DIY Solar Water Heater

Which are the Best Homemade Solar Water Heaters?

Here are some tips for creating your own DIY solar water heater, including how much does it cost, which type of heater is easiest to build, what are the drawbacks to building your own.

You may want to consider building your own solar water heater project if you're handy and interested in taking advantage of the free energy provided by the sun's rays to save money on heating the household water.

A do-it-yourself solar heater project is much less expensive than a professional installation and it will serve you just as well if you have the right materials and know how to build it.

The Batch Water Heater or ICS Water Heater

The easiest solar heater to build yourself is the batch water heater, otherwise known as the ICS or Integrated Collector and Storage water heater. You may also hear it referred to as a breadbox water heater.

Regardless of the name, this solar heater has the simplest design consisting of a tank or batch collector, an insulated enclosure, a glass cover, a spigot, storage container, valves, and some pipes, to name the basics.

Advantages of a Batch Solar Water Heater

  • Open loop, passive - no moving parts

  • Works well in climates where temperatures don't reach freezing

  • Simplistic design

  • Pre-heats the water to flow through existing water heater

  • Easy to build yourself

  • Inexpensive to build - can use recycled or reclaimed parts

  • Low maintenance

  • Can be installed on the ground or on a rooftop

Disadvantages of a Batch Solar Water Heater

  • Not typically recommended for climates that experience cold temperatures unless you employ a backup collector

  • Less efficient in cold climates

  • Works well for small systems only

  • Extremely heavy systems - a consideration for a rooftop location

How to Build a Homemade Solar Water Heater - Breadbox Style

A breadbox solar heater is a passive, open loop style heater so it doesn't have any moving parts. The cheapest way to build one of these solar heaters is to find a used water heater and remove the tank from inside.

You'll want to make sure it is cleaned out completely and that it doesn't leak. This will serve as your batch collector. Paint the entire tank black so it will soak up the sun's heat and energy.

Build a box or enclosure for your tank by measuring the size of the tank and allowing for air movement around all sides. The tank should be elevated or supported above the bottom of the enclosure.

Most DIY solar water heater plans cite plywood and Styrofoam insulation in between two layers of plywood as the best materials for building an enclosure around the tank. The top of the enclosure or box should have a lip that the glass cover will settle into securely.

Once the enclosure is built, lower your tank or batch collector into the enclosure. Line the tank with a reflective material to get the most of the sun's energy directed at the tank. Connect all pipes and valves according to the plan you're following.

Next comes the glass cover. Some do-it-yourself folks have found ways to obtain recycled glass pieces that can be cut to fit the top of the enclosure.

The approximate cost for a DIY solar water heater project like this, depending on where you find your materials, is about $500 - $1,000.

Helpful Tips for Building Your Your Homemade Solar Water Heater

  • You may want to consider installing a collector or backup system if you live in a cold climate or otherwise your tank may freeze up when temperatures dip

  • You may just want to drain the tank during the cold weather months

  • Consult the American Solar Energy Society for tips on building your own solar water heater

  • Make sure your tank is sized to provide the amount of hot water you need for your home

  • Place your batch collector or tank in a sunny location - one that will soak up the most sun as possible - angle the box if needed

  • Single pane glass will work for the top of the enclosure, but double pane glass is more efficient

A DIY solar water heater project isn't difficult, but it's well worth the time invested in building one yourself. You'll save thousands of dollars building a breadbox heater from recycled or reclaimed items.

Even if you use brand new materials, the cost for a homemade solar water heater system will still come in significantly lower than a professional installation.

Solar water heating is the way to go if you are interested in going green and saving money over the long term. Building a batch heater yourself means you'll likely recoup your investment in as little as 2-4 years!

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