Thursday, April 25, 2024

Bill Busting 102: Cheap Hot Water

Every man can be his own plumber, and every woman can be hers, if they're willing to do the work. If you happen to own property that includes water rights to a natural spring, all you have to do is get some pipe, put one end in the spring, put a filter over that end to keep out sand, cover it while working, bury it deep enough that it won't freeze, and attach the other end to a faucet. Before opening the end of the pipe at the spring, set the faucet in place above the sink, tub, trough, whatever you want the water to run into, and set up a drain pipe to carry water away from the house. Ideally this pipe empties into a small pond a few yards above the spring branch, so that your used water does not drain into a stream others use. Give natural processes a chance to filter your germs, soap, dirt, etc., out of the water first. And, of course, as a regular reader of this web site, you already know that you don't want a water-flush toilet; spring water is for drinking and washing, only. Now your water needs are taken care of, if you have the use of a natural spring.

"Golly, that sounds easy if you say it fast. How do I..." I'm not going to try to explain the details here, because I don't have faith that I am that good a writer and because you probably need to comply with local regulations anyway. If you did not inherit a simple system that runs spring water through your home and learn how to maintain it from your elders, and you have not done enough plumbing work to know how much of what to put where, consult a local expert.

What if you don't have access to a spring? First of all, does everyone already know how to get cheap water?

The easy way is to live in a well-watered part of the world, where you can collect water from springs or during rain storms. Very little of this water will be fit to drink, but filtering and boiling are relatively cheap ways to make it as good as city tap water. Arguably it may be better if you get enough fluorine in your diet and don't want excessive fluoride from your water.

The more complicated way is to spread non-porous objects over the ground at night and collect water as water vapor in the air condenses on cooling. A sheet of black plastic will work. 

City water grids save enough time and labor that most people set a high priority on keeping their homes connected. If you can't afford to stay on the water grid, however, you can survive without it. 

To get the benefit of hot water for washing grease off dishes, hair, etc., you need a large glass or metal container for each person in the household, and a window or windows facing southwest. This will provide hot showers on warm sunny days, tepid water on wet or cold days, and cold but not frozen water on most (but not necessarily all) winter nights. Park the containers in front of the windows. Water can be drawn out from a simple tap, or connected to faucets and shower heads in the house, depending on what you need.

A basic renovation everyone can make that will save money, even while they're connected to the city water grid, is to think of the hot water tank as the first and probably the best of those water containers in your new solar water heating system. Brother Sun will save wear and tear on the electrical heating elements, or save gas, as willingly as he will heat the water in a plain container. The hot water tank that came with the house contains a thermostat that turns on the electricity or gas when the water temperature drops below a certain point. Placing the hot water tank in front of the southwest window drastically reduces the amount of non-solar energy you need to maintain the preferred temperature.

Heating water by solar power alone won't provide the sensory pleasure of a hot bath or shower when temperatures are below freezing. In order to give patients hydrotherapy treatments, nineteenth century practitioners used to heat water on a wood, coal, or kerosene stove. Someone would carry a gallon or two of hot water to the tub and pour it over the patient. The treatment worked for some people but it cost more than most Victorians considered reasonable, because of all the labor involved. 

More modern ways to heat water are barely past the experimental stage. Having a lot of people dependent on water, electrical, and gas grids is profitable for a lot of people and, if they can add the Internet as yet another grid into which everybody can be forced to pour monthly payments, many people would be even happier. This is not a sustainable plan for all those billions of surplus humans who, we're told, will be making every livable part of the world as crowded as New York City if we continue having babies and most of those babies continue to enjoy long healthy lives. No nation can afford to have its economy dependent on a vulnerable central grid. Each house and each office block needs to be what the grid owners call, with a shudder in their voice, an "energy island." But corporations aren't in any hurry to fund the development and commercial production of devices that take people off the grid. They are less concerned about how human lives will survive an emergency than about how they can suck in more revenues each month.

In theory, your solar collector and/or your exercise bike could store energy in a battery you could connect to a device in the wall behind the sink, or even in a faucet or shower head, over which water flows. When turned on, this device would use a small amount of electricity to heat up a heating element like the ones inside a conventional water heater. The water flowing out of the faucet could be heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit if you wanted it to be. From time to time, since the 1960s, people have patented such devices and marketed them by direct mail to small groups of friends, or in "alternative" newspapers and magazines, but they're not likely to be in Wal-Mart for a few more years. 

If perfected the hand-held "hot water on demand" type of heater would have revolutionary effects. For one thing, it would remove all need for chemical herbicides: hot water is the perfect herbicide, reliably wilting the plants you don't want while promoting growth of the ones you do. 

Meanwhile...carrying buckets of hot water to warm a bathtub of water the sun has heated to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, on a winter day, will at least rev up your metabolism and make a tepid tub comfortable.

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