Andy Fleming writing on living off the grid

If you’re the type of person who wants to take back control of your life, live independently, and harness the power of the earth for your own benefit…you can make a few small changes to start. Even if you’re not currently living off the grid, you can immediately benefit by adapting some of the homesteading community’s techniques.

You don’t need to be living the off-grid lifestyle 100% in order to begin reducing your energy needs and generating your own power and sustenance. Whether you live in a suburban home or an apartment in the city, you can start on small-scale DIY projects like these at any time, and immediately reap the benefits.

Not only will you save money by relying less on grid power and water, you’ll be perfecting the skills you need to sustain themselves. That way, when you feel ready for a bigger move, you’ll be prepared, and confident. Take a look at this ingenious design for a solar water heater built mostly from low cost or recycled materials.

The “Black Hose” Method

This design uses a length of black tubing to collect energy from the sun. Water is circulated through the tubing until it absorbs enough energy to heat it to a desired temperature. On a hot day, this method can heat water well above 120 F. Even during cooler weather, you should be able to achieve temperatures hot enough to wash clothes and dishes, or even take a quick shower.

You’ll need:
– A length of black tubing, or a black garden hose. The longer the better. 100 feet of ¼” black poly tubing is ideal.

– A 50-gallon drum or barrel with a lid. A black barrel will help collect even more sunlight to keep the water hot.

– A low-voltage, submersible water pump. Anything using around 100 watts of power works well, because you have the option of powering it with a solar panel. Any pump like this should work well.

The first thing you’ll want to do is attach all your tubing together. If you’re using a black garden hose (easiest, but more expensive), simply screw the hose attachments together to form one long tube. If you’ve bought multiple lengths of poly tubing, you can attach them together using glue and standard CPVC water piping. The more piping you use, the hotter the water will be. It’s very easy to expand the size and efficiency of this design, simply by adding more tubing. Fifty feet of hose will heat 50 gallons of water by about 6 F an hour, 500 feet will increase that to about 50 F per hour, up to a maximum temperature of about 150 F.

After you’ve assembled your tubing, it’s time to get creative. Your hose needs to be coiled into one or more big loops so that no hose overlaps itself. With 50 to 100 feet of tubing, your system won’t take up much room and you can even attach your coils to a few square feet of plywood to make it portable. Check out this video to see how to do so, and for a good example of how to coil the tube.

If you want to build a bigger system, consider coiling your tubing on the roof of your home. Wherever you decide to locate your tubing, make sure it’s exposed to as much sunlight as possible. Ideally, it should be south facing and have no obstructions like grass or trees casting shadows.

At this point, all you need to do is place both ends of your tubing into the 50-gallon drum, fill it with water, and begin circulating the water with a pump. If you’re not off-grid yet, it’s possible to forego the pump and just run water straight from your garden spigot, through the hose, and into your barrel or drum. If your tubing is long enough, this will be enough to heat the water to the point where it can be used to wash and shower.

Otherwise, the pump should be used to circulate the water up through the coiled hose and back into the drum. The water will constantly absorb energy from the sunlight and mix itself in the barrel, raising the temperature over time.

The best thing about this kind of design is that it’s very easy to modify. A quick search on YouTube will show you dozens of designs using different sized tubes, pumps, and support structures. If you’re still on the grid it’s even possible to attach the tube to your home’s hot water heater, instantly reducing the need for grid power and making the whole set-up easier to use.

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