Your Own Solar Water Heater: I
love things that are easy to make, inexpensive and they
do the job of complex, expensive systems! Such is the
case with this handmade solar water heater. By the end
of the house construction, I was totally out of money,
but I really wanted to use all this wonderful Southwest
sunshine to heat my water. Jon Ruez, my consultant and
friend, knew how to make this water heater and it cost
almost nothing. It still stands today, ten years later,
and does an amazing job. All you need is sun.
we put a solar oven around a hot water tank. I decided
not to put it on my roof, because I get plenty of sun
down on the ground and it would be very heavy. I couldn't
see why I would want to build supports onto the roof,
run the plumbing way up there and then risk the whole
thing leaking on top of my roof. So, I put it on the
ground, facing south, right above where the plumbing
runs underground to the house.
Jon got an old hot water heater tank from a plumber
friend of his. It was full of mineral deposits, but
we took it outside, removed the outer casing and blasted
a hose through the tank to wash out all the deposits.
When it was clean and dry, we painted the outside black.
of the issue, it seemed to me, was keeping the water
hot overnight, because I like to take morning showers
before I go to work. So, since weight was not an issue,
we made a base for the water tank with a couple straw
bales that would also be used for insulation. As always,
to keep the bales dry, we put them up on some concrete
CMU block. These blocks have holes in them to let any
water drain down. We also put the heater up on a little
slope, so water would run around it. Then we bought
some foil-covered boards.
is the cleaned water tank, painted black, on its
straw bale and reflective base. It is facing south,
of course, out of the shadow of bushes and trees,
so it gets as much sun as possible.
so far is maybe about $10 - I can't remember where
we got those foil boards exactly or what they
cost. I think we got them at a home improvement
center. Or maybe we made them from leftover radiant
heat barrier foil. You could use those wonderful,
inexpensive emergency blankets, also, I would
we plumbed connectors from water pipe below ground up
and into the hot water heater. We had to have one water
pipe that continued to the house and became cold water,
in addition to the pipe that went up and into the hot
water heater. We used the same inflow and outflow connections
that any hot water heater has. The outflow valve, where
the hot water leaves the tank, should be the highest
one. As does hot air, hot water rises, so you want to
siphon the hottest water out from the top of the tank.
Also, Jon attached a release valve, so if the water
boiled, the steam would have a vent. That's important
when we get over 100 degrees in the summer.
all these connections were made, we built a wooden
triangular frame around the heater, with holes for
all the pipes. We got an old sliding glass door
panel from a recycle store; a double-pane one to
help keep the heat in and faced it south. I stuccoed
the whole thing to keep the bales dry and even roofed
it with a little leftover roofing. I wouldn't use
earthen plasters on something that is very exposed
to the elements. I made a hinged cover of more foil
board that I could put up in the night to keep the
water warm for the morning.
a year or so, I had this hot water heater feeding into
the pipes that then flowed into my regular hot water
heater. The problem was that I had no way of telling
how much work this solar heater was dong, because I
had the electric tank to boost the water. So, after
my kids left home, I gave away my electric hot water
tank and had the water from this heater go directly
into the house. It worked amazingly well in the hot
summer (joke) but cold water is the problem in our summers.
I found that sometimes when I wanted hot water the most
was during cold winter storms. Those storms were often
cloudy and I was taking lukewarm showers on these cold
mornings. (a real waker-upper, by the way - better than
a couple years ago, I bought a small tankless water
heater to be able to give this solar water a boost when
needed. I didn't buy the whole-house $1000 kind, just
the $200 single-faucet kind, because I only need hot
water one faucet at a time. It has done an amazing job.
When I removed my hot water heater, I saw my electric
bill go down about $5 to $10 per month - and it would
be more at today's rates. When I added my tankless,
I did not see my electric bill go back up. It goes on
for only a very short time when cool or lukewarm water
is running through its coils. If the water coming into
the tankless is hot enough, it doesn't go on at all.
I highly recommend this system for saving energy!
it Simple - and be kind!