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Ken Olson ©2002 Ken Olson

Two, 3 by 7 foot solar collectors make 70 percent of Jay’s hot water—that’s a 26 percent return on his investment. This home-built drainback system cost only US$800, and required just basic plumbing skills to assemble.

ay Peltz brews his own hot water, and solar energy is his fuel of choice. The sun goes to work for

him each morning, and delivers hot water every day. Jay’s homebrew style drainback system meets the need for freeze protection, and is the product of his practical resourcefulness and budget-minded philosophy. The result is a simple design that works.

Solar hot water systems with freeze protection have been covered in two previous issues of Home Power (See “Solar Hot Water for Cold Climates: Closed Loop Antifreeze System Components,” HP85, and “Solar Hot Water for Cold Climates, Part II: Drainback Systems,” HP86.) Those articles explained the principles of system design, and the function of each of the components. In this article, you will learn how Jay has applied the nuts and bolts of solar water heating principles to a homebrew drainback system.

34 Home Power #88 • April / May 2002

Climate & Needs

Jay lives in northern California’s coastal foothills. The climate is neither sunbelt nor arctic, but the mercury dips below freezing regularly between November and March, and as low as 10°F (-12°C) on rare occasions. Jay decided on a drainback system for its freeze protection, simplicity of design, and ease of installation. With some previous plumbing experience, he didn’t hesitate to tackle it, do-it-yourself (DIY) style.

Jay’s one-person household has modest hot water needs of 20 to 25 gallons (75–95 l) per day. He uses a little more in the summer when his hot water is 100 percent solar. The average two-person American family uses about 40 gallons (150 l) per day. Larger families use an additional 15 gallons (57 l) per person per day, on average.

Solar hot water system design begins with the daily water consumption figure. Jay knew that starting with a smaller number makes everything easier and more economical. So he addressed the conservation side of the equation first with low flow shower heads and faucet flow restrictors.

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