Triple Whammy

Before campers turn on the shower, drain the hot water tank, or leave the water running--there are a few components that can be installed to make life easier and the shower a little warmer.

Warm Water Brought To You By The Sun

Passive solar-water heating panels are an environmentally friendly alternative to provide hot water to showers in campgrounds or remote cabins.

The heating method is simple--the source water flows into heavy-gauge copper tubes, and then radiant energy from the sun heats the water, which flows out when someone turns on the shower. How hot does the water get? Try 160 F--hot enough to poach an egg.

To reduce the temperature to a reasonable level, a temperature-regulating valve is employed to mix the 160 F water with the cold-source water to bring it to the 105 F mark most people prefer. This means more hot water for everyone--even the shower hogs.

Passive solar works for new builds as well as retrofits; it is helping federal and state parks lead the way to greener living and reduced carbon emissions. One new project in Florida’s Lake Louisa State Park outfitted 20 lakeside cabins with 40-gallon units that produce 80 gallons of hot water per day; this is enough to keep up to five people in showers as well as clean dishes and clothes. The empty 40-gallon unit weighs about 250 pounds and about 600 pounds full.

The Nuts And Bolts

Passive solar-water heating panels must be located facing south and in areas free of shade. The preferred location is on a roof, but units also can be ground-mounted in an area away from curious campers.

Unlike an active solar system, a passive solar system doesn’t require electricity. Passive solar is commonly used in areas with moderate-to-tropical climates and a warm-season flow of people into the campgrounds. The passive solar-water heating system allows for hot-water production during spring, summer and fall, with the unit being disabled for winter.

Passive solar units are available in various sizes and connect laterally for more capacity. “The units come in a 20-gallon size with a 40-gallon-per-day output, and up to a 50-gallon unit with a 100-gallon-per-day output,” says Dale Gulden, chief operating officer with Solar Direct, an alternative energy company. “Multiples of these units can be connected together for greater output.” For example, the United States Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, uses 20 50-gallon units to provide ample hot water to the 90,000-square-foot residence.

Timing Water

Once upon a time, there was a campground owner who didn’t realize the showers were left running; the leach field flooded, and the campground was closed during the peak Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Obviously, it is important to regulate the amount of water that comes from the tap. This not only conserves the resource but also takes a load off the waste-management system. One simple way to accomplish this is to install a push-button or coin/token-operated timing mechanism.

“The coin mechanism operates on token or coin, triggering a low-voltage electrical pulse sent to a solid-state timer, which activates a valve,” says Charles Robertson, corporate administrator with Monarch Coin and Security which manufactures coin-operated products. “It is very environmentally sound, and helps you monitor and control the resource.”

With coin-operated showers, campers don’t necessarily need to dig for spare change--generic or customized tokens can be handed out at check-in or on request.

Irrigating With Shower Water

There is still one more way to reduce the amount of water used at a facility. Gray-water systems recycle the water used in showers, baths and laundry, and utilize it for irrigation. Gray water is not for human consumption, and should not come in contact with humans directly or via consumable plants.

Gray water is collected into a storage tank or pump basin. When the basin becomes full, the gray water is pumped into a system of irrigation, or dosing chambers, which are 12-inch wide pipes cut in half lengthwise and buried curved-side-up 6 inches below the grade.

The gray-water system is low maintenance as it has no distribution piping, filter or emitters to become clogged, eliminating the need to clean the equipment through back-washing or pumping. The irrigation chambers can be inspected via inspection ports.

“Installing the dosing chambers in a shallow manner allows the roots of the grasses and wildflowers to absorb the nutrients of gray water,” says John Hanson, representative of Clivus Multrum, which specializes in composting toilets and gray-water systems. “Hair, lint, soap or other particles are pumped straight to the irrigation system, and contribute the nutrients available to the plant roots.”

At the BarT Mountainside Camp in Maryland, a gray-water system handles all of the “waste” water from the shower facility. The gray water is then used to irrigate a wildflower meadow.

By combining composting toilets that manage human waste with a gray-water system to handle water from the shower facility, BarT avoided the expensive standard system required by state regulators to manage human waste. The standard sewage-treatment system would have been a small plant involving equipment, maintenance, an operator and a drip-irrigation emitter system buried 10 inches deep, that takes up 5 acres of land--or 200,000 square feet.

In comparison, the gray-water system covers just 8,000 square feet. “We are using a small fraction of what the health department was requiring with a sewage system,” says Hanson, “at only about half the expense of what a sewage system would have cost.” Plus, the gray-water nutrients and water are being recycled with less energy. The BarT system was designed per state requirements to handle 2,500 gallons of water per day, but typically manages 180 gallons per day.

Saving Money

Whether employing the use of a solar-water heater, coin/token-operated or push-button water-flow controller, or finding environmentally friendly alternatives to waste-water treatment, owners of campgrounds and cabins with shower facilities can reduce their financial burden and environmental impact as well as keep campers happy.

Tammy York is the owner of LandShark Communications LLC which specializes in media and public relations for outdoor recreation businesses. Her book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Cincinnati, is available online and in bookstores. You can reach her at landsharkpr@yahoo.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.