Solar Hot Water Heating In A Nutshell.

How does it work?

It All Starts At SunriseCredit: Dreamaker

In order to understand solar hot water heating systems, so you'll be able to decide if this is the way to go for your application. You'll first need to consider the available sunlight and if it's hot enough and around enough, to make the initial cost of setting up a system like this worth the investment.

Using the sun's energy to warm things isn't a new concept. Humans have heated water this way since the beginning of civilization and before. They didn't always know they were incorporating solar heating in their daily lives, it just kind of happens.

Take the local swimming hole for instance. The sun reflects into the surface of the water and the ambient temperature in the lake goes up. This takes water that would normally be 50 degrees, and warms it as the sun releases its energy into the lake.

Anyone who's taken a swim after dark will understand that as soon as the sun goes down and stops adding it's energy to the lake, the temperature will drop. This will continue untill the temperature in the lake is the same as the ground and air around it.

The reason the temperature drops, is because of thermal heat loss. The surrounding elements are colder than the water and the laws of nature will eventually equal out the temperature of an object or mass, in this case the lake, with the masses that surround it, the air and ground.


The answer lies with how many hours a  day the sun shines in your neck of the woods. What is the average ambient temperature of the air during these daylight hours? Can you make and store, enough heated water to provide the energy you'll consume in one cycle. A cycle being from sun-up to sun-down.

Chances are if you live in a colder climate, such as the Northeastern United States, Or Canada. That solar hot water heating systems will not work well enough to be economically feasible to install. The cost to install a system, will not save enough money to make it worthwhile.

Technology is improving and new breakthroughs and innovations are coming to market every day. unfortunately for the folks that live in these colder climates, at the time we live in, 2012, they're just not there yet.

So where can you benefit from solar hot water heating? Just about anywhere with enough sunlight to overcome the thermal drop between cycles. This includes the entire southern half of the united states and anywhere with similar climates or warmer.

If you're not sure if this will work to help your particular hot water heating needs, then you can check with any solar equipment company that manufactures this type of system and they'll let you know if there are benefits in your climate area.

Capitalizing On The Heat Of The Moment

Sunrise To Sunset Benefits

Taking the energy the sun gives us and converting this energy into hot water is not that complicated of a procedure. There are two ways to do it. This includes directly collecting the sun's heat the way your body does on a warm summer day.

The second way is known as indirect solar heating. This type of energy collection is done with a remote collector and then a thermal heat transfer is incorporated into the system to heat the water. This will usually be a circulating pump that moves water or another heat transfer fluid such as glycol antifreeze, through a collection of pipes that are eventually submersed in a tank of water that's to be heated.

The result is, you get hot water to heat your home, or to use for domestic hot water needs, such as supplying a hot shower. Systems are available for both hydronic heating and domestic hot water production, or both.

The next system component to talk about is the solar collector itself. There are presently two types of solar hot water heating collection systems. These systems are designed for one purpose. They collect the sun's energy/heat and transfer it to the water we need warmed.

The first type of system is pretty simple and can even be home-made. It will consist of storage tank which holds enough water to supply what you need for hot water without running out between cycles.

This water storage tank is heated either directly with the suns rays in the simplest system, or in a piping coil collector and then run through the tank, heating the water with convection. The storage tank is insulated on any part of the surface that the sun doesn't shine on to cut thermal heat loss to a possible minimum.


This type is known as passive solar heating and incorporates very few components. Basically a tank, a coil and some piping to connect the two together. Water is heated while it's in the coil and then either a pump or gravity, circulate the heated water through the tank heating your water. 

A Simple Solar Hot Water Heating SystemCredit: Dreamaker

The second type of solar system is much more complex. Using photo voltaic cells, which produce a chemical reaction, implementing metal plates and chemicals, the suns energy is used to bombard these collectors with light. The light creates chemical reactions within the cells which in turn create energy.

A Galvanic CellCredit: Dreamaker

Photo-Voltaic solar systems are very expensive to install and the technology for wide scale use in residential hot water heating applications still has a long way to go. They are however, being used much more often now in warmer climates to produce electricity.

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All I want To Know Is Will It Work?

Not Just A Yes Or No Answer

The answer to the question for your particular situation will need to take all of these variables into consideration before you decide whether or not solar hot water heating will benefit you or not.

If the cost of purchasing and installing the system is low enough to have a benefit it must save you more then the what it would otherwise cost to heat your hot water. Colder climates will take longer to recoup the initial investment. A warmer area will offer a much quicker recovery rate.

You'll also need to understand just what your hot water needs are in gallons per day. Can this type of system provide enough energy to satisfy those needs on it's own, or will it need assistance from a more traditional type of hot water heating. This can be an oil or natural gas backup, or electricity supplied from another source. Most systems will have some sort of fail-safe backup. This will be in case of extended periods of cloudy whether, or in the instance of a system failure or componant issue.

If your location and your demands meet the above mentioned criteria, then a solar hot water heating system could be the answer to your energy needs. Understanding solar hot water heating is the first step in your research. It's only the first step though. You must also understand your surroundings and the effects mother nature can have on them.

Solar Energy(87509)Credit: Dreamaker
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