value of solar water preheater?


Could use some opinions on this, because I honestly don't know which way to go here...
The house that I've recently purchased has a solar hot water preheater feeding a conventional gas water heater. The solar panel portion of the preheater appears to be in good shape, BUT the install leaves something to be desired. It's cantilevered off the railing of the deck behind the house, and it's actually physically pulling the railing over. I've got it propped up with a 2x6 for now but it will need to be pulled back into position with a come-along and properly braced at some point in the future if it is to remain.
Now tonight I was downstairs painting some car parts in the laundry room and noticed some seepage coming out from below the tank of the preheater. I removed the insulation blanket from around the tank and found that apparently the liner has completely failed and the only thing holding the water back is the metal wall of the tank itself, which has some pinholes in it. To make matters worse, whoever installed it did not install the appropriate valves to allow the solar unit to be bypassed (so that the gas fired heater would be fed directly from the cold water line.) So I can't shut the thing off without killing all hot water to the house.
I'm tempted to just call a plumber and have the appropriate valves installed to bypass it, and leave it bypassed until spring since I'm thinking it's probably of dubious value in the winter. The question is, is it really worth it to have the tank replaced, or is the whole solar thing a bit of misguided ecological wishful thinking on the part of the house's previous owners?
The tank appears to be a standard electric water heater tank with the heating elements replaced with copper loops which circulate what I assume is an antifreeze solution that runs between the tank and the panel outside. There's a small electric circulation pump on a timer that runs during daylight hours.
We did get a "home warranty" with the new house but I am wondering if they will actually cover this unit since it is not the primary hot water heater. I will find out in the AM, I suppose.
In light of the fact that the tank has failed and the panel is causing issues that will need to be rectified - what would you do? FWIW the piping etc. and the panel itself appear to be in good shape. I feel like I need to do something right away, as it's seeping now and I can't imagine that it will ever get better, nor even stay the same for long.
thanks,
nate
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if this is a device common to your climate, it may be worth replacing especially if the electric heating of the water is expensive. it's difficult to get thoughts wrapped around the entire property when it comes to energy saving, but do all the homework now.
N8N wrote:

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buffalobill wrote:

...
I keep all my utility payments in a spreadsheet. I have about 15+ years of monthly numbers. It is easy to see how there are two components of natural gas payments: the constant, seasonless cooking, hot water, drier, clocks and computers. Then there is the big heating expense which varies dramatically with the season.
During the Summer months, my usage will be under 25 cu-ft ($30). However, a good, cold January will see 250+ cu-ft used.
So, a solar water heater might be able to eliminate the 25 cu-ft ($30) constant use, but won't make a dent in the heating cost.
If you can install a solar (pre) heater for $360 per year you'll be ahead. I've known several people who have done this but were disappointed when various plastic and rubber parts yielded to the sunlight, making for expensive repairs. The bottom line is solar heaters are poor investments.
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The big problems with all these things is the hardware and installation is shit. This is a great idea but actually making something that will hold up is the hard part. It is probably easier to salvage the good parts and start over than to try to fix it. Have your plumber put some valves in so you can bypass the solar system, run it in bypass until you get your collector system fixed and switch the valves over. If you use a lot of hot water during the day or early evening this can save a lot of money.
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At this point, it is of NO (read: zero) value NOW and for ANY season. Any effort made, much less MONEY spent, would be better made/spent having it REMOVED.
I suspect that the minimum service call charge of an average plumber (not counting any charge for actual work) would not be paid back by the pre-heater in 50 years or longer. These systems were near-worthless gimmicks when they were new and working properly. Good luck.
--
:)
JR

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On Thu, 04 Jan 2007 07:10:04 -0600, Jim Redelfs

My solar domestic water heating system was installed some 20+ years ago and has probably paid for itself a couple times over. I have replaced the storage tank once and one pump has been replaced twice. An additional benefit over all those years is that I get hotter water than I would have been inclined to get if I only had the electric HW heater.
John Keith snipped-for-privacy@juno.com
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Good... a 72/10 = 7.2% tax-free return, using "the rule of 72."

Tank water heaters are cheap, but maybe you're talking about a $1K stone-lined monstrosity. A draindown system with a horizontal collector over a homebrew tank with a $60 300'x1" piece of plastic pipe as a heat exchanger seems better.
Nick
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In a previous house in Norther California, I had a passive solar system. 8-9 mo. of the year it was the sole heater, valves made it a pre-heat system the rest of the year. My dog got warm water baths in the winter!
JR you obviously got burned, but that doesn't make the whole idea bad.
RickR
Jim Redelfs wrote:

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Not I, said the duck. ...at least, not by solar-heated water! :)

The whole idea? Of course not.
However, I adamantly reject the idea that there are savings sufficient to pay back the initial cost of the system, not to mention maintenance.
Look at the Subject line above again. The OP's issue with a PRE-heater system in need of major repair as well as repair of the structural damage done by the collector makes removal the ONLY choice *IF* saving money is the goal.
One only has to look around - and pay attention - for a short time to see the idled, abandoned and eventually removed solar systems to figure it out: The cost savings are NOT there.
Until cold fusion becomes practical; until the price of a hydrogen fuel cell falls to within reach of other than the hyper-rich; until alternative energy is available in quantity equaling what we have now in (mean, evil) oil, gas and coal, I will remain unimpressed with it.
Save energy? Sure. Save the Earth? Whatever. Save money? No way.
Now, if you want to talk geothermal...
--
:)
JR

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Jim Redelfs wrote:

Those abandoned / removed solar systems you reference are almost all ones from the '70s and the earliest experiments with the technology. Rather like the first automobiles, you don't see many in use today because the technology has improved greatly and today's models are vastly more reliable and efficient.
Pete C.
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The above statement (converning the system (not the cost of a plumber) is completely false...
In my previous home I had a solar hot water "set-up" preheated my ground water ...saved at least 30 bucks a month ...completely eliminated the cost of operating my swimmimg pool and Hot tub..which I ran 24/7 (pool summer only) ... Installation was completey free after various grants, tax breaks etc.. No lose situation...
Now repairs, etc could have been a horse of another color I will admit.. just never needed any in the 10 years or so I had that house..
Bob G.
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N8N wrote:

Not sure where you are, but in most climates a solar water heater or preheater will work well and save a lot of gas / electricity for the regular / backup heater. Just measure the inlet and outlet temperatures on a halfway decent day to see how much benefit you're getting. Every degree the solar panel raises the water is a degree the electric or gas heater doesn't. Here in TX, I've got a few solar plans on the drawing board.
Check alt.energy.homepower for more expertise on this stuff.
Pete C.
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