Solar water heaters: Which one works best for your home?
The US Department of Energy estimates that heating costs account for 42% of the average residential utility bill, more than for any other kind of energy use. Installing solar water heaters is one popular method for homeowners to reduce that expense. These systems use renewable energy to reduce the need for grid power while delivering high volumes of hot water.
What is a solar water heater?
In contrast to traditional water heaters, solar water heaters don’t connect to your home’s grid energy. Instead, these high-efficiency appliances use dedicated solar collectors to draw power from the sun. Solar energy is used to heat water for daily domestic use.
Solar water heaters are different from solar panel systems that provide electricity for the home. You can install a solar water heater on its own, or you could have both operating at the same time.
How do solar water heaters work?
Solar heater systems consist of a storage tank and solar collector. There are two main types of solar water heaters available for residential and commercial use: active and passive. Each of these systems is available with two different heating options.
Direct active systems move the water through the collectors to gather heat, then sends it to your faucets and showerheads.
Indirect active systems use a warming fluid to transfer heat from the collectors to your water supply.
Integral passive solar heaters use metal plates to heat small batches of water. Pumps then move it into an insulated storage tank for later use.
Passive thermosyphon systems use the heat from the sun to directly heat stored water. Warmer water rises to the top, which fills a storage tank connected to your plumbing.
Solar water heating systems can produce enough hot water to satisfy most of your household’s daily needs..
Many passive systems include a tankless heater as a backup and the backup energy source can either be gas or electric.
How can consumers select the right solar water heater?
Each type of solar water heating system works best in different environments.
Direct systems work best in climates that don’t often see temperatures below freezing. In colder areas, indirect active systems are more resistant to cold damage.
Want your solar heating system to do double duty? Invest in an indirect circulating system. The heating fluid can be redirected to heat your pool or spa in between working to supply your home with heated water.
Families that use more warm water during daylight hours benefit from integral passive systems. By producing multiple small batches of warmed water, family members won’t have to worry about having enough hot water for morning showers.
Have more roof than ground space? A thermosyphon solar water heater fits on your roof, which leaves you more space in your living area.
Ultimately, the system you use depends on a number of factors, including:
How much sunlight your property receives.
The volume of heated water required on a daily basis.
Every property is unique. Seek expert guidance to ensure you choose the perfect system for your home. Talk to an installer in your area to learn more about suggested equipment for your project.
Should I get a solar water heater or a home solar panel system?
Solar water heaters were a popular option until a few years ago. But the current trend is for homeowners to just get a solar panel system instead.
Why? Because the cost of solar panels has fallen so much in recent years. If you want to save money, the most cost-effective option to go for a solar panel system big enough to cover your energy requirements for heating as well. You then pair your solar panel system with an efficient electric water heater.
Of course, solar water heaters can be worthwhile in some cases. They are more efficient than solar panels at their specific function, heating water. They use sunlight to heat water directly, as opposed to solar panels (which use sunlight to produce electricity, which in turn powers an electric heater which then heats the water. As such, solar water heaters require less space than the equivalent number of solar panels for the same job. If you have major space constraints, it might be most efficient to pair your solar panel system with a solar hot water heater.
How much money can you save with a solar water heater?
Solar water heaters require a hefty upfront investment. However, after installation, these systems slowly pay back their value in the form of lower monthly utility bills. At the end of your solar payback period, your solar water heater will be producing nearly free hot water for many years.
To calculate your potential savings, you’ll need to know:
How much hot water your family needs on a daily basis.
The SRRC or solar energy factor rating for your intended equipment. These numbers give you an idea of how efficiently your appliance will use gathered solar power.
The life expectancy of your solar water heating system. The longer your heating system components last, the more money you’ll save.
With this information, you can determine the annual operating cost of your solar water heater. Compare this to your regular monthly utility spending to see how much you can save by switching to solar.