What's a Solar Water Heater?
If it’s time for a new water heater, you may be considering going solar. A solar water heater uses power from the sun to heat water for use in homes or commercial applications.
As sunshine is free and clean, it’s an economical and environmentally friendly option. Understanding how solar water heaters work and the costs involved can help you decide if a solar system is right for you.
Unlike solar electric panels, a solar hot water system doesn’t convert sunlight into electricity. Instead, the sun heats the water directly. Essentially, there’s a tank of water that absorbs heat to make the water hot. This hot water feeds into your plumbing system.
Each solar water system has a storage tank and solar collectors. The solar collector is where the water is heated, and the insulated tank keeps water hot until it’s needed.
Different types of solar water heaters work slightly differently to account for differences in needs and environment. In some systems, a heat-transfer fluid is heated in the panels and then travels to a heat exchanger, where it warms the water. In other systems, potable water travels through panels for heating. There are also active systems that circulate water through pumps and controls and passive systems that circulate water through heat pipes.
A solar-powered water heater can be used in any climate, and most systems have a backup conventional system. This ensures you have hot water on particularly cloudy days or at times of high demand.
According to Fixr, the national average cost for a solar hot water system and installation is between $8,000 and $10,000 (CAD 11,000 and CAD 13,850). A simple system can cost as little as $4,000 (CAD 5,500), while the price of large or complicated systems can reach $13,000 (CAD 18,000). Passive systems tend to be less expensive than active systems. Tank size can also have a big impact on price, so it’s best to choose the smallest system that meets your needs.
Although this is a high initial outlay, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that a solar heater decreases water heating bills by 50% to 80%. You can also take advantage of solar water heater rebates and tax incentives. In America, the federal government has the Clean Energy Tax Credit, which provides a credit of 30% of the cost of solar water heating.
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The right solar hot water system depends on a number of factors. It’s best to talk to a professional who can make recommendations based on your needs and environment. Some of the things taken into consideration include:
- Your budget
- How much sun your roof receives
- How much roof space you have
- How much weight the roof can support
- How much water you use
- When you use the most water
- If temperatures ever fall below freezing
Installation of a solar hot water system is best done by a qualified contractor. They take into account your climate, safety and local building codes. This ensures the system works as it’s meant to.
Ask the installer about the required maintenance for your specific system. It’s still important to have regular maintenance on a solar water heater, but these products tend to need less than conventional hot water options. A simple passive system may only need maintenance every three to five years. Active systems may need more frequent maintenance, as pipes and pumps have more moving parts. In particularly dry climates, it may be necessary to clean the glazing regularly, as there’s no rain to wash off dirt and dust.
All CAD conversions are based on the exchange rate on the date of publication.
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