One thing I miss while boondocking in the summer is a nice warm shower any time I want. I don’t like to light my hot water tank every time I want to use a little hot water, and mostly I don’t like to burn propane to heat that water. Propane is one of the remaining luxury’s I can’t seem to give up in my quest to becoming completely independent of fossil fuel while I’m camped. My stove, fridge, and furnace all use propane, but the biggest use in the summer is my hot water heater. I could probably increase my solar capacity and eliminate the gas burning appliances by switching them to electric but for now I keep looking for practical ways to be a little more green.
For a few years I used a solar shower bag to heat water free with the sun. It worked ok but the bags didn’t seem to last very long and I had to put up and store the bag and tubing after each move. I wanted something more permanent that I could leave on the roof and connect up quickly. I was watching YouTube one day and saw how some people had used large plastic pipe on the roof of their vehicles to heat water in the sun for a shower. I decided to make one.
Most of the projects were made with 4” pipe but I calculated that 3” would give me plenty of capacity for what I needed. They also used air pumps to pressurize the water for a forceful spray. I thought that gravity from the roof of my RV would be adequate.
My 10 foot pipe holds a little over 3.5 gallons. I pump the water up to the pipe from a fitting on my outside shower faucet. After a couple hours the water is hot enough for a nice long shower. Right now I run the hose down into my bathroom shower but I could run it outside if I was in a place without people around. It was working great with one exception- if I left the water in the pipe too long it would become scorching hot in the Arizona sun.
I solved the overheating problem yesterday by connecting a hose from my house shower to the solar shower with a mixing T. Now if the water gets too hot I can bleed in a little cold from my pump. I also installed a valve where I can catch the overheated water for dishes and washing out a few articles of clothes.
So far it seems to be working fine. It is definitely not for drinking as who knows what chemicals are in the pipe. If I leave water in the pipe for a couple days it takes on the smell of plastic. I have not installed anything permanent yet because I’m still experimenting with locations and setup, but I’m confident it will work.