Recycle a Refrigerator into a Solar Water Heater

Learn how to recycle a refrigerator into a solar water heater, includes step-by-step instructions and detailed diagram to convert the refrigerator.


| November/December 1977



Diagram: How to convert an old refrigerator into a solar water heater.

Diagram: How to convert an old refrigerator into a solar water heater.


Photo By The MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff

Design and instruction about how to recycle a refrigerator into a solar water heater.

Recycle a Refrigerator Into a Solar Water Heater

Everyone knows that refrigerators are good for storing cold. What everyone doesn't know is that fridges are also very good for storing heat . . . as Miles K. Free III points out in the following report.

Ever go riding or walking through the countryside . . . and discover an old, abandoned Frigidaire, Kelvinator, or what-have-you just sitting there collecting dirt, leaves, and field mice? A while ago — after I was laid off from the local steel Mill — I began to encounter so many of these derelict fridges that I actually found it profitable to load them into my pickup and sell them to the local scrap yard for $15 to $20 per ton.

For a while, I felt good knowing that I was helping to clean up the countryside, and recycle tons of valuable metals (thereby reducing the need for mining). I'll admit, too, that I didn't mind pocketing the few extra bucks that my "fridge salvaging" operation was netting me. But still, it was slightly upsetting to see all those once-useful appliances go on the scrap heap.

"Surely," I said to myself, "there must be some useful function that a precision-made, well insulated 'cabinet' can serve." And that's when it hit me: Why not use an old refrigerator to store heat, rather than cold? Specifically, why not build a simple solar collector . . . connect it to a water storage tank . . . enclose the tank in a recycled fridge . . . and stick the whole works out in the sun to generate a constant supply of "free" hot water?

To make a long story brief, I went ahead and built just such a water heater (see the accompanying illustration in the Image Gallery) using about $30 worth of easily obtainable materials (see the diagram with the accompanying Bill of Materials in the Image Gallery) . . . and the darned thing works great! Here's how it all went together.

myron sawyer
8/8/2012 4:43:54 PM

If using for drinking or cooking water PLEASE fill with R.V. antifreeze in winter.


myron sawyer
8/8/2012 4:40:33 PM

Runs on thermo siphon. Google it.


janean easley
8/8/2012 3:39:03 PM

Am I daft, or miss the part in the article where it explains how the water goes from the collection plate back into the holding tank to be kept warm until used?






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