The Lowdown on our Low Utilities

Every day we use utilities with little consideration. We plug and play, poop and walk away, burn and turn, etc. The service agencies do a great job ensuring availability and regulating safety, so we don’t have to think about much more than cost. However, when dispersed camping involves physically bringing your utilities to your home, you may quickly change your behaviors – exponentially. We did.

While there are many tactics to managing utilities, we decided to take the minimalist approach because we believe it will help us understand the difference of necessity vs. convenience. It also may help us establish better long-term behaviors, and overall it may have less effort and cost. So far, we have greatly reduced our usage in every aspect of our day-to-day lifestyle.

Let’s break this down into 3 basic utilities: Gas, Electricity, and Water.

Gas:

reduced gas graphic

In our camper, the fridge, outside grill, and stove use 95% of the propane. On occasion, we run the furnace and/or water heater, but primarily we use electricity for those appliances. Our eating behaviors have the greatest impact on gas usage, and in turn the consideration for gas usage has altered our dietary habits for the better. We consume more fresh foods, and all cooking decisions are deliberate rather than afterthoughts. More cookware means more gas and then more water for washing. By reducing our food preparation and focusing on eating more whole foods, we benefit from less utility usage and better healthful habits. This also creates less heat in the camper during summer IMG_8582.JPGmonths. Our fridge is two-thirds smaller these days, and since we keep the temperature higher, there is a constant race against time to eat the fresh food before spoilage. There are many delicious recipes for curdled milk, molded cheese, and yellow turkey that we’ll describe more in a future post called, “What the $@&% is Carl Eating?!”.

We’re at a 75% reduction of greenhouse gases when dispersed camping. Our annual estimate (including winter) vs. the national average is driven by much less hot water usage and an overall smaller space to manage. Filling propane bottles cost more per BTU than having a direct natural gas line, so the savings aren’t a direct correlation. Carl really wishes he was the offspring of the gas man (like his mother often proclaimed) so we could get a family discount.

Electricity: reduced energy graph

We didn’t grow up on the set of A Christmas Story with Ralphie’s dad: a man who had a mental breakdown when someone turned the thermostat down 2 degrees. In other words, our power usage has been liberal over the years. Now that we’re on the road, we love the idea of solar energy, but the lofty price tag on such a system takes time to reap the benefits, most of which wouldn’t be recognized on our 6-month adventure. Additionally, solar power requires seeking out ample sunshine, which means parking our rig in the sun – a practice counterproductive to staying cool during the summer and less ideal for our dispersed camping locations. However, we have experimented with wind energy to stay cool.

We operate most all our daily electricity needs from a single 12-volt deep cycle battery. That’s the size of your car battery. It operates our camper’s appliance control panel, water pump, ceiling vent fan, radio, and the lights (converted to LED).

During daylight hours, we often don’t require lighting, and most nights we have a single lamp on until bedtime, which, in addition to IMG_8425.JPGenergy conservation, helps not to attract a variety of bugs. Each day we charge our 12V battery for one hour with our generator that consumes a half gallon of gas. On shower days, we’ll run the hot water heater during the generator run. This also presents the only opportunity of the day to run the TV and microwave, so timing of the generator operation is strategic. With limited cell coverage for Netflix, the TV is rarely operated.

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Our devices (cells/computers) are charged from our Yeti 150 battery pack. The pack captures 20% of its power from a small dedicated solar panel, and the rest is charged during the 1-hour generator run. The Yeti has proven to be a kind of silent hero.

All in all, our energy usage has been reduced by 98%. I suppose we’re off the grid. However, generators and 12V batteries are not the most efficient for producing and storing power, so our energy spend is only improved by 80%. We get by without the privilege of AC, which has made us more heat tolerant to enjoy the outdoors this summer.

Water: reduced water graph

This is our favorite. The giver of life.

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On average, we use 7 gallons of water per day. How do we know? Because we must physically carry the jugs to our camper most days. First world problems…

The breakdown:

  • 5 gallons for hygiene
  • 2 gallons for dishes
  • 5 gallons for drinking water (includes Bella dog)
  • 1 gallon for laundry for one load of laundry per week

Our water reduction is a whopping 96% lower than the average US household, and we haven’t once experienced dehydration. We do often have to buy jugs of water @

IMG_8603.JPG$0.50/gal, which surprisingly has caused our water to cost close to what we paid for city water living in a house. This goes to show how much cheaper city water is. Sometimes we manage with more creative water-collection solutions.

How do we get by? We don’t short our water consumption needs, but we do cut corners. NOTE: These next sections are specialties from Carl and don’t necessarily reflect Kristin’s lifestyle choices:

  • Dishes are done in the sink with a water-restricted faucet. Aside from being practical and limiting the use of dishes, Carl has found it is greatly beneficial to pre-rinse the dishes by licking them clean.IMG_1918
  • One load of laundry occurs each week. Every guy out there knows you can wear a pair of jeans 10 times before it starts to bring on a funk. Disagree? Smell the next college boy you meet and ask when he last washed his trousers. Fresh underwear each day is ideal, but toilet wipes after a #2 can extend the life.
  • Hygiene is relative. Showering every day is an opportunity for adults to relax or wake up, but perhaps a shower every second to third day would go unnoticed. We’ve implemented the 45-second shower that goes like this: you turn on the water for 10 seconds to get “wet”; turn off the water and lather up (take your time); and then take 30 seconds to rinse off the soap. The effect has a phenomenon that is so utterly obvious, yet few do it. Since you are not rinsing off the soap as quickly as you apply it, it has a much more lasting effect. Like the saturation of soaking dishes. Showers are now every 2-3 days, yet we still rinse our face and brush our teeth daily (though Carl needs reminders). Unfortunately, we may have minimal desire for one another day 2 of not showering.

What do we do with the waste water, or at least the waste water from the sinks and showers (the grey tanks)?  There are many government publications around what not to IMG_1926.JPGdo with it. We say, “Let your conscious be your guide,” just as Jiminy Cricket once said. It means of course you shouldn’t pour it in or near a stream. While there are many designated dump stations across the US, they are not often where you need them to be, especially if you boondock. And when you’re boondocking, it can be quite difficult to have a full grey water tank and pack up camp just to drive miles and miles way to a dump station. If you don’t dump your waste water, the swashing around can cause your camper to go into a vicious sway down the interstate. When considering our grey water, we know biodegradable soap is best and straining out food waste is important. We’ve snuck pails of small amounts of water into vault toilets at night. We’ve dug holes by the camper and buried it. We’ve even made Bella dog drink it a time or two….(we would never).

Notice you didn’t see toilet water on the list, and there is a “dam” good reason. In the last month, we have each used a flushable toilet 1-2 times and instead have taken advantage IMG_1936of vault toilets (when available) and have dug approximately 29 6-inch holes with the ol’ shovel. This is without exaggeration. In your standard toilet, you use 3 gallons of water with each flush, so using toilets that don’t require plumbing saves us gallons of water. Although the camper toilet uses much less water, we use it very sparingly so that we can extend our trips to the dump stations for that particular waste. For Bella, she stopped eating her feces when she turned 2…although it would save us money on pet food. We often pretend to not see her defecating and leave it…to save on the precious plastic poop bags…for the sake of the environment…come on!

In the end, we would like to brag about how we’re doing our part to save the environment, but that would be boonannies if we claimed that to be our intention. While we’re glad it worked out for the best, and this may change our outlook for the rest of our lives, the truth is that if we wanted to maintain our previous lifestyle, it isn’t worth the effort and cost it would take to haul in that much water and gas. As a result, we have seen a 96% reduction in water, 98% reduction in electricity, and 75% reduction in gas when dispersed camping. With that being said, our monthly total utilities all together are $125. Sadly, they have dropped just less than half of what we previously paid in a 2,200 sq.ft. home. I guess you win some, and you lose some.

Once you reduce the luxuries of everyday utility usage, you’ll be quite surprised how little you valued them and how accessible and convenient they were. And you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can adapt without them.

Okay, got to go. We seem to have a fly issue in our camper.