Title:
Systems and apparatuses for solar water heating
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A manifold of a solar water heating system having an offset mechanism formed on an outer surface thereof that allows articulated airflow between the manifold and a mounting surface. For one embodiment the offset mechanism is implemented as flanges formed at each end of the manifold. For one embodiment the manifold has a male end and a female end that provide a compression fit for interconnecting two manifolds. One embodiment provides a means for securing a manifold to a mounting surface such that rotation of the manifold relative to the mounting surface is significantly reduced or prevented. For one embodiment the means for securing the manifold includes a clamp bolted to the mounting surface and a means for removably coupling the manifold to the clamp. For one such embodiment the clamp has channels formed on the interior thereof that receive a corresponding flange formed on the manifold.



Inventors:
Vaughan IV, William J. (Rescue, CA, US)
Lempert, Dennis Alan (Santa Clara, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/346496
Publication Date:
08/02/2007
Filing Date:
02/01/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
F24J2/36
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
PRICE, CARL D
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Thomas Van Zandt (Santa Clara, CA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A system comprising: a first set of two or more interconnected manifolds having a plurality of nipples formed therein; a second set of two or more interconnected manifolds, corresponding to the first set, having a corresponding plurality of nipples formed therein; each of the first set and the second set of interconnected manifolds having an offset mechanism formed thereon, the offset mechanisms elevating the manifolds above a mounting surface allowing articulated airflow between the manifolds and the mounting surface; and a plurality of liquid conduit panels attached to the first plurality of nipples and the second plurality of nipples such that liquid introduced through the first set of interconnected manifolds is circulated through the conduits to the second set of interconnected manifolds.

2. The system of claim 1 wherein the offset mechanisms are implemented as one or more flanges formed on each of the manifolds.

3. The system of claim 1 wherein each of the plurality nipples has a specific orientation and the offset mechanisms substantially reduce rotation of the manifolds thereby maintaining the nipple orientation relative to the mounting surface.

4. The system of claim 2 further comprising: one or more panel mounting strips positioned atop the panels, the panel mounting strips bolted to the mounting surface to secure the panels to the mounting surface.

5. The system of claim 4 wherein the panel mounting strips are comprised of a rigid plastic.

6. The system of claim 4 wherein a panel mounting strip is implemented approximately every five feet along a length of the panels.

7. The system of claim 2 wherein each of the manifolds has a male end and a female end, the male end of each manifold having one or more o-ring grooves formed therein.

8. The system of claim 7 wherein two interconnected manifolds are interconnected by inserting a male end of a first manifold into a female end of a second manifold, corresponding flanges of the first manifold and the second manifold forming a pair of mated flanges.

9. The system of claim 8 further comprising: a manifold clamp having a flange groove formed therein to receive a pair of mated flanges of two interconnected manifolds and a retention mechanism for securing a manifold disposed within a manifold retention area of the manifold clamp.

10. The system of claim 9 wherein the manifold clamp further comprises a tail section having a clamp mounting screw hole formed therein through which a lag bolt may be screwed to mount the manifold clamp to a mounting surface.

11. A manifold for a solar liquid heating system comprising: a tube having an inner surface defining an interior and an outer surface defining an exterior; and an offset mechanism formed on the outer surface such that upon securing the manifold to a mounting surface, the offset mechanism elevates the manifold above the mounting surface allowing articulated airflow between the manifold and the mounting surface.

12. The manifold of claim 11 wherein the tube is cylindrical and the offset mechanism is positioned such that rotational movement of the manifold relative to the mounting surface is prevented.

13. The manifold of claim 12 further comprising: one or more nipples allowing a liquid from the interior to proceed to the exterior, wherein the offset mechanism includes a first flange formed on the outer surface of the manifold at a proximal end of the manifold and a second flange on the outer surface of the manifold at a distal end of the manifold.

14. The manifold of claim 13 wherein the manifold has a male end and a female end, the male end having formed therein one or more o-ring grooves.

15. The manifold of claim 11 wherein the material comprising the manifold is approximately 80% polypropylene and 20% glass.

16. The manifold of claim 13 wherein the first flange and the second flange are formed so as to be removably inserted into corresponding flange grooves of a mounting clamp secured to a mounting surface.

17. An apparatus comprising: a manifold clamp having a manifold retention area defined by an upper clamp member and a lower clamp member, at least one of the upper clamp member and the lower clamp member having a flange groove formed therein to receive a flange of at least one flanged manifold; and a retention mechanism for securing a manifold disposed within the manifold retention area.

18. The apparatus of claim 17 wherein the retention mechanism is a retention pin inserted into a retention pin hole formed in the upper clamp member.

19. The apparatus of claim 17 wherein the retention mechanism is a detent implemented within the flange groove.

20. The apparatus of claim 17 wherein the manifold clamp further comprises a tail section having a clamp mounting screw hole formed therein through which a lag bolt may be screwed to mount the clamp to a mounting surface.

Description:

FIELD

Embodiments of the invention relate generally to the field of heating liquids using solar energy and more specifically to systems and apparatuses that provide efficient, secure, mounting of solar water heating system components.

BACKGROUND

A variety of solar water heating systems are generally available including systems that employ panels mounted on a roof or other mounting surface exposed to the sun. Water, or any suitable liquid, is circulated through the panels such that solar radiation, incident upon the panels, and reflective heat from the surface heats the water.

One such system includes a number of interconnected manifolds each of which consists of a plastic pipe with dimensions of approximately two feet in length and two inches in diameter. The manifolds have nipples, formed in-line, that allow a liquid to be dispersed from the manifold. One typical two foot long manifold has 72 nipples, though the number may vary. The number of manifolds that are interconnected depends upon the dimensions of the mounting surface and demand requirements. The system also includes plastic panels having straw-like conduits formed therein. The panels are typically six inches wide and have 18 conduits. The length of the panels is determined by the dimensions of the mounting surface. The conduits of each panel are connected to corresponding nipples of the manifold. Typically, the conduits of four interconnected panels are connected to the corresponding nipples of each manifold. The panels are likewise connected to corresponding manifolds at the other end.

A liquid (e.g., water) is circulated through the manifold, dispersed through nipples, and forced through the panel conduits which are exposed to the sun. The water is thereby heated and proceeds out of the system through corresponding manifolds.

Such systems have a number of disadvantages that render them inefficient, easily disrupted, and difficult to install, repair, and replace.

A distinct disadvantage of prior art systems is the way in which manifolds are interconnected. Conventional manifolds are formed with identical ends, each of which ends may have a lip approximately two inches long having a smaller diameter than the remainder of the manifold. Interconnection of two manifolds is effected by abutting the end of each manifold through a rubber coupling hose. A hose clamp is placed at each end of the coupling hose to seal the interconnection of the manifolds.

One disadvantage to coupling the manifolds through a coupling hose is the disparity in the coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) between the material used for the manifold (e.g., polypropylene) and that used for the coupling hose (e.g., rubber). The manifold does not expand as fast as the coupling hose and the expansion of the coupling hose puts pressure on the hose clamps. As cold water is circulated through the manifold, the coupling hose contracts faster than the hose clamp causing the seal to be degraded resulting in leaking. The degradation is for the most part unnoticeable prior to failure precluding preventive maintenance.

Another disadvantage to coupling the manifolds through a coupling hose is that the coupling hose does not provide structural integrity. Movement of the manifolds caused by wind or the weight of the panels can put pressure on the coupling hose thereby breaking the seal.

Another disadvantage of abutting the manifolds is that the two interconnected manifolds may easily become misaligned resulting in turbulent water flow through the manifolds. The turbulent water flow reduces the efficiency of the water heating system.

A further disadvantage of prior art systems is the way in which the systems are secured to the mounting surface. In conventional systems the panels are glued to the roof with a flexible adhesive (e.g., mastic). The adhesive used degrades substantially over time allowing movement of the panels which may loosen the panels from the mounting surface, from one another, and from the manifolds, and also puts stress on the hose clamp and manifold interconnection.

Another disadvantage of the way conventional systems are secured to the mounting surface is that the manifolds are secured directly to the mounting surface. The manifolds are typically strapped to the mounting surface using a piece of rubber (e.g., scrap rubber from the panels) that is twisted around the manifold and bolted to the mounting surface. Because of their cylindrical shape, the manifolds contact a relatively small portion of the mounting surface. Further, the cylindrical shape of the manifold allows air to be directed under the manifold thus lifting and loosening the manifolds and connected panels. Moreover, because the manifolds are not thoroughly secured (i.e., the strap is not affixed to the manifold), they have a tendency to rotate so that the nipple is pressed against the mounting surface. This crimps the conduits, reducing water flow through the system, or may break the nipple rupturing the seal.

Additionally, the way in which the manifolds are interconnected and the way in which the system is secured to the mounting surface render installation, repair, and replacement difficult and time consuming.

SUMMARY

Embodiments of the invention provide a manifold for a solar liquid heating system. The manifold is comprised of a cylindrical tube having an inner surface defining an interior and an outer surface defining an exterior. At least one offset mechanism is formed on the outer surface of the manifold. When the manifold is secured to a mounting surface, the at least one offset mechanism elevates the manifold above the mounting surface allowing articulated airflow between the manifold and the mounting surface.

Other features and advantages of embodiments of the present invention will be apparent from the accompanying drawings, and from the detailed description, that follows below.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The invention may be best understood by referring to the following description and accompanying drawings that are used to illustrate embodiments of the invention. In the drawings:

FIG. 1 illustrates a manifold having an offset mechanism formed on the outer surface in accordance with one embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 2 illustrates a manifold having an offset mechanism formed on the outer surface in accordance with one embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 3 illustrates a manifold having a male end and a female end in accordance with one embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 4 illustrates a manifold clamp in accordance with one embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 5 illustrates an exemplary manifold having a flange offset mechanism and male and female ends in accordance with one embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 6 illustrates an adapter for connecting a manifold to a conventional plumbing system in accordance with one embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 7 illustrates a terminal manifold cap in accordance with one embodiment of the invention; and

FIG. 8 illustrates a panel mounting mechanism in accordance with one embodiment of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Overview

Embodiments of the invention provide components of a solar water heating system that overcome various disadvantages of prior art schemes. For one embodiment of the invention, a manifold of a solar water heating system has an offset mechanism formed on an outer surface thereof that allows articulated airflow between the manifold and a mounting surface. In accordance with one such embodiment of the invention, the offset mechanism consists of a flange formed at each end of the manifold.

For one embodiment of the invention the manifold has a male end and a female end that provide a compression fit interconnection between two manifolds.

One embodiment of the invention provides a means for securing a manifold to a mounting surface such that rotation of the manifold relative to the mounting surface is significantly reduced or prevented. For one embodiment of the invention the means for securing the manifold includes a clamp bolted to the mounting surface and a means for removably coupling the manifold to the clamp. For one such embodiment of the invention the clamp has channels formed on the interior thereof that receive a corresponding flange formed on the manifold.

Throughout the description, numerous specific details are set forth, however, it is understood that embodiments of the invention may be practiced without these specific details. In other instances, well-known structures and techniques have not been shown in detail in order not to obscure the understanding of this description.

Reference throughout the specification to “one embodiment” or “an embodiment” means that a particular feature, structure, or characteristic described in connection with the embodiment is included in at least one embodiment of the present invention. Thus, the appearance of the phrases “in one embodiment” or “in an embodiment” in various places throughout the specification are not necessarily all referring to the same embodiment. Furthermore, the particular features, structures, or characteristics may be combined in any suitable manner in one or more embodiments.

Moreover, inventive aspects lie in less than all features of a single disclosed embodiment. Thus, the claims following the Detailed Description are hereby expressly incorporated into this Detailed Description, with each claim standing on its own as a separate embodiment of this invention.

Offset Mechanism

In accordance with one embodiment of the invention, a manifold is provided having an offset mechanism. The offset mechanism elevates the manifold above the mounting surface allowing articulated air flow under the manifold. The free flow of air under the manifold reduces the forces applied to the manifold interconnection and manifold mounting.

FIG. 1 illustrates a manifold having an offset mechanism formed on the outer surface in accordance with one embodiment of the invention. Manifold 100, shown in FIG. 1 includes a plurality of in-line nipples 105, and two flanges, namely flanges 115A and 115B formed on the outer surface 110 of manifold 100. Flange 115A is formed at a proximal end 120A of the manifold 100 and flange 115B is formed at a distal end 120B of the manifold 100. The flanges 115A and 115B are formed beyond the nipples 105. For alternative embodiments of the invention, flanges may be formed at additional or alternative points on the outer surface 110 of manifold 100, which may be between the nipples 105.

For one embodiment of the invention, as shown in FIG. 1, the offset mechanism (i.e., flanges 115A and 115B) is shaped so as to prevent or reduce the rotational movement of the manifold 100 relative to the mounting surface. This helps to prevent loosening of the manifold interconnection. Moreover, by preventing or reducing rotational movement of the manifold relative to the mounting surface, the desired angle of the nipples, relative to the mounting surface is maintained thus reducing or preventing crimping or breakage of the conduits.

For various alternative embodiments of the invention, the manifold need not be cylindrical and the offset mechanism need not be implemented as a flange. For example, a square or rectangular manifold may not have a tendency to rotate, thus obviating the need for the offset mechanism to be shaped so as to reduce or prevent rotation of the manifold.

FIG. 2 illustrates a manifold in accordance with one embodiment of the invention. As shown in FIG. 2, manifold 200 includes a plurality of nipples 205. An offset mechanism is implemented as legs 215A-215C formed on the outer surface 210 of the manifold 200. For alternative embodiments of the invention, the number of such legs comprising the offset mechanism may range from one to several and may depend upon the mounting surface and expected wind speeds. For such embodiments of the invention as exemplified by manifold 200, shown in FIG. 2, more offsetting support of the manifold 200 can be provided without disturbing the arrangement of the nipples 205.

Manifold Interconnection

In accordance with one embodiment of the invention, a manifold is provided having a male end and a female end for easier more reliable interconnection. The male end of one manifold is inserted into the female end of another manifold and compression fit to provide a water tight seal.

FIG. 3 illustrates a manifold having a male end and a female end in accordance with one embodiment of the invention. Manifold 300, shown in FIG. 3 includes a plurality of in-line nipples 305, and a female end 325 and a male end 330. Female end 325 is formed at a proximal end 320A of the manifold 300 and male end 330 is formed at a distal end 320B of the manifold 300. For one embodiment of the invention, the female end 325 and the male end 330 may be formed with corresponding threads such that when the male end 330 is screwed into the female end 325, a reliable water-tight seal is formed. For an alternative embodiment, the male end 330 has an exterior dimension that is slightly smaller than the interior dimension of the female end 325. For one embodiment of the invention, the interior dimension of the female end 325 is approximately 2 inches and the exterior dimension of the male end 330 is approximately 1/64 inch smaller. For one embodiment of the invention the male end is formed with one or more o-ring grooves shown for example in FIG. 3 as groves 335A and 335B. Each of the o-ring grooves (e.g., o-ring grooves 335a and 335B) are designed to receive a rubber o-ring. When a male end 330, fitted with one or more o-rings, is inserted into female end 325, a reliable water-tight seal is formed. The depth and width of the o-ring grooves are based upon the dimensions of the manifold and are selected such that a reliable water-tight seal is formed that can withstand a pressure of approximately 77 pounds per square inch (PSI) for one embodiment of the invention. For one such embodiment of the invention, the o-ring grooves 335A and 335B are approximately ⅛ inch wide and ⅛ deep and are formed approximately 3/16 inch apart. For alternative embodiments of the invention a varying number of o-ring grooves of different dimensions may be used. Forming one or more o-ring grooves in the male end of the manifold provides a reliable water-tight seal while at the same time providing ease of assembly and disassembly. Thus the time for installation, repair and removal is significantly reduced by a manifold in accordance with one embodiment of the invention.

Manifold Mounting

In accordance with one embodiment of the invention the manifold is mounted using a manifold clamp that can be bolted to the mounting surface. For one embodiment of the invention the manifold clamp is a U-shaped clamp that receives the manifold and extends over the manifold such that the manifold may be secured by a retention pin.

FIG. 4 illustrates a manifold clamp in accordance with one embodiment of the invention. Manifold clamp 400, shown in FIG. 4, includes a tail section 450 having a mounting screw hole 452. In accordance with one embodiment of the invention, a lag screw may be inserted into mounting screw hole 452 to secure the clamp 400 to the mounting surface. Manifold clamp 400 also includes retention area 460 that is defined by upper clamp member 461 and lower clamp member 462 and a lateral clamp portion 463. Upper clamp member 461 has a retention pin hole 465 formed therein. In accordance with one embodiment of the invention, the manifold is placed in retention area 460 and a retention pin is inserted into retention pin hole 465 to hold the manifold in place.

The dimension of retention area 460 is slightly greater than the dimension of the manifold. This allows the manifold to be secured within the retention area by the retention pin, such that movement of the manifold is severely restricted. For one embodiment of the invention the movement of the manifold is restricted to less than one mil (0.001 inch).

For one embodiment of the invention the manifold clamp includes a flange groove 470 formed in an inner surface of either or both of upper clamp member 461 and lower clamp member 462. For one embodiment of the invention, the flange groove 470 may be formed in the entire inner surface of the clamp from the upper clamp member 461 through the lateral clamp portion 463 through the lower clamp member 462. The flange groove 470 allows a manifold having a flange formed thereon to be directed into retention area 460 more easily and positioned therein more securely. For one embodiment of the invention the dimension of the flange groove 470 is designed to snuggly fit the combined thickness of two mated flanges of a pair of interconnected manifolds and the lateral clamp portion 463 has a shape corresponding to the shape (e.g., cylindrical) of the manifold to be inserted. This provides a more secure mounting of the pair of interconnected manifolds to the mounting surface and also increases the interconnection of the manifolds.

The use of the manifold clamp in accordance with one embodiment of the invention allows for a secure mounting which reduces or eliminates bowing of the interconnected manifolds. The bowed manifolds are structurally unsound and aesthetically objectionable.

Exemplary Manifold

FIG. 5 illustrates an exemplary manifold having a flange offset mechanism and male and female ends in accordance with one embodiment of the invention. Manifold 500, shown in FIG. 5 includes a plurality of in-line nipples 505 and flanges 515A and 515B formed on the outer surface 510 of manifold 500. Flange 515A is formed at a proximal end 520A of the manifold 500 and flange 515B is formed at a distal end 520B of the manifold 500. Manifold 500 also includes a female end 525 and a male end 530. Female end 525 is formed at the proximal end 520A of the manifold 500 and the male end 530 is formed at the distal end 520B of the manifold 500. The male end 530 is formed with two o-ring grooves, namely o-ring grooves 535A and 535B.

Typically it is necessary to connect the manifold of FIG. 5 to a conventional plumbing system (e.g., pool plumbing system). However, the polypropylene of the manifold cannot be reliably glued to the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) of a typical plumbing system. In accordance with one embodiment of the invention an adapter is provided for connecting the manifold to the system plumbing.

FIG. 6 illustrates an adapter for connecting a manifold to a conventional plumbing system in accordance with one embodiment of the invention. Adapter 600 has a flange 615 and a female end 625 that can be connected to a male end of a manifold as described above in reference to FIG. 3. The opposing end 620 of the adapter 600 has threads 675 corresponding to a PVC coupler thereby allowing connection to a conventional PVC plumbing system. That is, upon screwing a PVC coupler into opposing end 620 of the adapter, the PVC piping is then glued to the PVC coupler. For an alternative embodiment of the invention, adapter 600 may be formed with a male end for insertion into a female end of a manifold (e.g., female end 525 of manifold 500).

The last of a set of interconnected manifolds may need to be capped. In accordance with one embodiment of the invention a cap is provided for capping a terminal manifold.

FIG. 7 illustrates a terminal manifold cap in accordance with one embodiment of the invention. Cap 700, shown in FIG. 7, has a flange 715 and a female end 725 that can be connected to a male end of a manifold as described above in reference to FIG. 3. The opposing end 720 of the cap 700 has a seal 780 that seals the terminal manifold. For an alternative embodiment of the invention, cap 700 may be formed with a male end for insertion into a female end of a manifold (e.g., female end 525 of manifold 500).

Panel Mounting

In accordance with one embodiment of the invention the panels are secured to the mounting surface with a panel mounting mechanism instead of the conventional and disadvantageous mastic. For one embodiment of the invention the panel retention mechanism consists of a strip of rigid plastic that is placed over the panels and secured to the mounting surface, thus holding the panels in place.

FIG. 8 illustrates a panel mounting mechanism in accordance with one embodiment of the invention. As shown in FIG. 8, interconnected manifolds 810A and 810B are mounted to mounting surface 820. Panels 801-808 are connected to the interconnected manifolds 810A and 810B at one end and likewise connected to interconnected manifolds 810C and 810D at the other end. A panel mounting mechanism 825 is placed across the panels 801-808. For one embodiment of the invention the panel mounting surface is a strip of material that may be, for example, a strip of rigid plastic for one embodiment of the invention. The rigid plastic is bolted to the mounting surface 820 with bolts 830. Thus the panels 801-808 are secured to the mounting surface. For one embodiment of the invention the panel mounting mechanism 825 may comprise two connected pieces of rigid plastic each approximately 2 feet long. For one embodiment of the invention a panel mounting mechanism (e.g., 825) is implemented at approximately 5 feet intervals over the length of the panels.

General Matters

Embodiments of the invention provide components of a solar water heating system. For one embodiment of the invention a manifold has an offset mechanism consisting of a flange at each end of the manifold. For one such embodiment the manifold has a male end and a female end that provide a compression fit interconnection between two manifolds. Such interconnected manifolds may be secured to a mounting surface by insertion of two mated manifold flanges into a clamp, bolted to the mounting surface, having corresponding flange grooves formed therein. In accordance with one such embodiment, the manifolds may be secured to the clamp by use of a retention pin.

Embodiments of the invention may be implemented in various alternative manners as will be appreciated by one skilled in the art. For example, in accordance with various alternative embodiment of the invention, the manifold clamp does not include a retention pin hole, but includes another form of retention mechanism. For example, for one embodiment of the invention the manifold clamp includes a detent or resilient nub within the flange groove such that a manifold may be inserted into the retention area, but cannot be removed without depressing the retention mechanism.

In another alternative embodiment of the invention the manifold is not made of pure polypropylene, but instead contains approximately 20% glass flake. The glass flake increases structural integrity and helps to reduce or prevent bowing of the manifolds.

Further, though described for various embodiments in the context of a solar water heater for a swimming pool, embodiments of the invention are applicable to a variety of heating and cooling systems or other heat transfer systems using water or other liquids.

Embodiments of the invention include various operations such as mounting, inserting and attaching the components of various alternative embodiments of the invention. Many of the methods are described in their most basic form, but operations can be added to or deleted from any of the methods without departing from the basic scope of the invention.

While the invention has been described in terms of several embodiments, those skilled in the art will recognize that the invention is not limited to the embodiments described, but can be practiced with modification and alteration within the spirit and scope of the appended claims. The description is thus to be regarded as illustrative instead of limiting.





 
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