How-To: DIY Solar Hot Water Heater for Under $100

How-To: DIY Solar Hot Water Heater for Under $100

Energy bills can be expensive: every day it seems like the cost of running a home goes up! In many parts of the world, energy costs represent a large share of what a household pays in bills every month, so many people have turned to solar power as a cost-effective way to cut down on those expensive electric and gas bills. One of the best ways to do this is by using a solar-powered hot water heating system, which takes radiation from the sun and turns it into thermal energy that is used to heat the water. They come in many forms, but all of them have common elements and many advantages.

The Power of the Sun

Using the free power of the sun to heat water in your home is a benefit to both your wallet and the environment. In the average year, from heating water alone, a family of four will release about eight tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere if they use electricity (or two tons of carbon dioxide if they use gas). Solar power is a free, renewable, and clean energy source with no carbon footprint. In addition to cutting costs and being more environmentally friendly, the addition of solar power adds value to your property and increases your self-sufficiency. Solar-powered water heating systems also tend to have a larger storage capacity, lower operating costs, and longer life expectancy than conventional water heaters. Depending on the specifics of the system used, anywhere from 50% to 100% of the normal cost associated with heating water can be offset.

Doing It Yourself

Building your own solar-powered hot water heater can save you thousands of dollars off the cost of having one installed for you: water heater installation can be expensive! There are many resources online with instructions for different designs ranging anywhere from $5 to $1000, although the average cost is generally under $250. While the prospect of building a system from scratch can be daunting, anyone with average DIY skills can complete most of these projects over the course of a single weekend.

The sheer variety of designs available online can be extremely daunting for someone who is just trying to get started. Things become a lot simpler when you realize that you can divide most of these systems into one of two general categories: passive systems and active systems. Choosing which type is right for you is largely dependent upon the climate in which you live. Passive systems have a relatively simple design, and are cheaper and easier to build than their active counterparts. These should only be used in places with warmer climates, because they are less effective in places and seasons where the sun is weaker. Plus, they could become damaged if the water inside them were to freeze overnight.

Active systems, however, keep the water in them flowing constantly and are best suited for colder climates that are prone to below-freezing temperatures, because the motion of the water will prevent it from freezing. These systems are more challenging to build than passive systems because of the plumbing skills required to do so. Active systems typically come in one of two forms: flat plate systems and evacuated tube collector systems. In flat plate systems, the water is stored in the plate – which heats it – until it is drained into a tank and replaced by cooler water, and the process repeats. Evacuated tube collectors are made of a series of tubes, standing upright, with a hot liquid running through them that heats the water, which is stored at the top. They are designed to drain themselves of all liquid when the temperature reaches below-freezing temperatures so as to mitigate the risk of damage. Although these systems are among the most expensive to build, they are also among the most efficient.

Each of these systems share a few common elements, like storage tanks for holding the water or thermal panels for heating it. There are many designs out there for building your own tank, but for the novice DIY-er, it is generally recommended to use a good already-existing one if you can. For example, solar water-heating systems tend to use thermal panels instead of the photovoltaic ones normally used for generating electricity. Regardless of the design you ultimately decide to go with, the benefits of having your own solar-powered water heating system are absolutely worth the cost and time associated with its construction. A sustainable, cost-effective, environmentally-friendly house can’t afford not to.