The Rocket-Powered Shower

Plan for our Rocket-Powered hot water system for the Basecamp shower + bath block

Spending all your day gathering sticks for a hot shower is just no fun. No fun at all. Mind you, anything that results in a hot shower (or even better, a hot bath) has to be considered a priority at Milkwood.

So when Nick finished converting the old ‘Sunbeam Sheep Shower’ structure (basically a new-fangled sheepdip) to a shower block with a little wood-fired, home-made firebox thingamy to heat the water for the shower and the bath, that’s what we did. Lots of stick-gathering.

The romance of wood-fired hot water quickly wears thin, however, if your water-heating system is not terribly efficient. Because this means the system requires a fair deal of wood to heat the water, which therefore releases a corresponding amount of CO2.

And also results in lots of stick gathering. So Nick went searching for the most super-efficient, super-simple and super-funky heating system idea he could find, which could then be converted to a water heating system. And thus we discovered the glory that is the Rocket Mass Heater.

Hey, there’s an update to this system! Read our Rocket Stove Water Heater Redux to have a look at this system, 2 years on…

Nick Ritar + Si Horsely cobb around the burn chamber and firebricks to protect them

The basic premise of a Rocket Mass Heater is that the heat energy of a small, very hot-burning fire is used in a optimal way to get the utmost out of that heat energy. Hyper efficiency with minimal fuel input.

Ianto Evans + Leslie Jackson, a couple of Permies who are prettymuch gurus on this subject, put together a great little book called Rocket Mass Heaters and this was our inspiration and guidebook for our project.

The heat of the small fire is drawn up through a vertical heat riser of some kind, which creates an updraft and therefore causes the fire to burn extremely hot. A hotter burn means less smoke. And less smoke means more hot water per handful of sticks.

Then the hot gases in the riser is put to work – pushed (or pulled) under hot plates, past water boilers, underneath cobb benches, through thermal mass walls – wherever you need to heat. By the time the hot gases make their way out to the outside world, they are spent, and much cooler – the heat energy has been transferred along the way to whatever needed to be heated. Hurrah!

The completed system – two days work, all told

Rocket Stoves are quickly catching on in various places around the globe – because they’re so fuel efficient, for example, they’re being used in development aid projects where fuel is scarce. And because they’re super simple, they can be made by prettymuch anyone with a need, a plan and some simple tools.

There’s a stash of great Rocket Stove projects that have been done around the world at RocketStoves.org.

But back to us at Milkwood. The making of our Rocket-Powered water heater took two days for two blokes. The above diagram explains it all pretty well. Firebricks in a pattern with a burn chamber in front, topped by an insulated heat riser, topped by a small heat exchanger, topped by a chimney.

The water came in one end of the system from the bottom of the water tank, then passively circulated between the heat exchanger and the hot water tank (just a normal hot water tank like you would have on your normal western hot water system) once the fire was going via simple pipes and the power of convection.

A handful of sticks in the burn chamber set the fire going. Then we waited and finally turned on the shower tap and… voila. Steaming hot water for one shower. Hoo-bloody-ray.

Post-wash, the water flows into a greywater trench which waters a planting of She-Oaks (Casuarinas) downhill from the showerblock. These will, in time, yield excellent stickwood for the fire, as Casuarina wood is some of the hottest burning wood in the world.

Which is the closest we’ll come to closing the loop (in terms of energy, carbon and responsibility) on our daily shower anytime soon… which makes for a very happy shower.

A handful of sticks is all you need…

Here’s a Flickr set of the construction process – it should give you a good idea, it’s fairly thorough. Feel free to ask questions if you like, I’m sure Nick would love to wax lyrical about his beloved Rocket construction.

So viva la Rocket Stove. These things are hyper-efficient. They should take over the world, I rekon – what is a better beacon for sustainable, responsible living than a guilt-free hot bath?

Happy Nick bathing in the glory of his Rocket-Powered Shower

**Notes on this system for safety: you want a pressure release valve on the hot water tank (most have them on already) so the water tank doesn’t explode, and also a tempering valve on the hot water outlet (so no water hotter than 60º comes out), so that no-one burns themselves during their lovely wood-fired shower.

Hey, there’s an update to this system! Read our Rocket Stove Water Heater Redux to have a look at this system, 2 years on…

Related posts:

14 Comments

  1. Joshua
    Posted May 25, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Hey Guys,
    a few questions on the shower.
    a) how is the heat exchanger constructed
    b) where is the water inlet and what source is it connected to
    c) where/how do you create your water pressure

    Look forward to constructing one of these in a few weeks.
    Cheers!

    • Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Hi Joshua –

      the heat exchanger is a home-made affair of metal plates welded together – we bought it at a garage sale – in essence it’s a double walled box with an inlet at the bottom and an outlet at the top for the heat, and a water-jacket like any woodstove with waterjacket attached (inlet at bottom, outlet at top)

      you can see the water inlet in the photos + diagram – the little pipe going into the side of the black box at the bottom.

      water outlet is the one coming out of the side of the black box at the top.

      water pressure comes from a header tank up the hill, which is hooked up to the main water tank (big beige thing). the water cycles in and out of the heat exchanger (the black box) via convection.

      Does that all make sense? Let me know if not :)

  2. Joshua
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks Kirsten, now to try to make my own :)

  3. Rauf
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 12:22 am | Permalink | Reply

    The heat exchanger is an exaggerated form of an excellent and essential household utensil for boiling water as well making tea which extensively used in Central Asian Republics and Iran, Pakistan, Russia etc. One can google the word ‘Samovar’ to find the detail of this beautifully crafted utensil.

    • Posted November 10, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink | Reply

      Rauf does the heated air is a samovar go up thru the middle of the water heating reservoir? Found lots of beautiful pics but no indication of it’s internal workings.. great stuff tho – had forgotten about these beautiful things…

      • Rauf
        Posted November 28, 2011 at 4:27 am | Permalink

        Yes you are right the heated air pass through the middle. In the Pakistani city of Peshawar people love to drink green tea, sending you the picture of one of the numerous tea stalls.
        For internal design of samovar please visit the following website:
        http://speak-russian.cie.ru/time_new/eng/country_info/
        you will have to scroll down the cursor a lot ……the internal image of samovar is in the end of the blog.
        Another excellent website on masonry heaters, there you will find tons of information on the subject.
        http://mha-net.org/docs/v8n2/v8n2page2.htm

        best regards.

  4. Posted September 25, 2012 at 4:00 am | Permalink | Reply

    Great, thanks for sharing this post. Fantastic.

  5. Jodie
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

    How do you deal with overheating of the water tank and possible explosion? Does the water tank have a temperature pressure release or something of this kind?

  6. joe
    Posted April 19, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Brilliant!, one question does the hot water get much rust in it?

  7. Jax
    Posted November 19, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Can you clarify the rest of your water system including the “header tank.” Is the shower is completely gravity fed? Do you require electricity to pump water into the header tank? A post would be great. Thanks!

    • Posted November 20, 2013 at 6:22 am | Permalink | Reply

      Hi Jax – yep the header tank feeds via gravity along to the system. The header itself is filled by an electric pump (as most header tanks are) running off grid-connect solar power.

      We have plans to swap out the header tank for a feed from an existing high dam, but that’s a fair bit of digging to install and it hasn’t happened quite yet :)

  8. Posted January 15, 2014 at 2:30 am | Permalink | Reply

    hey there
    i also made a rocketshower. i stole the idee of an african
    its a double pipe and runs on lamp oil.
    easy to make diy
    tjek it
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwAFrDp_wqg

    where i stole the idee

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=628230270570406&set=pcb.628233080570125&type=1&theater

    and upgraded

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=634713496588750&set=pcb.634714299922003&type=1&theater

    good luck

    best wishes sjaak

13 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Milkwood simple living in abundance Skip to content HomeAboutContactPermaculture « Belated harvest The Rocket-Powered Shower » [...]

  2. By 2010 Permaculture Diary + Calendar « Milkwood on August 1, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    [...] world, plus planting charts, personal stories, community initiatives and even a wee entry on our Rocket Powered Shower, featuring Nick in the nick – ha. This years’ diary is also printed on a textured, [...]

  3. By BioFertilizer Recipe #1 « Milkwood on September 7, 2010 at 6:02 am

    [...] the meantime, I’m off to source the ingredients for the next brew. And have a rocket powered shower so i don’t smell quite so much like [...]

  4. [...] twisted willows planted on the downhill side of the trench, which we then use for stickwood for our rocket powered shower [...]

  5. [...] stove is what you need in this situation! Here at Milkwood, there’s an excellent rocket stove shower that provides us with deliciously warm showers every day – all we have to do is keep the [...]

  6. [...] on from the rocket powered shower (our rocket stove hot water system), we’ve been aching to try other types of rocket [...]

  7. [...] twisted willows on our leachate pit (which are thriving with the extra nutrient) to supply our rocket powered shower down the hill with stickwood. Every output can be an [...]

  8. [...] Milkwood Farm we love both our rocket stove water heater and our mini rocket stove, but with winter taking hold I’m dreaming of new ideas, so I [...]

  9. [...] of all, you should probably have a look at the original post dealing with building this system, The Rocket-powered shower. It explains the basic setup. I like to think I’ve got a bit better at explaining things since i [...]

  10. [...] a short history on our much beloved rocket stove water heater, see the original article here and our 2.5 year assessment here. This setup has definitely done good service, but it wasn’t [...]

  11. By » Raketová kamna s ohřevem vody outset on September 24, 2012 at 7:28 am

    [...] topení, možná by nemusela být tak hromská. Nejsem první, koho něco takového napadlo – The Rocket-Powered Shower – takže mohu stavět na zádech titánů (nebo jak se to [...]

  12. […] a geodesic chook dome! Bathing my new baby in a rocket-powered shower. Wishing our swales worked […]

  13. By The Transkei | senstability on June 24, 2014 at 3:12 am

    […] owner, gave us a tour of our solar-powered randaval, bathrooms complete with compost toilets and rocket-powered showers (which are so cool!), and explained all of the activities available at the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,653 other followers