If you were to joke that cleanliness on the homestead is next to impossible, I admit that some days we’d have a hard time proving you wrong. Living semi-remotely allows a certain casualness that is seldom allowed in regular society. We can skip showers more days than we would if we lived in town; We work hard, and therefore sweat hard, but lower stress and higher activity levels keep us from growing too rank. Nevertheless, we are clean people as a rule. Maintaining proper hygiene, like every other aspect of our lives, takes more work and creativity than it did on the grid.
To keep clean, we rely on showers powered by our wood-fired hot water heater, ewers and basins, solar showers, and saunas.
Oddly, a shower stall forms the axis of our first floor room. Hot water for it and the nearby kitchen sink come from a wood-fired water heater made in Mexico, called an “Aguaheater,” connected to our water system. This simple device consists of a thin water tank surrounding a central shaft. At the bottom of the shaft is a fire grate, the top attaches to stove pipe. Light a fire below, and water circulates through the “jacket” around the shaft. As with any hot water tank, the hot water rises to an outflow to be used, cold water feeds in from below to be heated in turn.
On a “shower day” we bring in a bucket of small wood, some of which we cut to size ourselves, but much of which comes from the odds and ends from chopping—splinters, chips, and the like—and light the fire. Before long, we have hot water.
The old Aguaheater in the cabin when we bought it soon burned out. We found a smaller one under the cabin and installed it. We worried that the smaller heater may not have the proper capacity to wash three of us in a row. To our surprise, the smaller tank works much better than the larger one. Formerly, one person would shower, then we’d wait while the cold water heated again, then the next person washed. The smaller tank holds less water, which heats and circulates through continuously. It is, for all practical purposes, a hot water-on-demand system.