Posts Tagged ‘solar hot water’

DIY Friday: Solar Hot Water

Friday, May 30th, 2008

First it was soaring gas prices, then the cost of food – now it appears that the price of natural gas will surge fast.

The consequence? The cost of heating your home will be a lot more expensive next winter (especially if you’re in Wisconsin). What to do?

Well, if you’re in Iceland, just dig a hole. An amazing 90% of homes are heated with geothermal energy. Of course, with my luck, I picked this unheated, sod-roofed backpackers hostel/shack (highly-recommended, btw) on my recent stay in Iceland. Chilly nights.

But, if you’re still States-side, the geothermal option probably won’t work. So beyond simple conservation, let’s start by finding a simple and energy-free way to heat our water – the sun!

Way back in 1984, Mother Earth News brought us the plans for building an integral passive solar water heater (IPSWH):

For the do-it-yourselfer searching for an inexpensive, easy-to-build solar water-heating system, the integral passive solar water heater (IPSWH, pronounced ipswah ) is a dream come true. All you need to get going on this down-to-earth water warmer is a discarded electric water heater tank rescued from the local dump, a homemade plywood box to house it in, a can of flat black paint, a sheet or two of used window glass or clear plastic, a few common plumbing fittings and some pipe and insulation. Combine all that with some spare hours of satisfying sawing, hammering and wrench-turning, and you’ll have an ongoing supply of hot water provided virtually free from that friendly furnace in the sky.

The article gives a good how-to on the building process, and a fairly exhaustive explanation on the different types of active and passive solar water heaters. And just three months ago came Mother Earth’s modern update. Among the findings: the solar water heater payoff could be dramatic, especially considering rising energy costs:

Solar water-heating systems have minimal—sometimes zero—operating costs, and maintenance costs only about $2 per month. When all costs for purchase, installation, maintenance and operation are taken into account, a solar water heater usually pulls even with an electric heater after just eight and a half years, and equals a gas heater in about 15 years. From then on, through the expected 40-year life of the solar system, you’ve got FREE hot water.

When you’re ready to roll-up your sleeves, Instructables has the how-to pictures and directions. Build it Solar posts some other plans, including a pretty wild idea to use the energy from composting to heat water. And this enviro-solution is just a damn good excuse to throw a party (instructions are available here).

But, despite all the fun ideas, this is one of the few DIY projects that I encourage you to get some help. If you really want to save some money, reduce your CO2 output, and keep the system cooking for 40+ years, I’d skip the bottles and buy a system.

Have a great weekend!