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Using a Solar Water Heater to Get Efficient Heat for Your Home

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I have had a solar water heater for my home since I bought it in 2005.

A typical home solar water heating system on a roof

A typical home solar water heating system on a roof

Why Choose a Solar Energy Water Heater?

For years, people have been looking at ways to find more clean sources of energy. In the U.S., much has been discussed about reducing our dependence on oil, especially from foreign countries that we aren’t always on positive terms with. Some of the cleaner energy sources being discussed are wind and solar. Both certainly have positives, but negatives are unavoidable as well.

I live near an area referred to as the Altamont, which connects the central valley of California to the higher populated Bay Area. The Altamont creates a wind funnel through the mountains that makes it perfect for capturing wind-produced energy. The biggest concern is that some models of turbines can be fatal to birds not paying attention to where those blades are when they fly by.

Solar energy is a little bit easier to utilize; your biggest concern is putting the panels in an area that gets as much sunlight as possible. Of course, the biggest drawback to solar is a lack of sunlight, mainly during storms or the winter.

We have had a solar water heater for our home since we bought it in 2005. It is pretty much impossible to gauge how much energy we save with our unit, but I do know that I turn the electric backup off around April and I usually don’t turn it back on until September or October. It is a great feeling to know that my family of four gets 100% of our hot water during these months directly from the sun and not our energy company.

Solar Power Facts

Capturing sunlight for energy use is a fairly straightforward process. Photovoltaic (the more scientific name) panels are installed and they convert the energy from the sunlight to electricity. In many applications, homeowners will generate enough electricity to cover their normal usages.

I have also heard many stories about systems producing more than they need which will actually cause their electricity meter to spin the other way. This “excess” energy is basically being sold to the energy company to use on their grid elsewhere, not too bad in my opinion.

Unfortunately, my country hasn’t quite figured out how to get as much from solar as they could. It is a tremendous opportunity since so much of the country gets bathed in sun every day. Other countries, like Germany for example, have jumped into solar with both feet and their production continues to increase every year. I still hope that our future energy policies include more solar and less on sources like oil and coal.

How Much Do Traditional Water Heaters Cost?

The cost of a water heater will range depending on a few factors. The biggest two are the size of the heater itself and what kind of energy it takes to operate. The size is the biggest cost and determines how many gallons a water heater will store and heat.

The most common kinds of energy used to heat residential water heaters are natural gas and electricity. More rural homeowners will also have propane heaters available.

Natural gas is typically the most popular fuel source used for water heaters because it is a cheaper alternative to electricity and propane. Costs will vary based on what the charges are from your local energy company but, in most cases, natural gas is still the best option.

How Much Do Solar Water Heaters Cost?

Even though we don’t pay anything for our hot water for about half of the year,\ there are initial costs that come with choosing solar water heating instead of the more common other models.

The biggest drawback to a solar water heater is the cost. More traditional water heaters can be bought for a couple of hundred dollars plus installation costs. Solar models are many times more expensive with procurement costs in the thousands. The installation will probably cost more too since they are installed outside and might need structural alterations to allow for their size and weight.

The weight of the unit isn’t much because the tank and panels only weigh a few hundred pounds or so. The extra weight comes into play when the tank is full of water. Our system has a 100-gallon tank and it was installed over a trellis near the back of our house. The trellis is nothing fancy but the main support beam is huge, it is about fifteen inches deep.

As with any investment in a home, numbers need to be crunched to see if it is worth the initial cost of the project. For example, you might want to remodel your kitchen a certain way but if the added value to your home doesn’t cover the money spent on the remodel is it really the best use of your cash?

Solar water heater companies have calculators that take into consideration your electricity rate as well as your estimated hot water usage and sun exposure. Any good company should be able to tell you how many years it would take for you to save enough money to pay for your new water solar heater.

What Does a Solar Panel Do?

We have all seen solar panels somewhere. Maybe they were on a roof of a house or over some covered parking at a shopping mall. I’m glad to see more and more of them popping up and taking advantage of the sunny days here in California.

A solar water heater captures the energy of the sun rather efficiently. A glycol gel circulates in the panels and transfers the energy into the tank to heat the water; for the systems to operate properly the panels have to be installed at a minimum angle and the tank must be at the top.

The warmer gel rises and comes into contact with rods where the energy is transferred, through the rods, to the tank where the water is heated. The cooler gel falls and goes back to the bottom of the panel where it starts the whole process all over again. The solar panels are self-contained and the gel does not need replenishment unless a leak occurs.

I’m no scientist but I appreciate the system and how it is designed; my wallet also appreciates the hot water we receive without any electricity being used.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 David


Mikdee10 on April 14, 2020:

I'm just starting some solar water heater research and would like to install one this summer. The ones I've seen so far work along with your existing hot water tank. Basically filling it was warm or even hot water, thus the energy savings.

Is this one that you talk about in your article a system which is the tank as well?

Hitender Kumar from Delhi on November 28, 2014:

Sun is Bulk Source of Energy. Utiloize energy for cleaning stuff really a great Idea .

SonQuioey10 on August 09, 2013:

Very interesting.

I've always wanted to try solar energy. That is one way I'll definitely go green. With the water heater, that may definitely save money in the long-run.