How to build a solar powered water heating system

Solar Water Heater

This article describes how to make a simple solar heater. The arrangement is also known as a “bread box” water heater. Additionally, it can also serve as a hot water reservoir. It is basically a reflector-less, slope-faced, box shaped solar device used to heat water.

This simple concept came into existence when the formal designs, became complicated and quite expensive, with problems such as freezing for the flat panel and jamming of smudge in the twisted pipe design.

The steps for how to set up the arrangement are provided with a diagram, you can also try to add more creativity in design while keeping the basics intact.

Difficulty Level

Moderate, The user must have basic knowledge of plumbing and working with wood.

Estimated Cost:

$40 to $60

Time required

Approximately two to four hours are enough for this project.

Resources required

  1. A recycled drum or vessel
  2. Pipes
  3. Plywood sheets
  4. Glass plates
  5. Basic plumbing tools


a. Setting up the design and orientation of frame

  1. Arrange the frame to face the direction of sun during the daytime.
  2. The heater should be placed where trees or neighboring buildings must not shade it.
  3. If you can fit the tank to be horizontal it will be more secure. But for that you must check regularly to maintain the alignment of the device.
  4. The arrangement should look like the figure given below.

Solar Water Heater Working

b. Preparing the tank

  1. At very first, strip off the insulation of the tank.
  2. While using a recycled tank or drum, you must check for possible leaks.
  3. Sand and paint the tank to a dull black color using your choice of composition for paint.

c. Plumbing and fitting

  1. The tank must be elevated 2 to 3 inches from the bottom of the frame using supports for it. The surface of the tank must be mostly exposed to the sunlight, so to absorb the most of solar heat it can get.
  2. Find the outlet of the tank; it must have a white circle inside its fitting. There also must be the end of a plastic pipe which goes to the base of the tank. You should place this outlet to be lowermost and plumb it as the cold water inlet for the device.
  3. Find the fitting at the top of the similar end. You should plumb it as the hot water outlet.
  4. Now If the tank is installed higher than the taps, you must manually drill and tap a hole on the highest curve of the tank. This can be used for the installation of a needle valve in the device.
  5. Furnish and close if there are any remaining openings in the tank. Your solar heater is now set up to work seamlessly.

Frequently asked questions

Which type of tank I should use for this project?

The tank may be a recycled tank or a recreational vehicle tank, or any other available container originally used for non-toxic materials.

Is it possible to heat up larger volumes of water on solar heater?

If large quantities of hot water are needed, you can connect two or more tanks side by side or stacked one above the other in the same insulated, glazed frame.

What type of frame should be used?

Any conventional or unconventional design is okay for the frame, as long as it is sufficiently large and well insulated to collect enough solar radiation. It can further be double-glazed using glass plates to acquire the maximum heating performance.

Quick tips

Install a hot water heater where it receives direct sunlight for most of the day. Provide at least 2 inches of clearance space between the frame. It would help gather more solar radiation and therefore yield more heat in area surrounding the tank. While designing the frame, allow a simple way to access the interior of the box to set up the equipment or perform regular maintenance.

Things to watch out for

The tank to be used for this purpose should be washed and rinsed properly before use. You must strictly avoid usage of any drum, pipe or vessel which was used for toxic material. If you have the water heater installed on the rooftop use a metal tray under the heater, which will help to check for water drains and leakage if it happens in the future.

Regular elimination of trapped air from the tank is needed to avoid corrosion in tank body, and to maintain freshness of the water.