Q - I want to make an inexpensive solar system to help heat my home. I heard that a water-type of collector is better than an air-type. Is that true and can I easily make a solar collector myself? H. M.
A - A solar collector that circulates water instead of air is generally more effective. Water can hold more solar heat energy than air and it offers a greater range of uses. It is possible to cut your utility bills by up to several hundred dollars per year with a do-it-yourself system.In the summer, when you aren't heating your home, you may be able to use your solar collectors to heat your domestic water or your swimming pool. This year-round utilization yields the greatest total savings.
If you can do any simple plumbing, like replacing a kitchen faucet, you should be able to build your own solar collector inexpensively. All of the materials you need should be available at most hardware stores.
With some designs, you won't even need a pump to circulate the water. By locating a storage tank above the collector, the solar-heated water (hot water is less dense than cold water) naturally flows up to the tank.
You needn't mount your "homemade" solar collectors on your roof. A southfacing location on the ground near your house is fine. This provides easy access for keeping the glass top clean.
A typical do-it-yourself solar collector is basically a shallow insulated box with clear cover over it. Water, which flows through pipes inside the box, is heated by the sun.
Make the frame for the collector box with 2x6 lumber. Redwood works, but pressure-treated lumber is best. Cover the bottom of the frame with plywood to form the shallow box.
You can use standard wall-type fiberglass insulation in the bottom of the box. It blocks heat loss out the back of the collector. The clear cover on top reduces heat loss to the cold outdoor air above.
For the simplest design, you can use copper piping, painted black. The pipes run vertically in the collector with the inlet at the bottom. As the water heats in the copper collector pipes, it flows up and out the top of the collector.
For more effective operation, solder flat copper fins to the copper collector pipes. These fins increase the area exposed to the sun, so the collector's heat output is greater.
You can write to me for UTILITY BILLS UPDATE No. 093 showing do-it-yourself instructions for making an inexpensive solar collector. Write to James Dulley, The Deseret News, 6906 Royal Green Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45244. Please include $1.00 and a self-addressed envelope.
Q - Our toilet always seems to be hissing and gurgling. I am sure that it is wasting a lot of water. How can I fix it myself? J. L.
A - A leaky toilet can increase your water bills because it runs continuously. The noise is often caused by water leaking past a deteriorated stopper bulb in the tank. It may also be a bad float bulb or shut-off valve which lets the water level rise too high.
You can usually buy replacements parts to fix either problem. Simple installation instruction are shown on the packaging or check your library for "fix it" books. They all cover toilet repair.