We have just completed one week without running hot water! After discovering that our tiny electric hot water heater accounted for half of our substantial electricity bill we had to look at alternatives that were not going to cost us an arm and a leg. Had we owned Wildflowers we would have considered solar but as we don’t we couldn’t justify such an investment.
I looked around to see if I could find an old wood chip heater but to no avail. The only ones I could locate are produced by the Centre for Appropriate Technology in Alice Springs, but again the cost was prohibitive.
As we considered our options and contemplated life with four children and no running hot water we began to realise that running hot water is a luxury enjoyed by, in the main, the privileged West and is not something common to most of the worlds population. We take it for granted, we turn on the tap and hey presto, we are drenched in hot water, washing the dishes, same, having a bath, same, warming a flannel to wipe the childrens’ faces, same, washing the babies bum, same. If we lived in a poor community in a developing country, fresh water, let alone hot water, would probably be something you would have to work hard for if you were to get it at all.
Our pioneer fathers here in Australia often endured a hard life and once a week after hauling the water and cutting the wood to heat it with, they no doubt welcomed and enjoyed washing the dirt away in a hot bath. Some years ago Liadhan and I went on a bush trip along the Oodnadatta Track in Northern South Australia. We camped at a place called Muloorina water hole on the Frome River. In the evening I heated up a large aluminium pot with water on the campfire and, as we stood near the fire under the stars, we took it in turns to pour the deliciously hot water over each other , the first real wash for a few days and worth waiting for.
So, trying to save money morphed into a bit of a social experiment and a desire to experience the simplicity of life that generally only happens when you go camping. With the weather warming up it seemed like a good time to go with what we had to hand and see how we would manage. I had acquired an old copper, the sort grandma used to heat water up. Essentially it is a copper bowl of about 70 litres volume, set in a metal drum. Usually an electric element was used to heat the water, all I have done is cut a hatch in the bottom of the drum and I light a fire underneath it and that heats the water in the copper bowl. Half an hour usually gets the water piping hot so long as I keep the fire burning briskly.
I fill the copper with bore water which I carry the 15 metres from the bore tank in 2 twenty litre containers, my wood heap is close by. The copper sits on an old rainwater tank stand stood on its end next to the outdoor bath, so once the water is hot I can gravity feed it to the outdoor bath, or if we want to wash inside I have to carry buckets of water into the house about 15 metres away. Once in the house the children can have a bath in the big tub we bought and we have a bucket shower in the shower recess.
Time consuming and physically hard work, but boy, the ‘shower/bath is well worth the effort! It makes us appreciate the luxury that having hot clean water is, and I get fit to boot! I’m sure there is probably a more effective alternative way to get hot water and I’ll keep working on it over the summer, but for the moment what we have does the job and it doesn’t cost us anything except time and labour and we are not lining the pockets of the energy corporations.