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An Off-Grid Review: Installation, Operation, Praise, Concerns
on November 25, 2008
---- 2016.1.25 Update ----
After responding to Jeun’s questions, I realized an update was due. Thus, here is part of my reply to Jeun:
[Years ago] I switched over to a SHURﬁo Aqua King Mini pump running (with a custom-made, solid-state voltage regulator) at 6.57VDC. It has been reliably pumping water through the L5 at 0.20 gallons per minutes for years now, with a strong, fine spray of twenty-one streams from a custom-made shower head.
The voltage regulator is critical, given the low voltage, and the fact that the L5 (now heavily modified for wilderness survival!) is at its absolute minimum possible volume of water throughput to be able to function. There is no margin for error in this system, but it has been working very reliably for years.
---- 2010.12.2 Update ----
I have now used the L5 daily for over two years (sometimes up to three times per day). Everything I posted below is accurate and the L5 has never failed me. Running it at midnight, in the middle of winter, in well-below-zero weather, with high winds rocking the trailer, high on an exposed ridge at 7,500 feet, I have never had to turn the L5's propane regulator control (i.e. temperature control) above 50% as doing so would raise blisters . . . and I like a shower so hot that I have to keep moving.
This is an incredible shower.
---- Posted 2008.11.25 ----
I have a lot to say about the L5 as I am pushing the limits of its functionality; I have been using it daily for the past six weeks, completely off-grid, and am thrilled to have it! To distill the following details into a few words:
Pros: A Godsend for someone completely off-grid, living under extreme conditions! There is nothing else available like it (that I could find).
Cons: It is designed to minimize any risks, no matter how used--thus limiting its versatility and, possibly, its long-term reliability, though it has functioned perfectly for the past six weeks.
The following notes are in four parts:
- Installation (where I have it installed)
- Operation (how it must be set up under such conditions)
I am using the L5 completely off-grid. It is inside a custom-built, remote-camping, clear polycarbonate trailer that was built to test the infrastructure of the Lotus Dome ( LotusDome dot com ). The trailer is currently at an elevation of 7,500 feet in the mountains of Utah. The temperature range here can get above 100 degreesF during the summer and can get down to well below zero during the winter. Great conditions for testing purposes!
The roof of the trailer holds a custom, 218-gallon, aluminum water tank (it needs to be on the roof to keep ice from clogging the drain). The drain feeds down to the L5 which is suspended about six inches beneath the tank. A 12VDC SHURflo Nautilus pump is mounted directly beneath the L5 pumping water up into the l5's water intake fitting.
To get this pump to work under these conditions requires very strict installation and operation, as the Nautilus pump is rated at 1GPM, 10 PSI, max.:
- The pump must be installed directly under the L5's water intake fitting.
- The set screw for adjusting the pressure needed to open the L5 diaphragm (located under the right side of the water regulator, pointing straight down), which controls whether the L5 will ignite or not, needs to be unscrewed (i.e. "backed out") until water starts to drip out around the screw. The screw is then re-tightened about one-half turn.
- The L5 water regulator (the dial on the right side of the front panel of the L5) needs to be turned fully clockwise--to the "MIN" setting
In setting up the L5, I have discovered--through repeated trial and error--that the L5 WILL NOT IGNITE if these conditions are not met. To reiterate: if the pump is not _immediately_ below the L5, pumping up into it; if the set screw is not backed out to minimize the required water pressure; and if the Water Regulator dial is not set all the way clockwise to the "MIN" setting, the L5 will NOT ignite. This is my experience, "your mileage may vary." (It may be possible to remove the spring that controls the diaphragm, but I have not tried to do so.)
The L5, when functioning as intended, is a spectacular unit; there is no other water heater that can generate 37.5K BTUs worth of hot water in such a compact, portable unit. It has no competition; it is a Godsend for me. The L5 with a 12VDC Nautilus pump is perfect for my showering needs, pumping a minimum amount of water through the L5 and out through a Zodi shower head--at one-half gallon per minute!--provides a wonderful amount of water, at a very comfortable pressure and temperature. It even has a drain for use in sub-freezing temperatures!
Pumping much less water through the L5 than it is designed to handle, results in water that is _much_ hotter than when using the included shower head. This is a great help when the water is at or below 32 degreesF (and, yes, this is possible if the water is flowing) and, of course, it then also uses much less water and much less propane!
It has also been noted (and often not favorably) that the control unit will shut the burners off after seventeen minutes. I, too, was very concerned about this. However, after talking to John at GES, he confirmed what is stated in the user's manual: "[the timer] is reset each time operation stops or the shower head is turned off and back on." What this means is that if, during your shower, the burners are suddenly turned off by the timer, you need only turn the On/Off switch (under the unit) off and then immediately back on again, and the burners will immediately fire back up. I tried this out a few times and found that if you just quickly turn the L5 off and back on again, you will have just a very few seconds of _slightly_ cooler water and then the water temperature is restored. It really became a non-issue for me . . .
That the Nautilus pump can push water through the L5 at a very comfortable (I would say "luxurious"!) rate and pressure--when used with the one-half-gallon-per-minute Zodi shower head--causes me to feel that the unit is too restrictive with its safety features. The many safety features compromise the L5 when used in conditions where its reliability is essential. Out in the field, "simple" is very important and in this regard, Zodi is king! (FYI, I found that the use of a 12VDC water pump that produces 45 PSI will either blow the fuse of the line supplying power to the pump--due to turning the L5 water regulator down so far--or it will generate an very unpleasant amount of water pressure . . . and waste a lot of water.)
The entire control system for the L5 could have been replaced with one push-button igniter and two sentences in the user's manual (and thus also reducing the price of the L5):
- Do not ignite the burners until water is flowing freely from the output fitting, and
- Do not stop the flow of water until the burners have been turned off and the water is cool to the touch.
This is why I was, and remain, a very strong fan of the Zodi products: they make very reliable (and very highly regarded!) products and their user's manuals are very clear and concise. If they made a 30K BTU version of the HotTap HP (I suggested they call it the "HotTap HP3"), I would not have found the L5.
As I have to import water from a distant town, it is imperative that I conserve water; I go through approximately 200 gallons per month, for all my water needs, including showering every day. Zodi's shower head uses one-half gallon of water per minute and is the lowest-flow shower head that I have ever found. One of my biggest concerns about the L5 is that the L5 provides such luxurious showers, I have difficulty turning it off and end up using more water than I normally would!
For those of you who waded through this tome, blessings to you and to all your loved ones!