Outdoor solar shower

Our outdoor shower is simply great. From around April (if we're lucky and it's sunny) through October (again with sun), I am able to use our solar-heated outdoor shower. Nothing beats arriving home from work, after a sweaty bike commute home, and taking a relaxing hot (and free!) outdoor shower. Sometimes the sun shines on me. I can listen to the birds sing and smell the fresh air. In the winter the outdoor shower has become a necessary part of our sauna.

When we put the shower together eight years ago it was definitely out of necessity. I threw it together one afternoon just as we began the remodel of the one and only bathroom in our house. We needed someway to get ourselves clean during a significant remodel project.

This particular bathroom redo was a bigger project than usual because we had to undo layers of previous muddled remodeling. Becky and I moved and re-framed the walls and the 100-year-old plumbing had to be completely redone and relocated. Once the old acrylic bath tub was removed, we had to do something with the original window opening that had been covered over with vinyl siding (on the outside) and the icky mold-growing acrylic bath tub cum shower surround (on the inside). Since we were doing all of the work ourselves on the weekends and in the evening, the project would take a long time. With the bathroom tied up for a while, how were we going to stay clean and stink-free for our day jobs?

The solution was the outdoor solar shower. It worked so well, especially when used with our sauna, that we've maintained it and continue to use it.

The shower, as built and in principle, is incredibly simply. It is essentially a single purpose solar batch hot water heater.

The solar heater
I had saved an old (10 gallon?) RV electric hot water heater for the project. With a Sawzall I removed the outside metal jacket and then the fiberglass insulation. I spray painted the tank matte black with standard high-temp barbecue rattle-can spray paint. The tank then went up on the roof of the garage, resting on some plywood with a couple of 2X4 feet so the roof rain water could drain under it.
Solar water heater, roof shot

Around the outside of the tank I built a "green house." A local used building supply Portland institution, the Rebuilding Center, supplied the sheet glass that were taken from old windows. I cut this up and glued the sheets together into a box using silicone caulk. (Silicone caulk is amazing stuff, up there with duct tape and Gorilla Glue.) The back side of the glass box was chip-board plywood painted white to seal out rain and reflect light back onto the tank. The plywood is aligned toward the north side of the box. Practically no solar gain comes from this side and the plywood is an easy medium to pass the plumbing through.

The shower
A semi-permanently dedicated garden hose provides the water for the shower. The hose transitions in to PVC and then CPVC pipe. Before the shower, the water "T"s, half going up to the solar heater and the other half serving as the cold water supply.
Plumbing schematic
Here you can see the water entering from the right. At the first "T" water goes up to the hot water heater tank and continues to the left to the shower faucet. At the faucet the cold water is mixed with the hot water that comes from the roof. It goes up the galvanized steel riser and comes out the shower head.

The shower hardware is simply a junked old cast iron pipe shower riser and attached Delta shower faucet. Over the years I've used a few. One I saved from an old house remodel from my maintenance days. Another was was the shower from our house. The Rebuilding Center supplied the latest.
Step into the shower

For a period of time I used the acrylic shower surround taken out of our bathroom to help "finish" the shower. The acrylic covered the plumbing and kept the water off the siding. A few years ago I figured out that it was accomplishing very little and was simply butt ugly. So I threw it out. The old wood siding was holding up fine to the occasional water exposure. (Hey, it rains all the time here in Portland and has done fine for the past 100 years.)

Notes on the day-to-day practical use and abuse