Build a Simple Solar-Heated Shower

Learn how to build a shower using solar water heating in the summertime.

| July/August 1977

Is it possible to use the sun to do useful household chores at latitudes north of Toronto, Canada? Of course! And if our experience in building and using the simple solar-heated shower on an island off the coast of Maine is any indication, it's not only possible ... but practical, economical, fun, and a great subject of cocktail party conversation too!

This, by the way, is no ordinary solar-heated shower either. This is our family's incredible Mark IV Model ... and it incorporates a number of subtle improvements over its predecessors. (The Mark I — merely a black tank of water with no "greenhouse" over it — didn't warm up enough to be worthwhile. The Mark II did have a greenhouse and got so hot that the pressure of its contents burst the tank. We thought we'd taken our concept as far as it could go with our Mark III design, which had a heavy-duty storage tank, greenhouse, and insulation. As it turned out, though, the world just isn't ready yet for the sheer genius of that model: It worked so well that it scalded the first guest who used it. The detuned Mark IV, though — which is basically the Mark III without insulation — seems just about right.)

You should be able to find everything you'll need for the fabrication of this water heater at your friendly neighborhood dump or secondhand store. We soldered the hanger straps (two pieces of galvanized iron, each one inch wide and 2 to 3 feet long) to the bottom of our heater's tank and bent them so they'd hang over our cabin's ridge-pole and catch two headless nails on the other side.

Next, we punched the two holes in the left side of the tank and soldered 3/4 inch galvanized couplings over them. The two 3/4 inch galvanized iron nipples (each 6 inches long) were then installed with their 90 degree elbows (which "aim" the pipes coming out of the tank down toward the shut-off valve and shower below).

The open-ended standpipe, which comes out of the cold water inlet line right at the elbow and which then extends about 6 inches above the top of the water heater's tank, is the system's "pressure relief device." Crude, but when used properly, nothing more complicated or sophisticated is needed.

The cold water shut-off is our rig's only control. When someone wants to use the shower, he or she steps into the stall, gently turns on the cold water, and then has enough time to take off his or her clothes before the first warm water starts running out of the shower head. The stream then turns hot almost immediately and — if you move reasonably expeditiously — you can soak down, lather up thoroughly, and — at that point — turn the water off. The shower will then continue to run just long enough to rinse you off completely.

Michael Sakowski
7/7/2008 8:29:46 PM

I am looking into possibly building something similar for a roof that utilizes heat transfer to heat up water in a greenhouse setup so it could even be used in freezing temps and feed water directly to my current bathroom shower as an "extra free heated" shower that could be used for most of the year, even in our cold N. WI climate. I have already built a 20 gallon shower that attaches to a south facing wall of our shed and fills with a garden hose. See my plans at Our family of 7 used over 30 gallons of #2 oil in the last month - at $4 a gallon, that just can not continue! And, it is time to stop using oil, any way we can.

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