Choosing a Solar Hot Water Heater Replacement | Short Pump, VA

Choosing a Solar Hot Water Heater Replacement | Short Pump, VA

Photo By Benedek Alpar at Shutterstock

Most of us don’t think about hot water heaters until something goes wrong. We tend to take hot water for granted, but it is an essential aspect of modern life. Hot water heaters run continuously and account for nearly 20% of total energy expenditures for average households in Short Pump, VA. All appliances wear out eventually. Choosing a water heater replacement should be handled with consideration and thoughtfulness. 

Start with a methodical approach. Figure out your household’s average hot water needs and usage. Note any appliances or fixtures with exceptional hot water demands, such as whirlpool baths or oversized bathtubs. Estimate how often each person in the household showers each day or week, and track how often your household uses the washing machine, dishwasher, or garbage disposal. 

Advantages of Solar-Power

A solar-powered water heater replacement is environmentally friendly and reduces energy costs. Traditional water heaters run on natural gas or electric, while solar-powered appliances pull energy from solar energy radiation. The sunny climate in Short Pump, VA, provides plenty of solar energy.

An additional advantage of a solar water heater replacement is independence from the energy grid. The household has hot water even if utilities are disconnected or unavailable. It isn’t necessary to install solar panels and run the entire household on solar energy. A solar water heater can function as a stand-alone system, although solar appliances can also be integrated into a pre-existing whole-house system. 

Passive Water Heater Systems

Solar water heater replacements are active or passive. Active heaters rely on mechanical pumps to circulate fluids. Passive systems rely on principles of physics for fluid circulation. The relatively simple design of passive solar-powered water heater replacements makes them more reliable than active systems. 

Mechanical pumps use energy, require maintenance, and eventually wear out. Passive systems do not require energy to function and last longer than active systems. The two main types of passive solar water heaters are thermosyphon systems and integral collector-storage, or ICS, systems.

ICS Systems

The most appropriate passive system for your home depends on multiple factors. ICS systems consist of an energy collector and piping. The energy collector stores and directly heats water. Solar radiation heats water in the collector, which is heavily insulated to minimize heat loss. 

An inlet pipe connects the collector to the hot water tank, which is usually inside the house and positioned below the collector. Opening a hot water faucet lets pressure within pipes move water from the storage tank into the home’s plumbing system. Hot water rises to the top of the collector, so the hottest water moves to the storage tank while cooler water sinks. 

Correct installation is vital for ICS systems, so hiring a professional is advisable. Heavy collectors can weigh up to 500 pounds. Increase stability by mounting collectors near the edge of the roof, preferably above a load-bearing wall. Position the collector close to the indoor water storage tank to minimize the length of required tubing and piping. 

ICS Valves

ICS systems aren’t ideal in areas where freezing temperatures are common. Temperatures in Virginia can drop below freezing, but severe cold snaps tend to be short-lived. Use valves to drain an ICS system in freezing conditions to avoid damage from ice formation. 

Bypass valves let water flow around the collector to enter the backup water heater. Many households choose some type of tankless water heater as a backup. Tankless heaters tend to use less energy and take up less space than traditional water heaters. 

Tempering valves let you control water temperature in an ICS system. These valves mix cold water with heated water to maintain designated temperatures and prevent excessively hot water that could cause burns or damage plumbing. 

Types of Solar Collectors

Glazed-plate collectors are insulated, weatherproofed boxes containing a dark colored absorber plate underneath glass or plastic polymer covers. Unglazed flat-plate collectors have darker metal or polymer plates without any covers.

Integral-collector storage systems, or ICS, are also known as batch systems. These systems are insulated, glazed boxes containing tanks or tubes. The collector accepts cold water and preheats it. Heated water is transported to an insulated storage tank or backup heating unit.

ICS systems are appropriate in areas that only experience mild winter temperatures because many pipes are installed outside the home. Evacuated-tube collectors are packed with glass tubes arranged in parallel rows. Each tube consists of a fin and a metal outer tube and absorber. The fin is coated with a substance that absorbs solar energy while minimizing radiant heat loss. 

Thermosyphon Solar Systems

Thermosyphon solar water heater replacements achieve passive heat exchange through natural convection and laws of thermodynamics. Energy collectors absorb and capture solar radiation. Heat from solar energy is transferred to water inside the collection tank through conduction. Open-loop designs let fluid in the holding tank travel in a single direction through a transfer tube to reach the distribution point, or plumbing fixture. Vertical closed-loop circulation lets fluid travel through the system and return to the original tank. Cold water sinks because it has greater density than warm water. 

The collector in a thermosyphon system must be installed below the storage tank. Cold water from the tank flows through a descending pipe into the collector. Water heated in the collector returns to the tank through an ascending pipe. This cycle continues until equilibrium is reached. 

Backup Heaters and Storage

Solar water heater replacement systems usually include one or two heavily insulated storage tanks. Two-tank systems heat water in one tank and transfer it to the second storage tank. The storage tank functions like a traditional water heater. Single-tank systems have only one tank to store water and act as a backup heater. A backup tank is a good idea for households of three or more people to avoid running out of hot water. 

A solar water heater replacement system can provide enough hot water for an entire household, but sometimes weather interferes with solar collection. A backup energy source, such as a gas or electric tankless heater, can cover intermittent shortfalls.

Contact bluefrog Plumbing + Drain in Richmond, VA, to discuss appropriate solar-powered water heater replacements for your home. Experienced professionals are happy to help you choose an ideal model and install the new system in your home.

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