Plumbing the wood-fired/solar hot water system, part 1

Our water heating setup is a hybrid wood-fired/solar/electric system that is a near copy of a system I built and lived with off-grid for ten years. The concept is simple: both a solar hot water collector on the outside of the house and a water jacketed stove pipe inside the house heat water which passively rises up to the reservoir tank. When the whole thing is done it’s an incredibly simple, reliable, and balanced system that dramatically reduces electricity usage.

So that’s the concept. The actual practice of assembling the system is a challenge that starts with designing the building so all three elements of the system are clustered in a close geometry that will allow the passive water flows to work. This was especially challenging with our trailer because we couldn’t build over 12 feet tall and still get the house out of its current location. The result was a little cubby of sorts that protrudes down into the bathroom space above the toilet, combined with the only water heater we could find that would fit.

The 28 gallon side connect water heater is not ideal for a variety of reasons, but the one I’m focusing on today is a special fitting that came damaged from the factory.

On these water heaters the hot water nipple has a plastic insert that curves upwards to pull water from the top of the tank. I could tell from the outside that the plastic was damaged so I pulled the nipple and found a kink inside of the water heater that could have reduced water flow. So now I’m trying to decide if I should just reinstall it and hope for the best or wait a week and get a new one from the factory.

It kind of sucks to start such a complicated task with a problem on the very first fitting. I’m not a happy camper today.


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