Natural Solutions Radio header image

How to build an inexpensive solar-powered water heater

By Barker: (NaturalNews) Increasing one's self-sufficiency offers a range of benefits beyond simply being ready for a SHTF situation. Many of the steps you can take towards being prepared for a disaster scenario are also helpful in terms of saving money now and reducing dependency on external sources of power.

Another great thing about being a prepper and a do-it-yourselfer is the rewarding feeling of successfully building something that not only works but also makes sense in terms of economics and survival.

One of the easiest, most inexpensive and useful DIY projects imaginable is building an integral passive solar water heating system (IPSWH). Also known as batch heaters or breadbox heaters, these solar water heating systems can be built for a surprisingly small amount of money, especially if you use salvaged components, which are easy enough to find.

Before we get into the details of building a basic IPSWH, let's define the terms a little more thoroughly. In this context, passive simply means that there are no pumps involved in transporting the water from the heater to the point where it is used. Either gravity or natural convection are the means of conveyance (natural convection refers to the tendency of heated water to rise).

The term integral means that the heating tank is also the storage tank.

A basic and highly efficient IPSWH can be constructed out of just a few parts. The main components typically include a normal water heater tank (new or used, but if used, one that's in good condition), an old freezer or refrigerator shell, some glazing (either glass, fiberglass or temperature-resistant plastic), tubing or pipes for transporting the hot water, fittings, insulation and some black paint.

There are many methods for building this type of solar water heater, and I have included several links at the bottom of this article with more detailed plans, but the basic concept is pretty simple.

The water heater tank should be painted black to absorb heat and will be placed inside the old refrigerator or freezer shell where it can collect sunlight. The placement of the system is crucial - it will need to be located either on a roof or next to the home facing southward (in the Northern Hemisphere) and possibly angled to maximize water stratification.

The tank should be insulated underneath and around the sides and optimally should be covered with a double layer of glazing which has has been carefully flashed and sealed to avoid leaks and condensation.

This description is a simplified one, but with a little online research and perhaps some trial and error, even a do-it-yourselfer with limited skills, tools and finances can figure it out and make it work. If you can salvage most of the components, which shouldn't be too difficult -- old water heaters, deep freezers and refrigerators can usually be found easily -- you could build a system like this for well under $100.

The cool thing is that a system like this -- depending on your location and your hot water consumption -- could easily cut your hot water bill by half, or even more. If you live in a sunny climate, you could save up to 90 percent, which might translate to several hundred dollars in savings per year, not to mention reducing your carbon footprint substantially. In other words, the system will pay for itself within a short time.

Even simpler and cheaper systems can be built that will save money and increase your self-sufficiency. Steve, from, describes a system (link below) he built involving little more than some irrigation tubing and an old glass sliding door he managed to scavenge. He placed the system on top of his concrete septic tank lid and is now able to meet most of his hot water needs with free solar energy.

This article was written not to tell you exactly how to build your own IPSWH, but merely to show you how cheaply and easily it can be done and to point you in the right direction. I hope it inspires you to investigate further and give it a try!


Learn more: