Hot Showers in the middle of Nowhere?
January 6, 2006 10:06 AM   Subscribe

HotWaterFilter: We want to put in a propane powered hot water heater in a very remote cabin that does not have electric power. Any recommendations? (more specific details inside)

To meet our needs, the unit must be: Smallish (able to be transported up to camp in a pickup truck); on-demand would be preferable; able to be connected and disconnected to the propane tank fairly easily by a skilled but amateur plumber; no pilot light, and (obviously) not require electric power of any kind. (Note that this will be powered by a propane tank, not in-ground natural gas.) I would also like to be able to run hot water in the sink while someone else is in the shower. Our leader thus far is this Aquastar 125 X model but I'm open to other ideas and suggestions you wise people might have, in particular anything like this units but in the sub-$500 range. Your thoughts?
posted by anastasiav to Home & Garden (5 answers total)
Tankless heaters are the most efficient; probably a concern if you must lug gas to it.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:28 AM on January 6, 2006

Hi, no specific advice really, except on-demand is generally much more efficient. I have "on demand" on my sailboat, a model by Paloma, you could look at marine shops for further variety. Be careful to get one that has a readily accessible and bulletproof pilot light, and obviously one where the pilot light going out shuts off a thermocouple controlled valve, since you won't be able to have a solenoid valve. Install it where you can see it, it's reassuring to be be able to note the pilot is still on, hear the "whoosh", etc. Propane is not to be monkeyed with.

Connecting to and from is a simple matter of a hose coupling. If you are using all-rubber propane lines then it should be easy to do yourself, however, as soon as you involve copper it is a job for a gasfitter. Don't attach your own couplings to rubber either unless you for sure know what you are doing, buy a good long pre-made run and put up with the excess if necessary.

You would need to have adequate water pressure for an on-demand. As for running a shower and dishes simultaneously, I am pretty sure the tap going on and off is going to tweak the shower temperature. In on demand the water temperature is partially controlled by the volume of water passing through the coils so sudden changes in volume will produce a slight lag.

I know you have no electricity but a solenoid controlled cut-off is a valuable safety feature, could be run from a motorcycle battery and a cheap solar cell? This could run a small pressure pump as well if your water pressure wasn't up to it. Again, the marine sources might have what you need for small scale installations.

Anything more than a 40 pound tank gets quite unwieldy, but a 40 pounder running just a water heater would last quite a while. Once you have propane there though, you can get fridges, stoves, lights, space heaters, etc ... comfortable! (I work in very remote field camps and we use a lot of propane appliances, so I am an experienced user but no expert on installations or technicals, so take it all with a grain of salt)
posted by Rumple at 10:30 AM on January 6, 2006

Best answer: Sounds like you're right on with the Aquastar.
posted by trevyn at 10:46 AM on January 6, 2006

Best answer: i have a junkers (german/chilean brand) in my appartment (no mains gas in la serena). it lights with batteries that have lasted a year so far. you can get more expensive models that light with a water-driver internal turbine.

typically these things are rated by how much water they'll heat per second (or whatever units they use). i've got the smallest available on the market and it's ok for one person, but showers aren't vey hot in winter. on the other hand, it uses *way* less gas than the much larger model i had in the last place.

it needs some care during installation. the safety featues are quite sophisticated and mine would cut off after 20mins use until i worked out that the flue/boiler connection needed to be better sealed (it wasn't dangerous, but allowed hot air to flow in an unusual way, tiggering a safety cut-off).
posted by andrew cooke at 11:17 AM on January 6, 2006

(just to be clear - it uses way less gas even though my usage pattern is the same; and this is an on-demand heater (lots of copper tubing above flames))
posted by andrew cooke at 11:20 AM on January 6, 2006

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