Felipe goes green!


HAVING LOST ITS raison d’être, the gas-fueled water heater sits silent out back.

Even its pilot light has gone dark.

After four-plus years of wanting to go green (well, save cash, actually), we have a solar water heater that really works. Our first solar heater, some readers may recall, sat on the roof for about four years doing pretty much squat, occasionally squirting some tepid H2O.

But since that first set of panels was only connected to the gas heater — the theory being that it reduces the gas used to heat water — it did not have any practical effect on us personally.

We still enjoyed hot showers.

But I knew the solar panels were doing little because I’d climb the circular stairway to the roof now and then to open a valve to find tepid water coming out most every time.

That first heater, manufactured by Rotoplas, one of the biggest names in Mexican plumbing, had a 10-year warranty. Finally, I got off my lazy keister and returned to the hardware store where the Rotoplas had been purchased. I expected one of two responses:

1. Warranty? Ha!

2. Okay, but the warranty will be pro-rated. You’ll get 60 percent of your cash back.

Option No. 1 is common down here.

Imagine my shock when Rotoplas picked up the old heater and returned 100 percent of the purchase price, 10,000 pesos, about 665 American dollars these days. I used that money to buy another solar heater, a different brand, Solemex. Never heard of it. The Solemex cost 6,000 pesos, about 400 dollars, but I paid about 1,000 pesos to have it installed.

The Solemex did not work either.

The water it produced was blazing hot. It just did not deliver the water to the faucets in the Hacienda. Oh, it sputtered out some hot water now and then. On rare occasion, it even worked well. Sometimes no water at all came out of the showerhead. Nada.

You might imagine my irritation.

We even installed an inline pressure pump. The poor pressure remained the same.

But, to make a short story even shorter, the problem was not the solar heater. It was that the plumber who installed it was clueless. After returning twice, he finally figured it out, and now it works like gangbusters. We are hot and green!

The Solemex is connected directly into the house, not to the gas water heater.

A friend down the highway has installed a massive array of solar panels on his roof to generate electricity. He does not do solar water, but his electricity bill has mostly disappeared.

Maybe one day I’ll go green with electricity too. I feel like a hippie tree-hugger.

The new Solemex!


20 thoughts on “Felipe goes green!

    1. Christine: Thanks. I’m rather proud of myself too. I’d like to do the electric side too, but it’s quite a bit more pricey to install. I might not live long enough to justify the expense.


  1. Some of these things heat water directly, and some heat peanut oil that is run through a heat exchanger. It seems you do better with direct process as long as you live in a freeze free place. Good luck with it. And make sure you have a mixing valve to prevent scalding.


    1. Señor Gill: I doubt it has peanut oil, but who knows? As far as freezing here, we do get overnight freezes in winter on occasion. Time will tell. We still have the option of the gas heater for emergencies, just a pilot lighting away.


  2. Uh oh, now you are going to start buying hemp clothing and stop using deodorant. LOL!!
    Good work, Felipe. Anytime you can get off the grid it is a good thing (for your wallet).
    Saludos to you and the lovely Señora Felipe!



    1. Mike: I’m thinking of dressing all in white as the Mayans do in Chiapas. And I’ll scrape my underarms with a sharp rock to remove disagreeable odors. A new lifestyle is called for now, I think.


  3. We have a complete mature live oak tree canopy on our property. Google can’t get an aerial view of our house. Sun gets through only when it is low on the horizon. I regret that because it means lots of flowery things won’t flower and we can’t even have container gardens because the sun spots are so small. But when the temps in warm weather are blazing hot, our house and yard don’t sizzle. However, no solar panels would work unless we cleared the trees. That won’t happen.


    1. Steve: I should have knocked on wood before posting this. It’s begun to give me problems today. Pressure is fine, which was the initial problem, but the water is not has hot as it should be. Back to the freaking hardware store mañana. I cannot believe it.


  4. This reminds me of the story of “Trinysol,” a firm in Hidalgo run by a German expat, self-taught solar engineer. He makes and sells solar systems for cooking, and for commercial bakeries.

    Here’s a link to the video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O46YQfSIYyM) done by the Global Post, and you can find his site at trinysol.com. The video is done in Spanish, though subtitled in English. F said his Spanish had a “hick” Hidalgo accent, which he found very funny coming out of the mouth of a blond German.

    Anyway, best of luck with the solar heater. I’m sure you’ll get it to work properly soon enough.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we have some neighbors with photovoltaic panels on the roof and a credit from the electric company.


  5. A siphon system is dependent upon an airless condition. Air expands, water doesn’t. If you have air in the unit, water gets drawn from the cold incoming rather than sucking up that in the tubes. A thermosiphon system needs to be airless.


    1. Señor Gill: I have communicated just this morning with the owner of the hardware store where I bought the dang thing. In time, a technician from the factory will visit. But not before, I imagine, we leave for Palenque next Friday.


  6. Hot water update! For a week now, the solar heater has been living up to expectations. No, beyond expectations. That mutha makes water so freaking hot that it’s necessary to floorboard the cold tap and then dial in a little hot to make it bearable. Yes, the hot is that hot. These things work!

    Knock on wood.


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