8 Cool Ideas on How to Build a Solar Water Heater

Learn how to build a solar water heater easy and cheap. Check out the plans and great designs done by, not by professionals, but ordinary people, like you and me.

Here, we present, as an illustration, some of the realized projects, i.e. real people who have made their solar water heaters successfully built for hot water use. At the end of each example is a reference link where you can find more details.

Solar water heater

Solar water heaters are on the market long enough to have been studied by green energy enthusiasts. Generally, the working principle is clear, but some of the parts are easier, some harder to reproduce in a DIY version. The solar water heater is usually made of the solar power collector and a water storage tank.

There are several types of circulation systems and a few groups of collector panels commonly used. On both sides, DIY masters have tested their original approaches and solutions.

Idea #1

Rob Steves is an electrical and mechanical engineer, and he lives in Vancouver, Canada. Rob explains how he has built a solar water heater, which can heat 20 liters of water from 24 degrees C (75 degrees F) to 47 degrees C (117 degrees F) in one hour.

A simple water heater consists of the collector and tank. The total cost of materials is $60, and a handy hobbyist could complete the job for 6 hours.

Find here detailed instructions and explanation why Rob has used plastic, which is a poor conductor of heat, instead of metal, for his collector.

Idea #2

A big lesson learned about homemade solar water heaters is that you will always be ready for improvements. Meet Ron Rayborne and read why he has added some new features to his water heater after the first version.

Ron has used galvanized livestock watering tank as the outer shell for an old 30-gallon gas hot water heater. Follow links in the text and find how he has raised efficiency with stainless steel mirror, waterproof blankets, silicone sealants... Ron uses his solar water heater solely during the summer months. 

Idea #3

Sometimes, you will find online instructions on how to build a solar water heater, with an additional offer to buy detailed printed guide. For example, Tom Hayden has made a free video with step-by-step guidance.

He estimates that material does not cost more than $70 and claims that his water heaters work both in warm and cold climates. If you are technically educated and skilled, the four-minute video, with music in the background, may be sufficient. Otherwise, one could buy the book for $29.99. Tom declares 60 days no hassle 100% money back guarantee if you are not satisfied.

Idea #4

This solar water heater is a very simple one, nothing more than 12 PVC pipes joined by elbows. However, it works. Water is flowing through it and becoming hot – on the sunny day even too hot, with a temperature of about 70 degrees Celsius. Choose length and number of tubes, or follow the instructions. Yet, there is one disadvantage – the system must be drained in the winter.

Idea #5

Gary Reysa is a retired airplane product development engineer, living in Montana. He has designed and built an outstanding solar heating system, which provides hot water and space heating. The heart of the solution is a non-pressurized storage tank. The whole project is DIY.

You could exclude floor heating or adapt the solar collector to your needs, but if one wants both, complexity has its price. Although Gary has stressed that his solar system costs only one-eighth of the price of commercial equivalent, the amount of $2000 sounds high to amateurs.

Idea #6

Lonnie has made a thermosyphon water heater system which consists of the collector and storage tank. He has shared a technical drawing, photographs, and instructions with a wide Internet audience. A solar collector is made of different materials, each with a specific purpose. You will need copper, aluminum, corrugated polycarbonate, and plywood.

The old tank is adapted for a storage tank. A system is linked, as an alternative, to an existing electric water heater and must be drained off in winter to avoid freezing. The antifreeze in a collector and heat exchanger may be options to add. Read more.

Idea #7

Andrew Twidwell is the owner of the ABT plumbing, electric, heat & air, which has been named Nevada County’s Best Plumbing Company three times. He confirms that families could save 50-80% of their water heating bills by using the simple homemade solar water heater. Andrew has published detailed calculation as well as plan and list of all necessary parts of the Internet. In the short video, you could see the solar water heating system he is talking about, which has been working for 30 years.

Idea #8

In his video named “Making a passive solar water heater”, Jim Crawford explained how he had used and slightly modified a model projected by Jeff Tiller. There are some interesting solutions in this system you may not find elsewhere. Jim has made so-called breadbox, with doors to be closed in the evening and be used as the reflectors during the day. At the end of the video, the cost specification is attached. You will see that Jim has used new items, but some of them, for sure, have a cheaper alternative.

As a conclusion, it can be said that a DIY solar water heating system could be a great alternative especially during the warmer part of the year. How much the savings will be made depends on investment, skills, and climate factors.

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