Saturday, February 7, 2009

Grandpa and His Solar Water Heater

This 1961 photo shows my grandfather standing in front of his house. On the right side of the photo is his solar water heater. If you look closely, you can see a water pipe entering the solar heater at its bottom left and the metal pipes behind the pane of glass. Grandpa bought the solar heater from a friend in the 1930’s and used it for some forty years after that.

The solar heater saved him money, which was something grandpa was all for. Saving money (or more accurately avoiding ever spending it) was a way of life for him. He was frugal, lived simply and hated waste. It’s not like he made any considered decision about it. It was just part and parcel of who he was.

He’s been gone for 20 years, but I still remember some of the things he did to save money. He had a metal tank welded on the back of his truck so he could load up when gas was cheap. He bought cases of canned goods and cereals when they went on sale. His house never had an air conditioner or heater – he used portable space heaters, if he used them at all. He saved and reused things like newspaper and tin foil. At his house you might find little sugars and jellies, like the ones they have at coffee shops. He kept records of everything. Every gas purchase was recorded in a little book he kept in his truck. Every household purchase was recorded. When he died my dad found receipts going back nearly 50 years.

For my grandfather, frugality was a virtue and he was always on the lookout for waste. In fact, he would get mad over displays of wastefulness. Like I remember him getting angry about street lights that blazed at night. Why waste electricity burning street lights all night?


As with many of his generation, my grandfather was primed for the frugal, resourceful life. The first 45 years of his life were lived during hard times. He was born at the turn of the century into a hardscrabble rural Iowa existence. World War I raged during his teen years. He married as the Great Depression started and then supported his family through the depression years and World War II. Even after times got better, he kept on with the austere life. It was all he knew and it was right.

There was a resilient and scrappy quality to him. From what I know, he kind of pieced together a living and always had a couple of things going to make money. He worked in fruit packing plants, grocery stores and drove trucks. He also farmed. My dad recalls that when he was growing up, they had small family farm with chickens, cows, rabbits, pigs, fruit trees and vegetables. By the time I was around, grandpa was driving a school bus and tending a small grove of oranges and avocados.

An early widower, he was known to spend weeks on end in the High Sierras, often taking his grandchildren. He had a shell on his Ford pick-up and a favorite spot in Reds Meadow along the San Joaquin River. He was camping and fishing for trout well into his 70’s.


It was fun to come across this old photo of grandpa in front of his house with his solar water heater. I vaguely recall the solar heater. But I very clearly recall how cheap grandpa was. More and more, I find myself thinking about how he lived. I dearly hope to avoid the kind of hardships his generation lived through. At the same time, I can’t help but think that many of the resourceful, frugal qualities of my grandfather’s generation would serve us well today.


Related to this, check out Pasadena PIO’s story on home solar power in Pasadena and a Pasadena DailyPhoto's picture of a bungalow with solar panels on the roof. And, I liked this story about a grandmother over at Hatching a Patch.


pasadenapio said...

Your grandpa was ahead of his time! Customers of Pasadena Water and Power may get more information about solar power here.

Eric E said...

The famous Scotty's castle up in Death Vally had solar hot water heat when it was first built. I grew up in Montana where incoming water temperatures are very low. I knew people that had big surge tanks (probably old air compressor tanks) plumbed in line just upstream of the cold water inlet to the water heater. Paint the tank black, and let the water come to room temperature before it goes into the water heater. Of course, you can do that in a part of the country where every house has a basement and lots of extra space.
Bottom line is people can easily and cheaply conserve in small ways because it makes economic sense to do so. Personally, I can't drop tens of thousands on solar electricity and get paid back 20 or 30 bucks per month in savings on my electric bill. I just don't leave computers and lights on, or cell phone chargers plugged in, etc.

Anonymous said...

Customers of Pasadena Water and Power may get more information about solar power here..

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