Solar Panel Water Heater For the Do It Yourself Homeowner

Solar panel water heater construction is one of the first do it yourself solar power projects undertaken by the solar-minded homeowner. For the DIYer looking to benefit from the savings of solar water heating in particular and solar energy in general, solar power water heaters can provide immediate savings and be a fun project to boot. Did you know that the financial ratio of dollars saved to dollars invested is greater for solar water heating than for solar electricity production? As a means of getting one's feet wet (pun intended), installing a solar panel water heater is easier, less expensive and a better solar power first step than most other solar energy plans.

Solar power water heaters are either passive (no pumps or moving parts) or active (uses an electrical pump and controller) in nature. A passive solar panel water heater is a less expensive system, and is easier to maintain, but is less versatile, and limited in power. Active solar power water heaters are much more versatile, and power is only limited to the size of the pump employed. However, they are more expensive and costlier to maintain.

Passive systems need a collector tank where solar energy is “collected”, a gravity-enhanced flow system to get water where it needs to go, and a controller to handle traffic. The collector also needs to be mounted for maximum sunlight absorption. These are easier to build when you are considering making do it yourself solar power. Active systems add a pump and possibly an automated electrical pressure-release and drain valve.

But the solar panel water heater decision making process does not stop there. You must decide on direct or indirect solar water heating technology, as well as environmental and weather factors in your area. Direct solar water heating takes place right in the collector tank. These systems are called open-loop systems, and run cool water into the tank, where it is heated and sent about its task.

Indirect or closed-loop solar water heating systems use a “heat exchange” action that employs anti-freeze or some other liquid to transfer its heat to the household water supply. Indirect systems are better for cold climates where water runs the risk of freezing. They are usually more complex and more expensive, and always use a pump of some type. Solar panel water heater collectors generally come in low-cost, low-life models, and in more expensive units guaranteed to last ten years or more. Your choice here is all up to you. If the placement of the tank will allow for easy access and removal, maybe you want to use a cheaper model. If you have the money, and don't relish swapping the tank out every three to five years, spend more for less long-term labor.

You also need to pick an efficient collector. When temps drop below freezing, collectors can actually emit as much heat as they collect. The very term “collector” designates its only job, so spending more for a more efficient unit here will pay off financially down the road- And don't forget, solar water heating invariably means using copper pipes, so you should optimally use soft water. Hard water can corrode pipes much faster then softer water. Planning on adding a water softener might be in the playbook. Consult others in your area who have added solar power water heaters for tips and suggestions regarding this and other features.

Finally, if you are in a cold climate, get a closed-loop antifreeze system. You will never have to bleed your system in the winter, and the antifreeze can't freeze and burst your pipes. This is the most common solar water heating system found in North America, because it fits so many climates equally well.

You have a lot of choices to take into account when you plan to build your own solar power for heating your household water supply. Choosing to start your do it yourself solar power education with a solar panel water heater project is a smart decision, both financially and logically.

Back to Solar Hot Water Heater Page
From Solar Panel Water Heater Back to the Home Solar Power Guide