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How to Heat Water with Solar Power

Step by step instructions for warming water when living off the grid

Maintaining water is by far one of the key steps in off grid living.

However, you have to ensure that you can heat your water properly in order to kill bacteria and other contaminants.

To do so, you will need some form of renewable energy, such as solar power.  Here is how you can use solar power to heat water.

Making a solar powered water heater

You can make your current electric water heater into a solar paneled water heater using a system of solar panels.

These systems can run you about a thousand dollars, but considering the cost of water and electricity, I would say the payoff is worth it.

The system feeds the cold water through a circulation unit and solar controller and back into the tank.

While you could substitute your own parts here and there to reduce costs (such as using pool heating collectors over the marketed system) it is not advised. 

As the market for residential solar heating systems is very small, you will more than likely have to purchase a kit and install it yourself.

Solar Powered Hot Shower

If you want to make a solar powered shower and not have to worry about using a water heater, you can do so fairly easily.

You will need:

  • A metal 50 gallon drum
  • 1 inch PVC pipe
  • A shut off valve connector
  • A rubber gasket to go over the 1” pipe
  • Clear waterproof sealant
  • A way to mount the tank

Start by drilling a hole at the base of the 50 gallon drum for your 1” pipe. Once this is done, ensure that the pipe fits snuggly into the hole.

Add the shut off connector. Make sure that your pipe is out far enough to stand under.

Slide the rubber mount over the pipe and seal it with the clear waterproof sealant. Let it completely dry.

You will want to check the connection for leaks so it is advised that you fill the tank to just above the pipe to check.

Once you have ensured that you have no leaks in the pipe take the entire shower and spray paint it black.

Spray paint the metal container with back paint. Ensure that the paint is meant for exterior applications to avoid from getting paint chipping latter.

Then mount the tank in a place which receives a fair amount of sunlight.

*If you do not want to mount your tanks you can always construct a pump system (though this would entail sealing the drums to build up pressure and boring a hole for water input)

Heating water on a smaller scale: Option 1

One easy way in which you can heat water is to purchase a small solar panel and hook up the power to a positive and negative line.

Connect the two lines to a meta conductor container. You will want to be sure that the wire are covered in rubber.

As the solar panel draws in heat, the energy is transferred to the wires and then to the metal conductor.

The water inside is warmed.

NOTE: You will want to transfer the water to a non-conductor container after heating (you are working with electricity after all). Things to avoid:

Do not touch the water. If you need to keep an eye on the temperature use a metal thermometer

This is for small projects only, do not attempt this with large containers

The solar panel will emit electricity. Do not stick your finger or any other part into the water or touch the metal container. You will get an electrical shock.

Disconnect the wires once heated and transfer the water (holding the container with gloved hands).

Heating Water on a smaller scale: Option 2

Should you not have the option of using solar panels or just do not feel comfortable with messing with electricity, you can warm your water by using your old plastic bottles.

Simply cut the bottle, place the containers end to end over a water hose and let it sit in the sun.

You can use this method with larger containers by harnessing solar power through a clear plastic tarp over a large plastic container.

The key is that you use a clear plastic as it will magnify the sun and therefore warm the water.

Heating water the 100% natural way.

There are several ways in which you can heat your water with solar power.

Do not confuse solar power for solar panels.

Where the two work together, solar power is using the sun to heat the water and solar panels are used to conduct solar power.

Anything which holds heat can be used as a conductor to warm your water.  The best containers are metal.

Yet, those which are survivalists or those in a wilderness survival setting might not have a metal container.

When nothing is available but nature you will have to get a bit inventive.

Here is how to do it:

  1. Find large dark rocks (about the size of your hand). You will need enough to line a 2 foot by 2 foot hole.
  2. Find a spot receiving a lot of sunlight and dig a hole at least a foot deep. The earth will help to hold in the heat from the rocks.
  3. Set your rocks along the base of the hole ensuring that the darkest side is face up. You do not want to overlay the rocks, but you do want to make a tight fitting base.
  4. Place your water container on top of the rocks.
  5. Using Stripped sticks cover your water container and lay smaller rocks on top.
  6. Leave the water be and let the sun work. Where it will not boil your water, depending on the temperature that day you can get some fairly how water.

Off the grid living takes time and dedication as well as a creative mind.

Do not limit yourself to the methods above.

Remember to use water purification tablets when applicable to further reduce the risk of sickness from contamination.

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Jen Jones

Curious, creative, and an expert mess maker who is not afraid to try anything a couple of times to get it right. Jen's specialities are inventing things, writing no nonsense clear instructions, artistic endeavors, paper crafts, digital media, kids crafts, creating recipes and figuring out new and better ways to do almost anything.

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