Tankless propane water heaters and winter weather water issues

Discussion in 'Off Grid Living' started by Kavode, May 6, 2019.

  1. Kavode

    Kavode Monkey

    Below is a little bit of background of what we have as well ideas I have been pondering for a while now to try and defeat old man winter here in South Dakota. Spring is trying to break free and it is time to go to work. I am hoping for input as to whether or not these ideas will work or not, or how I might go about getting the same results in an easier fashion.

    We have an off grid property, which we are hoping to be moved onto full time next spring (2020). Currently the property has a thousand gallon septic tank installed. A great water well, with a single hydrant is located inside a plastic prefab, un-insulated garden type shed about 100 yards away from the well. Inside this same shed is a 35 gallon barrel used as a water holding tank, a 2.8 GPM water pump, a deep cycle battery, a small pressure tank, and an older model Bosch tankless propane water heater. The water is pumped from the well to the hydrant using a gas generator and stored in the holding tank. The water is moved from the holding tank into the cabin via the water pump, which is powered by the deep cycle battery (re-charged via 45 watt solar panel from Harbor Freight), through the small pressure tank, and through the tankless propane water heater. All of the water lines from the holding tank to the inside of the trailer are completely exposed to the elements at this point. We have a propane tank, which is used to power the tankless water heater, refrigerator, cook stove, and vented wall mounted heater.

    The "cabin" as it were, is a converted 48 foot reefer semi-trailer, which has been turned into a living quarters complete with full bathroom, kitchen, sitting, and sleeping area. Our living space is enlarged with a window encased, but un-insulated (for now) 12x32 three-season porch. The trailer is not on any type of foundation and sits at the normal height of a trailer as the wheels, tires, and landing legs are still intact and positioned on large re-used bridge planks and short adjustable jack posts to keep it from settling. Neither the trailer nor the porch is skirted or insulated with anything at this point, but they will be prior to moving in. The plan is to move into the trailer and reside in it until we get our permanent cabin built, which we are looking forward too, but which could take us a while building by ourselves.

    During the summer months, when we spend time working at the property, there is no problem with the water and tankless heater set up as it is. The winter time, however, brings a different set of chores and challenges. We have to drain the entire system each evening to keep the exposed lines from freezing. If the weather is bad enough, we don't even hook the system up and instead fill 5-gallon buckets from the hydrant to meet our water needs. Not a deal breaker, but not ideal either. The old tankless water heater was not properly cared for by the prior owners and runs hot and cold, which really impresses the wife to no end. One of her "must haves" prior to calling this place our permanent home until the new cabin is built is to have a new and improved propane tankless water heater in place and working before making the move. Of course, I'm thinking about how I can set up a system to keep the water lines from freezing all together and not having to drain them every night throughout the winter.

    With all of that being said, I am thinking of removing the prefab water shed, re-locating the water hydrant underneath the trailer and building an insulated concrete block structure below frost level depth(4 foot) up to the underside of the trailer, which when finished would be approximately 7 foot in height. Also inside the structure would be the holding tank, water pump, small pressure tank, and the main water line running into the trailer from the pressure tank to a new tankless water heater. This water line would be insulated and have minimal exposure to the freezing air. Being encased in an insulated block structure below frost level should also assist in keeping things thawed out as well, at least in my minds eye.

    I am also thinking of re-locating all of the hot and cold water lines to the inside of the trailer from the tankless water heater. It may be somewhat unsightly having them exposed, but I will camouflage them as best I can. It will only be for a year or so right?

    We heat our in town home with a wood stove and will be bringing it with us when we move to the off grid property. Because of this, we will not have any more need for the propane wall mounted heater. I am thinking I will mount the tankless water heater about where the wall heater is currently located and vent it through the wall.

    Okay, that's about all for now. Let me have some feedback, good, bad, or ugly truth.
  2. Gator 45/70

    Gator 45/70 Monkey+++

    Ye Gads man, Better start insulating those pipes and insulate the water shed or build a new one!
    Ganado likes this.
  3. Merkun

    Merkun furious dreamer

    What he said. Also consider renting a backhoe and bury the well house and pipe from the well to the "trailer" at least as deep as frost. Your local FD can tell you how deep that is, but 6 foot will probably do. Then, where it comes up under the trailer, heat trace it. You will need, sooner than later, a better source of power.

    Trade that trailer off for a shipping container. Letting cold air, even slightly above freezing on the floor, will have your other half really, really, cranky. A shipping container, close to the ground and properly skirted won't have her nearly as upset. Or maybe even better, bring in a house trailer to serve until you get the house weathered in.
    Bandit99 and Gator 45/70 like this.
  4. SB21

    SB21 Monkey+++

    I installed a propane tankless WH for a girl on a tiny house I built her . I am not a plumber , I just know the basics , hots on the left, colds on the right , crap rolls downhill . But , those lines freezing were my main concern . It wasn't necessarily the supply lines , but the brass lines and valves inside the unit , that I worried about freezing . I built a box on the front of the house and ducted the exhaust outside of the box . I put a small floor vent in the bottom of the box to draw air for the combustion chamber . I had the lines insulated as close to the heater as I could. I put a light bulb in the box up underneath the WH as close as possible to the brass fittings . So far , to date , she hasn't had a problem with it . I don't know what your temps get down to in your area , ours isn't to bad , we might hit single digits occasionally . But the light bulb will help if its in an enclosed area , where it doesn't get the outside winds , and being enclosed helps contain the heat from the bulb . Other than that , you could mount it inside , and duct the exhaust outside . Just put it in a room that can supply the amount of air needed to not choke out the burner , and install a carbon monoxide detector in side and outside of the room .
    Dunerunner, oldman11 and Gator 45/70 like this.
  5. Cruisin Sloth

    Cruisin Sloth Special & Slow

    Solar size is less than a phone charger could use .
    45W Is just enough for keeping one 12Vdc car battery on float with a good charge controller .
    I would get a handle on the solar system and save the off grid & Marriage

    Watch ::

    Last edited: May 8, 2019
    Dunerunner, BenP, Gator 45/70 and 3 others like this.
  6. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    Agree with that. You'll wake up one day not long after moving in to find you have no water because that deep cycle battery is dead. Thing about a DC pump is it will keep on working, though at less & less capacity, right on down to the point it kills the battery and you won't know it (unless you're somehow monitoring battery voltage) until the battery is beyond saving. Get several hundred watts of PV on that deal quick.
  7. arleigh

    arleigh Goophy monkey

    Personally I would establish a water tank in the celling of the trailer in such a way the warm air of the room can circulate all around it.
    this would be a gravity system not a pressure system. the water heater would be in the trailer not out side merely divert the exhaust out side. Provide a well house that is below frost line and insulate it's lid and insulate the cold water line under ground to the house .
    So far as batteries go they cannot tolerate freezing especially if they run low on energy which is a given in solar during the winter.
    When I lived on the desert I built a 5 hp brggs driving an automotive alternator to supplement the solar battery charging ,far more efficient in fuel consumption to using a generator driving a battery charger .
    All the lighting should be 12 volt LED. An inverter driving AC light is is not efficient .
    I made these so I could use standard fixtures and run them on 12 volts .
  8. Hello there. I'm not sure what part of the US you are in, but my AO has weather in the winter like NJ. We get snow, cold winds and rain, ice, and did I mention snow?
    I remodeled a building on my property for my mom, a mostly open floorplan with 900sqft off living area (mudroom, kitchen, bath, two closets, main living/ bedroom area). The house is on piers, has a wrap around uncovered porch, septic and well. Further it is on grid power and has propane for heat and hot water (on demand water heater). I installed the water heater inside the house, all connections are good to go. The well, well... I didn't have a well house. I had a 55 gallon steel drum that I wrapped the well in R13 fiberglass insulation. This worked well for a year. Then we had snowmageddon and a water line froze. So, thawed the lines added more pipe wrap and heat tape to the lines, bought some 2x4's and foam insulation and built a well insulated well house. To keep the well pipes from freezing I put a heat lamp and bulb in (a brooder lamp for chicks). Since mom's house sits elevated, and I didn't have the money for underpinning as it is, I used thick plastic sheeting to wrap around the perimeter to keep the wind from blowing underneath and sucking the heat out. This kept the pipes from freezing, helped keep the house warm and made my life easier.
    Now with your situation, definitely get that water pump a better solar panel (200w would be ideal), the 45 watt will kill it. Bury your lines after putting pipe insulation on (two is one, one is none), you could literally put your water tank and pressure tank under your trailer, frame around it and insulate the devil out of it. Add in a brooder light with a thermostat and it will only come on when the temps drop below a certain temp and turn off at the top end (mine is 34° and 50°F). This should keep your lines from freezing. I hope it helps.
    Seawolf1090 and Dunerunner like this.
  9. Ganado

    Ganado Monkey+++

    im not a fan of tankless water heaters of any kind. They are ok where you have consistent eletricity or natural gas but not anywhere else. You are better off using big black tanks and using the water as a heat sink if you are going low electric. but the set up isnt simple.
    3cyl, Gator 45/70 and SB21 like this.
  10. offgrittyt

    offgrittyt You gonna eat that?

    Very clearly and we'll written. I have a six foot deep root cellar under my cabin. The below the frost line cellar hole plus making sure everything is closed in to prevent wind movement, keeps my water line coming in from a drilled well, plus a water storage pressure tank from freezing. Sounds like your going to put a good deal of effort in to your temporary digs. Will you cabin have a cellar?
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