Using hot water in your home may cost you more than you think. In a single year, an 80-gallon water heater can cost you up to $500 in electricity expenses. Not only that, the average 4,800 kilowatt hours of electricity that a water heater uses per year emits about 6,600 pounds of carbon dioxide—about the same amount that a car emits in 6 months. When you think about all the hard work that your water heater does, a solar water heater may be what you need to give your wallet and the earth a break.
How Solar Water Heaters Work
Solar water heaters work by using solar collectors instead of panels that heat water. Instead of converting the sun’s rays into electricity, the rays are converted into heat.
A solar water heater generally has an insulated solar collector and a storage tank. The solar collector is like a box that has tubes through which water flows. As the collector converts the sun’s radiation into heat, it warms the water that flows through the tubes inside. The warm water then flows into a heated storage tank.
There are two main types of solar water heaters: active systems and passive systems. An active system uses electricity to power the pumps that move the water using a direct circulation or indirect circulation system. A passive system uses gravity or convection (the action of warm water rising)—natural processes that don’t require electricity—to move water through the collector and into the home’s pipes using a thermosyphon or integral collector-storage passive system.
Solar Water Heater Setup
The installation of a solar water heater begins with determining if your home is a good candidate for this type of system. A qualified solar thermal HVAC contractor can tell you if your geographic area has a favorable climate and your home is a good candidate. They can also advise on building codes to consider and if the water heater would pose any safety issues.
The actual installation process depends on the type of water heater that you choose for your home. In some cases, a contractor may install a rooftop solar collector that connects to a water storage tank inside your home or to a swimming pool. If your home is not a good candidate for rooftop collectors, a contractor may install a series of collectors on the ground.
When considering the installation of a solar water heater, you’ll need a backup water heating system because you may not have a sufficient amount of hot water on cloudy days. In some instances, a backup water heater comes with a solar system package.
The Savings that You’ll Experience
The sun is one of the best heat- and electricity-generating resources available because it’s abundant, clean and free. When you use the sun to preheat or heat your water, you can reduce the cost of warming your water by up to 50 percent, depending on where you live. A 50 percent reduction in energy use also means a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (up to 4,000 pounds of carbon dioxide). At the same time, you’re increasing the value of your home while reducing your dependence on fossil fuels and foreign sources of energy.
Being energy conscious is not only environmentally friendly, it can also save you money on your energy bills along with less pollution in and around your home. Make sure you do your homework and find a reputable solar energy contractor or HVAC company that can help.