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Make a Portable Solar Hot Water Heater

By Edited Jan 16, 2014 9 15

One of the most efficient uses of solar power is solar hot water heating. A portable solar hot water heater will provide hot water for free during times when the sun is shinning, or slightly overcast. A portable solar hot water heater is handy for those times where you are on the go and seriously need a hot shower.

We take our portable solar hot water heater on camping and rafting trips. Lately, as our outdoor work increases our portable solar hot water heater is seeing more use. It would seem that building an outdoor shower would be in order, however that is another article.

Materials:

You can build a portable solar hot water heater from materials you may already have. DIYers can build this solar water heater or a version of it in an afternoon. To get started you will need:

  • 1/2 inch sheet insulation

  • 20 foot copper tubing (1/2 inch) or black rubber hose

  • 1/2 inch paddle bit

  • scrap lumber

  • camping stove for carbon blacking

  • scrap sheet metal flashing

  • Plexiglas or picture frame glass

  • glass cutter

  • clear silicone

Step 1

Roll your copper tubing into a tight coil free of kinks. The copper piping needs to be completely flat without overlap. To bend a spiral easier you can cap off the end's of the pipe after you have filled it with water. Using this method you can achieve a smooth bend. Garden hose can be used in place of the copper pipe. Spray paint the hose black to ensure proper heating. Using a garden hose, as a substitute for copper pipe, in a portable solar hot water heater will yield adequate amounts of hot water.

Step 2

Make a box from scrap lumber big enough to hold your heating coil. Scrap 2x4's ripped on center or any other scrap lumber you have will work great for the box. Two holes need to be drilled in the side of your box to allow for piping to enter and exit. The bottom hole is where the water will enter and the top is the exit. You can build a portable hot water heater however big or small you like. Consider your water heating needs and choose your size accordingly. Remember to keep this unit portable.

Step 3

Attach a piece of plywood to the back of your box and insert a piece of polystyrene insulation. Batt insulation can be used in a test unit, however I do not recommend it for long term wear and tear. Paint the solar hot water heater box using a flat black spry paint. The surface will absorb light when a flat spray paint is used. Gloss paint reflects light and won't give the same performance.

Step 4

Plexiglas, an old window, or picture frame glass can be used on a portable hot water heating unit. A great place to find materials for this build is a Habitat Restore in your area. Use a glass cutter to size the glass for a custom fit to your homemade solar water heater.

Step 5

When using copper pipe a solar water heating unit will work better if the pipe has had carbon blacking applied. Using a camp stove heat the copper pipe until it begins to carbon black. Carbon blacking the pipe is more effective than spray painting the pipe, it allows more heat to be absorbed.

Step 6

Install the pipe in your box and place the glass on top for a test run. You can run a solar hot water heater by using a solar water pump or by simply allowing the unit to thermosyphon. A solar water pump will provide better performance and eliminate the need for priming.

Step 7

Once you have tested the unit and are happy with the build you can seal the glass top. Use a clear silicone bead to seal the glass to the solar hot water heater box. Clear silicon will allow you to access the unit if there is ever a problem.

A portable solar hot water heater is great addition to an RV or camping trailer. Free hot water can be had on those long trips of rest and relaxation.

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Comments

Apr 25, 2010 12:22pm
Sapphire
Interesting! If only it can be used in winter (lol) as natural gas prices for heating water are really becoming more expensive. :-)
Apr 27, 2010 12:08am
ccdursina
Great article; thanks for the post.
Apr 28, 2010 3:22am
exinco
the girls are portable too :)
Apr 29, 2010 1:39pm
kal30314
Great article!
Jun 25, 2010 4:46pm
KevinMarx
That's just cool! Thanks for the info!
Jun 28, 2010 7:49am
robogobodo
Way to go macguyver that does sound pretty cool.
Aug 30, 2010 10:40am
retireyoung
Some pictures on this article would be great.
Sep 20, 2010 10:09pm
Deborah-Diane
A very useful article for anyone who enjoys the outdoors!
Sep 21, 2010 3:32am
JWright87
Great article, very interesting thanks!
Oct 20, 2010 1:33pm
jpwriter
Great article. When I was a kid we used a solar shower when we went camping. Filled it up with river water then let it sit in the sun all day, added hot water from the fire. My mom even brought an old shower curtain, rigged a soap holder, and had a grate for the water to drain through. It was awesome!
Jul 21, 2012 10:47am
hillloyd
Good informative article.
Jul 21, 2012 10:47am
hillloyd
Good informative article.
Jul 21, 2012 10:48am
hillloyd
Good informative article.
Aug 27, 2012 3:27am
andyrobert877
Awesome post. Keep it up!!!
Sep 14, 2012 8:24am
javrsmith
I could use a portable solar hot water heater when camping.
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