Solar hot water panels constructed by Engineering and Design Class

Submitted by Jim Prato
2007-03-26 19:09:52

[During the 2005-2006 school-year, students of a course in engineering and design at Peabody (MA) High School constructed a set of four modules that use sunlight to heat water. This is an article about the project by Jim Prato, their teacher.]

As the price of oil is escalating and its availability is bound to become scarcer, we, as citizens of this country, should do something about it.

Solar Thermal Array--Click for larger image

What can we do?

If you were to construct an apparatus as seen here, your fuel bill for domestic hot water would be diminished dramatically between the months of March and September. During the rest of the year, these panels would act as a pre-heat for your domestic hot water.

How can you do it?

My students found all the plans for building the correct size panels for any size family on the internet. If you can swing a hammer and have some plumbing skills, you can build this. If you don't have those skills, then you can purchase a complete system and have it installed. Realistically, the best scenario would be to put together as much as you are able, knowing that you will have to buy certain parts and hire some help to install the system.

What are some results of our project?

I installed three 3' by 7' panels at my house in 1980. At that time there were state and federal credits that decreased my investment substantially. These credits are available today, but they vary from state to state. [There are also rebates available from some utilities.] Since 1980, my panels have saved our family a huge sum of money and fuel. For example, during the sunny summer of 2005, we had to turn on the furnace only three times between June 1 and September 15! When it's cloudy, you just revert back to the furnace, which is never disconnected from your hot water system.

Personally, I am very proud of my students for completing this project and the four solar hot water panels that are now on the Peabody High roof. They should be available for viewing soon.
If you're considering building a system, my advice, to borrow from a TV ad, "Just Do It!" but I'll add to the phrase, "if you can."

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