Why You Should Give Solar Water Heaters a Chance

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Nearly a third of the average household’s energy use goes towards heating water. That being the case, the installation of a solar water heater is a smart investment for your home, your pocket book, and the environment. Solar water heaters can reduce the cost of heating water in your home by 50 to 80 percent, meaning big savings when it comes to your monthly utility bills.

How a Solar Water Heater Operates

Solar water heaters are available in two main types, from passive and active systems. Each style has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages.

  • Passive Systems: Passive solar water heaters are cheaper to run and generally more maintenance-free than active systems. There are two main types of passive systems out there to choose from: the integral collector storage systems (also referred to as ICS systems), and thermosyphon system. ICS systems are perfect for areas where the temperature rarely drops below freezing, but they can present problems if you live in colder climates. Thermosyphon systems work in all climates, since they divert water to a conventional water heater when temperatures drop below the freezing point.
  • Active Systems: Active systems are a little more expensive to run and will encounter more maintenance problems, since they rely on a pump system to operate, rather than natural circulation. There are two types of active systems on the market. The first is a direct solar circulation system, in which the water is heated up in a storage tank on the roof of the house, then circulated by a pump throughout the home. Again, these are efficient for areas that don’t experience freezing temperatures, but can run into serious problems if the mercury falls too low. Indirect circulation systems, on the other hand, work by heating a non-freezing fluid that is pumped to a heat exchanger, which then heats your water. If you live in a climate where freezing temperatures are common, this is the way to go.
Solar panel for hot water system on roof

Source: iStock

Solar Water Heaters and Conventional Hot Water Heaters

Solar water heaters are often used in conjunction with conventional hot water heaters, especially in areas where sunshine is not as prevalent or the temperature drops below freezing. With this type of system, cold water first goes to the solar collector, where it is naturally warmed by the sun, then it to the conventional water heater tank. If the water is already hot enough, the conventional water heater just stores the hot water. If the water is too cool, the conventional water heater brings it up to the necessary temperature.

Installing Solar Water Heaters in Your Home

Just as with a traditional water heater, there are certain factors that determine which size tank is best for your household. The number of bathrooms in the house can be used to determine the appropriate tank size—though a family with heaps of laundry, or a house with an especially large bathtub, can throw off these guidelines. Also, your contractor will need to analyze your roof structure carefully. Since a solar water heater stores water—or water heating fluid—in a storage tank on the roof of your home in order to access exposure to the sun and its heat, it’s important that the structure of your home is carefully evaluated to ensure it can bear the load before the tank is installed. Talk to a contractor experienced in installing solar water heaters about evaluating your home for the best designs and options for you. A solar water heater will cost more up front, but in the long run, it’s going to save you bundles in energy bills, and help the environment at the same time. That’s a hard proposition to turn down.

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