Types of Solar Water Heater

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If you’re looking for a way to save money, reduce your carbon footprint and do some good for the environment all at once, then you should consider installing a solar water heater. Solar water heaters use the sun’s energy to heat up your home or office building with hot water on demand. 

It’s an environmentally-friendly way of heating that doesn’t create greenhouse gases as fossil fuels do. Furthermore, you can save up to 50% on your energy bill by using a solar water heater. 

There are lots of different types of solar water heaters available for use. Each type has its own pros and cons that make them better suited for certain climates and some are better for certain situations than others. Which is the best type of solar water heater? It all depends on what you need it to do. Let’s explore the different types of solar water heaters and find out which one might be right for your situation!

Basic Functions of Solar Water Heater

The primary function of a solar hot water heater is to expose water or a heat-exchanging liquid to the sun’s rays, then return the warmed liquid back into your house for domestic usage. All solar water heaters include a storage tank and a collector that captures the sun’s warmth.

Collectors are a set of flat plates, tubes, or tanks through which water or a heat transfer fluid circulates and absorbs the sun’s heat. The fluid is then circulated to one of two devices: a water tank or an energy-dissipating unit.

Solar water heaters are often used as energy-saving devices to preheat water before entering a conventional water heater in the house. Some solar water heaters, on the other hand, do not require the use of a traditional tank and instead deliver sun-powered hot water that is completely self-sustaining.

Types of Solar Water Heater

First-generation solar water heaters rely on the sun to provide most of their heating power. They tend to be inexpensive, but they are usually less energy efficient than newer models because they lack supplemental heat. Consequently, first-generation solar water heaters are best used for preheating where all the hot water is needed in one go. For this reason, many families opt to use them only during the summer months when more frequent showers are required.

The second type of solar heater uses a liquid that absorbs and stores heat from sunlight until it is needed by your household. This liquid flows into a tank that either holds enough liquid to supply your home with hot water throughout the day or allows you to store unused heat so it can be used later when needed. This type is more efficient than the first generation of solar water heaters, but it tends to be more expensive and less durable. Although second-generation storage systems can last up to 10 years if properly maintained, many heat transfer fluids require replacement at least once a decade.

Third-generation solar water heaters add sensors that automatically detect changes in your home’s hot water usage rate and adjust the flow of heat transfer fluid through its collector accordingly. When there’s no demand for hot water, this type of heater shuts off completely so you are only paying for energy you actually use.

Direct-Circulation Systems

A direct-circulation system is one of the most efficient types of solar water heater. It uses tubes installed on the roof structure to collect heat from the sun directly and transport it to storage tanks inside your home. Direct-circulation systems are relatively inexpensive compared with other types of solar water heaters, but they are also less easy to install due to their more complex nature.

Indirect Water-Heating Systems

Indirect water-heating systems do not use roof-mounted collectors. Instead, they rely on a solar thermal collector that’s installed in the yard and linked to an indoor storage tank through a series of underground pipes. In order for this type of system to work well, it must be located in an area with significant sunlight exposure throughout the year as opposed to just during certain seasons or months.

Thermosiphon Systems

A thermosiphon system is a simple, passive type of solar water heater that uses the power of gravity to circulate hot water throughout your home. A thermosiphon simply consists of a copper or aluminum heat collector and a black tank for storing hot water. Incoming cold water enters the bottom tank and flows through tubes in an absorber plate inside the top, which absorbs sunlight from its surrounding environment. When the water reaches the top, it transfers heat to incoming cold liquid as well as any already-hot liquid in storage, causing it to flow back down into the lower storage tank.

Integral Collector Storage and Batch Heaters

An integral collector storage system is similar to a thermosiphon system because it relies on natural convection currents to circulate hot water. However, an integral collector storage system uses tubes that are coiled around the absorber plate to improve its effectiveness by increasing the transfer of thermal energy. This type of heater is one of the most efficient types you can install in your home, but it is also among the most expensive. Batch heaters work by applying for black plates underneath their collectors to absorb sunlight and transfer that heat into a tank inside your home or other building.

How Much Does a Solar Hot Water Heater Cost?

Solar water heaters can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 to install. The average cost ranges from approximately $5,000 for a thermosiphon system and up to nearly $9,000 for integral collector storage or batch heater. Direct-circulation systems typically average around $6,500 after installation costs are factored in. Although prices vary widely based on several factors, studies show that a solar water heater typically pays for itself within the first five years

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a solar water heater worth it?

While solar water heaters can be expensive to install, they also cost less than conventional electric or gas water heaters and pay for themselves in savings on fuel costs over time. A study published by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reports that most solar water heating systems provide a return on investment of between 10% and 15%.

A solar thermal system is an environmentally friendly alternative to electricity and natural gas. Solar energy is free and never runs out, unlike fossil fuels like oil and natural gas which are rapidly depleting non-renewable resources. For this reason, it makes financial sense to use the sun’s limitless supply of clean energy instead of paying for more expensive power from coal or oil-burning power plants. 

What are the disadvantages of solar hot water heaters? 

The most common drawback to solar hot water heaters is their higher cost. They typically cost more than conventional water heaters, although rebates and tax incentives may reduce this penalty somewhat. In addition, they require a large initial investment and must be professionally installed, which can increase the overall installation costs even further. 

Some homeowners also complain that solar hot water heaters do not produce as much hot water as conventional systems, but this is usually due to inadequate insulation of the storage tank or lack of adequate sunlight exposure where they are located for the size of the system used. For best results, consider installing larger collectors initially instead of upgrading your system at a later date so you can save money and avoid having to buy additional equipment or perform costly retrofits to your home.


A solar water heating system is a great way to reduce your monthly energy bills and protect the environment at the same time. If you live in a warm, sunny climate with average utility prices, a solar water heater can pay for itself within 5 years of installation through savings on fuel costs alone. 

In addition to providing significant environmental benefits by reducing carbon dioxide emissions from electricity production, solar water heaters also cut back on expenses related to corrosion, rust and other problems associated with old-fashioned electric or gas storage tank models. Even if you have to install a system over multiple phases as funds become available, you will still save money compared to paying higher up-front costs for conventional systems that lose their resale value quickly.

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