It’s a water heater.
And it’s also a compost pile.
That’s correct, compost: that same pile of decomposing organic material you’re naturally accumulating from your own backyard homesteading operation.
While you’re probably well aware that keeping the sweet-spot ratio of 1-to-1 on the mound’s carbon/nitrogen levels makes for ideal fertilizer in the spring, have you ever noticed that gargantuan hunk of bio-stuff steaming like a sauna in the middle of February? Believe it or not, that’s basically your homestead’s leftover organic material, releasing its energy in the form of heat. And that’s energy we can actually use to heat our homestead’s water supply.
A Steaming Hot Pile of Degradation
This heat energy is released from the occurrence of a natural process, biodegradation. All organic material stores energy, and when those microscopic critters (fungi and bacteria) speed up the decomposition process, this also breaks down the material in which that energy is stored.
In a way, it’s a bit like a more controlled version of what you see happening to those oak logs when you’re sitting around the campfire. (Except, a campfire doesn’t require any microscopic critters to keep the process going).
But will biodegradation actually get hot enough to do any semblance of good on your light-colored wash cycle? Yes. In fact, it will outdo your own water heater.
Ok, What Exactly Is This Contraption?
A compost water heater basically works by harnessing the heat that your pile of biodegradation generates. And as I said before, ye olde backyard compost pile can absolutely get hot enough to replace your existing tank. In fact, compost piles have been known to spontaneously combust when the surrounding environment gets too dry. That’s why they say to monitor the pile’s inner temp in the height of summer time.
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And make sure it doesn’t elevate past 200 degrees.
How Does It Work?
Essentially, you’re going to run a fairly basic piping system from your home to the compost pile and back.
The piping will make its way from the home source, and then flow through your compost pile in a helix/spiraling pattern — so that the water can spend enough time in there to match the temperature of the biodegrading material.
This setup is nothing more than sending the water through a 140-degree furnace that uses compost as a heat source. Once the water reaches the end of the piping run, completing its journey through your decomposing bio-stuff, it will actually be 20 degrees hotter than what most water heaters put out. In fact, these systems can even heat the water to 160 degrees.
The obvious kicker is that you won’t need to use a single bit of oil, gas, electricity or anything else that the energy companies charge us for. You’re taking advantage of a controlled, naturally occurring process (and one that won’t consume huge amounts of resources in order to sustain).
Here are a few design basics to get your wheels turning …
The Basic Design Idea
First, you’re going to want to use hay bales to keep the project contained by stacking them into a “backstop” formation where you want the compost pile located.
Then, you’ll simply need to wind half-inch water piping through your pile like a coil, while you throw on more and more organic material (like wood chips or manure).
Before long, you should have a silo-looking compost pile, contained by hay that’s stacked like an igloo — with a water pipe going into the pile, and the same one headed back to the house. Want more information? Look at this specific design.
Have you had any experience with this type of a system? Go ahead and share it in the comment section below, and let us know how your setup is working for you! We’d love to hear about your designs.