Solar Water Heating
Free from the Sun
I love our solar water heater, and I love taking a solar shower. Somehow the water feels different, just knowing it was heated purely by sunshine, instead of by fossil fuels. I find that immensely satisfying every time. Actually, we don't have an electric or gas water heater at all. We cook on an antique wood cookstove, which also has a simple boiler system to produce hot water. The stove is typically producing hot water when the sun isn't shining, and between the two systems, we rarely lack hot water. In fact, we often have more than we can use!
As a do-it-yourselfer, I designed and built my own solar water heaters, mostly through a lot of trial-and-error, since there was not a lot of information available at the time. The most important point I learned is that the best solar water heaters can also be the least expensive to install and the least likely to break down, as outlined in Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction. However, these solar water heaters must be carefully integrated into the plan before a house is built.
For a more conventional solar water heating system, there are some very good kits available on the market now, and a lot more information available to shorten the learning curve. Installing a solar water heater is one of the best investments you can make to reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and significantly lower your montly utility bill.
Recommended Guide Books
Solar Water Heating
A Comprehensive Guide to Solar Water and Space Heating Systems
A Mother Earth News Book for Wiser Living
By Bob Ramlow with Benjamin Nusz
Review by Thomas J. Elpel
I wish I had this book when I built our first solar water heater. Instead, I read some articles, developed some ideas of my own, and built a solar water heater from scratch--remodeling and rebuilding it several times over seven years before it finally performed reliably. I learned a lot along the way, but largely re-invented solar hot water through trial and error. A copy of Bob Ramlow's Solar Water Heating would have saved me a lot of trouble!
Ramlow has installed solar water heaters and solar space heating systems for twenty years in the cold, snowy, and often cloudy climate of Wisconsin. Ramlow is a great mythbuster, detailing the pros and cons of different types of solar water heating systems and what works and what doesn't. In addition to describing types of water heating systems, Solar Water Heating details system components, scaling of the system, cost calculations, installation and system maintenance.
Whether you are an experienced do-it-yourselfer intent on building your own solar water heater, an intermediate do-it-yourselfer looking to install a kit, or a novice planning to hire a contractor, Solar Water Heating will help you choose a system that is appropriate to your application. In other words, this is not a step-by-step guide, but it covers the bases well enough that an experienced handyman can figure it out from the text and illustrations. At the very least, it will help anyone else discuss the options intelligently with a contractor.
Solar Water Heating also covers solar water heating systems for hot tubs and swimming pools-even for household heating. Ramlow's ideas on storing solar thermal mass for cold weather heating are a great bonus in the book, and a must-read for anyone contemplating building a new house.
There are many excellent drawings in the book detailing various solar water heating systems, and Ramlow dispensed with the usual abstract plumbing symbols in favor of more realistic depictions of plumbing parts, along with a convenient key labeling what those parts are. Additional pictures of real-world systems would help, as would a directory of manufacturers to obtain kits from.
Although I have now designed and built two functional water heating systems for two different houses based on my own designs, I plan to reread Solar Water Heating before building another. 288 pages. New Society Publishers. 2006. ISBN: 978-0865715615.
Build an Extreme Green Solar Hot Water Heater
by Philip Rastocny
What's so tough about building a solar collector? Most people think it's time they tried to do their part at lowering their monthly utility bills or curbing climate change, but they suspect that their dream of building a hot water solar collector is more than they can handle. In some cases, this may be true. However, if you have already performed your own plumbing repairs, this project may not be as difficult as and more affordable than you imagine. This down-to-earth guide can show you just how possible such a project can be. With simple step-by-step instructions, fifty-six clear illustrations, and a complete parts list from a major hardware store, you may fulfill your dream of going solar sooner than you think. 90 pages. Grasslands Publishing, 3rd Edition. 2013. ISBN: 978-0985408114.