DIY Solar Power for Hot Water

DIY Solar Power can make sense!

Does it make sense to install your own solar power system for hot water? A DIY solar power system looks like an attractive option because you can save so much money on installation and set up costs.

But there are pitfalls to avoid.

This page looks at some of the costs and options available for making your own solar power system for domestic hot water and explores some potential pitfalls that you may want to miss!

There are some videos below on how to really do things yourself but most people will probably want to invest in a DIY solar power kit, rather than do everything from scratch. Some of the DIY solar power solutions shown below are essentially get-by solutions, rather than properly installed, sophisticated systems.

Unless you are a skilled DIY-er, a professionally installed solar power system will usually be most efficient and cost-effective in the long run.

First, here's a look at the pros and cons of solar power kits for hot water.

DIY solar power kits

DIY solar power can also be yours by buying a ready-to-go kit. There are many available on the market and it's important to do your "due diligence" and check the reputation of the company selling.

This is important for safety reasons as well as the cost-effectiveness of your purchase. In the European Union these things are quite tightly regulated but "caveat emptor" (buyer beware) is a good principle wherever you live.

Some planning considerations

Before purchasing a DIY solar power kit you need to be sure that you buy enough units for the size of your house and family. It is better to have a system which over-delivers than one which does not quite do the job.

It might seem obvious but, you need to consider the number of people in your family first of all and whether it is an expanding family or is likely to stay the same size. Think also about the number of guests you like to accommodate. It's better not to have to put up with tepid water whenever you have a full house!

If you are saving money by installing a solar hot water system yourself, then it makes sense to ensure that you are installing a good system which will deliver oodles of the hot stuff. So don't skimp on the number of panels you use - or their size.

Some DIY solar power outfits will try to sell you an inexpensive system which is not really sufficient for your needs. Yes, the price will be cheap - but the benefits will be underwhelming.

You also need to think about the size of house and the amount of (extra) pipework to carry the hot water. Big, sprawling houses may need a lot more pipework than compact homes.

Roof aspect

The aspect of your house and the available roof space are both important. If the only clear roof on your house faces north it is not worth installing solar panels. You need south facing, east or west facing roofs which are large enough to carry the panels. If your best roof aspects are east and west, or south east and south west, you will need extra equipment to ensure enough hot water is generated all day.

You also need to think about the process of installing the panels on the roof. In order to install most solar panels you will need to go up on the roof and remove (or slide down) some tiles or slates. The brackets attach to the roof structure and are then largely covered by the roofing tiles, so that only the U shaped bracket ends protrude from the roof.

If you live in a house with a high roof, safety and security need to be thought about. You may need to use scaffolding which is expensive to hire, so those costs need to be factored into your cost calculations.

If you buy a solar kit, buy from a reputable company which will help you with the correct specifications for your house and your needs. Make sure that the company you select has a good reputation for after sales customer care. 

Safety and planning regulations

Always check with the planning authorities in your country before installing solar heating.

In the UK you do not need planning permission but you do need to consult building regulations as installing a system incorrectly could be dangerous.

Unvented systems need proper controls and the correct specifications to operate safely.

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DIY from scratch

If you are adventurous and or a bit strapped for cash but really keen to get your own DIY solar power system going for hot water, here are some ideas.

Now I must confess first and foremost that I am no DIY expert! I just research and see what is out there and then write it up so that it is easy to understand what is possible. I have never yet set up a solar hot water system - though I hope to do it one day.

These are all ideas from other people who have actually done it.

Here is a book which can give you insight into the possible costs and benefits of a solar hot water system, as well as the practical stuff:

Solar Water Heating: A Comprehensive Guide to Solar Water and Space Heating Systems (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series)

A very simple DIY system

One source of DIY solar power is to use coils of black plastic water pipe on the roof.

For this you need to be very certain that your roof can hold the weight of water. Safety is paramount; get professional help if you are unsure.

Water weighs a kilo per litre or around 8 pounds per gallon (US) (10lbs per British gallon) so you can see that it easily gets quite heavy. 400 feet of 1/2inch pipe will weigh nearly 40 pounds heavier than it started out when it is full of water.

Some people put the water pipe on the carport or garage roof. You need a flat roof or one with only a very slight slope.

Ideally you need 400 ft of black plastic waterpipe - at least 1/2 inch in diameter. The black plastic absorbs heat and warms the water inside the tube. It is surprising just how hot this can get.

Watch this neat video about how to get your coils in place on the roof. I warn you - the first video is quite funny as the guy shows all the wrong ways to do it first and then only shows how to do it right in the second video. If you are in a hurry, just cut to the second video, (where the girl tells him how to do it right!)

Here is the second video (the first one is mainly about how not to do it).

Having got your coils up on the roof, you then need to join up the ends to pipework to bring the hot water into the house. Provided that the roof you use is higher than where you want the water, you can just use heat and gravity to get it to the desired point.

You also need to put in a filter and a tap. You can plumb the pipes via PVC piping into your hot water boiler. The video does not show that in detail. Or you can just use the hot water to shower outside or fill your washing up bowl.

Most people will not want a system built like this. It might be fine for getting free hot water in an emergency or as a temporary measure. But for a more permanent solution something more sophisticated is usually required.

A DIY solar hot water panel from scratch

The basics of making your own DIY solar power panel for your roof are quite simple.

Here's what you need: a box to hold the materials, some plexiglass or perspex for the lid, some copper piping for the heat exchange, some insulation, some reflective foil and some silicon sealant. The sealant is to make sure that your creation is properly air tight, so that heat can collect effectively. Lastly you need some black aluminium sheet. You also need screws, a drill and other commonplace tools.

The whole process is explained rather well in this video. The sound quality is a little variable but the process is clear.

I've not tried this yet but it's the clearest explanation I have come across so far.

You can also create a DIY solar power system for thermal energy by re-using an old fridge heat exchanger from the back of a disused fridge. The pipes needed to connect the system to water will be rather smaller but some people may find this easier than bending copper pipe to create a DIY heat exchanger. Otherwise the process is the same as shown in the video above.


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DIY Solar Power for Hot Water - TOP

Green Energy - Solar Power for Homes 

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