use water off your roof, just like needing a well permit. Until we decide to build a real cabin or house, last thing we need up there at HQ is something that we have to worry about permits for. Thing about our water system is we drive up there anyway from town, so hauling a few hundred gallons of water once or twice a year is trivial. Now, if we had a full-on dwelling up there and we’re living there full time, sourcing from a water tank rather than well would be a whole other story. Lou

  4. George September 30th, 2013 6:36 pm

    Lou:
    Marble water can be full or iron, sulfur and other stuff necessitating an expensive water treatment system. In hindsight, I might have been better served by installing a large water tank in my crawl space with a small water filter and having a big truck deliver water a few times each year. The cost of digging a well, installing a pump and water treatment system for mediocre water is now a sunk cost.
    I really like your water system. Best, George

  5. Lou Dawson September 30th, 2013 7:01 pm

    George, and there we were, thinking of asking the Fire House if we could buy some water from their outside faucet and fill our tank, to avoid hauling from Carbondale….

    Perhaps what you needed for your house was a tank with hauled drinking water, then use the Marble water for dishwasher, toilets, showers. Would have been pretty easy to set up two different systems. But tough to do after the fact.

    We priced having the water hauled commercial. Much less money to just bring it up when we commute. But doing so does require at least a 1/2 ton pickup truck.

  6. Chris October 1st, 2013 9:15 am

    Why not put an inline carbon filter to skip the boiling?

  7. Lou Dawson October 1st, 2013 10:18 am

    Chris, I’ve got one for summer, just a simple in-line one for RV water supply, but it’s difficult to drain them enough to prevent freeze damage. Nearly all the water we drink in winter is tea, soup, stuff like that. So the boiling is not an issue. More, we have one of those pitchers with the built-in filter, which works really well. I’m being overly paranoid with all this. The water in the tank is clear, cold, in a dark enclosure and carefully transferred using bleach flashed tank. It’s probably 100% safe to drink as-is. So long as the tank is sealed from pests I’m sure it’ll probably remain that way. Mice are actually the biggest concern. None around yet, and we did put in some traps. One trick I’ve learned over the years is to spread a few mothballs around where you don’t want mice and such. Seems to discourage them. We throw a few mothballs under the tiny house now and then as well, seems to keep the mice and porcupines away. I threw a few into the tank shed as well. Not enough to smell up the place or contaminate the water, just enough to theoretically discourage Mr. Mouse and his harem.

  8. George October 1st, 2013 4:54 pm

    Lou:
    Marble Water Company water is clean and over-chlorinated which would work great for you. I had to dig a well 300 feet in shale because the town water lines are 680 feet away from my cabin. Good luck!

  9. Norqski October 2nd, 2013 4:28 pm

    Lou, wow, great idea! I have a road accessed cabin here in AK that has a well but it’s 150 ft from the cabin with surface piping, so we end up hauling in the winter. This sounds like a feasible solution for us as 200 gals would more than suffice for the amount we go there in the freezing months. How much does a tank like that run? And yes, pics would be really appreciated! Cheers.

  10. Lou Dawson October 2nd, 2013 5:52 pm

    Doing this probably wouldn’t work in interior AK where the ground freezes so deep, but would work fine in the coastal/warmer regions. But to be safe, I’d get a below-grade rated tank, and bury it under enclosure you build with just the top 10 inches or so of tank above grade, then cover tank with insulation blanket. I’m adding a photo taken inside tank enclosure. Don’t prefer to publish any more due to privacy concerns. Lou

  11. Norqski October 2nd, 2013 6:31 pm

    Our cabin is in Hope, right on the Turnagain Arm, so we’re definitely in the moderate winter areas. Do you have the tank sitting on something? I’d really rather not bury the tank. Wonder if a layer of blue board could handle the weight… hmmm..

  12. Lou Dawson October 2nd, 2013 6:43 pm

    Norq, no reason to insulate it from the ground! The ground produces heat. Lou

  13. Joe John July 7th, 2017 3:24 pm

    The roof sourced water could also have bird dropping residue, (eek) so your tank hauling seems to be the way to go. Thank you for sharing. Can you still hike to snow patches from your cabin?

  14. Lou Dawson 2 July 7th, 2017 6:42 pm

    Joe John, yeah, roof collection of potable water is not first choice. Can be done, but requires a fairly complicated and expensive filtration system, and then you still don’t know what chemicals are leaching from the roof and not being filtered. Ok for washing dishes and taking the occasional shower. We actually have things set up now so we could get a well drilled if we could afford it, but with dry cabin living we use so little water, hauling some now and then is viable. Lou

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