I’d just popped into Philip’s house, bringing Alice and Millie along because they were driving Mum crazy while she was trying to homeschool. I’d gone with the intention of finding out how Philip and Natalie were doing and talking about something related to our discourse analysis write-up. I’d just gotten the girls comfortable when there was an almighty crash coming from our house. I looked over and chuckled to see our solar hot water heater had crashed through the platform it was on.
“Do you mind watching these two for a second while I run and turn off the valve connecting that?” I asked Philip as I knew there would be water spraying around. What great timing it is for this to happen at 9 am in the morning and not in the middle of the night I thought as I jogged over and I already knew I wouldn’t be spending the day in discourse analysis as planned.
Designing our houses we chose to install a solar hot water heater. It gets down to 12-15 degrees C at night here sometimes, and it can be pretty chilly on overcast days. During our bush orientation in Patpatar (a hot, coastal place) we stayed somewhere where there was only cold water and we’d grit our teeth and plunge into the cold shower every day, and most days it was ok. On a less encouraging day though it was a little more of a drag to plunge into the cold water in the evening and so we had decided that a cold place (by PNG standards) plus comfort meant an excellent solar hot water heater would be worth it. Taking advice from our friend Andre who had built his own solar hot water heater we also decided that we’d buy one rather than bodge one together, as Andre spent a lot of time maintaining the system he’d made.
We purchased it from Hardware House in Madang, shipped it up the road and had it flown in sitting on a bed of plywood expecting to install it and be happy. Only it turns out the solar hot water heater bought from the store in PNG turned out not to be what we expected. Quality issues aside, it came with no instructions and no fittings to plumb it together as a unit — there were no fittings to connect the panels to the tank. It took us days to figure out how to assemble it. Between each build trip we bought different plumbing fixtures in the hope of rigging it up correctly, but worst of all we saw that it wouldn’t be able to sit on the roof as we’d intended.
It came with a stand, it was not designed to be roof mounted, and pipes needed to fed into it from below. With no good way to attach it securely to the roof, we ended up building a little platform for it on the side of the house and installing it on its stand. We didn’t want to have it on the ground because it looks very tempting for kids to climb on and we feared it would get broken (quality issues also coming to mind). Eventually, we got it working, and hot water ensued 🙂
An unexpected problem we saw half a year later was that the sun changes which side of the house it shines on. This was very confusing for us. Already we’d pointed our solar panels southward, which is incorrect for the southern hemisphere because that was indeed where the sun was. 6 months later though the sun was shining on the North side of the house! This put the solar hot water heater squarely in the shade of the house for most of the day, with 1/4 of the panel getting sun around midday.
After a few weeks of cold water, we decided to pick it up from its platform and move it to the other side of the house.
6 months later when it was time to move it back once more I extended the platform to hopefully put it far enough away from the house to stay in the sun all year round, and that worked! I’d taken the frame apart and just put the panels on some beams and everything worked nicely all year round.
Well, it was working, but I’ve also known for a while that the wood on the platform was rotting through. Needing to be in the sun (and rain) of course it’s been weathered and everything came crashing down today 🙂 It took the whole morning to clean up, removing all the rotten wood and rebuilding things. So now the latest solution is to have it on the ground on its stand even further from the house and hope the kids don’t climb on it. I had to replumb it of course and now there’s a persistent drip on the side that fell off the platform, but that’s probably fine. If the water pump turns on in the middle of the night to repressurize the system then I’ll probably have to fix that, otherwise it’ll keep for a while.
So is life in the bush. Didn’t get around to discourse analysis, but instead was using my Kovol skills to direct guys working (we always have helpers around and I had 4-6 guys working with me all morning), practising saying the difference between things like rotating or flipping things, trying to describe how the solar heater works, and also of course showing off the guinea pigs when they came out 😀