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Build Your Own Solar Water Heater

Build Your Own Solar Water Heater

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Florida Batch Water Heater

Robert Owens

©2003 Robert Owens

It was during the energy crisis of the 1970s that I first saw a batch solar water heater. It struck me that something so simple and so elegant just had to be a good idea! An active solar hot water system with its panels, pumps, and pipes just didn't work for me. After Barbara and I set up home in Tampa, Florida, I decided to make my solar dream a reality and install a batch solar water heater.

Bob's self-installed system makes good use of the Florida sun.

The solar batch heater supplies most of the family's needs many months of the year.

The solar batch heater supplies most of the family's needs many months of the year.

We live in a typical two-story home in the suburbs of sunny central Florida. When the house was built, the water heater was positioned in the laundry room on the north side of the house. Local restrictions require that no solar panels can be visible from the street in front of our house. In addition, our house has a gable end on the south side.

These restrictions required that we site any active solar panels on the second story of the house on the west side. This would have required a piping run of more than 100 feet (30 m) with a vertical lift of 25 feet (7.6 m). Any hot water produced would have cooled considerably by the time it got back to the hot water tank. That and the active controls needed, along with the pumping power required, made it an unusable option for us.

After consulting with AAA Solar, I decided that the best thing to do would be to install a batch solar water heater. The best site for it was 15 feet (4.6 m) to the north of the laundry room, near the property line. The house would end up shading the batch heater about three months of the year in the winter, reducing its usefulness slightly. It would still function as a tempering tank during the winter.

The piping would be routed underground to the laundry room. This would look neat and prevent the pipes from freezing during the winter. Since we're in Florida, we have no deep freezes to be concerned with. People in more northerly locations need to make sure that all pipes are well below the frost line.

Advantages & Disadvantages

Batch water heaters have several advantages that make them useful in the appropriate situations. They have no moving parts. Homeowners can install the units by themselves on the ground floor. They need no pumps, operating strictly on the water pressure to the house. Their large mass helps keep them from freezing. They are the most reliable solar water heaters available. No electricity is needed for their operation.

As with everything, there are drawbacks. First, batch heaters are heavy! Be sure to get an accurate estimate of the shipping charges. Ours weighed 450 pounds (204 kg) when crated, and cost US$400 to ship from New Mexico to Florida. Knowing the weight when full is also important if the heater is going to be located on a roof.

Bypass valves on the solar batch heater allow for draining the tank.

Bypass valves on the solar batch heater allow for draining the tank.

Jhe Owens Family ir Batch Heater System

Electric Water Heater:

30 gallon

Electric Water Heater:

30 gallon

Second, you need to be able to make the lifestyle adjustments necessary to get the most from a batch heater. It is basically a large water tank sitting in the sun, gathering heat, with primary heating hours of 10 AM to 3 PM.You need to time the use of your appliances to get the hot water you need.

We make an initial draw of hot water early in the afternoon for the dishwasher or clothes washer. This does not affect the total amount of hot water available at the end of the day. Then we take our showers in the evening as soon as we get home. During the night, batch water heaters will lose much of the heat they have accumulated. A shower in the morning will be mostly cold water if the batch heater is the only source of hot water.

When ordering the unit, be sure to specify where you want the inlet/outlet tubes located; either on the east or west side of the unit. You don't want them on the wrong side!

Site Preparation & Plumbing

Towards the end of the summer of 1998, the unit arrived. I uncrated it and inspected it for damage, and there was none. I bolted the support brackets to two pieces of 4 foot (1.2 m) pressure-treated 2 by 4 for a base. The unit was tilted to my latitude (30 degrees) plus 15 degrees for a total of 45 degrees. I may try the angle at 35 to 40 degrees in the future since the collector is partially shaded in winter.

Home Power #93 • February / March 2003

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Solar Panel Basics

Solar Panel Basics

Global warming is a huge problem which will significantly affect every country in the world. Many people all over the world are trying to do whatever they can to help combat the effects of global warming. One of the ways that people can fight global warming is to reduce their dependence on non-renewable energy sources like oil and petroleum based products.

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