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Solar Water Heating at Facebook

The SunWater Solar crew has been hard at work this week launching construction of the Cogenra solar thermal/PV system we are installing on the fitness center at Facebook’s new campus in Menlo Park, Calif. This week SunWater Solar cut into the roof, lifted materials to the roof and began building out the blocking and sleepers that will support the solar system rack. Once the rack is complete, we’ll mount the Cogenra solar collector arms, collectors and mirrors, and begin connecting to the building’s existing water-heating and electrical systems.

Another exciting development at Facebook this week was the arrival onsite of the 760-gallon Trendsetter solar storage tank that will act as the “battery” for the solar water-heating system. This unpressurized, rectangular aluminum tank will reside in the ground-level mechanical room.

For solar thermal integrators, the start of any new commercial project is always exciting. All the preliminary work is complete, and the project has moved from the drawing board to the hands-on, boots-on-the-roof world of tools, materials and building. Furthermore, when companies of Facebook’s caliber adapt solar cogeneration technology, it helps prove the value of these systems to other organizations.

Tagged: solar collector

How to Plan for Solar Water Heating?

Solar water heater is an effective way to save money on energy bills because it uses the power of the sun to heat water. Solar water heating systems include roof- or ground-mounted solar collectors to absorb the sun’s warmth to heat water, which is pumped to a well-insulated storage tank. In hot, sunny climates, solar water heating can provide from 90 to 100 percent of a household’s hot water needs. Research and planning are essential before you install a solar water heating system.

1.Identify a suitable site for the solar collectors. The site is usually an unshaded rooftop or yard with a clear view of the sky.

2.Estimate the solar collector area required to provide enough hot water for your home. About 20 square feet of collector is required for each of the first two family members. Add 8 square feet for each additional person if you live in the southern United States and 14 square feet if you live in the northern United States.

3.Calculate the volume of the storage tank needed to collect and retain solar-heated water. For households of two to three people, allow for a 50- to 60-gallon storage tank. Consider 80- to 120-gallon tanks for households of four to six people. Contractors usually install storage tanks in attics or basements. So ensure that your home has space to accommodate the size of storage tank needed.

4.Research your area’s building codes, subdivision covenants and zoning ordinances. Obtain this information from your jurisdiction’s zoning and building enforcement divisions. Most locations require a building permit to fit a solar water heating system on an existing building.

5.Request a price quotation for solar water heating system installation from solar energy installation companies. Obtain at least three quotes to ensure you receive the best deal. Ask each company to provide details about some of its customers so that you can contact them for an unbiased opinion on the company’s work.

Tagged: Solar water heatersolar energysolar collector

How to Make a PVC Solar Hot Water Heater?

Building a PVC pipe solar hot water heater can reduce or eliminate the need to use “grid” power to heat water for the home. By using PVC pipe encased in a heat-building box, then installing this box in a location that receives ample sunlight, the water is heated and pumped into the home using thermal energy. Installing several of these heat boxes will provide an abundance of hot water, and can be built and installed by an average backyard engineer in about three hours.

1.Build the heater box. Using the plywood as a base, nail four 2x4 boards around the edge of the plywood to make a shallow box. Screws can be used for added stability.

2.Drill holes large enough for the PVC pipe to fit into, one on the top left edge, one on the lower right edge. They can be on either edge of their corner, but they must be placed on opposite corners.

3.Attach a layer of plastic thermal film to the plywood and up the edges of the 2x4’s, leaving spaces for the drilled holes.

4.Assemble the PVC pipe inside the box, in a radiator pattern. Run one pipe from the hole down the inside edge of the box. Then, using a pipe adapter and glue, take the pipe to a 90-degree angle. Add a small section of pipe, then another 90-degree pipe adapter, so that the pipe makes a “U” shape. Run a length of pipe to the opposite edge of the box and repeat the “U” shape so that the pipe runs the entire length of the box in a series of bends. This will maximize the exposure of water inside the box to the sunlight provided. The last section of pipe should meet the second drilled hole at the lower right of the box.

5.Paint all pipes and the inside of the box with low-gloss black paint. This can either be standard acrylic spray paint or brushed-on lacquer paint. The objective is to make the inside of the box and all interior pipes a dark black color.

6.Cut and mount the plexiglass cover to the top of the box, sealing it. The pipe glue can be used, or small holes can be drilled into it and nails or screws can secure it.

7.Mount the box in a high-sunlight environment. Most solar collector to place it on the roof, as it is a flat, angled surface that gets a lot of direct light exposure. The box can be mounted to metal “L” shaped connectors, screwed into both the box and the mounting surface.

8.Attach the home’s hot water supply to the pipes in the box. The upper left pipe on the box is the input, and the lower right hole is the output. As the cold water is pumped into the box, sunlight will be absorbed into the black surfaces, heating the pipes. The water will exit the box and enter the house at a substantially higher temperature.

Tagged: solar collectorsolar hot water

How to Build a Solar Hot Water System?

Solar hot water systems have become the most cost-effective way to generate hot water for most homes. These systems can be used in any climate as they use the sun’s energy as a heating source. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a solar water system consists of solar collectors and storage tanks. There are two types of solar water heating systems, namely active and passive systems.

1.Cover the plywood box with the window glass panels to serve as a solar panel for the heating system. Cut and solder the pipes; fasten both to the bottom and top pipe lines of the electric tank. Design a solar water heating system that will minimize the Life-Cycle Cost (LCC) and meets 100 percent of the load on the sunniest day of the year. Consider the cost of maintenance, freeze protection, solar collector mount, overheating protection and orientation.

2.Locate the solar collector properly for maximum sunlight. Find a sunny location that will minimize the piping distance between the collector and electric, conventional gas or wood backup unit. Choose long, thin cylinders as they have greatest surface area to volume ratio as water heater cores. Test the tanks for leaks and rust if you are using cylinders retrieved from cast-off electric units. Patch the tanks carefully if necessary. Insulate the outer sheet metal cover for heat retention. Examine the anode of the heater core and replace if corrosion is evident.

3.Determine whether roof, platform, wall or ground installation will be used. Connect the solar heater efficiently to the backup unit. Seal and properly insulate the pipes; consider using Armaflex and a coating or use an aluminum jacket. Bleed out air in the tank before hooking to the backup unit. Build your solar heating system by using good materials that will support the tanks and bear the load they will carry. Add tempering valves and bypassing capability near the backup heaters. The valve ensures consistent temperature water is delivered to the taps, while bypass piping allows the conventional system to provide heat when the solar heater is down for any reason.

Tagged: Solar hot watersolar collector

How to Make Solar Hot Water?

Building a solar hot water heater can immediately reduce energy costs and can be utilized in any climate. “On average, if you install a solar water heater, your water heating bills should drop 50%—80%” (References 1). However, it is important to note that it is necessary to have a backup hot water system for those cloudy days or periods of higher use.

1.Find a south facing slope, where sunlight will hit more than other areas. Preferably, you will also want the solar hot water heater to be close to the traditional water heater, thus eliminating some of the heat loss from warm water running through a labyrinthian network of pipes. This south-facing slope will be the home of your new solar hot water heater. Placement and orientation can be the “single most important” factors to consider when constructing a solar water heater (References 3).

2.Clean your extra hot water tank with a wire brush and paint it black. Prepare the tank by making sure that you have the correct fittings to run the water from the tank to the rest of the water heating system. Ensure that if you are placing the solar water heater at an angle for maximum coverage by the sun, and that the cold water inlet is still at the bottom of the tank. (Resources 3)

3.Construct the box. The size of the box should allow for the glass front to cover 1 square foot for every 2 to 2.5 gallons of water. This will ensure that you will have a large enough size for adequate solar gain. A standard patio door replacement glass (34 inches X 76 inches) is ideal for a 40 gal. water heater (Resources 3). Obviously, the box should also be big enough to fit the tank.

4.Place the tank into the plywood box and insulate the plywood box further by utilizing double-paned windows or multiple layers of close so that the trapped air will add as an extra measure of insulation. Using silicone to caulk the plywood box will also help seal-in the heat as well as keep unwanted moisture from the outside environment from getting inside. Finish preparing the box by drilling holes for pipes and installing insulation.

5.Connect solar collector to the traditional water heater already being utilized in your home. Place two bypass valves leading from the cold water supply to the solar water heater and the traditional water heater so that you can regulate which heating system the cold water flows to (References 2). Run piping from the hot water outlet on the solar water heater to the cold water inlet on your traditional heater so that the hot water is running into your existing water heater already hot.

Tagged: solar hot watersolar collectorsolar water heater

How to Make Solar Hot Water?

Building a solar hot water heater can immediately reduce energy costs and can be utilized in any climate. “On average, if you install a solar water heater, your water heating bills should drop 50%—80%” (References 1). However, it is important to note that it is necessary to have a backup hot water system for those cloudy days or periods of higher use.

1.Find a south facing slope, where sunlight will hit more than other areas. Preferably, you will also want the solar hot water heater to be close to the traditional water heater, thus eliminating some of the heat loss from warm water running through a labyrinthian network of pipes. This south-facing slope will be the home of your new solar hot water heater. Placement and orientation can be the “single most important” factors to consider when constructing a solar water heater (References 3).

2.Clean your extra hot water tank with a wire brush and paint it black. Prepare the tank by making sure that you have the correct fittings to run the water from the tank to the rest of the water heating system. Ensure that if you are placing the solar water heater at an angle for maximum coverage by the sun, and that the cold water inlet is still at the bottom of the tank. (Resources 3)

3.Construct the box. The size of the box should allow for the glass front to cover 1 square foot for every 2 to 2.5 gallons of water. This will ensure that you will have a large enough size for adequate solar gain. A standard patio door replacement glass (34 inches X 76 inches) is ideal for a 40 gal. water heater (Resources 3). Obviously, the box should also be big enough to fit the tank.

4.Place the tank into the plywood box and insulate the plywood box further by utilizing double-paned windows or multiple layers of close so that the trapped air will add as an extra measure of insulation. Using silicone to caulk the plywood box will also help seal-in the heat as well as keep unwanted moisture from the outside environment from getting inside. Finish preparing the box by drilling holes for pipes and installing insulation.

5.Connect solar collector to the traditional water heater already being utilized in your home. Place two bypass valves leading from the cold water supply to the solar water heater and the traditional water heater so that you can regulate which heating system the cold water flows to (References 2). Run piping from the hot water outlet on the solar water heater to the cold water inlet on your traditional heater so that the hot water is running into your existing water heater already hot.

Tagged: solar hot watersolar collectorsolar water heater

How to Choose a Solar Hot Water System?

If you’ve ever started a fire by focusing the sun’s rays with a magnifying glass, you’ve learned first hand the power of the sun to heat. A solar power system won’t eliminate your solar collector bill but could cut it by as much as 60 percent, saving you thousands of dollars over its lifetime. Technological advances have made solar hot water systems more efficient than ever. They are a great way to conserve energy and protect the environment.

1.Understand how it works. A simple solar shower is available for camping through the iconographic outdoor supply house, LL Bean. It consists of a black bag attached to a nozzle that you fill with stream water. Hang it in a tree until the sun warms it, to the point you’d like as displayed by the built in thermometer. When it gets hot enough for you, stand under the nozzle and take a shower. It works quite well.

2.Home solar hot systems basically draw on the same principles. They collect heat from the sun in a flat plat collector or mirrored trough through which tubes are run. The water moves to where it is used in an insulated hot water tank. Systems can be active or passive. Passive systems are simpler and more reliable and depend on the fact that solar hot water rises and cold water sinks, however your collectors have to be placed below your storage tank. Active systems use a powered pump which takes energy. So that the system can be used at night and in cold weather, the sun power is combined with an auxiliary heating source. In integrated collector storage systems, water passes first through the storage tank and then though a conventional water heater. Since the water has been pre-heated, you used less energy. The amount of auxiliary heat added is controlled by a thermostat. Other systems simply use a back up hot water heater.

3.Choose the right system for your climate. Direct circulation systems pump water through collectors then into the home. They work well in the Sun Belt, where freezing is rare. Indirect circulation systems pump a fluid like anti-freeze through the system and into a heat exchanger which warms the water that you actually use. This is the better choice for climates where frost is likely.

4.Find a reliable installer who will customize a system for your property. A well made system can work up to 25 years with minimal maintenance. You’ll find some limited federal help with installation, with new credits in California. Compared to Germany, Greece and even China the United States is lagging far behind on solar module incentives.

5.Estimate how much money you’ll save. That depend on where you live, the efficiency of your collector, where you place it on your roof, how much sun it gets, how many collectors you use, how big a tank you heat, how big it is, how well insulated your system is and how much hot water you use. If you use auxiliary heating, you’ll save less, but a hot shower after a hard work out is guaranteed that way.

6.Feel good that you are doing your part to limit global warming. Every solar hot water system installed stops literally tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere each year.

Tagged: solar collectorsolar hot watersolar module

How Do Evacuated Tube Solar Collectors Work?

Evacuated tube solar collectors absorb the sun’s radiant energy and transfer it into recirculating liquid-based heat storage systems that provide heat and hot water in homes and businesses. Their unique operating principles allow them to convert nearly all the radiant energy that enters them into usable heat. Their resultant high efficiency allows them to produce warmth and warm water even during periods of extended cloudiness.

Loss Prevention

While radiant light energy travels freely through a vacuum in any direction, heat energy cannot be passed through a vacuum by means of conduction or convection. Both of these natural heat transfer methods need air molecules to transfer heat, and the vacuum provides none. Vacuum insulation is not a new concept; for decades, traditional vacuum bottles have kept coffee piping hot on those long trips and tiring workdays. Putting the sun light energy absorbers into evacuated glass tubes greatly enhances the collection of radiant energy.

Absorption Benefits

Once the radiant energy travels through the vacuum space, it strikes the specially-coated absorber plate, raising its temperature. The coating optimizes the conversion of radiant energy into heat in the absorber, while inhibiting its loss back out of the tube as the absorber gets hotter. Between the special coating and the evacuated tubes, all the heat loss mechanisms that used to limit early domestic solar heating panels are effectively disabled. This dramatically improves their performance in collecting heat from the sun’s rays.


There are two methods of transferring the collected heat into the home: the direct-flow method and the heat pipe method. Both have water or glycol anti-freeze manifolds that consolidate the heat from individual evacuated tubes and transfer it into a continuously flowing pipeline to one or more heat storage tanks within the home. From these tanks, domestic heat or hot water may then be drawn.

Heat Transference

The direct flow method circulates solar hot water through small copper tubes within the core of each the many evacuated glass tubes in the collector. There it collects the heat from the absorber and carries it directly to the re-circulation pipeline and into the house. The heat pipe method uses an evaporation/condensation process inside a sealed pipe to conduct the heat to the water in the manifold where it is transferred to the recirculation pipeline into the house. Both systems have advantages, but either can be effective if properly installed and maintained.

Economic Considerations

Evacuated tube solar collectors have evolved as energy costs have skyrocketed and manufacturing methods for the collectors have been optimized. The lower costs now justify the added expenditure when the benefits are amortized, especially when there may be incentives either as energy cost discounts or tax rebates.

Tagged: solar collectorsolar hot water

How Does Solar Water Heating Work?

Basic Overview

Solar water heater is one of the most cost-effective methods of harnessing the sun’s thermal energy. Adding solar heating to a home’s energy equation can minimize utility costs and reduce your environmental impact. When you consider how much of our global demand for energy is used for cleaning, washing clothes and cooking, the need for solar water heating devices is apparent. According to the Florida State Energy Office, the average home in Florida uses 30 percent of its total electric energy to heat water. The solution is solar heating. Passive solar water heating systems contain no electrical components and rely on the natural laws of convective currents to drive the process. This passive solar water heating system consists of two components: a storage tank and a solar collector.

Storage Tank

A large tank is filled with water and used to store the thermal energy. The tank is usually layered or filled in a gradient so that cold water is at the bottom and hot water can be siphoned from the top. At the bottom of the tank, a copper pipe is coiled in a closed circuit. This pipe travels from the collector to the tank and contains the heating fluid. The water tank is also well insulated to reduce the amount of heat lost in storage. This system is called a thermosiphon because the circulation of fluid through the coil is driven only by convective currents of heat energy.

Solar collectors, also called thermal panels, attract radiant energy by using an absorbent surface. If you’ve ever worn a black shirt on a hot, sunny day, then you’ve experienced the basic principles of solar heating. Instead of using your black dress shirt, solar collectors utilize a network of pipes to heat water. The two types of solar collectors are flat plate and evacuated tube collectors. Flat plate collectors are quite simple in design, very similar to a car’s radiator. The top of the collector is covered with an absorbent material. The surface attached to the roof is made of an insulating material that does not transfer heat. A coil of tube between these surfaces collects heat and transfers that thermal energy to the storage tank. Evacuated tube systems are usually more expensive but, due to their cylindrical design, gather more thermal energy. This system also uses a storage tank, but its collector consists of glass tubes in a vacuum. The fluid inside these tubes gets an equal amount of exposure all day long as the sun tracks across the sky.

A Part of Your Energy Equation

Solar water heating cannot completely handle a home’s workload. However, as a supplement to your renewable energy equation, solar water heating is very beneficial. By reducing the demand on our conventional water heaters, these solar systems can save both our wallets and the environment. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that solar water heating can provide up to 80 percent of a home’s annual water heating needs.

Tagged: Solar water heaterSolar collector