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Installing My Solar 
Domestic Hot Water Heating System

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I am committed to sustainable living and I have a separate page devoted to all the efforts I am taking in that regard.  This section of my web site documents my experience while installing a solar assisted water heating system in July 2006.  The system is designed to add in to a hot water heater to reduce the energy.  Some folks may think that Maine is not a good location for solar, this is just not true, we have a relatively sunny climate! 

In early July 2006, I placed an order with Butler Sun Solutions for a complete "Solar Wand" installation kit.  The kit is unique in the solar industry in many ways - click the image at left for a complete system diagram.  Most innovative is the solar wand heat exchanger that was designed and patented by Barry Butler.  This device allows the most simple retrofit to an existing hot water heater - it simply drops into the tank, replacing the existing hot water outlet plumbing!  The wand has about 2 square feet of surface area that contributes heat to the tank.

NOTE: See this page - I decided to install the wand in a separate 40 gallon storage tank that then feeds into the propane water heater, since this will improve the system efficiency due to the greater temperature difference between the incoming well water and the heated collector fluid.  Then in 2010 we replaced the tank heater with a tankless one that is much more efficient.

The 4 solar collectors mount to the south side of my house, along with the 20 Watt solar panel that will power the circulation pump.  This pump will be mounted above the water heater tank in the basement and will circulate solar heated water from the collectors, through an insulated umbilical of 3/8" copper pipes to the Solar Wand in the tank. 

Most solar collectors are mounted to a sloped roof that faces south to optimize performance, but my roof faces east/west.  So my only option was the vertical south wall which is a slight compromise, so I added one extra collector to ensure good heat in the winter months.  Solar panels and collectors need direct sun to work but collectors are more forgiving of off-axis sun light than solar electric panels.

There are many things about the design of this solar heating package that I really like:

  • The Solar Wand simplifies the plumbing.  It's a "no sweat" plumbing job since no copper soldering is required.  All connections are done with swage fittings and unions with nuts that tighten to make the connection.
  • The automatic over temperature and pressure system is unique in the industry.
  • The collector frames come in a variety of colors to match the building, the red/brown I selected matched our paint trim very closely.
  • The simple structure for mounting the collectors consists of vertical mounting rails.  It only took an hour to mount them - with the help of 4 friends and staging.
  • The insulated umbilical that carries heated antifreeze fluid is made of flexible 3/8" copper tubes.  2 additional wire cables are tied to that for signals and PV power.

House before
View of before and after showing the collectors and PV panel mounted to the south wall of my home.

The total purchase price of the kit was around $3000 ($3500 as of October 2007).   However my net cost will be around $1500 after the Maine state refund and federal tax break.

After placing the order for the solar kit in early July, I filed an application with the Maine State Energy Program for the 25% refund that they offer on small scale solar installations.  The refund incentive was just voted in to law in 2006 and it has encouraged many people to "take the plunge"!   I received my 25% refund check on October 10th 2006.  This system is SRCC certified and is eligible for the 30% solar federal tax credit too. 

I used RetScreen software to calculate my Return on Investment, which works out at 4.6 years based on the design and site of my specific installation.  Click the graph below to see a detailed report.  Allowing for inflation and increasing propane prices it shows that after 25 years I will have saved over $11,000 in offset heating costs!  Pretty impressive.

NOTE:  To find a solar dealer or installer in your area please use the FindSolar web site.

If you found the information presented on my web site to be helpful you can send me a donation to show your appreciation for the many hours I have invested in presenting my knowledge and experience.  This is NOT tax deductible and will show as a consulting fee on your receipt.