Home with outdoor pool in Hawaii.

Solar Heat – Another Option For Home Solar Energy

Sep 14, 2022

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Solar heat systems are an often overlooked way to use solar on homes. While rooftop solar panels tend to get most of the attention, solar heating also allows homeowners to use photovoltaic (PV) energy. Solar power can heat water, heat a pool or heat an entire home.

Let’s explore options for using solar heating systems to reduce your use of fossil fuels and start using renewable energy.

Pool Solar Heaters: Cutting The Cost Of Swimming

Solar pool heaters use solar energy directly rather than turning solar energy into electricity. These heaters work by directing pool water into solar collectors. Then, the sun heats the water and the system returns the heated water into the pool.

Diagram demonstrating solar heating of pool.

Source: Energy.gov

Because solar pool heating systems rely on sunlight, homeowners need a good location. This often means an unshaded space that faces south. It can be on the ground or a rooftop. Solar water heaters work with direct and diffuse sunlight, so you don’t necessarily need to live in a warm, constantly sunny climate to get good results. You’ll still be able to heat your pool with occasional clouds.

If you live in a climate that’s usually cloudy, however, solar pool heating might not be the right solution. You’ll need enough sunlight to make the system effective.

Types Of Pool Solar Heaters

Pool solar heaters typically come in two types – glazed and unglazed solar collectors. Glazed collectors, also called flat-plate collectors, are more expensive. But they’re also more efficient and take up less space.

If you live in a warmer climate that rarely reaches freezing temperatures, though, unglazed collectors can be a good alternative. They use more rubber and plastic rather than glass and copper, making them more affordable.

Breaking Down Installation Costs And Payoff Periods

In short, the size of your pool will be the most influential factor in how much your solar pool heater will cost. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the solar collector should be 50% – 100% the size of the pool.

SolarReviews notes that solar pool heating systems can cost $3,000 – $4,000 to install. These systems may also be eligible for the federal solar tax credit and other local incentives that have the potential to make a solar pool heater less expensive than a solar array while still offering significant benefits.

Heating a pool with electric or gas heat pumps can run $840 – $1,500 each year. With solar heating, pool owners will only pay for the cost of running their pool pump, which for some households is less than $75 a year.

With proper maintenance, a solar pool heater can last 10 – 20 years. The DOE estimates the payback period can range between 18 months and 7 years. Again, the size of your pool and strength of the sun in your area are key factors in the potential benefit of a solar pool heating system.

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Solar Hot Water Heaters: Renewable Power For Your Shower

Solar water heating is an opportunity to save on a major utility expense. According to the Department of Energy, water heating accounts for about 20% of the average American home’s energy use. With active and passive solar water heating options, homeowners have choices in how they can use the sun to reduce the amount of energy they use to heat water.

If you want to harness the sun’s energy, solar water heating systems are a cost-effective way to go green and save on your energy bills.

How Active Solar Water Heaters Work

Two types of active solar water heaters are available – direct and indirect.

  • A direct solar water heater uses pumps to circulate water heated in metal or glass tubes on your roof. These tubes are called solar collectors. Direct systems work best in places that rarely experience freezing temperatures.
  • Indirect solar water heaters use heat transfer: The collectors heat a liquid like propylene glycol, which then transfers its heat to water through a heat exchanger. There’s some energy loss because of the heat transfer fluid circulating in the system. On the other hand, indirect water heaters can also heat pools as well as water used for sinks and showers.

How Passive Solar Water Heaters Work

Rather than using pumps like an active system, passive solar water heaters use convection. Hot water rises to the surface, and cold-water sinks. Two types of passive systems exist.

A passive thermosyphon system uses collectors to heat small amounts of water on your roof. When you turn on the hot water tap, the heated water flows into your pipes.

Integral collector solar water heaters are large, roof-mounted storage tanks that let sunlight in to heat the water. The water flows into your pipes as needed. These tanks can weigh hundreds of pounds, so it’s important to verify that your roof can handle the weight.

Solar Water Heater Installation Costs And Potential Savings

Solar water heaters also have high upfront costs to install, but cheaper energy bills – along with potential government and utility company incentives – can offset the cost quickly. A solar water heater can cost $1,500 – $9,000 just to install. Qualifying homeowners may be eligible for tax credits, rebates and other incentives to reduce the cost, though.

According to the Department of Energy, solar water heaters can lower the cost of water heating by 50% – 80% compared to using gas and electric tank water heaters. Savings are often higher for homeowners who currently use natural gas rather than electricity.

That said, cloudy weather can reduce the amount of hot water a solar water heater can produce. Many homes equipped with solar heating also have a backup hot water system. Tankless water heaters are a common choice because they’re compact and efficient.

Solar Heating And Cooling For Homes

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are among homeowners’ highest utility expenses in some climates. Space heating can account for as much as 42% of a homeowner’s energy use. Let’s explore how thermal energy from the sun can help.

How Solar Space Heating Works

The sun can heat homes in one of two ways: passive or active.

  • Passive solar heating relies on the building’s design. The home’s walls, windows and even floors are designed to collect and store heat during the day. Passive heating also relies on insulation, thermal mass (how well a material absorbs, stores and releases heat) and window coverings. The warm air circulates naturally. Altering a home to use passive heating might require extensive renovation, so it’s not always an option.
  • Active heating for homes is similar to active heating for pools. Solar air heaters connect to your HVAC system. Solar collectors use solar radiation to heat air or liquid in a series of tubes. The heater then circulates it through ductwork or stores it. Some heating systems can also heat floors or distribute heat through baseboards or radiators. They also require little maintenance, aside from cleaning the glass of the solar collectors.

Solar Space Heating Cost And Potential Savings

Prices to equip a home with solar air heating range from $900 – $5,000. Homeowners can expect a payback period of 5 – 7 years. Like many other home solar technologies, solar heaters may be eligible for rebates, tax credits and other incentives.

For most homeowners, installing solar space heating will likely require help from a professional. Also, it’s a relatively expensive home upgrade.

The Bottom Line: Heating With Solar Can Be An Alternative To Solar Panels

If you’re interested in energy efficiency but don’t have the space or funds for a PV system, solar heating provides other options. You can reduce your utility bill and your carbon footprint while also qualifying for potential incentives.

Thinking about which type of solar power meets your needs? Let’s connect. 

Rocket Solar does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.

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