Thursday, June 21, 2007

66 Bottle of Beer on the Roof

. Thursday, June 21, 2007

Take 66 beer bottles. Fill them with water and connect so that it flows slowly from bottle to bottle. Place apparatus on roof (or better yet, build it in place) and voila, you have the ultimate in DIY solar thermal hot water systems. Not only do you get the pleasure of consuming 66 bottles of beer on the way, you also get the joy of providing hot water for your mother to shower in comfort.

That's Ma Yanjun, a farmer in Qiqiao village, Shaanxi province--the heartland of China. He built the contraption for his mother, according to Weird Asia News, making him both a devoted son and one of the numerous backyard enthusiasts who have discovered a simple way to harness the power of the sun. From the cold of Vermont to the baking heat of South Africa, such solar water collectors--whether made from beer bottles, soda cans, or anything else--are a cheap and simple way to heat water for your home--a different type of recycling if you will. You do need to remember, however, that the sun doesn't always shine and plan accordingly.

Of course, you don't have to build your own. In fact, Ma may already have made a business out of it: 10 families in the village have followed his lead. There are plenty of companies worldwide only too happy to sell you a solar water heater these days. Check out the U.S. Department of Energy's guide here, including diagrams of the various systems (none as fun as Ma's) as well as guidelines for judging whether such a system is right for you. One fact is clear: they work well--providing enough hot water for the kind of lengthy, water-intensive showers so prevalent in my house (and yours?) But you're probably not going to impress your mother as much.

Then again, I know my mother would be singularly unimpressed if I explained a bout of binge drinking as part of my environmental lifestyle. But the several hundred dollars in yearly energy savings I calculated using the DOE's website could buy a lot more beer (or anything else for you teetotallers out there). 66 bottles of beer on the wall, 66 bottles of beer, take one down and pass it around, 65 bottles of beer on the wall...

Now what are some other DIY home improvements that also make environmental (and economic) sense?