I have talked about hot water during the late fall, winter, and early spring months, but I have not really discussed how we have hot water when not using our wood stove. This is another off grid reality check. It’s another one of those facts that separate our home life from those on the grid, eventually, I will remedy it. But, because our hot water system currently functions and at times feels very inconvenient, it does get pushed further back on the list of things that have to be done.
We are living debt-free, and because of that, we have to budget in the things we want and need. Back in 2012, we desperately needed a hot water system. We wanted to purchase a propane instant hot water system, but money was running thin. I had a revelation that there should be a smaller camping rendition of an instant hot water heater out on the market that could get us through until we could save enough money for the big purchase. Well, I found something that would fit our needs for a hot shower whenever we needed. The problem with building off grid is once we found a temporary system that works, we rationalize we can use that system for one more season. We are now four years from our initial “temporary” hot water fix, and four years doesn’t seem that temporary.
As for the late fall, winter, and early spring months, we heat our hot water with our wood cook stove. Cold water from a water tank enters the lower portion of the stove’s fire-box, is heated, and then returns out of the fire-box back into the water tank it came from. During the summer months, it is too hot to run a wood stove for hot water and it would be a waste of fire wood to do so. We instead use an Eccotemp L5 portable tankless water heater. It uses propane and provides instant hot water for the shower. The tankless hot water system is advertised for outdoor camping and comes with a shower nozzle and a water inlet for a garden hose. I built a frame for the tankless water heater in the bathroom and plumbed the tub’s cold side of the water through the unit. The unit heats the water to a nice “warm-hot” temperature and sends the water through the showers regular plumbing through the cold side. I can turn the unit off with a switch to bring cold water back through the plumbing or leave it on and adjust the hot water temp through the cold side of the faucet. The unit has a safety feature which automatically shuts off after about seventeen minutes in the shower. I have been caught more than once in the shower as the water reverts to just below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
The unit also burns propane, so when we run the unit, we crack the bathroom window and turn on the bathroom’s vent fan above the shower. It works great, but it also has some quirky flaws. If someone turns water on somewhere in the house, the tankless water will shutoff providing the person in the shower a nice cold awakening. A drop in water pressure sometimes causes the unit to turn off suddenly, a safety precaution that turns a hot shower to an icy one in seconds. The unit also drops in temperature once the pressure tanks calls for the cistern pump to engage because it is now heating up water from the outside ground temperature instead of water from the room temperate pressure tank. The system also needs to be located within arms reach from the shower to reset it once something shuts it off or it increases temperature. This unit should never be used to plumb a full home at every faucet. It’s not big enough to handle it, and it is a manual dial system which needs a person close by to monitor it. Also, when needing hot water for dishes, we have to take a large stock pot to the bath tub, fill it up and walk back to the kitchen sink. Two pots full work great, one for each the wash and rinse sides of the sink. This traveling with hot water to the kitchen sink, plus the constant manual needs of the unit are the reasons it is inconvenient. If given the choice between no hot water and this affordable unit, I obviously chose the unit and would again if I had to start all over. For four years this unit has been our hot water supplier during the late spring, summer, and early fall months, on average 6 months of the year without fail. A temporary hot water system that was meant to get us by for a season has become an intricate part of our off grid life style.
I don’t hate the unit because if I did, it would have risen higher on the to do list long before now, but instead it functions well enough to justify building our driveway this summer with road fabric and gravel to eliminate the mud bogging each year. After this past winter, we thawed early creating an extra long mud season of hiking the quarter of a mile in the mornings to work and school in the mud. For the inconvenience of hiking groceries a quarter of a mile, plus relying on a neighbor’s kindness to fix our road each year because of the deep ruts, we needed to place the hot water on the back burner again (pun intended). I also have radiant floor heat that needs to be hooked up sometime, so we can leave the home in the winter for extended periods of time without fear of frozen pipes when we return. The radiant floor heat will also require a propane tankless water heater for its own closed loop system, so I will eventually need to purchase two separate tankless water heaters.
If you need hot water and a “temporary” affordable fix, this is may be the unit for you. However, if you have extra money set aside, then you should skip this unit and purchase a permanent unit for the home water supply.