Hot Water – Outback Shower Power!

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  • Washroom-2
    Hot water makes for happy girls. Standing at the opening of the washroom, Melissa Dobkins holds the shower head in one hand and Samantha's hand in the other. The tankless water heater is above the washer.
  • Washroom-1
    The washroom complete with a Maytag ringer washer. The little solar panel on the floor near the logs is a 6-watt that trickle charges the battery powering the pump. A 150-gallon tank, plumbed to the gutter for rainwater catchment, provides the water source.
  • Washroom-3
    At 3 gallons per minute, this Shurflo 12-volt RV pump proved to be the perfect mate for the Dobkins' tankless heater.
  • Washroom-4
    Will Dobkins notches logs for the shower shack that he built before he bought the tankless water heater.
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  • Washroom-6


Say what you will about sliced bread and shirt pockets, for my money one of the best things ever has to be pressurized hot water—specifically, the kind that rains down on sore muscles at the end of a long day’s work. When we dove into the off-grid life, there were many modern conveniences we expected to do without. In fact, our intent was to strip life down to a near primitive level, find out what was really important to us and what was just clutter. Along the way, we discovered many things we could do without. Hot water was not one of them.

For the first couple of years we made due heating water on the wood stove or on our propane camp stove. We showered under a watering can hung up in the garden and bathed in an old washtub by the fire. On nice days, rinsing off in the garden was ideal, and the nasturtiums climbing the trellis loved the extra shot of water. Nonetheless, packing heavy tubs full of water proved to be time consuming and labor intensive. It didn’t take long before we were experimenting with other options.

One of our first attempts happened almost by accident. We had run several hundred feet of black poly pipe from the spring down to our tepee for non-potable water. With that done, I started work on a drip irrigation system for the garden. While doing so, I found that a 200-foot coil of 3/4-inch black pipe laid in the sun produced a steady stream of very hot water. Eureka! Soon the drip irrigation system was on the back burner while I worked on a solar water heater. This beat packing and heating water hands down, but was not without its drawbacks. Namely, the instant the sun went down, there was no more hot water. Not the best setup for gray, gloomy Oregon. Next, I tried a gravity-feed copper coil on a small rocket stove. This worked but required constant attention.

Read more in New Pioneer Fall 2013…

  • Mark C

    Hi Will,
    After reading you article the first thing that came to mind is that you should install a “tempering valve” on your system. Not to be confused with a “mixing valve” which is what you have in the kitchen faucet. A tempering valve is an all mechanical device that installs on the hot water line just after the water heater. A cold water line connect to the second inlet on the valve and the outlet goes to the point of use. The valve is temperature adjustable and once set stays there. When water come in that is above the set point, the valve lets in cold to mix until the correct temperature is reached. This is a simple and relatively inexpensive device that works great and will prevent accidental scalding which is very important with a little one around.