Do-It-Yourself Solar Collectors Comparison

Here is a preliminary look at the form and materials of three commercially available hot water solar collectors.

| July/August 1981

  • 070 solar collector comparison - BTU bucket
    The BTU Bucket, without glazing.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 070 solar collector comparison 3 sola roll
    A three-pass version of a SolaRoll unit.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 070 solar collector comparison - mother's collector
    Our MOTHER EARTH NEWS flat plate collector, which will help establish a baseline for our comparison of solar collectors. 
    PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 070 solar collector comparison - suntree
    Suntree's kit collector has 17 tubes.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 070 solar collector comparison 5 btu bucket housing
    The BTU Bucket's housing is fiberglass.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 070 solar collector comparison - sola roll rubber framing
    SolaRoll has rubber framing strips to cover the wood.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 070 solar collector comparison 7 suntree collector box
    Suntree's collector box is now made of aluminum. 
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 070 solar collector comparison 8 soldering BTU bucket
    The BTU Bucket's tubes must be joined to its headers with solder.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 070 solar collector comparison - sola roll tubes
    Bottom right: SolaRoll's 36 fluid-carrying passages are sealed to the headers by pressing the rubber tubes—with Teflon jam sleeves inside—into preformed openings.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

  • 070 solar collector comparison - BTU bucket
  • 070 solar collector comparison 3 sola roll
  • 070 solar collector comparison - mother's collector
  • 070 solar collector comparison - suntree
  • 070 solar collector comparison 5 btu bucket housing
  • 070 solar collector comparison - sola roll rubber framing
  • 070 solar collector comparison 7 suntree collector box
  • 070 solar collector comparison 8 soldering BTU bucket
  • 070 solar collector comparison - sola roll tubes

Solar technology is, at long last, beginning to have the opportunity to help alleviate our country's present energy predicament, and most experts acknowledge that, of all the sun-power applications currently in use, water heating systems offer the quickest return on the dollars invested. In fact, depending upon the equipment selected and the labor involved in installing such devices, domestic solar water heaters can pay back every penny laid out for their purchase (in the form of the savings that result from not using conventional energy) in as little as two years.

Consequently, MOTHER EARTH NEWS has been keeping an eye on the market for solar collectors, and—in particular—we've been pleased to see a number of sun-power kits appear. After all, considering that the cost of labor usually constitutes at least half the purchase price of most manufactured goods, many folks would be tickled to supply some of that valuable commodity themselves and pocket the difference.

Of course, when faced with the possibility of choosing among the collector kits available, the potential purchaser has a number of questions to consider, such as: Just how difficult are they to put together? How well do they actually work? Are the finished do-it-yourself water heaters as good as factory-assembled items? Are they more efficient (and/or easier to build) than are purely homemade jobs (such as Mother's Flat Plate Solar Collector). If so, are they enough better to justify the additional cost? For that matter, is any one company's package significantly superior to another's?

Since we thought you'd appreciate having answers to such questions, we acquired a representative sampling of the assemble-them-oneself solar boxes, with the idea of seeing how they actually do stack up. In this issue we're going to tell you about the cost of—and the effort needed to put together—several different kits (and review the construction of our homemade in-line collector), then go on to preview our testing procedure.



The BTU Bucket

By virtue of its fiberglass box and aluminum absorber plate, Solar Usage Now's BTU Bucket is by far the lightest of the collectors we put together. And with 14.2 square feet of glazing, the $99 package is also the least expensive kit at about 1$8.00 per square foot (including the added cost for insulation).

Assembling the collector is a relatively straightforward operation, too. Which is fortunate, since SUN included very little in the way of directions. There are, however, a couple of construction procedures that could cause an inexperienced individual some trouble.



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