Can a Solar System Help Supplement Your Water Heater?

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Water heaters use a tremendous amount of energy.  They are always in use – everyday heating water weather your using it or not.  Its always smart to turn your water heater off when leaving for vacation.  Some people have started to use solar power to help supplement your water heaters job – both the solar and the water heater will heat the water.  The main question is all about return on investment.  How long will it take to pay off the solar system with the savings you will generate each month?  This is a key piece of the puzzle that should be analyzed before any moves are made.

There are dozens of different types of systems that use solar energy to supplement your hot water heater available, but only a few have stood the test of time. Sticking with proven entities is always a good idea, despite the extravagant marketing you will undoubtedly see on new technologies.

  • The integral collector system (ICS): ICS is the simplest and cheapest system, and it’s ideal for mild climates. But it also has the most potential for freezing damage because the collector holds the water being heated. Big batch collectors, however, can withstand longer freezing conditions than smaller systems.   These systems are passive and are normally plumbed directly between the cold water supply and the water heater, making the plumbing job easy and straightforward. Whenever someone opens a tap in the house, water flows from the collector into the water heater. If the water in the collector is hot enough, the domestic water heater doesn’t need to add any heat at all.
  • Drainback systems: Drainback systems drain the fluid out of the collector and exposed pipes when no sunlight’s available or when there’s no more need to heat the domestic water because it’s already at the preset temperature. These systems use a special tank for holding the drained fluid. These types of systems are medium on the cost scale and can be used in cold climates. There is less risk of bursting pipes than a conventional ICS system, but more risk than a closed-loop antifreeze system.

  • Closed-loop antifreeze systems: Closed-loop antifreeze systems use fluids other than water to collect the heat; then a heat exchanger transfers that heat into the domestic water supply. These systems are far and away the most widely distributed type systems in the world because they work in almost any climate. They’re the most expensive as well.

    These systems aren’t entirely free of problems. The antifreeze solution breaks down when the weather gets really hot and then turns corrosive. These types of systems require service, and owners need to stay on their toes in order to prevent big problems.

In addition to the cost benefits analysis that must be completed we also recommend the following tips:

–  Opt for a complete system: Mismatched components reduce efficiency and may even void warranties.

–  Pay attention to contractor quality: The number-one failure mode of all solar water systems is faulty installation.

–  Understand the contract terms: Every contract specifies the equipment to be installed, but you also want to know what sort of specification performance is guaranteed.

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