How to Install Solar Hot Water

G Magazine

Invest in a solar hot water system and bask in the glow of cutting your home's greenhouse gas emissions.

Solar hot water

Credit: Julie Knoblock

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Who doesn't love a hot shower? But these days, showers can be such a guilty pleasure. Besides all the water gurgling down the drain, the energy used to heat the stream is contributing to climate change.

But don't despair! It's quite a simple matter to change the most energy intensive appliance in the house into one that is almost climate neutral.

By installing a solar hot water system, for just a few thousand dollars you can cut your household emissions by the equivalent of three to four tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, which is equivalent to taking one small car off the road. It sure beats spending $40,000 on a hybrid car!

Hot water is the biggest user of energy in the home, on average 40 per cent of your bill. Installing a solar hot water system can reduce your hot water bills by up to 90 per cent so your reward for saving the planet is about $300 a year.

This means in five to ten years your investment will be paid off and your hot water will be essentially free.

Elements of a solar hot water system

The bare basics of a solar hot water system consist of:

  • a hot water tank to store the water
  • solar collectors to warm it up
  • a booster system in case of a cloudy day

Close-coupled system
The most common set-up, called a close-coupled system, uses solar collectors and a tank located on the roof.

As the water doesn't need to travel far, the fact that hot water rises (in the same way hot air does) provides the circulation from panel to tank so you don't need a pump.

The main advantage of these systems: they are low cost. The downside: the tank is located on the roof, which is not particularly attractive.

The roof also needs to be strong enough to support the tank's weight. If the roof needs reinforcing you might want to consider a different configuration: a split system.

Split systems
These also have solar collectors on the roof, but the tank is located on the ground and a small pump is required to circulate the water.

While they usually cost a little more than a close-coupled system, they won't ruin the look of your roof.

From an efficiency and maintenance point of view there is little difference between close-coupled or split systems.

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