How do you get running water in a cabin?

Having running water in a cabin can make your off-grid living experience much more comfortable and convenient. While it requires some planning and installation, getting running water in a cabin is very achievable for most homeowners. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through all the steps and considerations for installing running water in your cabin.

Assessing Your Water Needs

The first step is determining how much water you need and how you plan to use it. Consider the following:

  • How many people will be using the cabin and for how long?
  • Will you need water for drinking, cooking, bathing, laundry, etc?
  • What climate is the cabin located in?

Knowing your expected water usage will help size the system components like the pump, pressure tank, and storage tanks. For example, the average person uses 50-80 gallons of water per day for all needs. If you’ll have a family of 4 at the cabin for weekends, you may need a minimum of 200 gallons of storage.

Sourcing Water

The next consideration is where you’ll get the water. There are several possible water sources for cabins:

  • Rainwater collection: Harvesting rainwater from the roof is an efficient way to capture clean water. You’ll need large storage tanks and a way to filter and treat it.
  • Lake, stream, or river: Drawing directly from a natural flowing water source requires filtration and disinfection.
  • Well water: Drilling a well taps into the underground water table and avoids storage needs.
  • Hauled water: When no onsite water source is available, trucking in clean water is an option.

Evaluate each option carefully based on regulations, water quality, reliability, and costs. Having a backup option is also a good idea in case your primary source is unavailable.

Water Storage Tanks

Unless you’ll be using an on-demand well, you’ll need water storage tanks to supply the cabin. Polyethylene, concrete, or galvanized steel tanks in various sizes can be used. Here are some tank sizing considerations:

  • Calculate your water needs as described above.
  • Allow for 2-4 days of storage as a minimum.
  • Larger tanks require less frequent refilling.
  • More people or drier climates need more storage.
  • Consider space constraints and tank placement.

For a weekend cabin for a family of 4, two 550-gallon tanks could provide adequate storage capacity. The tanks must be safely supported, level, and not exposed to sunlight.

Water Distribution Layout

Plan out how the water will flow throughout the cabin. This includes:

  • Main water line: Runs from the source to supply the entire cabin.
  • Branch lines: Splits off the main line to feed different sections like the kitchen, bathrooms, etc.
  • Supply lines and fixtures: Final lines connecting sinks, toilets, appliances.

Common materials for lines are PEX, PVC, or copper tubing. Keep runs as direct and short as possible. Install shutoff valves throughout to isolate sections for maintenance.

Water Pumps

In most cases, you’ll need one or more pumps to move water from tanks through the distribution system with adequate flow and pressure. Considerations for water pumps include:

  • Pump type: Submersible, jet, transfer, or pressure pumps.
  • Pump size: Measured in gallons per minute (GPM) or horsepower.
  • Pressure tank: Required to maintain pressure between pump cycles.
  • System pressure: 30-50 PSI is common. Higher for multiple stories.
  • Power source: Electric or gas engine. Solar pumps are an option.

Consult a water systems specialist to size your pump needs. Oversizing wastes energy and money.

Water Filtration and Treatment

Unless connected to a municipal supply, the raw water source will need filtration and disinfection. Typical steps include:

  1. Sediment filter: Removes sand, grit, rust.
  2. Activated carbon filter: Eliminates tastes, odors, some chemicals.
  3. Water softener: Removes hardness minerals if needed.
  4. UV light: Disinfects microorganisms like bacteria.
  5. Chlorination: Further disinfects water.
  6. Particulate filter: Final filtration for clear water.

A combination filtration unit like reverse osmosis may handle several steps. Annual testing ensures the water is safe to use.

Hot Water Heater

To have hot running water for showers, sinks, laundry, etc. you’ll need a water heater properly sized for your cabin’s demand. Options include:

  • Electric: Standard residential type unit. Needs adequate electrical service.
  • Propane: Runs off an on-demand propane heater.
  • Tankless: Heats water as needed instead of storing hot water.
  • Solar water heater: Uses solar thermal panels to heat water.

Tankless or propane heaters that heat on demand are common choices to conserve energy and space.

Wastewater Collection

You’ll also need a way to collect and manage wastewater from sinks, showers, and toilets. Options include:

  • Septic tank and drain field: Most common for processing waste onsite.
  • Holding tank: Stores waste to be pumped out and hauled away.
  • Gray water system: Reuses wastewater for irrigation.

Many codes require a septic system or holding tank for proper sanitation and environmental safety.

Putting it All Together

We’ve covered the major components involved in installing running water in an off-grid cabin. Here are some final tips for your project:

  • Consult local codes and regulations for compliance.
  • Hire qualified installers for major work like drilling a well.
  • Start small and leave room for expansion later.
  • Automate controls like pumps for convenience.
  • Label valves and components for easy maintenance.

With good planning and proper installation, you can enjoy the comfort and convenience of running water even in the most remote cabin location.


Getting running water in an off-grid cabin takes careful planning but can certainly be achieved. The most important steps are:

  1. Assessing your water usage needs
  2. Selecting a water source and storage tanks
  3. Designing the water distribution layout
  4. Choosing the right pump and components
  5. Filtering and disinfecting the water supply
  6. Installing drainage for wastewater

Taking the time to size and select the system properly will lead to a reliable running water system that makes cabin life much more pleasant. Partnering with water system professionals is recommended to ensure codes and regulations are followed.

With the comforts of running water, you can enjoy your cabin to the fullest as a peaceful weekend retreat or even a full-time off-grid home.