Solar Water Heating

Use the power of the sun for your hot water needs

An important option you have as an individual to save energy, money and the environment is to install a solar hot water heating system in your home. This is a simple, relatively inexpensive and effective way to reduce your home’s energy usage. In fact, water heating represents about 17% of the energy used in U.S. homes, making it the second largest household energy expense.

The best solutions to the energy crisis are those that don’t require you to change your normal routine very much. Solar water heating requires you to do nothing different than you do now but it yields enormous results in terms of energy savings and carbon emission reductions..

When it comes to solar hot water heating systems, the technology is well developed, with a large choice of equipment available to customize the installation to your exact needs. The average solar hot water system will meet a third of your hot water needs and reduce your household CO2 emissions by about 880 Lbs/Year, which is significant.

Solar hot water systems require little maintenance and can actually add value to your home. Systems are also available for your pool. In addition to the energy cost savings you’ll enjoy, you may also be eligible for rebates and tax incentives. You can check for rebates here.

Here are the basic components, there are three:

Solar Panels or collectors – these are placed on your roof to collect heat from the sun. There are two main types:

Flat panels – These have an absorber plate with a transparent cover to collect the suns heat.

Evacuated Tube Systems – This consists of rows of glass tubes, each of which has absorber plates that feed into a manifold containing a fluid that is heated and transported.

A Heat Transfer System – This collects the heat and transfers it to your hot water system.

A Hot Water Storage Tank – Acts as a storage location for the hot water that is generated during the day and supplies it for later use.

For those days when there is not enough sun or for when your demand exceeds the ability of your solar hot water system a back-up method is required. Your solar hot water system will monitor the water temperature and kick in the back-up system when the water temperature drops too low. Usually the back up system will heat the top part of the storage unit, allowing the solar system to continue to heat the water at the bottom of the tank. Even in the wintertime a solar hot water system can handle up to 50% of your hot water needs.

How much does a solar water heating system cost?

Ah, the big question.

The cost for a Solar Water Heating system is reasonable, but varies depending on your needs. For example, in a moderate or warm climate zone, installing a system capable of supplying hot water for your entire household can be achieved for about $2000-5000. Considering the annual operating costs of the solar system is about $50, compared to the $500 cost of a typical electric water system, solar water heaters are very competitive compared to traditional electric and gas heaters.

Solar water heaters serve as a pre-heater for your conventional water heater. For increased energy efficiency and cost savings you can install an on-demand water heater with temperature adjustability. Because the water is pre-heated by the solar system, the temperature boost required by the on-demand unit is minimal, which means you can enjoy a high flow rate combined with significant monthly savings.

Installing the water heater

For the best performance from your solar hot water heater you should install it on a South-facing roof, ideally with a sloping design. This maximizes the exposure of the unit to the sun and allows your water heater to work at maximum efficiency. In a warm climate you can get significant savings all year long. In colder climates, while newer designs can still provide significant savings, many homeowners use them on a “three-season” basis, relying on their back-up system in the dead of winter.

Installation of a solar hot water system is simple and easy. The skilled do-it-yourself homeowner can do it and, if you don’t have the skills or prefer to have a contractor there are plenty of skilled and certified contractors with experience installing these systems. Always look for a qualified installer and dealer who can properly design and size your back-up system. For your own safety, always use a licensed contractor and ask about their certifications. A reputable contractor will also be able to provide with a list of references and satisfied past customers.

The average lifespan of a well-maintained conventional water heater is 10 – 15 years. The keyword here is well-maintained, most homeowners do little to no maintenance on their water heater, often shortening the expected life to as little as 5 –7 years. Depending on the age of your existing water heater you should start planning for its replacement as early as possible. The most expensive solution is to wait until the system fails. That is not the time to be making any sort of decision. Take some time now to research your options and to find the solar hot water system that best meets the needs of your household and the environment. Your energy savings alone can pay for your new solar water heater before you know it.

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