DIY Solar Water Heater (A Step-by-Step Guide)
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Building a DIY solar water heater system is a great way to capture the sun’s energy and save money on your hot water heating bill. Professionally installed solar heating systems can cost in the neighborhood of 9,000, but if you enjoy a DIY project you can build your own.
The hot water you collect can be used to fill a pool, hot tub, or even with your traditional heating system. This article will show you how to build a DIY solar water heater and provide you with other useful information you should know.
How to Build a DIY Solar Water Heater
Do a quick search on the Internet for DIY solar water heaters and you’ll find plenty of different types you could build. We chose this style because it didn’t require working with expensive copper tubing and soldering joints.
But in case you’re looking for something different, we’ll provide you with several different options so you can choose the type of project you want to tackle.
Depending on your level of experience, you may have some of the equipment and supplies already in your garage.
But if not, you can find the material and equipment list you’ll need for this project HERE.
Cut the Wood
- Cut the plywood to 4′ x 6′ (the lumber store may do this for you)
- Mark and cut the 2 x 4’s (frame) to fit the plywood. (You should have two 6-foot pieces)
- Cut the treated 4 x 4’s (legs) to desired height
- Using a table saw, re-saw the frame 2 x 4’s to 3/4-inches. by doing this you’ll be able to build two frames, one for the top (tubing) and one for the bottom (legs)
- To make gluing easier, you can run each of the frame pieces through the table saw again. This will straighten one side
Build the Top Frame
- Lay the plywood on a flat surface
- Apply a wood glue (such as Titebond III) along one edge of the frame wood
- Connect the frame piece with glue to the plywood and use a speed square to ensure its aligned properly. Use clamps to hold in place
- Drill countersink holes through the plywood into your frame wood, and screw the pieces together. This video will explain how
- Repeat with each piece of your frame. Butt joint the joints together. This video will give you several different butt joint options
- Run a bead of caulking where the inside of the frame connects to the plywood
Build the Bottom Frame
- Drill holes into the bottom frame boards. This video explains how
- Flip the plywood frame over so you can begin attaching the bottom frame
- Use your impact driver to ensure all the screw heads are fully embedded from the top frame (bottom of the plywood)
- Glue and screw the bottom frame pieces into place
- Run a bead of caulking along the frame and plywood seam
- Plug the holes with hole plugs, and trim the excess so they are flush. Use a sander or flush saw
Paint the Frame
- Paint the bottom frame edges where it could come in contact with another surface
- Paint the outside edges of the bottom frame. It’s not necessary to paint the entire bottom of the frame
- Flip the frame over and paint all three sides of the top frame
- Paint the plywood
- Add a second coat
Prep the Frame for Tubing
- Find the center of your frame using a measuring tape. Draw a line through the center of the frame length wise and width wise so they meet in the dead center of the plywood
- Using a small piece of wood, build a template that will allow you to drill the holes into the plywood in a uniform manner
- For each zip tie, you’ll need two holes to hold the tubing in place. One for input and another for output
- On the center of each side, drill 12 holes so you can insert 6 zip ties
- Thread the zip ties through the holes
Installing the Tubing
- Starting with the zip tie closest to the outside of the frame, begin coiling the tubing. Use caution not to kink or tangle the tubing. This is best done with two people
- Once you have coiled enough tubing to fill the 6 zip ties, drill more zip tie holes and continue coiling the tubing
- At some point you will no longer be able to bend the tubing without kinking it. At this point you can switch to an oval shape
- When you have all the tubing coiled in the frame, feed the end through the out-feed hole
- Use a pair of scissors to trim the zip ties
Attaching the Legs
- Find the center of the 4 x4 board, use a 1/2 spacer to identify the spot where you’ll drill a 3/8 hole. Drill the hole completely through the 4 x 4
- Connect each leg to the frame with a 3/8 lag bolt
- You can add a 2 X 4 on each side to prevent the legs from wobbling if necessary
- Attach a small 2 x 4 in the center of the tubing and paint it black
- Paint the four legs black
Add the Acrylic Top
- Leaving the protective film on the acrylic sheet, place it on top of the frame
- Use a plastic drill bit to drill holes through the acrylic sheet
- Then, use a regular drill bit to re-drill the holes into the wood
- Remove the acrylic sheet and vacuum out the inside of the tubing area
- Remove one side of the protective film from the acrylic sheet and place it back on top of the frame
- Secure it in place using 1-1/4 deck screws
- Remove the protective film from the top of the acrylic sheet
- Attach hose connectors to the in-feed and out-feed of the solar panel heater
Watch the Video
Alternative DIY Solar Water Heater Builds
As we mentioned, there are plenty of options when it comes to building a solar water heating system.
The build method you choose will largely depend on your skill level and requirements. Here are a couple we feel are worth considering:
If you don’t mind soldering and working with copper tubes, then this might be a great alternative method for you.
Watch the Video
Recycled Water Heater
Another option is to ditch the solar panels altogether and heat the water in an old electric water heater tank. Here’s what to do:
Watch the Video
Install a DIY Solar Water Heater
After building your solar panel you need to decide how you want to use the hot water it’ll generate. You’ll be able to easily heat water for a pool, hot tub, outdoor shower or any other scenario where you’ll need hot water.
You can even attach it to a tank (such as an old electric water heater) to collect and store your hot water. The tank can be connected to your existing water heater to help lower your overall water heating costs.
We highly recommend contacting a professional if you plan to connect your solar water heater to your home’s water heating system. It’s important that this is done correctly to not only prevent damage, but also ensure it is safe.
This video shows you how to connect a tank (without solar panels) to a water heater.
Watch the Video
How to Convert an Old Electric Water Heater
If you have an old electric water heater, you can remove the outer shell and insulation, as well as the pipe fittings. While you have the tank stripped down, it’s a good idea to flush the inside of the tank to ensure all the sediment has been removed.
Next, paint the tank flat black. This will increase the heat absorption.
Replace the pipe fittings, temperature/pressure relief valve, and the drain. Then seal the joints and connections with silicone, and connect the heater to your solar panel.
Your homemade solar water heater will heat the water as it flows through the panel, and then collect and store the water. The sun will keep the water warm while it’s stored in the tank until you need hot water.
Positioning Your DIY Solar Water Heater
You’ll want to position your solar panel and/or storage tank in a location where it gets the most sunlight.
As a general rule, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, positioning your system on the Southside of your home will be the most effective. Likewise, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, your system should be on the Northside.
You’ll also want to take into consideration structures (such as fences) and bushes and trees that may cast shade over your solar water heater and will seriously reduce the amount of hot water you’ll be able to collect.
Material and Equipment List
- One 4 x 8 Sheet of 1/2 exterior plywood
- Four kiln-dried 2 x 4 x 8 (for the frame)
- Four treated 4 x 4 x 8 (for the legs)
- Wood glue (we recommend Titebond III)
- hole plugs
- Exterior Latex Rustoleum. Flat Black
- 500-foot role of irrigation tubing
- Zip ties
- Lag Bolts (4)
- Acrylic Sheet (1/16 thick)
- 1-1/4 deck screws
- Hose connectors
- Table Saw
- Skill or miter saw
- Speed square
- Countersink bit
- tool jig kit (guiding tool and bit)
- Impact driver
- Sander (optional)
- Tape Measure
- Plastic drill bit
Do Solar Panels Cause Roof Leaks?
In theory, installing high-efficiency solar panels on your rooftop should be a real money-saver. But suppose a photovoltaic solar installation caused collateral damage that offset your savings? Suppose, for example, that installing solar panels caused your roof to start leaking? This could lead to expensive repair bills, not to mention significant water damage inside your home.
It is not hard to find horror stories about roofs leaking after solar panels were installed. Check out the Комментарии и мнения владельцев sections in articles that discuss the subject, and you’ll inevitably read heated accounts of sieve-like leakage from disgruntled homeowners.
Fortunately, this anecdotal evidence is misleading. In fact, modern solar technology has advanced to the point that roofs with solar panels should never leak, as long as qualified solar technicians are hired to handle the installation. Too often this latter standard isn’t meant, and that’s when people run into trouble.
How are solar panels attached to the roof?
The standard method for rooftop photovoltaic panel installation makes use of mounting brackets that attach directly to the house, through the roof and into the support structure below .
Multiple holes do have to be drilled to facilitate the mounting process, but the holes are filled with high-quality silicone and covered with metal flushing that prevents any and all moisture penetration.
The whole procedure is fairly simple and straightforward, and as long as it is carried out carefully and professionally, the final results should be leak-proof.
Because modern solar panels only weigh about four pounds per square foot, standard roofs are more than strong enough to support even large-scale installations without stress or strain. Nevertheless, solar professionals examine rooftops closely before installation begin, to ensure they are capable of handling the extra load.
While solar panels are built to be mounted on sloped roofs, they can still be installed on flat roofs and may not require any drilling at all in these instances.
Solar panels on a flat roof are normally anchored in place with heavy ballast, usually in the form of concrete blocks, which does add some extra weight to the system but not nearly enough to compromise a roof’s structural integrity .
How to prevent water leakage from roof when installing solar panels?
Solar arrays can usually be mounted without complication. But leakage can occur if:
- Incompetent installers are employed;
- The roof is made of the wrong materials  ;
- The roof is already damaged at the time of installation.
Avoiding the first problem is simply a matter of doing your homework. Before contracting any company, check to make sure they have good reviews, a lack of complaints from the Better Business Bureau, and all the proper certification and licensing expected from a legitimate solar contractor .
When you choose an upstanding contractor mistakes are unlikely, since experienced companies that stand by their work know how to install solar equipment properly.
Unfortunately, there are fly-by-night operators in the solar installation biz that will take shortcuts or fail to observe best practices if they believe it will increase their profit margin. For example, some contractors will install solar panels on roofs made of slate or wood tiles, both of which are brittle and inflexible and can easily crack or break if drilled through.
Many of the horror stories about leaky roofs caused by PV panels involve homeowners with roofs made from these materials, who didn’t realize they were a poor choice for solar and chose companies without the integrity to inform them of that fact.
Damaged roofs can be identified on inspection, either by roofing professionals or by solar technicians, who know the signs to look for when evaluating rooftops for PV panels.
Before going solar, you should definitely pay for any needed roof repairs first, and if you know you will have to replace the roof within five years you should go ahead and replace it right away, before your panels are installed.
This might seem like an extra expense you’d like to avoid, even if it meant putting off solar.
But remember: a properly-sized and professionally installed solar panel array can pay for itself through energy savings in just 6-8 years time, and the energy savings you’ll enjoy from that time on will quickly offset the costs of installing a new roof .
Solar panels can help protect your roof
A professionally installed photovoltaic solar array will change the look and performance of your roof.
Panels are super-resistant to damage or dislodgement, and even hurricane-strength winds are unlikely to uproot them if they’ve been properly mounted.
As an addition to your roof, they can offer protection against the long-term corrosive effects of too much sun, wind, rain, snow, or atmospheric pollution.
Meanwhile, the panels themselves are the ultimate in low-maintenance technology. Since they have no moving parts an occasional cleaning is likely all they will require, and with an estimated lifespan of 25-40 years a solar array can deliver its protective effects long past the point you’re likely to sell your house .
And speaking of selling your house: a fully-functioning, fully paid for rooftop solar energy system will increase the value of your home by 15,000 to 20,000 on average, and you’ll have no problem finding buyers when you include solar as an added benefit .
Rooftop solar is a winning technology
Outside of the initial expense (which should be reduced by rebates and tax incentives), there is very little if any downside to installing a rooftop solar PV system.
Through energy savings and enhanced property values it can pay for itself multiple times over, and leave you smiling and happy as you contemplate your reduced home utility costs and your contribution to the healing and protection of our environment.
If you have the roof to handle it, rooftop solar energy is a viable, affordable option, and any fears you have about it causing leaks can be put to rest, if you make sure to hire a qualified solar contractor that can recommend repairs and handle all aspects of the installation.
Solar Will Make Your Roof Leak! This and 6 Other Rooftop Solar Myths
There are many myths Oregon homeowners run into when researching solar. Some of the most persistent solar myths are about how solar can affect your roof.
Green Ridge Solar receives these questions often, and we are dedicated to dispelling the many solar myths we run across. Here are 7 of the most common rooftop solar myths you should beware of.
Solar Will Cause My Roof to Leak
Installing solar on a roof often requires holes to be drilled into the roof. While this might sound scary to a homeowner, the solar industry has extensive experience dealing with roof penetrations. Solar panels installed by professionals will not cause your roof to leak.
To prevent any leaks, special water-tight flashings are installed under the shingles or over the metal sheeting and the bolt holes are sealed with sealant. This eliminates the potential for water to leak into the roof.
If you have a flat roof, a common option to avoid roof penetration is a ballasted roof-mount. Ballasted roof-mounted solar involves installing solar panels on a racking system that is weighed down by concrete blocks.
Thankfully, Green Ridge Solar has a consistent record of successful rooftop solar installs without instances of leaks. Contact us today to learn more.
Solar Panels are Too Heavy for My Roof
Some Oregon homeowners wonder, “Will solar be too heavy for my roof?” The answer is generally no.
In general, solar panels weigh between 30 and 50 pounds. If 20 solar panels weighing 40 pounds each are installed on your roof, that’s 800 pounds. This system would total approximately 350 square feet. 800 pounds divided by 350 square feet comes out to 2.3 pounds per square foot. Most standard roofs are capable of holding 20 pounds per square foot or more.
Roofs are designed and built to withstand great pressure, and solar panels barely come close to their weight limits. Most solar panels are only 1\4 the weight of an average American male, so if solar installers can walk on your roof, solar panels will be no problem.
Of course, it’s important to consider the age and condition of your roof before installing solar. You want to ensure your roof’s structural integrity can hold up to solar panels, which leads us to our next myth.
My Roof is Too Old for Solar
Looks can be deceiving. Some homeowners think their house is too old or too structurally unsound for solar.
The good news is that most houses are great candidates for solar, they might just need a bit of work.
Trustworthy solar companies, like Green Ridge Solar, will physically come to your house to inspect the roof and its underlying structure before we agree to install. If the shingles are getting near or past time for replacement, we will advise the roof be reshingled. If the underlying structure needs reinforcement, we can work with you to ensure the structure will be able to hold up solar panels.
Are you curious if your roof is a good candidate for solar? Contact us today to find out.
My Roof Doesn’t Face South, so I Can’t Get Solar
Solar provides the best energy productivity on south-facing roofs, but that doesn’t mean other roof orientations won’t work with solar.
East- and west-facing roofs are also good candidates for rooftop solar. While such roofs might not have the ideal amount of sun exposure throughout the day, they generally get an average of 20% less sun. This can be easily remedied by adding additional modules to your system.
In some cases, an east- or west-facing roof might be better for your solar installations. Read more in our blog titled “Does Your Roof Need to Face South for Solar Panels?”
Not sure of your roof orientation? Uncertain where your solar panels could go? We can help. Contact Green Ridge Solar today for help.
Solar Panels Won’t Look Good on My Roof
Some homeowners who want to install solar are hesitant because they are concerned how solar panels will look on their roof.
Thankfully, solar technology now allows more options for homeowners who want to install solar. One of these options is to install black-on-black solar panels. These solar panels have a black backing instead of a silver backing, giving the solar panels a sleek and uniform look.
Rodents will Destroy My System
Anytime you have exposed wiring outdoors, it’s important to consider how nature might affect those wires.
One of the major concerns when it comes to solar panel wiring is squirrels. These pesky rodents can get into the nooks and crannies of a house and cause serious damage. However, when it comes to solar panels, squirrels rarely if ever cause problems.
But if you want to be safe and prevent any possibility of squirrels getting under your solar panels, a wire mesh can be installed around the bottom of the solar panels.
Solar Panel Racking will Damage my Shingles
Some homeowners wonder if the addition of solar on their roof will damage their shingles. The opposite is actually true.
Solar panels act as a barrier on your roof, protecting shingles from UV radiation, heat, and other potential elements that could degrade your shingled roof.
Solar will Heat Up my Roof
With the sun beating down on a roof for 8 hours per day, solar panels can get really hot. But do solar panels also heat up your roof?
The simple answer is no, solar panels do not heat up your roof. In fact, solar panels actually keep your roof cool!
Solar panels have a gap between them and the roof. This air gap prevents the transfer of heat from the solar panels and the roof material. So not only do the solar panels produce energy, they also reduce the amount of energy you need to cool your home!
If you are interested in learning more about solar and how you can start generating your own electricity, contact Green Ridge Solar today!
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Why Installing Solar Panels Won’t Cause Roof Leaks
Have you considered installing solar panels? For most homeowners in the Intermountain West states, rooftop placement of a photovoltaic array is a cost-effective strategy for energy production.
But what happens when it rains? Won’t all those holes necessary for mounting the panels make your roof leak?
If you use the services of an experienced solar installation contractor, you won’t have to worry about this problem.
When Installing Solar Panels, Proper Technique Is Key
To securely attach the photovoltaic mounting racks, PV installers will need to make some holes in your roof. But you don’t need to worry about water leaking through them.
Photovoltaic mounting components are specifically designed for rooftop solar installations, and thus guard against roof leaks. Special flashing is installed around every rooftop penetration to help water flow safely away. To ensure a watertight seal, the holes are filled with high-quality silicone.
Professional solar contractors are extremely cautious, taking every possible measure to keep your roof leak-free after photovoltaic installation. Do your homework and hire an experienced, well-qualified contractor — like Intermountain Wind Solar — and your chance of a future leak won’t be any higher than any other roof.
Solar Panels Can Help Protect Your Roof
Over time, harsh weather takes a toll on any roof. Years of pounding rain, hail and sunshine can cause roofing products to degrade, increasing the likelihood of a leak. When you install photovoltaic panels, however, your rooftop is better protected from much of this weather-related damage.
So your solar array may, in fact, help prevent roof leaks.
In addition, rooftop solar panels can keep your home cooler in the summer. A photovoltaic array blocks heat from entering, reducing the need for air conditioning and increasing indoor comfort. As a result, your summer cooling costs will go down.
What to Consider Before Installing Solar Panels
Photovoltaic panels should only be installed on roofs that are in good shape.
And if your roof develops problems once your photovoltaic panels have been installed, workers will have to remove the solar array to complete repairs. This is an added expense no homeowner wants.
Older roofs should be inspected prior to planning a photovoltaic installation, in case repair or replacement is necessary.
A professional solar contractor will look at your roof and point out any obvious damage that could affect your photovoltaic installation. However, if you have concerns about roof leaks, you should first consult with a licensed roofer.
At Intermountain Wind Solar, we take pride in our workmanship and use only the highest-quality photovoltaic mounting components to avoid compromising your roof’s integrity. Contact us today and schedule a free consultation to discuss installing solar panels at your Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Nevada or Wyoming home or business.