more pics of the solar thermal collectors.

02Feb11

So, we got the solar thermal collectors up on our roof a while ago.   And I’m just now getting around to posting something about it.  We purchased a bunch of used collectors and a stainless steel storage tank a while ago from someone who was parting out an older system. There were lots of thermal systems put in the 1980’s that didn’t necessarily work all that well: we’ve seen some that were so badly designed and executed that they couldn’t possibly have EVER worked.  Eventually these systems end up being de-commissioned because the homeowner wants to re-roof or whatever. I should note that there were also some systems built in the 80s that were well designed and executed.  Those systems tend to still be running just fine and providing their owners with lots of “free” energy.  Even though their controllers and other equipment in the mechanical room is now extremely dated, they still work fine. However, in our corner of the boonies, most of the 1980s thermal systems tend to fall in the former category rather than the latter one.

So the used thermal collectors are Novan brand from the 80s.  The great thing about traditional thermal collectors is that they’re pretty bullet-proof as long as you don’t abuse them (or shoot bullets at them). Frankly, the collectors we bought were probably not treated all that well, and in retrospect, we paid too much for them, but I guess we have to chalk it up to “experience” and move on. We’re slowly learning how to be better negotiators when we buy used stuff, but there definitely is a learning curve for timid folk like us, and unfortunately, we made this purchase on the steeper part of the curve. In retrospect, we perhaps should have walked away from the deal when the seller got all huffy when Luke pointed out some obvious deficiencies in the items in question.  For example, the stainless steel tank theoretically came with an internal copper coil heat exchanger, but in reality, the coil had been filled with a non-antifreeze substance (such as water), and left to freeze.  So there was a split in every single loop of the coil.  It wasn’t really possible to cut out the damaged part and reconnect the coil with couplers, because the copper pipe was all bulged and weird along its entire length.  The coil ended up going to the scrap yard, though getting a good price on copper scrap helped ease the pain.  And  the thermal collectors had all been cut open by some previous owner– so every single silicone seal had to be removed and replaced.  Some of the riser tubes inside needed repair, so Luke brazed those. In the end, we had to take every single collector completely apart, clean the glass, remove all the silicone (and crud), and reassemble & silicone them.  I did all the silicone work, because I have a strange affinity for picky, meticulous, repetitive work.  I find it sort of relaxing and meditative. I guess that’s why I like knitting.  I became a pretty expert silicon-er.

Considering all the work we had to inject into these collectors, there is no way that it would ever be cost-effective to put used collectors on the customer’s system, but for ourselves, we’re a couple of cheap bastards, and tend to be suckers for projects that are going to require unreasonable amounts of work.  Our choice in real estate is proof enough for that! Renovating these collectors did prove to be a lot of work. We spent days dis-assembling, cleaning, and re-assembling.

Anyway, for several years, we had these thermal collectors and stainless steel tank floating around, waiting to become a part of our brand new solar thermal system.  (“Floating around” is perhaps not the best choice of words, since all of these things are extremely heavy.)  Last fall, we got the collectors up on our brand new roof. (I posted a video of the hoisting process here.)  I’ve added some photos of the process of getting the collectors renovated and installed on the roof.


Isn’t this a beautiful place to be “in storage”, waiting to be given a second shot at life?  In the front is the stainless steel tank (lying down), and behind the tank is our stack of thermal collectors.  (Behind that is the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.)

Here is one of the collectors during its renovation process.  The glass has been removed from the top, and in this case, one side of the frame has also been removed. (I can no longer remember why because we did this many moons ago!)

Here, Jim is installing a Jim-contraption which will be used to hoist the panels onto the roof.  The block & tackle will be attached to the upper end of this 4×4.  The lower end of the 4×4 was tied back to the wall in order to  keep it from going anywhere.

This photo shows the setup on the roof. 3 of the 4 horizontal rails (uni-strut) have been installed. The boards on the right are 2x6s that create a “ramp” that runs down to the ground. Directly above the “ramp” is the Jim-contraption that will hold the block & tackle.

Here, the first thermal panel is being lifted up the ramp, both by the grunt laborers in the picture, and by people on the ground who are pulling the rope on the block & tackle.

Here, Dave and Luke are lifting the first panel onto the higher set of rails. Once they get it up there, they’ve got some cleverly placed wood blocks that will allow the panel to rest on the rails and be slid across to their final location.

The second collector has been lifted up and is being slid laterally (left) to its final location.

This photo sort of gives shows the whole set up (though it is extremely difficult to get an all-inclusive shot because of trees and property lines).

At the end of the day, it would have been really nice to get windows and siding installed prior to doing this project.  But, as with all things, our methods tend to be a bit convoluted.  We had a funding deadline to get this stuff done, and we also wanted to get the solar system pumping heat into the house in order to make winter just a little less miserable.  As I write this, it is 7 degrees below zero outside and dumping snow.




One Response to “more pics of the solar thermal collectors.”


  1. 1 the saga of the tank. « home is a process

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