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Old 03-01-10, 08:31 AM   #11
Daox
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I also just got done looking on www.mcmaster.com and they have a bunch of grommets we could use for plugging the holes where the pipes come out. Their pipe fittings are a bit cheaper than local ones too it seems.

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Old 03-01-10, 10:08 AM   #12
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The big issue we found working on this panel is that the frame of the panel is made from FOLDED ALUMINUM.

It's nice that it makes for a lightweight panel, and I am sure these were less expensive panels when originally purchased. The insides are all copper pipe and sheet copper absorber, so the important part is high-quality.

The problem with bent aluminum is that the sides are attached, as it's all one big sheet. If the sides of the panel were made from a separate piece, such as extruded aluminum rail, the sides could slide on OVER the pipes that have to stick out. Because of the folded frame, the original manufacturer made the copper pipes stick out on one side, and not the other. To connect the panels to each other or the intake and outtake pipes, you push a pipe INTO the inside of the panel and connect it with a rubber coupler by sticking a screwdriver through a hole in the frame to tighten a hose clamp.

Not an easy thing to do, and I am not sure I would trust it for 30 years in a closed-loop system.

After monkeying around for a while, we still couldn't figure out a really good way to solder on some pipe extensions that would still allow all the copper to fit back into the box. Our "compromise" of making this work was to more or less rebuild the rubber couplers with some short pieces of radiator hose and stainless hose clamps, install them with the copper OUTSIDE of the box, so we could really get our hands on those things and tighten them up.

The panel has two 1-inch header tubes, one on the top, and one on the bottom. Both tubes run horizontal, and are open on both ends. Typically, water (or antifreeze) would run in one end of the bottom, and the opposite bottom end would be capped off, so the water would rise up through the small tubes with the copper plate, soaking up the heat of the sun. The water comes into the top tube (which has the one end capped) and flows out the opposite end.

For a single panel system, the opposite two corners would be capped off. If you used the panel in series with an additional one or more panels, both the bottom tube and top tube would just connect straight to the next panel in the system. One of the tube ends would still be capped only on the first and last panel in the array.

We decided that this panel was only going to be used by itself, but in the future might be part of an array. If it was, it would be an end unit, so we could still permanently cap off one end.
To do that, we had to clean off black paint from one of the chopped ends so that we could solder it.

Then we installed and soldered a plain copper end cap.

I know the soldering isn't the greatest. We are both plumbing amatuers, but the soldering did get better as we continued.

On the kitty-corner from the capped end, this corner also needed to be capped, but possibly connected to another panel in the future. Rathe decide on the exact style of connector, we simply added a stub of pipe, and let it run long, so there is enough material that in the future it could be cut off with plenty of room to install whatever would be needed there.



Finally, we got to working on the ends the water would be coming and going through. There, we made new rubber couplers. We soldered up little adapters of a 1 inch to 1/2" reduced, a short piece of 1/2" pipe, and a pipe to threaded adapter. Then a brass thread to barb adapter screws into that. Finally, a high-temperature hose goes on the brass barb.



By that point, our soldering was starting to look slightly less hideous...
We also found that the radiator hose we used to make the coupler was almost exactly the right size to fill in the gap between the copper pipe and the aluminum frame.

On the output end of the panel, we made a similar adapter, this one with a male thread adapter, so it could go straight into a a brass tee. This way, we had a point for a temperature gauge to mount.



We gently washed off the collector manifold, and we were ready to reinstall the glass on the panel. The glass has a smooth side, and a side that is slightly textured, which I think is designed to diffuse the light? Does anyone know which side is supposed to be inside and why?

To mount the glass, we got some of those little plastic clips used to mount a mirror against the wall. In some holes they went right in. Other holes were too big, and the screw would just slip. I think the glass was originally installed with some sort of clip and self-tapping sheet metal screws.

The mirror clips show up pretty well in this photo.


We took the panel to the upstairs un-used bedroom. It has one window, which is just a little smaller than the panel. The idea was that we could simply mount the panel up against the window. The sun would shine on it, but it would still be in conditioned space where it couldn't freeze.

Here is the hose going to the panel inlet.

You can see that the pipe shifted just a bit. Originally, these panels had a grommet that went around between the pipe and the hole there. Four of those total held all the copper in place nicely. Our version, not as well.

The pump is a 12V DC stainless steel bilge/utility pump. Don't have to worry about it rusting and you can run it on a battery or a wall adapter. Tim didn't have a wall adapter, but he did have a old computer power supply, modified to be used for testing and running 12V and 5V electronics. At 12V, this pump pulls about 60 watts (5 amps) and really pumps faster than we need it to - something like four gallons per minute. Since DC motors run at a speed proportional to voltage, we hooked the pump up to the 5V power lead. The pump ran slower, but still running more than enough water through. At 5V, it only pulled 25 watts! So we were saving energy now too!


The bottom of the panel has a wimpy flange that sticks out. We were not about to set the full weight of the panel on that, so we added some 2x4 blocks to support the weight.


In this photo of the completed test system:

You can see:
Hose from the barrel to pump on the floor.
Computer power supply powering pump and connected to Kill-a-Watt for energy monitoring.
Hose from pump to bottom right panel water inlet.
Capped "stub" pipe on bottom left of panel.
Capped pipe on top right of panel.
Water outlet on top left of panel with temperature gauge.
Return hose from panel to barrel.

So, there you have it. In one day, rehabbing an old solar panel for only the cost of a few parts and one trip to the hardware store.

While this is NOT a permanent installation, the experience is well worth it, and we now know what we would have to do to fix up the rest of these panels.


NOTES:

There was one leak we found after filling the system. It was the inlet hose barb thread. The barb simply wasn't screwed in tight enough. Took a wrench and about 5 seconds to fix.

All of the solder joints were good. No Leaks! While our soldering was far from professional-looking, it did at least do the job! After having the panel vertical, and filled with water, I realized we had no way of checking a few of the solder joints or the rubber couplers for leaks. Perhaps the right way to do this in the future is to pressurize the manifold with it outside of the frame. That way, the whole thing can be inspected without the glass and sheet metal in the way.

The rubber couplers were covered with reflective metal tape, to prevent UV damage to the hose.
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Old 03-01-10, 10:44 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Daox View Post
We would just screw the C channel to the sheet aluminum frame. This would allow us to use whatever end connections we want since we could drop the collector straight down.
Any sort of complete circle still needs to fit around whatever size connectors we decide to use.

How about something like this?


Cut straight down, even with the two edges of the pipe hole. Two cuts of a tin-snips, that's it. Drop whatever pipe or connector we are using in there. Then cover it with a custom metal clip that holds the pipe in place. The clip can be held in with rivits or sheet metal screws. We could add a little caulk in there too.

That would let us use any sort of big coupler to go to the other panels, because they no longer have to fit through the hole. We can also eliminate all the rubber couplers, and use solid copper female-female couplers soldered in place. If we used couplers or disconnects to the other panels that were small enough to fit through the hole, we could just slide them through the one side, and then make two cuts and tabs on the other side to drop down there. Then we are only making half as many cuts and tabs.
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Old 03-01-10, 10:51 AM   #14
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Yeah, I was thinking something like that. I hadn't exactly figured it all out myself. But, it sounds way easier and cheaper than a full C channel side.
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Old 03-01-10, 11:17 AM   #15
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Here is a video which is an overview of how a Caleffi brand hot water system is installed.

At about 1:17 in, there are a couple shots of a brass coupler connecting one panel to another. Right after that, they show the spare end coupler being capped-off.

I think we want something similar to that for our refurbished panels.

Later in the video, it also shows filling the system with antifreeze. I think he goes through about 5 gallons total, for a two panel system with the panels on the roof, tank in the basement, and pretty large diameter hose connecting them (1"?)

Also, it looks like the flow rate was adjusted to pump 2.0 gallons per minute.

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Old 03-01-10, 01:46 PM   #16
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Wow - cool project!

So the barrel is just a test then?

No plans to plumb it to the kitchen for washing dishes or something? (Of course then it wouldn't be closed loop...)
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Old 03-01-10, 02:28 PM   #17
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That Hot Rod install was sweet! When they connected the two panels together in the center,
I saw the hardware was the very same stuff that I used on my Novan collectors.
The size and quality of those panels, looked very similar to my old system.

Makes me sad that we didn't keep it. But, it did pay for itself a few times over.
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Old 03-01-10, 02:33 PM   #18
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Quote:
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That Hot Rod install was sweet!
Glad you liked it.
I filmed that one!

Metro - this was only a test to see what it would take to fix up this panel, test the flow rate, etc.

We don't know what the rest of the panels may get used for. We might fix them all up and put some on Tim's porch roof and some on my garage. Something like that.

It would just be a crying shame for these to get recycled instead of back in service of creating free heat from the sun!!!
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Old 03-01-10, 02:43 PM   #19
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Hi Ben,

Got your PM, but couldn't reply to it, I don't have the 15 required posts. I tried to e-mail you, but since that requires 20 posts, it will take a bit longer. I don't want to post junk just to run the count up. As soon as I figure out how to describe the setup, I will gladly fill in the details.

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Old 03-01-10, 02:53 PM   #20
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Mark, its ok to run up your post count if you have useful info to share. We just use it as a way to identify and deter spammers.

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