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How To Repair Leaky Fafco Revolution Solar Heating Panels For Your Pool

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This is a DIY for how to fix hundreds of holes in the very expensive Fafco Revolution solar heating panels.

Many lessons learned are in this DIY ... which I believe are nowhere else on the web.

I write this so that YOU have the information that I never had, when I started this quest four years ago to fix my Fafco Revolution solar heating panels.

Good luck and - please improve with suggestions - as I still haven't found a good supplier for the plugs used in this DIY.

History:

- My solar heating panel installation was designed & installed by Poco Solar at 3345 Keller Street Santa Clara (408-970-0680) about 10 years ago.

- They are the only Fafco authorized dealer anywhere near me, according to Fafco (http://www.fafco.com...er/default.aspx)

- They are warranted for 10 years, to the original owner only (http://www.fafco.com/shw/faq.aspx).

- I bought the house about 4 years ago, and this problem has been going on since then (and clearly before then).

- The 13 four-feet wide twelve-foot long panels are 15 feet below the pool (http://www.fafco.com...al_10-28-09.pdf)

- They're 'drained' each winter by opening the only drain Poco solar installed and shutting off the three "Jandy" valves provided.

- This is in accordance with the Fafco factory winterizing instructions at http://www.fafco.com/sph/faq.aspx

- Yet, each time I start up the solar heating system, fifty (or so) leaks occur; and another dozen or so occur during the summer.

- Each and every leak (mostly pinholes) is at the weak-spot 'whorl' pressed into the Fafco Revolution solar heating panels.

- Fafco touts these little 'dimples' as revolutionary. I'll say. They make you want to revolt.

- Prices for a new Fafco Revolution solar heating panel were quoted by Poco solar as $528 + ~10% tax.

- The Fafco Sunsaver solar heating panels are the same thing, but without the weak whorl, at $370 + ~10% tax.

- Obviously, the first tip to you, the reader, is save yourself ~$175 per panel by NOT buying the one with the weak whorl.

- The salesman will swear the 'whorl' gives you better heating because it 'spins' the water in the tube.

- Personally, I think the whorl is pressed into the tube and it is badly designed such that it becomes THE weakest point in the entire system!

- The second tip is to buy a $45 Fafco repair kit with 20 repair plugs to disable each tube as it springs a leak at the whorl

- The need to repair Fafco Revolution solar heating panels is so great you can also find these Fafco repair kits on Ebay for around $20

- You really need the EXACT shape of the chisel gouge that comes with the kit; and the allen-head pusher is just the right size (an allen wrench hurts your hands more)

- And, before some smart aleck suggest gluing the pinholes, make sure you've tried it first.

- You can try all the glues you want (I've tried at least a half dozen); they all fail ... at least they all failed me. YMMV.

- What I do is what Fafco recommends which is to just disable any tube that leaks (about 50 tubes per year!)

- It takes a minimum of 2 and sometimes 4 plugs to disable a single tube (so you need at least 100 plugs for starters)

- The Fafco plugs are of soft rubber of a width of 1/4" tapered to a smidge over 1/8"; length barely over 7/8" with a hole in the large end

- The official repair option is to buy 100 repair plugs at $0.54 each (+~10% tax) from the dealer.

- These are the perfect length to go in smoothly - and they have a hole in them to keep the plug from bunching up like an inchworm

- However, at 50 pinholes per year and over 54 cents per plug and with two to four plugs per pinhole, the Fafco plugs get expensive!

- I found similar plugs at McMaster Carr & WidgetCo for about $.09 each, plus 10% tax + about $5 shipping

- The WidgetCo part number is 7-R000000-EPDM-RS and the cost is $39.00 for 100 tapered rubber stoppers (1/4x1/8x3/4 EPDM)

- The McMaster-Carr part number is "6448K88" and the cost is $8.46 for 100 tapered rubber stoppers (1/4x1/8x3/4 EPDM)

- McMaster-Carr actually gets their plugs from RubberDynamics.com, PN TPE0250-0750, which sells for $5.00 for 100 stoppers (1/4x1/8x3/4 EPDM)

- The only problem with RubberDynamics is you have to buy 10 packs of 100 wherease McMaster-Carr will sell one pack of 100.

- These EPDM plugs are just as wide (1/4") and tapered just as small (1/8") but they're shorter at 3/4" & they don't have the hole in the large end

- I have not yet found on the net a tapered rubber stopper that is the same dimensions yet longer at 7/8" (if you know of any, let me know!)

- You 'could' easily melt a hole in the end by heating a small allen wrench and shoving it into the rubber - but I found it wasn't really necessary.

- If you use the Fafco repair kit, you do not need any other special tools - although dish detergent & an 1/8" round 'tool' are useful when using the suggested rubber stoppers (which are shorter and don't have the extra hole).

Here is a picture of the $45 Fafco solar heating panel repair kit (the shampoo lubricant and the red case are my additions):

8714339.jpg

100 plugs from the dealer is $54.00 + ~10% tax; the closest/cheapest I found is TPE0250-0750 from Rubber Dynamics at $5.00 for 100 plugs:

8713936.png

Here is a picture of the longer $0.54 Fafco original plug with a hole in the end & the shorter $0.05 replacement plug (with a hole melted into the end):

8714649.jpg

Here is what the panels look like when they're dry (notice the water stains, each one of which is a Fafco 'dimple' leak):

8714342.jpg

There are perhaps 50 or more pinholes like these, all of which are at the weak-point 'whorl' specific to the Fafco Revolution panels.

8714344.jpg

Notice the many varied attempts at glue, epoxy, and rubber cement. Don't even think about gluing these panels. It just doesn't work.

8714429.jpg

Here's another pinhole, again, always at the whorl of the Fafco Revolution solar heating panels:

8713867.jpg

The reason it's always at the dimple is graphically shown in this Fafco illustration:

8714696.png

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Each dimple of the Fafco Revolution panel is an obvious weak spot:

8713876.jpg

To "winterize" these panels Fafco recommends you shut off the three Jandy-style valves to the panels:

8713912.jpg

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And that you open the one and only faucet drain which is situated at the lowest point in the panel arrangement:

8713894.jpg

But it really won't help. The pinholes occur due to the manufacturing process creating a weak point in the Revolution panels, which is bound to leak, sooner or later in thousands upon thousands of potential locations. It's just bad engineering and bad design and bad manufacturing. Of course, it doesn't help that my panels are 15 feet below the pool, so add to all that bad factory stuff a badly designed installation.

Interestingly Poco Solar, the original installer, will swear it's 'bad maintenance", which is interesting because they have records showing the panels were repaired numerous times under warranty for the exact same reason for the original owner! Being an engineer, my take on this is it's one or more of the following:

a) Bad materials (e.g., the weakening whorl of the Fafco Revolution solar panels!)

B) Bad installation (e.g., putting it 15 feet below the pool without adding any additional drain valves)

c) Bad maintenance (e.g., not removing all 13 huge heavy panels and storing them indoors for the winter)

Oh well. It is what it is.

Moving on to the DIY, your first task is optional, which is to melt a hole in the large end of the plug with an allen wrench on your BBQ:

8713996.jpg

Then, you need to figure out which tube is leaking, which is difficult in some cases when the location of the pinhole is at the crease.

After cutting a few wrong sister tubes, I learned a neat simple trick.

Simply press, one at a time, on the two tubes adjacent to the pinhole with a 1/8 inch flathead screwdriver:

8714006.jpg

When you press on the tube that has the pinhole, the water spray will momentarily stop:

8714012.jpg

Now you have to shut off the water because THIS is what happens if you don't shut off the water (you just can't work under pressure):

8714020.jpg

But wait! BEFORE you shut off the water, you have to MARK the location of the many pinholes.

Trust me, I've tried lots of methods, one of which was whiteout, which does NOT work (because everything is soaking wet after a while).

8714050.jpg

The best I've found to mark the holes are nails. Yup. Stick nails exactly at the location of the pinhole while the pressure is in the solar heating tubes:

8714056.jpg

Personally, I wait a day for the panels to dry out (the less you wait, the wetter you will be - but you'll be soaked before the job is done nonetheless).

You'll notice it's now the next day, and the panels are as dry as they're gonna get.

I've gathered my kit (which is in an old grade-school lunchbox because individual tools will slide all over the sloped slippery panels if you don't keep it all together and you and the toolkit will be soaking wet by the time you're done repairing just a couple of holes as you lie on your belly gingerly crawling over the 12-foot long panels):

8714067.jpg

With 50 or more nails in place marking the holes, you immediately notice ALL the holes are in the weak whorls of the Fafco Revolution panels!

8714120.jpg

Your first step is to climb onto the panel and locate your first nail:

8714122.jpg

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Your job will be to disable the tube. Fafco recommends you gouge out TWO slices, each about 2 or 3 inches long, one at the very top of the 12-foot long tube and another at the very bottom of the 12-foot long tube. This is a LOT of work for 50 or more pinholes as that's a lot of crawling and a hundred or more gouges. So what I do is simply gouge out a 2 or 3 inch gash 'at' the pinhole. Here you see me starting the cut from the bottom:

8714123.jpg

The trick is to get as wide a cut as possible (so there is less friction for the plug going in) WITHOUT cutting into the next tube!

8714124.jpg

Keep gouging out until you've gone an inch or more above and below the pinhole:

8714125.jpg

Here is a completed cut, which is about an inch or two above and below the pinhole:

8714126.jpg

Now I lubricate my rubber plugs with shampoo although Fafco says to lubricate with plain water (of which there is always too much):

8714127.jpg

There is a certain 'technique' to pushing the rubber plugs into each side of the gouge - suffice to say the smoother and more steady you push, combined with the wider the gouge and the consistency of the gouge, and the longer the plug (the Fafco plugs are better for this) and the more you push on the centerline of the plug - the easier the whole thing goes into the tube to plug it up.

8714128.jpg

With the non-stock plugs (which are shorter than the Fafco plug and which don't have the guiding hole), I generally only get 3/4 of the way in without the plug binding up like an inchworm:

8714130.jpg

When the plug binds, I switch tools to the thicker 1/8" tipped probe, which allows me to push harder and to push the upper edges of the plug down to force it into the tube:

8714131.jpg

Finally, when the plug disappears from view, I switch back to the Fafco hex wrench tool, to push the plug in the entire 3-inch lengh of the Fafco pushing tool:

8714132.jpg

Then I repeat the procedure for the top of the gouge (remember, Fafco recommends two separate gouges!):

8714133.jpg

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Again, I push the plug in as far as I can get it with the Fafco plug-pushing tool:

8714134.jpg

Here is what it looks like, with the single gouge, and two plugs pushed 3 inches up the tube to disable the tube.

Notice pushing the plug in two or three inches also allows room for a second plug - which I generally skip - although it's a good idea to add a second plug (for a total of 4 plugs per pinhole).

8714136.jpg

Then you simply repeat the steps above with the next 50 pinholes, one by one (until next time):

8714137.jpg

Here is the description from Fafco why the Revoloution panels have that little weakening dimple:

8714560.png

Improvements welcome!

- A key improvement would be a source for a LONGER rubber stopper. Mine were 3/4" long but the Fafco originals are 7/8" long and therefore they go in smoother.

REFERENCES:

- The

makes it look easier than it really is; but it's the gist of the repair.

What they don't cover in the video is you have to crawl on the sloping panels which are laid edge to edge, for a total length of 24 feet, and it's soaking wet and the supports are bending and creaking below you from your weight. The panel in the video is only about 2 feet long and it's dry and sitting on a table. This is not realistic. What a difference a few details make! Plus, every time you crawl on the panels, you create MORE holes because of the thousands upon thousands of whorls creating weak spots everywhere! In addition, their method costs more than 10x the method shown above. For just a dozen or so leaks, their method is ok; but not when you get 50 or more every single year!

- Contact FAFCO, Incorporated, 435 Otterson Drive, Chico, CA 95928-8207, http://www.fafco.com, Phone: (530) 332-2100, (800) 994-7652

- Fafco owners manual (pdf)

- Fafco clone kit repair instructions

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This has Sticky written all over it!

Scott

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Thanks for the info. I have 11 Fafco SunSaver that are about 9 years old and 1 Fafco Revolution that is about 5 years old and so far, no leaks in any of the panels including the Revolution. Maybe they changed their design sometime after when your panels were manufactured.

So how do you do your technique if the leak is on the backside of the panel? I would think it would be hard to find the leak there though I would guess that the fix could be the same in terms of plugging. Also, since plugging stops flow through that particular tube, why don't you plug the tube near the top and bottom of the panel since there won't be any water flow through it anyway so this will prevent more leaks in the same tube (unless leaks only get created from water flow and not from static pressure). Also, I would assume that eventually you end up plugging so many tubes as to render the system useless or at least require a bypass to prevent too much pressure.

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I would expect finding the right rib and plugging it near the top and bottom would lead to the wrong rib being plugged potentially.

Scott

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I bought the FACFO kit you have in the photos, however, it seems the plugs I have go in very easily into the tubes in the Revolution panels I have (installed around 1098). It says they are 1/4" diameter plugs, but I doubt it. There is absolutely no resistance. and the moment the water turns back on, the plugs get pushed out of the way. Any suggestions?

the plugs i have say 3388 Repair Plug 20 pcs

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> So how do you do your technique if the leak is on the backside of the panel?

Good question!

I haven't even 'looked' at the bottom! It didn't even occur to me to look as there are 13 panels, which takes up a space of 24 feet long by 24 feet wide so it would be a lot of crawling on the ground to get underneath them.

> why don't you plug the tube near the top and bottom of the panel since there won't be any water flow through it anyway so this will prevent more leaks in the same tube

That is the 'proper' way to do it. And it's the 'documented' way to do it.

The problem with that top/bottom method, for me, is that I'm a big guy and every time I crawl onto the panels, I break the underlying supports and MORE holes seem to pop up in the panels. So, like walking on a tile roof, you learn to avoid it altogether. The top of the bottom set is in the middle of the 24' by 24' array and the bottom of the top panels is in the middle of that array. Most leaks are on the bottom set of panels. Given that I don't want to crawl to the top of the tube (which is in the middle of the 24' by 24' array), I simply plug 'at' the leak. I've calculated that approach gives me the least amount of crawling on the panels but I'm always open to a better way!

8764407.jpg

> I would assume that eventually you end up plugging so many tubes as to render the system useless or at least require a bypass to prevent too much pressure.

Sigh. True. All too true.

> I would expect finding the right rib and plugging it near the top and bottom would lead to the wrong rib being plugged potentially.

Yup. I did this too! The problem is you have to crawl 12 feet to get to the top of the bottom panels (or to get to the bottom of the top panels). All those black tubes look alike! :)

> It says they are 1/4" diameter plugs, but I doubt it.

Funny you mentioned that!

The kit I bought certainly has 1/4 inch plugs because I measured them with my micrometer.

8764423.jpg

However, I had to replace a bunch of much older plugs which were put in before I owned the house - and THEY certainly seem smaller in diameter at the big end than any of my plugs!

I think there are TWO sizes from Fafco! They told me that the professional panels (e.g., the Revolution) use a larger plug than the consumer-installed models. Perhaps you and I have run into those smaller plugs? They certainly go in much easier - but - as you have seen - they don't stay in as well.

8764448.jpg

My suggestion? Buy 100 of the McMaster-Carr 1/4 inch plugs (which actually come from rubberdynamics.com):

8764438.jpg

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It turns out, after having put in a hundred of these lately, that the small hole melted into the end makes it a LOT easier to get them to go into the tube. I drilled a hole in a wine cork to hold the plug as I heated up an allen wrench to melt the hole in the end of about 50 of the plugs. That works well.

The only thing we could improve is it would be easier to install these plugs if the taper was more gradual (i.e., if they were longer than 3/4 inch).

So, if anyone can find LONGER plugs, I'd be indebted to them.

Here's what we need:

a. 1/4" on one end

b. About 1/8" (or so) on the other end.

c. About 7/8" or longer <========= We need YOUR help in locating this plug!

8764475.jpg

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Great tips, but I couldn't get past the idea of slowly disabling more and more of the tubes on my panels. I went a different route and patched them from the outside, leaving the tubes still functional. For the most minor of leaks, a coating of RTV was sufficient to stop them - but most leaks required more than that.

Sitting in my garage from the installation of my mist cooler system was some nice stiff vinyl tubing with an ID almost the same as the OD of the tubes in my panels. I cut 4" lengths of that tubing, slit it all the way down one side, and then slid it over the leaking fafco tubes with a generous helping of RTV to seal the deal.

So far, none of the tubes I've repaired that way have leaked again, although I suspect I'll run out of leftover vinyl tubing long before I run out of leaking fafco tubes. :)

Note that I have flat roof sections hidden by parapets, so I had no need to paint the patches to match the panels. If appearance is a concern to you, that might be an added step you need to take.

1tools_zps11c67e08.jpg

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3completed_zps8965f1c0.jpg

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I am so happy to have found this thread, I am not alone!!!

Has anyone considered and/or tried silicone to lubricate and then help to secure the plugs? Before finding this thread that was my next best idea.

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Thanks for the great info!!!

I had many leaking plugs.

I just redid about 40 holes in my panels. I used kids bubble stuff for blowing bubbles to lubricate. I used a q-tip to apply it to the channel, put the plug in and pushed with a Robertson screw driver and each plug went in 2"-3" with little effort. I then used a q-tip to clean out/dry the channel and then filled the 2"-3" behind the plug with black silicone.

I will wait 24 hours for the silicone to cure and then I am fairly confident I will have no leaks.

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I just got a house with 4 year old FAFCO panels which have already begun leaking.  When the solar heating is on, I'm losing around 1500 gallons of water per day, despite only having 4 or 5 leaks.  Needless to say, the panels are currently worthless.  Repairing them is a pain, as indicated in this thread, and if they are just going to continue to get worse, that's not a very good option for me.  What are people replacing these with?  Is there anything out there that can work close to worry-free for 10+ years?  20+ would be even better.  Any suggestions are appreciated!

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