“It’s a Lennox system. I’ve had it since 1979. I bought it during the Carter Administration when there were tax rebates,” said Bielefeld, who was a Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory engineer in the Air Missile Defense Department for 35 years. He installed the system himself.
“Water is a good energy storage medium,” said Bielefeld. “I’ve never had a problem with the pump or controller or anything else. It doesn’t leak. I have replaced some silicone tubes.”
Solar water heaters are remarkably simple devices, even by 1970s standards, according to Bielefeld.
“It consists of black panels with tubes in them that harness the sun. The panels are a standard size and you buy as many as you want. They contain glycol that goes through a heat exchanger and heats potable water. The hot water stays in an 80-gallon tank. It could heat your house as well if you had enough panels. There are a lot of schemes that could work. If you had enough water storage capacity, you could use it for heating buildings.”
Bielefeld admits to being conservation oriented. His was one of the first homes in his area to use Styrofoam insulation.
There have to be cons related to solar hot water, right?
“It’s so efficient that it will boil water and you have to watch that on sunny days,” Bielefeld offered after a contemplative pause. “It really hasn’t been a problem. I mean I had to replace the roof shingles, but even that wasn’t a big deal. They moved the panels aside, shingled the roof and put them back.”
Why don’t more people heat their water with the energy from the sun?
“I think there is too much focus on the short-term. It takes a few years to pay back. My breakeven was about seven years, but that occurred in ‘86 and I’ve enjoyed very low-cost hot water for decades since,” said Bielefeld. “It’s just a matter of getting enough folks out there to buy in and use it. There is enough technology out there to make this economical and dependable.”