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What Is A Solar Water Heater & How Can It Impact My Eco-Footprint For The Better?

Ready to upgrade your water heater? A solar water heater just may be the most environmentally friendly option.

Whether your home has a tankless water heater or a conventional storage tank water heater, chances are it’s powered either by natural gas or electric. These are the two most common sources of fuel for at-home hot water heaters. But if you’re ready to upgrade or replace your water heater, you may want to consider a third option: a solar water heater. As with all home improvement projects, you’ll want to get the full report on what makes a solar-powered water heater great… and what its limitations are. Is solar the right type of heater for your home? Let’s find out.

How Does A Solar Water Heater Work?

Houses powered by natural gas will likely use that as their fuel source for all appliances, from the stovetop cooking range to the water heater. Or, perhaps your home is powered by electricity from the grid. A solar water heater is powered by sunshine (this part probably did not surprise you).

No matter what type of solar water heater you invest in, it should have a collecting system — sometimes called an absorber — and a storage tank. The collecting system is where it sources its power — in this case, we’re talking about sunlight. All solar water heaters should have a well-insulated storage tank, so the water stays hot once it’s properly heated. There are two main different types of solar water heaters: active and passive.

Active Solar Water Heaters

These water heaters are governed by circulating pumps. A direct circulation system collects and distributes water throughout the unit with corresponding controls. This is simple and effective, but in cold climates that experience harsh winters, the water won’t get sufficiently hot. To combat this issue, homeowners may wish to invest in an indirect circulation system, which circulates an anti-freezing fluid throughout the unit. These units also contain something called a heat exchanger — this is a metal unit that lives inside the water heater. It acts as a sort of middleman between the natural heat gathered in the solar collectors and the water.

Passive Solar Water Heaters

All water heaters need to circulate water within the unit. Instead of a pump, passive solar water heaters use “free” or naturally-occurring elements to accomplish this. Typically, this means gravity and water pressure. An integral collector passive water heater is essentially a large box. It’s typically colored black for maximum heat absorption. In this case, the collecting system and the storage tank are one in the same. A passive thermosyphon system uses panels installed on your roof to gather natural heat from the sun.

Are Solar Water Heaters Expensive?

In short: It’s complicated. Solar water heaters vary greatly in price point, but they do largely cost more up-front than gas or electric-powered water heaters. Here are a few general cost patterns to consider.

Passive solar water heaters tend to cost less than active solar water heaters, but they are also (often) less efficient. If this is paramount to you, this may not be an ideal option. Remember that an energy efficient unit will likely save you money over the long haul, in the form of reduced monthly bills.

What Are The Benefits Of A Solar Water Heater And Should I Get One?

Regardless of what type you invest in, a solar water heater has two main benefits to the consumer:

  1. A solar water heater will reduce your monthly energy bill. Even if you employ a gas or electric-powered water heater as backup, you will pay less each month to heat your water, and this will be reflected in financial savings.
  2. A solar water heater will reduce your carbon footprint. It’s an eco-friendly option and friendlier to the environment.

Should I Get A Solar Water Heater?

It won’t shock you to learn that solar water heaters work best in moderate to warm climates with a decent amount of sunlight. Here in Fayetteville and Raleigh, North Carolina, where Blanton’s Air is located, a solar water heater is a smart choice. (Although we may experience some chilly winter days, we’re lucky not to spend eight months of the year shoveling ourselves out of a blizzard.)

There are some other limitations on solar water heaters. If you have a large household or use hot water in big quantities, solar might not be an ideal option. That said, you can always use a solar unit alongside your conventional water heater. If you’re ready to take the plunge, you should first calculate how much hot water your household uses during an average day. This will give you a good baseline for size and capacity requirements. When you’re ready to shop, the SRCC (Solar Rating & Certification Corporation) is a great resource to research different types of solar heaters, and cost-compare brands.

Installing a solar water heater in your home is a fantastic way to invest in the future and boost the resale value of your home. Is it the right choice for you? Contact your local HVAC and plumbing company today and start the conversation.

Contact Blanton’s Air at (910) 249-4898 for all your Fayetteville or Raleigh, NC HVAC and plumbing needs.

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