Got Hot H2O

Tankless Water Heater
Living off the grid, and on the cheap, requires sacrifices, you do give up some conveniences. Some of the things I didn’t have when I first moved to my off-grid home were running water, unlimited electricity, heating, much in the way of furniture, refrigerator, internet, phone, solid walls (grin)… and hot water.

Rather quickly, we installed our wood burning stove, being December (last year), it was an extreme necessity. In case you are wondering about the solid walls part, when we first moved into our cabin, it wasn’t really finished, some of the walls were merely 2 layers of heavy builders plastic, it held up remarkably well, though I don’t recommend it, at least not as a long term thing. We did eventually get real walls put up, and a real roof and such. Yes, we were in a hurry to get away from the big city.

It took a while to get the water situation remedied, for the first few months, I could haul water, 3 gallons at a time from my neighbor’s house. The reason it was 3 gallons was because I only had 3 one gallon jugs. So each day, I would trek down to my neighbor’s house, visit for a while, fill the jugs then trek back up to my house. Eventually we set up a 300 gallon tank that we had purchased in Dallas. We would fill that from my neighbor’s tap in his back yard. Originally we were going to haul water from the community well, but since we have such a great neighbor, we don’t have to do that, good neighbors are a blessing in so many ways!

Heating the water was a different story, we had no good way to heat water, at least not enough water to bathe or shower. We could heat a pot of water on the stove, but that’s about all. We had been looking at tankless water heaters. These heat the water on demand, as you use it. I researched it to death on the internet, the main thing that was a problem was the funds to purchase one. We considered getting a Coleman portable water heater and we looked at a Zodi portable water heater system, these just didn’t seem to be the right way for us to go. I had found a portable tankless water heater on eBay that I was pretty happy with, it was going to run around $200.00 to get the least expensive unit including shipping. But something told me to wait, so I did.

I always try to listen to that little voice in my head, and it usually pays off. I was looking through some catalogs from Sportsman’s Guide, and sure enough they had a tankless water heater listed. Now the fact that it was listed in their catalog meant it was going to be a good price, they generally have closeouts and other super deals. I had joined their buyer’s club when I purchased some boots for Bob and I a few months ago, so I get an automatic discount from that. I found a $10.00 off coupon and viola, with shipping and all, I paid $107.00 for the unit. Not bad, not bad at all! These usually go for over $200.00. If you ever plan on ordering anything from Sportsman’s Guide, I highly recommend joining the buyer’s club, you get such great discounts on the products, plus, when I signed up, I got free shipping AND a double discount on my first order. I didn’t plan on buying anything else from them until this came along, the buyer’s club purchase has more than paid for itself.

When I ordered it last month, Sportsman’s Guide said it was on back order, bummer! But they said they expected to get more in and be able to ship by Dec 5th. That wasn’t such a long wait, and for that price, I didn’t mind the delay. So as promised, they did get in a shipment and sent mine right out. I got it a couple of days ago, earlier than planned.

Checking things… it’s all there
Bob opened the box, took everything out, read the instructions (yes, it IS possible for a man to read directions…) and pronounced it a good thing. Now the question was, where to put it. The water heater uses propane, and the instructions say to install it outside, and I would say that is the proper way to do it and would recommend that anyone else who is contemplating using one to install it properly, according to the directions sent with the water heater. We are not responsible for any damages, injury or death caused by you installing and using your tankless water heater.

I wanted it close by, I didn’t want to have to go outside everything I wanted hot water, so we hooked it up inside the cabin, next to the sink. Before anyone writes to say how dangerous that is, let me state that we aren’t going to be using it any time soon to take showers, in other words, it’s not going to be on for long periods of time. Bob’s previous profession, for 20+ years, was repairing and installing restaurant equipment, so I trust his judgment. The place where it is hanging is not close to anything flammable. And most important, our cabin is far from airtight, far far far from airtight, so it should be perfectly safe to use inside the cabin for the limited use we will give it for now. Before we start using it for showers, we will properly vent it to the outside.

We have it hanging next to the sink where it will be most handy. It comes with nearly everything you need to get started. The only thing I had to supply was a couple of D sized batteries, a propane tank (with propane), and water. They supply a regulator hose and a hand held shower nozzle and hose. There are several problems with the hose and nozzle, the hose is a bit short, it leaks where it was hooked up to the unit, I have heard other people complain about the same thing, but the biggest problem for me was on the nozzle itself. There is an on/off switch on the nozzle, this switch was too hard for me to operate. I promise you that I’m not a wuss, I have fairly strong hands for a woman, but I still had a very difficult time working the switch. If my hands were soapy or wet, forget it, I couldn’t operate it at all. Even Bob had a hard time with it, so we ditched the shower nozzle. We will save it for use in the shower that we will have in the future. Bob plumbed the water heater into the faucet with copper tubing, which is what I wanted in the first place.:)

Well, it works, and it works very well! I can turn on the hot water tap, the instant the water begins to flow through the unit, it starts the spark igniter and poof, the propane lights up and hot water begins to flow. It does take a few seconds, just like any hot water system, the water flows cold for a bit, fortunately it is only a tiny little bit, then it comes out hot. As soon as you turn off the tap, the flame goes out. I am so happy to have hot running water, I’ve waited almost a year to get this, it’s been worth the wait. It’s amazing how much one appreciates the little things, especially when you have gone without them for a period of time.

There are a couple of settings on the water heater, it has a water regulator and a gas regulator. We are still tweaking both settings, I want the water to come out hot but not too hot, I don’t want to have to add cold water to the mix, that would mean too much water would go down the drain while adjusting the hot and cold water. That would be a waste of resources, so if the hot water is already at a good temperature as it is, then I don’t have to fiddle with it, and will not waste water or propane.

The entire unit is pretty small, that is a good thing for us. Being in a small cabin, space is at a premium. The unit fits perfectly just above the 55 gallon barrel next to the sink. When it is functioning, it does put out a lot of heat through the top of the unit. Fortunately they supply a metal flap, it redirects the hot air slightly toward the front instead of going straight up. That protects whatever you have it hung on. In our case, that’s a 2×4 on the wall. I have since learned that the metal flap is really a rain cap, I can’t imagine leaving it outside to get rained on through. Rain cap or not, it still redirects the heat enough to protect whatever you hang it on.

I have to say that having running hot water is such a pleasure, it’s ok to wash your hands in cold water when it’s hot outside, but when it’s freezing cold, you want warm water. It also makes washing the dishes more pleasant and practical, who wants to wash dishes in cold water?  Now I have no more excuses to leave the dishes overnight. :)

11 Responses

  1. Hey Wilddog!, Sorry I didn’t reply to you, so here it is, better late than never. Don’t have pix of the plumbing, but it’s really a simple system. Since you said the health dept will not let you do things, I assume you are wanting to use this with your hot dog place.

    My water heater is still working just fine, in fact we have purchased a second unit, it’s for the shower (that still hasn’t been completed), it’s also a backup in case the first one ever stops working.

    One thing you would need in addition to this is a way to pump the water, the heater has no way of pumping water. We use a 12 volt water pump, and now have a pressure tank so the pump doesn’t come on every time we turn on the water. The water heater doesn’t need high water pressure, ours works just fine at low pressure.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this article! My husband and I are determined to get off-grid, but there’s SO much to learn! I don’t want to make any expensive mistakes. I had wondered about a tankless water heater, but I didn’t realize it would take propane. I’d like to try to stay away from propane. If we can go all solar, with a generator backup, I think that would be the best way to go. We still have so much to learn, and such an urgency to get prepared now.

    1. Thanks Kendra, love your site BTW! Getting off-grid isn’t as hard as it first seems. A good way to start is to retrofit a smaller space, one room in your home, or perhaps a shed or other outbuilding with a small solar power setup. This is far less expensive than trying to do your whole home at once. Live with it for a while, this way you can learn about your alternative power setup, make your mistakes on a small scale, learn what works and what doesn’t, and if you do this in your home, you will have a backup if/when the grid power goes down.

  3. This was a great review. I would love to see pics of the plumbing set up if possible :-) I plan to use this unit to heat my water in my mobile kitchen. Since I’m going totally off-grid and not using any energy except for propane I love this concept. The health dept won’t let me run my copper water lines thru my heating flames to heat the water, so this is the cheapest alternative out there. Price is great. Any problems with this unit ? I noticed this post was from early 2009?

    Thank you !

  4. Oops, I forgot to add how our system works.

    We have the 300 gallon water tank sitting on the deck just outside the kitchen wall, a hose goes from the tank, through the wall, to a 12 volt water pump (salvaged from a travel trailer), next to a splitter (1 hose into 2 hoses), one goes to the cold water side of my sink, the other goes to the on demand water heater, then from there to the hot water side of the tap on the sink. Somewhere in there, we change from hose to pvc pipe. It all works great, the biggest drawback is the noise the 12 volt water pump makes, we are working on making it quieter.

  5. Erron, thanks for writing, and good for you for taking the steps to protect yourself and your family. We do have running water, it just doesn’t come from a municipal source. Right now, for our domestic use (washing and drinking) we just have the 300 gallon tank on the deck just outside the kitchen wall, we fill it from our neighbor’s well, though we could also get our water from the community well or have it delivered (from the same source).

    Tell your wife not to worry, you can have all the hot water you want (as long as your propane and water supply hold out), all you need is the on demand propane water heater, and your water supply. In our primitive cabin, when I turn on the hot water tap, I get hot water, faster than I did when I lived in a regular house with a 40 gallon water heater that was halfway across the house from me. :)

    We are lined up to get a 1550 gallon water tank, that will mean much more freedom for us, if something were to happen to our access to the neighbor’s well, we would need a larger water container in order to get water delivery or for us to get our own water.

  6. Hello! I haven’t read your entire blog yet, but I have a plan in place to go off the grid soon with my wife. Hot water is a big issue with her, and this seems liek the best option. Not havig running water, how do you tap into your water source to use this? Is it just connected tot he 300 gallon tank you have? Thanks!

  7. Heather, you have 3 choices right now if you want an on-demand water heater, natural gas, propane or electric. For off-grid living, you can forget about natural gas. Electric takes a LOT of electricity, though it should be possible to do. The best option is propane, honestly it doesn’t take much propane, at least for us that is the case.

    Your other option is solar heating, it is very much do-able, it just takes a bit of planning ahead.

    Thanks for writing! :)

  8. i have been looking into this as well… any other information on off the grid would be welcomed! i was hopeful that propane would not be needed for an on demand h20 heater, but it appears so…
    thanks so much!

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