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Solar Water Heating
A Comprehensive Guide to Solar Water and Space Heating Systems
A Mother Earth News Book for Wiser Living
By Bob Ramlow with Benjamin Nusz
Review by Thomas J. Elpel
I wish I had this book when I built our first solar water heater. Instead, I read some articles, developed some ideas of my own, and built a solar water heater from scratch--remodeling and rebuilding it several times over seven years before it finally performed reliably. I learned a lot along the way, but largely re-invented solar hot water through trial and error. A copy of Bob Ramlow's Solar Water Heating would have saved me a lot of trouble!
Ramlow has installed solar water heaters and solar space heating systems for twenty years in the cold, snowy, and often cloudy climate of Wisconsin. Ramlow is a great mythbuster, detailing the pros and cons of different types of solar water heating systems and what works and what doesn't. In addition to describing types of water heating systems, Solar Water Heating details system components, scaling of the system, cost calculations, installation and system maintenance.
Whether you are an experienced do-it-yourselfer intent on building your own solar water heater, an intermediate do-it-yourselfer looking to install a kit, or a novice planning to hire a contractor, Solar Water Heating will help you choose a system that is appropriate to your application. In other words, this is not a step-by-step guide, but it covers the bases well enough that an experienced handyman can figure it out from the text and illustrations. At the very least, it will help anyone else discuss the options intelligently with a contractor.
Solar Water Heating also covers solar water heating systems for hot tubs and swimming pools-even for household heating. Ramlow's ideas on storing solar thermal mass for cold weather heating are a great bonus in the book, and a must-read for anyone contemplating building a new house.
There are many excellent drawings in the book detailing various solar water heating systems, and Ramlow dispensed with the usual abstract plumbing symbols in favor of more realistic depictions of plumbing parts, along with a convenient key labeling what those parts are. Additional pictures of real-world systems would help, as would a directory of manufacturers to obtain kits from.
Although I have now designed and built two functional water heating systems for two different houses based on my own designs, I plan to reread Solar Water Heating before building another. 288 pages. New Society Publishers. 2006. ISBN: 978-0865715615.