The Problems of Building a Solar Shower

solar shower

A friend of mine built an outdoor shower a while back.  You can see it in the attached picture.  He put a 55-gallon drum on the top of a stand and plumbed in a shower beneath it.  If you look close, you can see the showerhead in the picture. (click on the picture and it will enlarge) The barrel is filled by a small 12-volt pump that operates off his solar power system.  The system is designed to be used for hot showers in the summer.

There is one flaw in the system, he lives quite far north and at a high elevation and the water often is not warm enough even in summer.  He has painted the tank black and surrounded it with clear glass to protect the barrel from the wind.  He now feels that it works best when he only fills the barrel ½ way, so he is thinking about trying a 30-gallon barrel to see if that heats better.

We think the system would work very well in the warmer parts of the country.

This morning we received another post on solar showers by a gentleman who has lived off the grid for 12 years.  He gives a good fairly detailed description of how he solved the problem.  I have decided to put his comment up as a post:

(Comment from Jack)

I’m lucky, the cabins is a 1/4 mile off road up the side of the mountain and my system is all gravity fed from an artisan 80 yards up the mountain behind the cabin.  Off grid 12 yrs, tried many different options. The barrel, insulated enclosures, etc., but this is where I am.  I have coiled up maybe 200. could be 300 feet of 3/4 inch black well pipe into 4 separate coils. They lay connected to each other, gravity fed from the spring, in series on the black flat roof. That’s enough to get a quick but decent shower on any summer day in the NE.

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The well pipe heats the water up very quickly and by 10 or 11, you should be ready to go. A step further is the aluminum 15 gallon tank, which I put into a plywood enclosure (also on the roof) with a glass facing the south side and top and rigid aluminum foil covered insulation boards tacked to the inside of the other 3 sides of the enclosure. The enclosure is tight fitting to the aluminum tank and there holes in the plywood to supply the tank and drain the tank into my eaves mounted showerhead at the rear of the cabin.

I built a wood platform to stand on (with a plywood privacy screen on one side, just in case someone pulls up the driveway too far) mounted a soap dish, back brush hook and towel rack as well.

Plastic barrels are no good for heat transfer, even if you paint them black, so your tank is best if it’s made of a thin gauge aluminum. I got the tank and rigged it with a fill port on top and the drain port on the bottom which is attached to the shower feed hose.

Sometimes the waters almost too hot to stand, during midsummer. I can open the gravity feed valve and wait if it’s too hot, the 15 gallon box, holds some warm and the colder water mixes in the tank to make it tolerable. With regard to insulation, don’t waste too much time, the water never stays warm enough to get an early AM shower out of it, unless you’re willing to put an insulated cover over the whole thing nightly and remove it every morning.
PS – Outdoor soap dishes need to be well draining….

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