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Old 09-16-09, 01:26 PM   #1
bennelson
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Default Refurbishing Solar Hot Water Panels



This last weekend, I traveled about 4 hours drive to visit relatives.

The event was at my cousin's house, where she lives with her husband, three children, 2 dogs and a cat.

It's a big old farmhouse made from cinder block, with high ceilings, and a wood furnace in the basement. It also had about 10 solar hot-water panels mounted on the ground in front of the south side of the house.

In the time that they owned the house, the panels never worked.

When I visited, I was surprised to see that the panels were stripped down, and stacked against the side of the garage, the glass and copper pipes seperated out, ready for recycling.

It turns out that they got a plumber out to look at the solar system to see what would need to be done to get it up and running again. The plumber's opinion was that NOTHING was ANYWHERE near to code. Likely, it was a DIY hook-up back in the 70's, when there were some good tax breaks, and cheaply-made products. Also, this system had the house tap water run straight through the panels, completely inappropriate for a northern climate.

They had the plumber cap off the system, and they removed the panels, with the idea to take them in for scrap metal prices, maybe saving the glass for a small greenhouse or coldframes.

It occured to me that not only I, but several of my friends would be VERY interested in used solar panels, doing whatever might be needed to get them back up and running.

I grabbed one of the panels and its glass cover, and brought it home with me. When I get a chance, I am going to take it apart, see how they connect together, check to make sure they hold pressure, and see what else might be needed to get these up and running.

While I was originally just planning a single panel system to get some hot water from, having access to a large number of used panels means that I just might be able to have that solar-powered garage I always wanted....

Photos of the panels can be seen here:
Solar panels for refurbishing - a set on Flickr

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Old 09-16-09, 06:21 PM   #2
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Jackpot! I'll help you do whatever you want with those things Ben. I say heat your house with them!
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Old 09-16-09, 11:38 PM   #3
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what kind of frames do they have? what size are they?
the glass is valuable because it's anti reflective and low iron so more light passes to the collector, if you can I would solder unions on to the fittings and use those to pressure test them, then use those same unions to connect them together, if they leak air at 50psi it will drop fast, so if they hold pressure for an hour you are good!
My parents have a pile of old wood framed collectors, maybe 12 or 15 that I need to get the local solar hot water company to build me some aluminum frames for as the wood is rotting away.
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Old 09-20-09, 01:00 AM   #4
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Ryland - Why not build the frames yourself? I can't imagine it's all too difficult to make the frames?
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Old 09-20-09, 11:06 PM   #5
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Ryland - Why not build the frames yourself? I can't imagine it's all too difficult to make the frames?
Wood frames rot, Aluminum frames do not, aluminum frames also have mounting slots for brackets to hook on the outside, a nice gasketed slot on the inside of the top edge for the glass, slot for the collector plate and mounting tabs for the backing plate, so all I would have to do is add new insulation and use the holes that are already there for the screws on the corners, sure I could make it my self but these guys are less then a mile a way and have these aluminum frames already made up for this and will give me a fair price.
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Old 09-21-09, 12:30 AM   #6
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I was actually referring to you making the aluminum frames yourself, since you can get broken aluminum windows free from scrap yards. You can also get scrap pieces of aluminum dual-pane frame from construction sites, if you find the companies that install the windows, often, they'll sell you the pieces of frame that you want at their cost per foot, which is substantially cheaper than you can get it on your own.

I suppose if you're getting a good price (which is relative, frankly) it's just as well that you buy them from someone else and help out a local (probably small) business.
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Old 09-21-09, 12:15 PM   #7
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I don't fallow you Christ, I haven't seen really any aluminum framed windows in the trash let alone ones that have the depth of the frame to hold the glass, collector, backer and have insulation in there, but with the cost of scrap aluminum I'll have to keep my eyes out more as I could then easly pay for new frames by collecting scrap and turning it in.
The aluminum that they have extruded for these frames has a profiles that looks kind of like an "E" and to make a weather tight corner you just cut the ends and drill a few holes for screws, the corresponding holes are in the extrusions already.
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Old 09-21-09, 02:06 PM   #8
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I don't fallow you Christ, I haven't seen really any aluminum framed windows in the trash let alone ones that have the depth of the frame to hold the glass, collector, backer and have insulation in there, but with the cost of scrap aluminum I'll have to keep my eyes out more as I could then easly pay for new frames by collecting scrap and turning it in.
The aluminum that they have extruded for these frames has a profiles that looks kind of like an "E" and to make a weather tight corner you just cut the ends and drill a few holes for screws, the corresponding holes are in the extrusions already.
You'll be looking for sealed window frames for industrial/commerce buildings. The ones that you see in office buildings, those frames are aluminum, they look like an "E" on the face that seals the glass in, but the opposite side is hollow, and they faster together with interlocking clips and screws. To make the smooth face on the window frame, they clip on another piece of aluminum that you won't be worried about, since you won't be using the separator panels.

If you check construction sites, there are a few types of these aluminum frames in use. Check with construction agencies in your area about what types of windows they install in commercial buildings and office buildings, and if they'll sell you a few feet of the frames (make sure you know what you need before you ask). Chances are, they'll sell you the pieces at their cost.

The frames that I'm picturing in my head right now are about 3-4" across, and have slots for 2 panes of double-paned glass, for a total of 4 vacuum-sealed (or gassified) sheets of glass.
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Old 09-21-09, 10:15 PM   #9
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These panels have bent sheet metal aluminum frames. That makes them fairly lightweight.

Not as sturdy as the 4'x10' hot water panel I picked up a while back, but much easier to handle as well.

These panels are 6.5' long and a bit less than 3' wide.
It looks like it was originally sort of a doubled hose clamp sort of a device that would connect the two.

The panels were Sawzalled apart, so some of the copper tube is either jagged or short. I will have to take the frame apart to get better access to the 1" copper manifold to be able to clean it up and and solder anything on there.

Just soldering a union straight on there sounds like a pretty good idea.

I will let you know more when I actually get some time to work on it!
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Old 09-21-09, 11:00 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bennelson View Post
These panels have bent sheet metal aluminum frames. That makes them fairly lightweight.

Not as sturdy as the 4'x10' hot water panel I picked up a while back, but much easier to handle as well.

These panels are 6.5' long and a bit less than 3' wide.
It looks like it was originally sort of a doubled hose clamp sort of a device that would connect the two.

The panels were Sawzalled apart, so some of the copper tube is either jagged or short. I will have to take the frame apart to get better access to the 1" copper manifold to be able to clean it up and and solder anything on there.

Just soldering a union straight on there sounds like a pretty good idea.

I will let you know more when I actually get some time to work on it!
In the mean time, can we get some more detailed pics?

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