Keeping Clean on the Homestead

By , July 19, 2010

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.

The small Aguaheater, with bucket of fuel on the left (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

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.

10 Responses to “Keeping Clean on the Homestead”

  1. I like that idea but you still need to have water under pressure. If that isn’t an issue, awesome. My wife and I live off the grid in the summers and when I don’t have guest I don’t run the generator. We have a propane on-demand heater that works wonderful but for she and I we just heat a couple pans of water and take it to the steam bath (wood fired) and bathe by mixing the hot and some cold water in a small dish tote and wet down, lather up and rinse off. Wood is a premium in our neck of Alaska. If we have cardboard boxes I cut them down and burn them to give a little heat to the bathing room.

    I am intersted in the heater as a source for a wood fired hot tub. Do you have any info to find it on the internet?

    Love the idea of this blog and will visit often.


  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    George, you caught me one link short! I just updated the post with a link to an explanation of our water system, which provides the essential water pressure through gravity.

    Michelle dreams of a propane on-demand water heater, I have nightmares about packing the additional propane. Thank goodness for the Aguaheater! Eventually it’ll burn out, at which time we’ll probably switch to a system that heats using a wood stove. Hopefully, by then this will be constructed in the sauna we hope to build.

    Aguaheaters are hard to come by! I’ve got a line on one here in town that’s not being used, hoping to get a bargain price backup, but most we find are ready to fall apart. They are ideal for heating hot tubs. The paperwork we have on ours refers to that as a major use for them.

    After a long search, I found the site Calentadores Megamex!: . The site defies my rudimentary Spanish and any translator program I’ve thrown at it, but I seem to understand their current models burn either wood or heating oil, which would be great for your area. They don’t seem to export to the U.S., and I gave up on any thoughts of pursuing them because of the likely cost of shipping should an arrangement be made.

    Folks, follow George’s link to check out his family’s lodge in the Lake Iliamna area! Some of our neighbors taught at Igiugig until this last school year. I hope to visit the area one day.

    Thanks, George, for visiting the site, and for your comment!


  3. George says:

    Thanks for responding. I understand about hauling propane, mine isn’t too difficult as I have a truck at Igiugig and can back up to the boat. I also have a hand truck on the island and a garden cart from LOWEs that have made moving stuff around the island much easier on my 50+ year old back. I know Mark and Christin, very good teachers and will be missed very much from the school.

    I enjoyed the “ewer” post and is pretty much how we bathe. Having the wood fired steam is nice but wood is a premium and is mostly saved for the guests. We found that instead of taking the card board boxes to the dump we cut into strips to fit through oil drum stove door. Fill the box half and light it and in 10 minutes it is nice and warm to bathe in. Don’t leave too much draft as paper ash and fire will scream up the stack. Works for us.

    Great story on the cod fish…


  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    George, thanks for stopping in, as always. Your comment about the flying cardboard ash took me right back to my childhood chore of burning the paper trash. Even in rain-soaked Sitka, I had to monitor the burn and “kill” the cardboard floaters (usually by whacking madly at them with a stick).

    I thought of Iliamna the other day when our paper reported someone catching a sturgeon locally. I’ve always heard rumors of monster sturgeon (and perhaps bigger, more dangerous creatures) lurking in the lake up there.


  5. There are rumors for sure. Mike Andrews Sr.(village Elder) and I have visited about many things and one is about the “Lake Monster”. When Mike and Dollia (his wife) talk about this it is with genuine fear. Other anomallies we visit out is usually with respect like the Big Foot or monkies they call them but the lake monster is talked about with fear. When I was in high school and traveled up there to fish all the bottoms of the boats were painted black. Most of the boats were Lund’s with red sides and it was well known that the monster liked red so they would paint the boat bottoms black.

    Very interesting visiting with folks that grew up hear many years ago.


  6. Mark Zeiger says:

    Wow, that’s incredible! I love these kinds of stories, especially the ones about Alaska.

  7. Gary Cochran says:

    Good input from all. Want a cheap water heater…..can you weld?
    Get a discarded propane/gas waterheater. They have a flue
    going up the center of the tank already. Weld a firebox of
    any shape on the bottom from scrap metal…plumb it up & put
    a chimney on top. Anything that’s flammable can be used for
    fuel……dry moose droppings? Most discarded gas heaters
    are thrown away because the gas regulator or burner are shot.
    If the tank has a hole/leak leave it at the dump & find one
    with a good tank.

  8. Gary Cochran says:

    Do you gather Goose tongue from the shore? If not, you are missing a
    real treat. Sounds like you live close to Haines.

  9. Mark Zeiger says:

    Gary, this is very helpful! We’ve been sitting on plans to add a heating coil to a wood stove, then store it an old electric heater, but this sounds much more like we’re used to with the Aguaheater. I don’t weld, but there’s a couple of shops in town that could do that end of it for me. Thanks for the tip!

  10. Mark Zeiger says:

    Gary, we have a lot of goose tongue here, and a lot of people eat it. It doesn’t seem to do anything for me personally, which is odd, because I’m not a picky eater, and a lot of people I know who are more particular rave about it. I do like it in the foods people make.

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