Solar Hot Water

Our experiments in solar water heating began with our flat panel collector. While it worked great in the summer, our more recently built batch collector can withstand freezing temperatures. We've written articles outlining our solar water heater experiments, as well as provided illustrations of varying solar water heating systems.
Flat Panel Collector
This is a diagram of our first homemade solar hot water collector.
Our First Solar Hot Water Experiment
The story of building our first flat panel hot water collector.
Solar Hot Water Batch Collector
In November 2005 we built our first Solar Hot Water Batch Collector. At present this is our only source of running hot water.
Supplementing a Conventional Hot Water Heater
In this scenario the roof-mounted collector is used to preheat the water that runs through the conventional hot water heater. The hot water heater will only need to run on cloudy days or during periods of heavy hot water use. This is an excellent way to reduce your use of fossil fuels without sacrificing the luxury of continuous hot water.
Unsupplemented Flat Panel Collector
This design has two parts: the collector and the storage tank. The collector is positioned to receive maximum sunlight. Cool water is pumped from the base of the storage tank into the collector. The sun warms the water and it travels back into the storage tank and then into the house. This system is at a disadvantage on cloudy days because it has no back up heating method.
System with On-Demand Tankless Water Heater
In this arrangement an "on-demand" gas hot water heater acts as a supplemental water heating system. Water heated by the collector is stored in a tank before moving into the on-demand heater and then into the house. While more expensive than conventional hot water heaters, on-demand heaters are more efficient and rapidly heat only the water that is being used. "On demand" hot water systems are also known as tanless water heaters.
Hot Water System with Heat Exchanger
The collector in this design is a closed loop system. Liquid is heated in the collector and then travels through a coil inside a hot water tank. Heat transfers from the coil into the freshwater tank. The closed loop, heat exchange system is advantageous for use in cold climates, because an anti-freeze solution can be used in place of water in the collector.
Roof Mounted Tank and Collector
This design illustrates a commercially available hot water system in which the tank and the flat panel collector are integrated. No pump is required to run this system and installation is fairly simple. The On-demand hot water heater functions as a back up system.
Attic Tank and Roof Top Collector
Storing the hot water tank in the attic has its advantages. The attic provides the storage tank with excellent protection from the elements, allowing hot water to be stored for longer spans. Also, gravity carries water into faucets without the aid of a pump.
Batch Collector
This is a diagram of our most recent solar hot water experiment: the batch collector. The box is made from wood, insulated with styrophoam and lined with reflectix. The tank is recycled from an old hot water heater and is painted black.
Simple Solar Hot Water Solution
Heating water with the sun may seem like a challenge, but it is really quite simple.
Solar Hot Water Batch Collector - Update
With recent improvements to our solar hot water heating system we've achieved more consistent water temperatures and reduced our repair time. We've learned that copper pipes are essential to smooth operation and that it is actually possible for water to get too hot.

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