Outdoor Solar Shower: How I Heat My Water With The Sun

Outdoor Shower
Outdoor Shower

Why would anyone want a solar-heated outdoor shower when they live in the northern part of the United States? It's cold up here! Good question.

The answer is that I could not stop thinking about it, so I finally just did it. I can't use it in the summer, but I sure enjoy it in the summer months.

It's a novelty, of course, but quite a simple concept if you stop and think about it. Most of us have picked up a garden hose lying outside on the ground during a nice sunny day, turned on the faucet, then waited a few minutes for the hot water to clear before drinking or watering our plants. Why not use that warm water to your advantage?

I love being outside and spending time in our yard. Adding an outdoor shower was another way of extending that time. When it is 90 degrees outside and seventy degrees inside the air-conditioned, cooled house, I don't want to go inside to shower after getting all grimy working in the yard. If I did, I'd stay inside, probably turn on the TV, have a beer, and you know the rest.

The benefit of rinsing off outside will lead me to sit in my lawn chair for the next couple of hours. I'll better use my time thinking, watching nature, and reading (and probably enjoy a second or third shower to cool off if it's hot). Even warm water is refreshing and cooling if you are outside. I joke that it is like having the lake water thrown at you (or falling on you, in this case).

Here is a diagram of the basic setup. The video shares the process involved from start to finish.

And a few Q&As:

How long can you use it throughout the year?
Usually, May through September. The water supply is connected to one of my lawn irrigation zones. So, come October, all the water is blown out of the lines for the winter season to avoid freezing any pipes.

Will the water heat up on a cloudy day?
Yes, but it will be a cool shower that day. Expect the water temperature to be about 10 degrees warmer than the air temperature on a cloudy day. A cloudy day at 70 degrees F. will get you into the 80-degree F. range for water temperature. A sunny 70-degree F day will get you into the 90s.
The water would be even warmer if you sealed up the solar box. But hot water builds pressure, so I've left small air gaps between the blocks holding the pipe that heats the water.

How warm will the water be on a warm sunny day?
As summer progresses and the sun's angle gets higher, it gets better and better. A mostly sunny day in the mid-'80s will warm the water to over 100 degrees F.

Is the water ever too hot?
Yes. I installed a valve that allows me to mix in cold water when that happens.

If starting over, what would you do differently?
Put the solar gain box closer to the shower area. I would not use any connector fittings in the solar gain box. I connected a 1.5" pipe to a 1" pipe, and due to the increased temperature, the coupler releases occasionally. I would also angle the top cover of the glazing to catch the sun's rays earlier and later in the day.

It was a crazy project but awful fun to joke about. It has become quite the conversation piece for visiting guests.

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