Solar Hot Water Heaters
Solar Powered Water Heaters

Solar hot water heaters are big money savers to the homeowner, the return on investment is quick and they reduce dramatically the household carbon dioxide footprint.
See what are they, how do they work, how much do they cost, how much money they save and how to install and maintain the solar powered water heater. See also what are the different types of solar powered water heaters and how to size a solar hot water heater

Cost and Tax Credits

solar hot water heater

Investing in a solar energy water heater is a modest investment. It might cost anywhere between $2,000 to $4,000. The payback time is 2-3 years as a result of the saving on the energy cost involved with water heating. Not only that, at least 30% can be paid back by energy tax credits. California, realizing the potential, has recently embarked on a rebate program to encourage investments in residential solar water heating systems.

What is a Solar Powered Water Heater?

The most prominent component is the sun itself, radiating free of charge light rays toward planet Earth. In fact, the energy reaching Earth in one day is sufficient for the annual demand.

The second component is the solar thermal collector, a relatively small aperture frame absorbing the sun radiation. If you asked yourself how is solar energy converted to heat, it is the solar collector that does the job by harnessing the greenhouse effect. More on collectors' types and solar heaters' types in solar water heaters types

The third component is a relatively small insulated reservoir of water, pros tend to call it the hot water storage tank .

The fourth part is the fluid that moves the heat from the collector to the tank.

  • The fluid can be the water itself in those areas where freezing is a rarity.
  • In areas where freezing is a threat, a non toxic anti-freeze fluid corrosion inhibitor fluid is used in the loop of pipes that goes between the collector and the tank. This is very much the same concept one finds in his car if he lives in areas where the winter is c-o-l-d.

An optional component is the pump. If no pump is used, the solar hot water heater is called a passive solar water heater

Well, you guessed correctly, if a pump is used, than the system is called active solar water heater.

The initial cost of passive heater and the life cycle cost are cheaper than the cost of the active heater. In these days, people are conscious about money and about clean air. They want to save money and to reduce the carbon foot print their family generates.

The pump, unless it gets its energy from a small photovoltaic panel, uses electricity or is using other burning fuel. The energy the pump is taking for its operation can amount to 10% of what the solar heater saves.

Therefore, if conditions allow I recommend the passive systems.

Another component, is a backup heater using usually gas or electricity, for heavy cloudy days. In most systems an electrical back up water heater is embedded inside the solar water tank.

Why use solar radiation to heat water?

There are two reasons to use solar powered water heaters:

  • The first reason is to save money. The investment is relatively low, part of the cost is covered by tax credit and part can be covered by subsidized energy loans

  • The second reason is that clean air and reducing global warming are becoming more and more important. Heating water not by a solar system, send 4.5 tones of greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide) into the air annually. This is comparable to what one average family car on the roads put out annually. We can do something about protecting our environment.

click here to see the advantages of solar energy

Installation alternatives

You can DIY or go on a turn key job

DIY can be done the easier way and the less easy one.
The easy one is to buy the DIY solar hot water kit from a store you can trust. The store will provide installation guides and after sale support.
The less easy way is to shop for each one of the different components. For more details, view my page DIY solar hot water systems

I recommend buying the complete kit from one store, the added value worth the added cost

Your second option is to bring in a professional contractor that will assess what might be the optimum solar hot water heater for your site, will bring in the system's components and install it on a turn key basis. This is a bit more expensive and you loose the excitement of DIY (if you like this excitement). The time it might take from when you decide to heat water by harnessing the sun until you can enjoy hot water heated by the sun is very short if you choose to go that way. A few days to a few weeks, for most regions.

Which of the solar hot water heaters fits your needs?

It depends on where you live (Sun Belt States or more northern states)
It also depends on installation constraints such as the position of the collector in regard to the tank. In passive solar hot water heater the tank must be installed higher than the collector.
If you add a pump the collector can be installed in a higher altitude relative to the solar hot water tank

In sizing the system you need to consider 10 years ahead (the heater life expectancy), to accommodate for family growth...

If you're not able to install your solar hot water heater right away, there are still ways you can cut your hot water energy use. Green Energy Efficient Homes provides hot water efficiency tips for electric hot water tanks that can be helpful for any type of water heater you use

Links to Related Reading

View the history of solar hot water heaters

Reasons to invest in and why go on it solar powered hot water heater

More on solar thermal panels: On solar hot water panels

More ways to use solar energy for home

Solar radiation can generate electrical power directly by using a residential photovoltaic system

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