This is a followup to this question. I have a mining village high in the mountains. It is accessible by road throughout most of the year, and is supplied that way. A few months of the year it is inaccessible due to snow. There are less than 200 people in the town, and the town has multi-story buildings such as apartments. I need to figure out how residents get water and heat.

1) Water can come from wells, but are wells feasible in high-altitude, freezing environments? Water can come from trucks and stored. This is more expensive so I suppose it's not typical.

2) Heat can come from boilers and radiators, but they may require prohibitively high maintenance, and they require a material to stock them. Heat can come from wood burning stoves, but having a stove in each apartment seems unlikely and dangerous.

What's an efficient way to get water and heat to these people?

Edit: This is modern times, and it's an established town that's been there awhile and will be there for years to come.

  • $\begingroup$ This is with a modern technology level? $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 10:59
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB - Yes, modern $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ If it's modern, it's not going to be inaccessible due to snow, it's going to be a ski resort :-) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ Heat: Nuclear pebble bed or Thorium. Or diesel (which is what they use at McMurdo & South Pole.)/ Water: If you have heat then snow becomes water. Water can be stored in ponds and either designed to be melted for water OR insulated in eg rock with relatively minimal heat to keep liquid. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 8:43

4 Answers 4



You already mentioned it being a mining town, so use those shafts.

  • Wells

    You could make use of the mining shafts and put wells down into these shafts. The rock should help keeping the cold out and hence prevent freezing of the water sources up to some degree (basically prevent it outright).

  • Cisterns

    Again, make use of these shafts. You could put reservoirs into old shafts and store water down there (again the rock and depth should prevent freezing or at least make it take way more time/cold).

  • Snow

    As already mentioned you could always melt snow. It's fast and convenient, as well as clean (as long as you collect the snow away from the mines and roads).

  • Piping

    The pipes would need some insulating and maybe additional heating. On the other hand you could have people get their water during the cold months by using buckets or a tank truck that delivers to households once a week (if they're far spread).


Again, use what you have.

  • Geothermal Energy

    Depending on the technological level there's a good chance they can tap into sources of geothermic heat. Especially as they already have digging equipment available. From there on it'll just take piping to supply the town with cheap heat.

  • Waste Heat from Smelters

    Assuming they mine for ores, there's a good chance they will preprocess it on place already to save room on the trucks (or other transports) that are used to get the metal out of town. As it's far away and secluded it wouldn't be economically viable to not preprocess (refine) it.

    As this process would mean heating up the ore (aka smelting) there's a fair amount of heat produced that could be used to heat the settlement.

  • Central Boiler system

    As the populace is only some 200 people, there's a good chance, a centralized heat production system would be of use (e.g. a big boiler). This could be placed in an old mineshaft to make use of the insulating properties of rock in order to reduce some of the costs.

    Regarding material to burn; there's a fair chance there is coal in those shafts as well, otherwise you'd need to import that with the trucks that haul the mining produce out of town.

Why live there? (my 2 cents)

For such a small populace it really only makes sense to live there if the mines are still operated. Otherwise there's nothing the townspeople can produce, no work to be done and hence no money to be made > no way to finance a living.

Use-Case: Smelters

As you described it being a proper modern township looking forward to many more years to exist, I personally would go with the smelter solution.

As they, no doubt, will be preprocessing (refining) the ores gotten from the mines in order to be able to load more value on the trucks/whatsoever, they will be generating lots of heat. This generated heat can be used to cook water which in turn can be used for 2 things at least:

  1. It can be pumped into the township in order to heat buildings and such
  2. It can be heated up even more, generating steam to run turbines in order to produce electricity needed for the town as well as the mining equipment (e.g. lamps) and the water pumps used for cold and warm water

Hence you can easily provide your town with running hot and cold water, as well as electricity, all as byproducts from the mining industry set up there.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Re why live there, lots of us who choose to live in such places made our money elsewhere, so that we could afford to live in a place we liked. And these days, it's perfectly possible to telecommute from fairly isolated places. See for instance Silverton & Leadville in Colorado, or Jarbidge, Nevada en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jarbidge,_Nevada among many others. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 0:21

The answer is fairly straightforward:

  1. Water in winter is easy. In case the well freezes, just use snow. EDIT As these are modern times chances are aquifers are already used to pipe in drinking water in any season. Underground, of course.
  2. Live underground for easy heating. Little heat is needed for well-insulated residences. For example an igloo can be heated with a single candle. Survivable but not very comfortable. Well-insulated buildings would do but why not use what you have on hand (miners/empty mine) and and acquire yourself a set of "cave homes". Can be made even more efficient by sharing living space.

Heat and Power

Truck in fuel oil or Diesel. Its not sexy, but it's proven and reliable. During the accessible months, truck loads of fuel oil are brought in and stored in tanks. That oil powers the generator(s) and is used for heating. Here's some photos of the plant at the south pole and also the fuel tanks (this is actually flown in). Alternatively, they might use coal or other fuels, such as LNG, depending on what is most cost effective.


For water, they would probably have wells.

There are thousands of towns like this across the world. Real-world details about how they access power and water (and food) should be easy to come by.


Water is not a problem in the cold as long as you have heat so we might look at that first.

One thing that is used a lot in colder countries is District Heating where a single boiler heats an entire district, rather than everyone managing their own heaters. If you are in the mountains you might have access to a lot of fast-growing wood to power a boiler.

A heating system that is increasingly in use here in the UK is ground-source heat - this extracts heat from the ground and uses the small temperature differential over a large heating surface to warm the heated space very cheaply. If you wanted to boost the output you might find something a little warmer to drive the heating process and one good source of that is compost or manure using something like the Pain system. Collective heating through the village waste recycling system would be very sustainable, very cheap to run and maybe a little unpleasant to maintain.


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