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Things to Think About Before Moving into a Tiny House in the Mountains

If you’re interested in living in the mountains, there is a lot of opportunity from Boulder to Granby to Winter Park and everywhere in between.

If, however, you want to scale down your square footage as well as your carbon footprint, a tiny house might be the right fit.

It’s all about planning, so break down the considerations into two categories: mountain living and tiny house living.

Mountain Life

Sewage and water are important considerations. Without a well, water can be tricky to access.

Consider a rain barrel system or, if available, hooking into another homeowner’s well.

Things to Consider Before Moving into a Tiny House or Cabin in the Mountains or Woods

Photo Credit iStockPhoto Stock #18455144Photos and illustrations by contributors whose royalty-free stock is only available from iStockphoto and the Getty Images family of companies and their distribution partners

A commercial composting toilet or a DIY human waste composter are both viable alternatives to a septic system, while a greywater system lets you recycle sink, shower and laundry water.

Power and heat must be considered, too. Preexisting homes generally have these things worked out. Not so if you’re building new.

Consider getting off the power grid and using solar energy – passive and/or active. A small wind or water-powered turbine are two other ways to generate electricity.

Since you’re consuming less, you don’t need the grid.

As for heat, what about a wood-burning stove? It’s carbon neutral and efficient, especially in a tiny house.

Another major consideration is access. Are the roads you need to get to and from home plowed in the wintertime?

You don’t want to end up needing a Sno-Cat to get in and out. How far are you from civilization, i.e. stores, a hospital, schools, etc.?

Other things to think about include the land itself. If you’re buying acreage, are there any land covenants to consider?

Do you have water rights? And how do you feel about wildlife? In the mountains there are critters, so be prepared.

Tiny House Life

A tiny house is a great way to cut all-around costs and to reduce resource consumption.

They are generally built by hand from green and/or recycled materials. In many cases they are portable and can be towed like a trailer.

Who will live there? If it’s just you, you have no one else to consider. Not so with a spouse and/or family. Are you prepared to give up 2,000 sq. ft. and live with a few hundred?

Because of its size, a tiny house is an affordable path to home ownership. Its low cost can also free up money to spend on the land – a commodity you’ll need less of because your home is so tiny.

First, find a realtor and start talking. Scope out areas, ask questions and remember to tend to the little things – the big things will take care of themselves.

If you are looking to buy a home in the Boulder or Denver area and are interested in learning more about Boulder, Denver or Broomfield Colorado real estate, please contact Brian MacMillan at http://denverandboulderrealestate.com

Written by Brian MacMillan for Tiny House Talk

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Alex

Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!

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{ 30 comments… add one }
  • Nanci January 27, 2012, 4:34 pm

    We live in a tinky cabin in Evergreen and considered capturing water but we were told that in Colorado that is illegal! We have our water delivered instead. LOVE LOVE LOVE our little cabin in the forest!

  • Kathy January 27, 2012, 5:27 pm

    Hi, Nanci. Was the the county who told you collecting water is illegal? Kathy

  • Nanci January 28, 2012, 6:55 pm

    Kathy, we have been told by numerous neighbors that capturing water in this state is illegal. I believe my husband has confirmed it with the county.

  • Kathy January 28, 2012, 8:04 pm

    Good news, Nanci. I did a little research, and those laws have been changed. Here is an article discussing water rights in Colorado:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/us/29rain.html

    • Alex January 29, 2012, 8:07 am

      Wow, thanks for looking that up, Kathy!

    • Alex January 29, 2012, 8:09 am

      It’s so strange that it was illegal, though.. But glad to see the law’s been changed.

      • Nanci January 29, 2012, 8:48 am

        Alex is all has to do with water rights in the western U.S. Long history going way back! Water has decided the shape of states and CO supplies water to very thirsty states in the west, including California!!

        • sesameB January 30, 2012, 12:27 pm

          Excellent comment. Water will be the new oil in the future. yes, California is thirsty!

        • Alex January 30, 2012, 2:24 pm

          Thanks Nanci!

  • Nanci January 28, 2012, 10:25 pm

    Holy Smokes thanks for sharing that news! I had no idea that it had changed! We moved into our cabin 4 1/2 years ago so my comments were based on what we heard upon moving to the mountains. Hog dog, now we can begin catching rainfall and using it for the garden! Kathy, thank you so much for this very helpful information!

  • Kathy January 28, 2012, 10:29 pm

    My pleasure, Nanci. The information was important to me, too. Kathy

  • SteveR January 29, 2012, 4:30 am

    Something not mentioned is communication. Check if there is cell phone coverage or if there is a way to get internet access ( if important to you). I live in a tiny house in the mountains of New Zealand and I had to install a long distance wifi connection which was not trivial and took many months and weekends of planning and trial/error to find ideal locations. I have one relay point which had to be powered by solar as well.

    My advice if you are considering a tiny house in the mountains is to go slowly. If you are going to go off-grid, collect water, use composting toilets, recycle grey water, burn firewood, etc, there are a lot of possibly new systems and things to get used to all at once, never mind remote living, wilderness and building a tiny cabin.

    Buy the property first and then camp there for a weeks on and off and begin to appreciate remote living, things you will have to deal with, how much water you go through, where to place solar collectors, ideal build location, how much power you might need, how often you need to go into town for supplies and so on, then think about the building, where it should go, how it should look, what systems you want to put in place and why.

    If you go at it slowly, you can adapt easier and you can set your expectations properly.

    Steve

  • sesameB January 30, 2012, 10:16 am

    Steve: “If you go at it slowly, you can adapt easier and you can set your expectations properly.”
    I agree with this 100%. I am speaking from experience, living in rural south central sunny Arkansas.

  • sesameB January 30, 2012, 10:46 am

    Case in point about critters in the wilderness: Anchorage, Alaska –85-year-old woman wields shovel to stop moose stomping
    By LISA DEMER (01/23/12 22:20:42)
    An agitated moose ran down and stomped a well-known Bush pilot from Willow, but he was saved when his wife grabbed a shovel from their pickup truck and whacked the big animal until it backed off. George Murphy, 82, and his wife, Dorothea Taylor, 85, told the story of their recent moose encounter Sunday afternoon from Murphy’s hospital room in Anchorage, where he is recovering from gashes to his head and left leg as well as seven broken ribs. They were at the Willow Airport around 10:30 a.m. Friday running their golden retrievers as they do almost every day. They drive along the access road in their truck and let the dogs, Fellar and King Tut, run on ahead. “Sometimes both of us go and walk the old dog back,” Taylor said. Fellar is 12 and moves slow. Tut, his son, is 3 and can run like the dickens. “But this time it was 30 below and just too darn cold out there.”
    Murphy was hiking back to the truck with Fellar when he saw the moose up the road. As he first told the story, he referred to the ungulate as a bull but when he thought about it later, decided it must have been a cow. No matter. It was big, and stressed.
    “He was way off. Jeez, he spotted me and he started to come right after me. So I was trying to get to the truck. But I didn’t make it,” Murphy said.
    At the airport, there were no trees to duck behind. Murphy dove into the deep snow for protection. And the moose came at him. ”

    YIKES!
    This past weekend, I was laying in my hammock outside in the sunlight – also, Barefootin’ in 63 degrees today in rural south central Arkansas

    • Mark February 4, 2012, 1:09 pm

      I used to spend a lot of time in the Canadian camping areas of Thunder Bay, Ontario. There was a lake there that was protcted from humans during the Moose Mating season called “Joe-Boy Lake”. We would came in the nearby Lake Louise campground. My neighbor had a bad encounter with a Bull Moose on the road into the Lake Louise camping area–the moose flipped his Toyota Landcruiser down a hill. He and his wife had some wild tales to tell around tha campfires, but were lucky. Unfortunately, mating season is in the early fall, during prime camping time there. When mating season is open, these myopic beasts think everything that moves is a threat. You learn that in Moose country, you don’t ever tanlge with them, and learn to avoid where they are, and most important, avoid anything that will attract them or allow them into spaces for humans.

  • sesameB January 30, 2012, 11:06 am

    Just wanted to share again, a nice read from history…. — one-room log cabin
    Frank Reed, who came to Anchorage in 1915,–
    (01/23/12 16:10:17) Reed was born in Seattle Dec. 22, 1912, and came to Anchorage with his mother, Pauline Hovey Reed, and older brother Paul, when his father, Frank Ivan Reed, sold his interest in a gold dredging operation on Cache Creek north of Anchorage. The family moved to the rapidly expanding community, then known as Ship Creek Landing, shortly after the federal government decided to make it the headquarters of the federal Alaska Railroad. Most people lived in tents in the Ship Creek Valley until lots were auctioned to the south on Anchorage’s original townsite in July 1915. The family promptly moved into a one-room log cabin above Ship Creek.

  • sesameB January 30, 2012, 11:33 am

    We all are going to have to re-wild ourselves in the face of climate change, too. Case in point: In absence of sea ice, polar bears learn to eat duck eggs (01/24/12 11:34:42)
    Polar bears in Arctic Canada appear to be compensating for disappearing sea ice — from which they hunt seals — by swarming onto near-shore islands and raiding eider duck nests, reports CBC News. Bears have been feasting on the eggs which are laid on islands off the coast of South Baffin Island and Nunavik. “Bears are extremely smart and adaptable, and once they arrive in these islands and eat the eider eggs they learn to swim to all the coastal islands. This last summer, for example, over 58 per cent of the islands we visited had been depredated by polar bears and we observed 22 different bears on this offshore island,” said [Environment Canada scientist Grant] Gilchrist.

  • sesameB January 30, 2012, 12:22 pm

    In tight local market, no relief for renters, apartment hunters (Jan. 2012) “Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, said recently that the federal government should help developers convert large groups of foreclosed homes into rental properties as a way to cut rents and improve blighted neighborhoods. “There is this oddity, we have rents going up and all these vacant homes,’’ he said during a meeting with Globe reporters and editors.”
    This is such a true statement. So, very true! In 1993, Lorraine, Marie, wrote a nice article, “New role for a grand old home, built in 1980’ with an accompanying photo of Lucy Underhill in the Statesman-Examiner newspaper from Colville, Washington.
    Ms. Marie wrote: “The two-bathroom, four-bedroom, two story house would normally rent for $650 to $700 a month in Colville’s tight rental market, but, owner Lemehaute recently decided to try a different idea, the home shared concept. Each person will be renting a bedroom and sharing the rest of the house. Dr. Joe Leadon, who responded to the idea, already had a history of shared living arrangements. Dr. Leadon, now 61 yrs. old, (and still practices medicine in the state of New York), said, “I had a similar experience. The owner of a shared home he lived in was an elderly person. He helped his older friend with chores, and did her grocery shopping. This can keep older people independent a lot longer, and it’s also good mind stimulation for both age groups, Dr. Leadon noted. He continued in this article to say that in his previous shared household, Leadon observed another housemate go through the changes offered by shared living. ‘he’d been kind of down, but the companionship perked him up’, the doctor added.”
    I am still staying put in rural Arkansas, even though I have had experience of long ago, living in a restored mansion in Colville, WA.

  • sesameB January 30, 2012, 12:26 pm

    January 26, 2012, From Alaska, Great Concern for Central Park By ANDY NEWMAN Alaska: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, via Reuters; Central Park: Chang W. Lee/The New York TimesKnow your native species: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska (left) and Central Park in New York City (right).In the interest of preserving an already-compromised sliver of urban wilderness, state legislators are asking the federal government to take over Central Park. State legislators in Alaska, that is. Annoyed with outsiders’ meddling with the right to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Representative Kyle Johansen, Republican of Ketchikan, introduced a resolution in Juneau on Monday that gives the states-rights-depriving Eastern elites a taste of their own medicine. It urges the feds to “declare Central Park to be a wilderness area and to prohibit any further improvement or development of Central Park unless authorized by an act of Congress.” Many of Mr. Johansen’s colleagues immediately signed on as co-sponsors, including the speaker of the house.

    The resolution, first noted on this coast by West Side Rag, is primarily a piece of political satire, Mr. Johansen said Wednesday, but one with a solid basis in history.“What I’m trying to accomplish,” he said, “is to basically make a point of the hypocrisy of — and don’t take offense — those East Coast folks who write a lot of checks to shut down Alaska, while in their own backyard, Manhattan has been turned from a pristine wild island supporting an amazing Muir web of life to having only Central Park left as a green belt. And even Central Park has been radically changed.” The resolution notes that before Henry Hudson arrived in 1609, Manhattan was ”a remarkably diverse and natural landscape of hills, valleys, forests, fields,” marshes, beaches, ponds and streams that supported populations of gray wolf, elk, black bear and mountain lion. Since then, the measure says, “the unrestrained development of buildings, highways and urban sprawl on Manhattan has destroyed habitat, displaced indigenous peoples and disrupted” ecosystems. Central Park makes up 6 percent of Manhattan; the area that pro-drilling lawmakers seek to open to oil exploration makes up 8 percent of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Ergo, if one landscape is worthy of federal protection, why not the other? Though extractive industries are not allowed to operate in Central Park (unless you count the overpriced organic hot-dog vendor near the skating rink), the landscape has indeed been repeatedly disfigured over the years by zoos and faux Gothic castles and whatnot. But Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said that “the premise that Central Park is not as protected as a federal property in Alaska is not true.” Among other things, the park falls under the Public Trust Doctrine, which bars use of parks for any non-recreation purpose without approval from the state legislature. In New York, not Alaska. As stranger-than-satire history would have it, though, the federal takeover of Central Park was actually proposed during the city’s 1970s fiscal crisis. A 1978 study rejected the idea. While it would bring in needed money and personnel, the study’s authors wrote, federalization would put the park in the hands of federal civil servants “who would not feel compelled to be responsive to local wishes concerning usage.”

    • Alex January 30, 2012, 1:40 pm

      Great stories, thanks for sharing!

      • sesameB January 30, 2012, 2:07 pm

        Enven though I now live in the beautiful, natural state of Arkansas, I still love my ALASKA!

        Hurray for this very timly and much needed new book, Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter Lloyd Kahn (Author) “…dwellers who’ve achieved a measure of freedom and independence by taking shelter into their own hands.” Yes, it is all about freedom! I, too, can’t wait to request my copy from the local university’s library (for free).

        You wrote, “Thanks, Shannon! Container homes are great.. I’ve got an upcoming post on one soon you’ll probably like.” I am looking forward to your post on this topic!! I almost got one of these years, ago.
        This problem of affordable housing and fire safety, Alex, remains today even as I write: “Experts Say New York Fire Highlights Code Deficiencies In Many U.S. Cities – Mar 19, 2007 – Fire fatalities have steadily declined in the U.S. since the late 1970s, thanks partly to improved… But a deadly blaze in the Bronx served as a reminder. “This modest home was also crowded with 22 residents, most of them children of an immigrant family from West Africa. The three story house lacked a fire escape and had only one stairwell, giving the residents no way out once those steps were blocked by flames. An unknown number of one-and two-family homes have been illegally chopped up into a warren of one-room apartments and rented to poor families struggling with New York’s astronomical housing costs. You go into these homes, you see the attic occupied. You see the basement occupied, Ellis said. People are packed into these homes, the place is classified as a one-family. In most cities there will be a stock of buildings that don’t meet the current standards, and they are accidents waiting to happen, said Richard Custer, a fire safety expert at Arup, a global design firm.” And, Glenn P. Corbett, an associate professor of fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice called the illegal use of single-family homes as apartment houses a ‘gigantic problem’ for fire safety, and he cited recent fatal blazes elsewhere including one that killed two people last summer in Englewood, N.J.’

        Leisureville: Adventures in America’s Retirement Utopias -2008 Andrew D. Blechman (Author)– Ultimately, Blechman finds the residents blissful to be spared the friction and uncertainty of real life, yet, as one widow admits, There’s a lot of sadness here. And, Alex and readers, these places are NOT all that safe to live,either,case in point:
        Dec. 15, 2007 –Gated community questions security after murder — FULSHEAR TX. Dec. 15, 2007— Police have not determined how two men got into a gated Fort Bend County community where they bluffed their way into a house and fatally stabbed a retired schoolteacher in a robbery attempt. Martha Fields, 54, of the 32800 block of Waltham Crossing, in the Weston Lakes subdivision, was attacked Tuesday morning and died Thursday at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. “We don’t know if they snuck in through the back or what they did to get in. We are still trying to figure that part out,” Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Craig Brady said Friday.”
        I will never live in a big house, ever!!! I have always lived in one space.

        This book was a great read, so timely and so true — The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, By Michelle Alexander (The New Press, New York, N.Y., 2010, 290 pages.)
        One space living is the future. Four stars to you, and your blog, Alex!!!!

        Living tiny in the Ouachita Mountains, (pronounced /ˈwɒʃɨtɔː/ wosh-i-taw) are a mountain range in west central Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma.
        As I write its very sunny, warm and I am barefootin’ as usual.

  • sesameB January 30, 2012, 2:11 pm

    Alaska,(Jan. 2012) Wow, this group is doing great work– Brother Francis Shelter
    Brother Francis Shelter provides temporary, emergency shelter for men and women, an evening meal, and use of shower and laundry facilities, case management services, advocacy, job readiness, and referrals for employment, permanent housing, mental health issues, and treatment options for alcohol and substance abuse.
    Brother Francis Shelter provided 84,584 nights of stay and served 3,384 homeless men and women during fiscal year 2011. OUCH!!!
    •In one year, 68,443 meals were served. Providence Health & Services Alaska provides the evening meal and community members donate sandwiches for those missing meal times due to an appointment or work schedule conflict.
    •The clothing room provided assistance 11,143 times for those seeking basic clothing items. Clean clothes in good condition are needed to help us meet the demand.
    There are a lot of folks living small all over North America, some by choice and others not!

  • sesameB January 30, 2012, 5:24 pm

    Jan 2012 — It took 7 years for car campers to find tiny place to park
    The reason I am sighing about — rather than celebrating — Ballard’s “mobile homeless” pilot overnight parking program, is that getting five spots for some of the region’s thousands of car campers has taken a whopping seven years.
    Danny Westneat Seattle Times staff columnist
    I guess I should have known. Nothing around here ever turns out to be simple. Let’s start with the good news. In two weeks, Seattle finally is starting a “safe parking program” for the huge problem of the “mobile homeless” — people sleeping in their cars around the city. In a pilot program, five parking spots will be made available at Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church in Ballard. There will be some supervision and social services, to try to help the car campers stabilize their lives.
    The reason I am sighing about this, rather than straight-out celebrating, is that getting these five spots for some of the region’s thousands of car campers has taken a whopping seven years. “I thought it would be a no-brainer,” says Jean Darsie, of Ballard Homes for All, a group that formed five years ago in part because of the car-camping issue. “Other cities do this. I don’t know why it took us so long. A failure of nerve, maybe?” My minor role in this started in 2005. I wrote about Ballard’s “rolling slum,” a blocks-long Hooverville of vans, RVs and cars.
    It was bigger than any tent city. But it was off the grid. So “no one launches a noisy NIMBY crusade to shoo it away,” I wrote. “Nor does anyone organize much help on its behalf.” That first part soon changed. The Ballard street colony grew out of control. Eventually the city put up no-parking signs that chased them away.
    The idea of giving them a temporary place to park — to help them as well as the beleaguered neighborhood — wasn’t mine. I got it from the late Edith Macefield. She was the “old lady of Old Ballard,” who refused to move even when developers offered her a million bucks. Her only neighbors were Mike’s Chili Parlor and dozens of mobile homeless. As she said in that 2005 story: “What can you do? They don’t have any money, so where can they go? Chase ’em out, and they’ll park somewhere else. “Maybe the city should give them a supervised lot somewhere.”
    Genius, I thought. Most car campers are in a kind of middle ground of homelessness — too well off to go to a shelter, too poor to pay the rent. So helping them get off the streets ought to be the low-hanging fruit. Others thought the same. Ballard Homes for All formed to pursue a safe parking program. State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, got a $10,000 grant for it in 2008, and some churches began actively planning to turn over parking spots at night (the car campers would have to leave during the day). I wrote some more columns about it — especially in 2008, when car-camping was found to have soared 45 percent. Here we are in 2012. The problem hasn’t magically rolled away. But to date, as far as I know, only one parking space was ever donated to the cause, at an Episcopal church in Ballard. A homeless guy named Isaac parked his camper there for a time back in 2008 and this made the news. Why has this been so hard? “Something as simple as using a parking space isn’t simple,” says Steve Grumm, pastor at Our Redeemer’s. “It has taken incredible amounts of time and effort to get to this point.” Churches had concerns about liability insurance. There was some neighbor opposition. The city itself was ambivalent, until first-term City Councilman Mike O’Brien “lit a fire” under the effort, Darsie says.
    Graham Pruss lived in an RV in the Ballard colony for five months as part of his UW anthropology thesis. He says the core survival strategy is invisibility. You don’t move much when you’re inside, or turn on a light. At all costs, you don’t want anyone to know you’re there. And so, maybe for years, the broader public hasn’t. “It’s this huge group, in hiding,” Pruss says. “It’s not like the homelessness down in Pioneer Square.” I recall what a guy living in his Volvo told me back in 2005: “People sleeping in their cars ain’t news.” That was always a big part of the problem. So, no, five spaces may not be much. And seven years surely is. But kudos to everyone who persisted far longer than I did in finally making this rate as news.

  • Andy Hawkins May 9, 2012, 2:41 pm

    Hi Alex, I’ve been looking for solutions to the one stumbling block I have left in my plans for a trailer based off grid tiny house and that is the water supply. One site I looked at told me that I would need something like 31 gallons a day (and thats just for a ten minute shower, brushing my teeth and washing my dishes!!). I think that numbers a little high but it does bring to the fore how important this issue is. Do any of your readers have experience of off-grid tiny house living and dealing with the water issue that they would care to share? At the moment all I can think of is rainwater harvesting into plastic barrels or building low profile RV water tanks into the void in the trailer framer and surrounded by insulation.

    • Samantha Woodruff May 25, 2012, 4:00 pm

      Andy,
      We plan to collect rainwater via removable gutters (our house is going to GO) into a holding area at the neck of the trailer. The water will flow into a really primitive filtration system of gravel/charcoal/sand and then be stored in a 36 gallon tank below. This will be where most people store their propane or battery bank, but we have other ideas for that. Also under consideration is having another small water tank under a cabinet in the kitchen, we are a family of three and so we are unsure of what to expect as far as water needs at this point in our plans. It would probably be a 10-15 gallon removable tank that we could fill up when our large one is getting too full or fill up by another means and haul it back. We are thinking of recycling gray water, but we are unsure of how that affects it’s drinkability. We will use a DIY compost toilet, so no blackwater issue here. We want to get some of those filtering water bottles (so as not to over crowd, everyone responsible for their own water needs!) to further clean the water for drinking. As for showering, navy showers it is for us! Oh, and tankless water heaters.
      I hope that helped a bit! I am still hunting down ideas and experiences to see what others have done, if you find anything I would LOVE to see it.
      Samantha

    • SteveR May 25, 2012, 4:43 pm

      Andy,
      I was off-grid for 12 months and because I had to haul my own water from 300m away, up a hill, I very quickly learned some things:
      1. Water is very heavy.
      2. You can use as much water as you want if you willing to do the work but it is so much easier to cut down (same with electricity)
      3. I can shower in about 5 litres of water ( 1 1/4 gallon)
      4. I can carry about 20l (5 gallons) on the back of my bike easily.

      I used about 20l (5gallons) of water every 2-3 days. In the end capturing rain water turned out to be a very good idea – much easier than carrying – but if there is no rain for a while, you have no choice – but definitely try to capture rain water.

      I did not bother with filtration systems and never had a problem.

      When I said recycle grey water earlier, I meant use it on the garden. It’s not worth the trouble to try to recycle it for drinking.

      Keep 2 water systems if you want – rain water is good for washing dishes. Fresh stream water was for drinking. Rain water is ok for cooking too, since you would be boiling – but in general I didn’t worry about purity – just that rain water tended to have more dust and bits in it. Spring water is filtered through the ground!

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