As we adjust to our smaller home and to changing locations every few weeks, we try our best to keep living a green life but there are certainly challenges. In some ways, there may be more hurdles to staying green on the road than when we were in our sticks and bricks home. Here are a few of our challenges and solutions thus far.
1. Water Consumption.
Our goal from the beginning of this adventure has always been to camp off grid, on free land as much as possible so water storage and consumption were things we thought about before leaving. As I've mentioned before, that's a big reason we installed the Nature's Head Composting Toilet. It uses no water and eliminates the need for a black tank. We've been incredibly happy with that decision and I'm frequently grateful that we don't have to worry about emptying a black tank.
In addition to the toilet, we've made other water adjustments. When boondocking (staying somewhere with no water/sewer/electric hook-ups), we start with our 48 gallon freshwater tank and use that water almost primarily for washing dishes, washing hands, brushing teeth etc. We supplement that water with 8 gallons of fresh water in our pantry that we use for drinking and 16 gallons in larger containers stored in our shower area for bathing.
So this leads me to bathing...why do we keep extra water for bathing rather than just using our shower which would pull directly from our 48-gallon fresh water tank? Early in our journey we realized that hot water heater gas valve was not working properly. We took a few cold showers and planned to order the part and fix it quickly. However, before the part was in stock, Alex decided to fashion a homemade shower out of a 2 gallon multi-purpose sprayer, and a sink sprayer. He followed the instructions from this Youtube video. I admit that I rolled my eyes when he first started working on this but after just one use, I was hooked. The main reason I love this homemade shower is that we are able to have hot showers and use less than two gallons per rinse. Two gallons! The average American shower is 17 gallons per occurrence-that's 8 showers for us. I fill the sprayer with about a gallon of cold water and then I fill our tea kettle with water and boil it on the stove. Boiling the water uses some of our propane but not nearly as much as our hot water heater would. After dumping the boiling water into the sprayer, you simply screw on the lid, pump the handle a few times and use the sprayer as a hand-held shower head. I promise you feel just as clean and refreshed as if you'd taken a 15 minute conventional shower. We use ours in our shower/bath because it's pretty roomy but this set-up could easily be used outdoors as well. The only added inconvenience is that I typically wash my hair separately, in the sink, using about a gallon of water just for that task.
If we ever have RV guests that stay longer than a day or two, we may fix the water heater so guests are able to take real showers but otherwise, we're happy with our homemade sprayer shower and prefer the water conservation benefits to the convenience of a traditional shower.
Before we left, Alex also installed adjustable faucet aerators. They have three settings and help reduce the amount of water that comes out of the faucet. We have no trouble using the lowest flow setting at all times.
The only other small thing we do to conserve water is that we have a small basin in our kitchen sink to help catch water as we wash dishes. We then use that water to completely put out our evening campfires. It ensures that fire is out and keeps the water from going into our gray tank, allowing us to stay off grid just a little longer.
2. Solar Power
In April, before we hit the road, Alex and his father installed solar panels on the RV. They completed this project with no prior experience with solar installation and in less than two weeks. I was very nervous and kept suggesting that we "let the professionals handle it" but when they finished, we had an incredibly well planned and well installed solar set-up.
I have to save the details of the solar installation for a future post that I'll force Alex to write since I don't understand most of what they did but the basics are that we have five 100 watt flexible solar panels, 300 AH Relion Lithium Battery and a Magnum Hybrid Inverter
So far, this set-up has been excellent for us. We're able to keep our devices charged (laptops, phones, kindle etc..), use our Fantastic Fan if it's warm outside, use the microwave, keep lights on in the evening, cook in a Crock Pot and all of the other normal daily tasks. We have had ample power at almost all of our boondocking locations even those with partial shade. There are a few things we don't use regularly anymore so I don't know how much power they would use-no more hair dryer, no more curling iron, we use a laptop to watch television rather than a standard TV, and we haven't tried using air conditioning.
All in all, we're very happy with our solar choices and we love checking our solar monitor to see how much power we have. It's a real thrill to have all the electricity you need for a comfortable life coming directly from the sun for free every day!
This is where life has gotten trickier. In our former house, we had a regular trash can, a recycling can, and a composter for all kitchen scraps. In our current small space, we just don't have room for all of these containers. I'm currently throwing away food scraps that I would normally compost and while I hate doing this, I just don't know what else to do with them. Anyone who composts knows that it is a finicky process and can easily become messy or smelly if not done correctly. That's just not something I feel I can handle in this little home. We do save all of our recyclables and we actively seek out recycling opportunities everywhere we go but not all towns make recycling easy. Our current location, Jackson, WY, is AMAZING about recycling. They have recycling bins at most grocery stores, gas stations etc...We've found this is common in towns near the National Parks. The National Parks do an excellent job offering recycling options and that seems to overflow into their surrounding areas.
But in cases where recycling is not easy to find, we often end up driving around with bags of recyclables in the backseat waiting to find the appropriate drop off location.
So this is an area that we work on...the most effective way to handle it is by reducing the amount of waste we bring into the home in the first place. Years ago, I read the book Zero Waste Home and we've implemented those principles ever since. Rather than focusing solely on recycling, we focus on not bringing excess packaging, especially plastic, into our home in the first place. Shopping at farmer's markets is helpful as you can put the produce directly into your market bag, shopping at groceries with bulk bins is another effective way to avoid packaging.
4 Minimal Cleaning Products
This isn't RV specific and it was our basic cleaning kit in our former house as well but I include it because it's become so helpful now that we have limited space and a strict budget. We use baking soda and vinegar for almost every daily cleaning task. I use baking soda to clean the sinks and bathtub, vinegar on mirrors, windows, countertops...The Dr Bronner's Liquid Castille Soap covers hand washing, dish washing, floor cleaning. I used to mix the vinegar with water and add essential oils for a more pleasant scent but I've stopped bothering with that and now I mostly just use the oils as a final wipe on the sink. It erases any leftover water spots and leaves it smelling fresh. The final bonus is that we feel pretty good about our gray water. It has very few non-biodegradable products in it.
We continually try to improve and make the best choices we can in any given situation. Being as earth-friendly as possible is a priority for us so any advice or suggestions are always welcome!