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Domestic Hot Water Heating System

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Day 6 - installing collectors

Jul 20, 2006. Time Invested today:
0:15 Site and tool preparation.
0:45 Installing collectors.
0:10 Installing PV panel.
A special thank you to my neighbors: Charlie Durfee, John Grill, Tom Paiement, John Rogers and my ex-wife Rebekah Younger for the photography!  Click the images to see larger versions.
Discussing strategyCollector interconnections

At 4:30pm my neighbors all showed up for the "Solar Barn Raising".  We spent some time discussing the assembly and mounting sequence and strategy.  It seemed best to mount the top 2 collectors to the 3 vertical support rails first. 

The assembly sequence required some thought because there is an interaction on the center support rail between the plumbing connection and the way the angle brackets on the solar collectors have to slip on over the bolts sticking out from the rails (see right).  It was simplest to  connect the pipe, then insert the bolts and secure them with a washer and nut.

"Many hands make light work"Handing the collectors up to the scaffold

It was a relatively simple matter to pick up the whole rig and carry it up to the staging.  We were a bit concerned about stressing the plumbing so we paid close attention to keeping everything lined up.

Looking at the clearance issue

Modified window sill and bracketOur first problem arose when the center rail would not go flat to the wall.  We found that the black bracket at the left end of the expansion tank was hitting the window sill.  I marked it with a pencil, and cut a notch in the sill and a corner off the bracket.  Lucky I had just bought a cordless reciprocating saw last week!

Securing the railsLag bolt detail at bottom of center railCharlie secured the last lag screw

Next we drilled starter holes for the 5/16" stainless steel lag screws, and screwed them in tight with cordless drills that I had set up with all the right bits and sockets.  We put all 6 screws in -- one at the top and bottom of each rail.  That's all that holds the solar collectors to the wall - 6 lag screws!  They are only supporting about 90 lbs. (the kit provided galvanized 5/16 lag screws, but I chose to use 3/8" stainless ones).

It's light as a feather - hurry up and take the picture!

Tightening the union between the collectorsDesiding how to connect the collectorsI thought I would demonstrate how light these 20lb collectors are as I brought out the 4th one from my workshop. 

We connected the plumbing as before to make installation easier.

Lofting the lower 2 collectors

Lining up the mounting holesCollectro connection detailsLifting it up and lining it up was relatively easy, except that the holes in the middle didn't line up with the bolts in the middle rail.  So we removed the lag screw at the bottom of that rail and moved it over until everything lined up.

The left and right ends attach to brackets on the rails with sheet metal screws into the side of the collector casing (see below right).  I used stainless steel screws throughout.

Securing the lower collectors

Bottom pipe is collector inletSo far it has taken the 4 of us about 45 minutes and the job looks really neat.  The plumbing will connect at the right end and go through the wall into the house at the bottom corner of the collectors.  From there the umbilical will drop down the corner and into the basement.  From there it's another 12 feet across the ceiling to the water heater. 

Holding the PV panel in placeSecuring the PV panelPV panel mountedThe last thing to install is the PV panel that will power the circulation pump.  I was able to hand it out the bedroom window and hold it in place while John and Tom secured it to the wall with long stainless steel screws.  I decided on a low tilt angle that will optimize the winter sun.
4 collectors and PV panel all neatly mounted

Thanks to the use of John's staging the job was complete in an hour and no humans were hurt in the process!  It's great to have so many experienced and helpful friends and neighbors!

The final appearance is even more pleasing that we expected.  The design integrates architecturally very nicely!  The angled surfaces the black absorber plates inside the collectors even line up with the siding and look like a continued line.

Collector connection scheme
For the curious - here's how the collectors interconnect.  The clever patented plumbing scheme allows them to interconnect in a variety of ways and locate the inlet/outlet on one end.

After the guys left, I stapled the PV wire down and also added a ground wire to connect the frame of the PV to the collectors.  I used a star washer under the electrical terminal to ensure good electrical connection.

Someone has since pointed out that I should secure the ground to the actual frame of the PV with a bolt that threads right into the frame - not just the mounting bracket.  I'll probably change that next time I'm up there.  Since the copper pipe in the collectors will all be grounded to the house plumbing I was thinking that grounding the frames was secondary for the collectors anyway.

I will run a ground wire down to a ground rod below the PV later.  I have learned the hard way that grounding is essential.  I will also splice the PV wire to the orange power cable later.  That wire will run all the way to the pump above the water heater.

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