Tennesseetransitions


Cool Off With a Hot Shower!

It’s the dog days of summer, almost mid-August. Back in June I wrote a post called “Room for Improvement” which is about my ongoing efforts to reduce my energy needs and costs. My intention then was to find something I could do each month to make that happen, and then let you know if it was something that I felt might be doable and useful for your household too.  July brought a diagnosis of “The Big C” to my hubby and our lives have changed drastically since that post was written. In other words, I wasn’t able to make improvements in my energy usage in July, nor even think about how I might make that happen. John Lennon famously said: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans”. (That said, it also points to my not-so-famous quote: “Prepare today for tomorrow; Screw that ‘location, location, location- it’s ‘Resilience, Resilience, Resilience’.”)

But never fear! I’ve found a way to offer you some inspiration in spite of my own dismal energy cutting efforts last month. I asked my super heroes friends that live in Cottage Grove, Oregon to share pictures and a writeup about their latest in a very long line of personal efforts to reduce their energy dependence and they have come through with a knockout project that sounds easy enough that it can be duplicated for little money and just a bit of work. I hope you’ll enjoy this ‘guest blog’, and if you know of others that are trying to transition to a life that isn’t based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being, please direct them to me if they’ve got ideas to share here on this blog.

Guest Blog by Dale Lugenbehl and Sandy Aldridge

“If you’re interested in a very effective way to reduce your home energy usage, you might be interested in a solar-powered outdoor shower. Although this may sound like more than a home handyperson might tackle, it’s actually quite manageable. We built one ourselves and are delighted with the final outcome. It has reduced our electrical use for the entire year by between 15 and 20 percent because we are able to turn off our hot water heater for 4-5 months and simply shower outside. We live in Western Oregon; if you live in a high solar area, you might be able to use your shower all year around.

Initially we built a 4×8 foot shower stall—one end for changing and one for showering–out of inexpensive cedar fence boards (59 cents each), laid a floor of pavers that were seconds (cost 40 cents each), and used a black camp shower bag ($8.95) for the shower. That worked well for one summer but we were really looking forward to not needing to hoist the bag of water up each time we wanted to shower. This spring we finished the actual batch heater that allows us to have a hot (!) shower any time of the day or night without hoisting the bag up into a tree and without using any electricity whatsoever.

The core of the system is a plywood box that contains a used, but not leaking, electric hot water heater which we got for free from a neighbor who was replacing his (One might also be found at a recycling center for a few dollars.). After checking to make sure it didn’t leak, we stripped off the outer sheet metal jacket and underlying foam insulation. Then we wire brushed (or one could sand) the metal surface and painted it black for maximum solar absorption.

Meanwhile, we had cut and painted the pieces of plywood that would eventually house the water heater. At this point, we lined the plywood box with polyisocyanurate rigid foam insulation (found at lumber yards and home improvement centers), that is covered with shiny aluminum to reflect any sunlight that enters the box onto the black tank.

Once the tank was installed, the top of the box was covered with a used patio slider door (34” x 76”). We actually got a new one for free (double pane glass! ) from a dealer who had one he couldn’t sell because it had a small scratch on it. Then we sealed the edge of the glass and plumbed the tank to the water supply and the shower itself and, voila, outdoor shower that uses zero electricity.

NOTE TO CITY DWELLERS: This same design can also be used to preheat water going into your regular household hot water heater. In our case, we opted for the outdoor shower because of complexities created by the original design of the house—the sun being on one side and the water heater on the other beyond a sunroom that we had added on several years ago.”

We haven’t listed all the parts above so there are other costs but we were able to do this for less than $200. The plans that we used for the solar heater came from the Extension Service of Oregon State University (first published in March 1986). The same plans we used are available on-line as a PDF file at http://solaroregon.org/residential-solar/swh-batch-doc . The plans are simple and straightforward. If you have questions, write to us at ahimsaacres@gmail.com or visit our website at http://ahimsaacres.org/

Solar Water Heater

Sam here: Can’t you just imagine taking a solar heated shower under the stars?

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