Types of solar hot water systems: Which one should you choose?

Once you get on the solar power bandwagon, you start thinking of other ways you can reduce the amount of electricity you consume. It becomes a little obsessive! Or if you’re like me, energy efficiency becomes a game. How so? I try to get my electricity bill lower every month! Fun times.

What really moved the dial for me was heating my water with solar. Yes, I have both a PV solar system and a solar hot water system! If you’re new to the game, you definitely don’t need both (yet!) but if you’re super keen bean (like me), you can sort it all in one go with a solar pack.

But anyway, back to it. Investing in a solar hot water system will decrease your electricity bill dramatically – up to 50%! And that’s a big chunk of electricity you can swap for solar. So what goes into a solar hot water system and what do you need to know?

Well, firstly a little background. How does the whole hot water situation work? Put simply, a solar system heats water with energy from the sun through panels installed on your roof. There are different types of systems, so I’ll give you the rundown.

Types of solar hot water systems

As the solar market increases, the number of solar hot water options do too. Ultimately, that’s good news, but it also means it’s hard to choose! To make it simpler, you need to make two decisions.

  • What collector type you will choose (flat plate collector vs. excavated tube solar panels)
  • What system types you will choose (thermosiphon vs. pump)

I’m going to go through both of these decisions. Let’s dive in!

Collector types: flat plate collector vs. excavated tube solar panels

Collectors are the panels or the tube on your roof that absorb energy from the sun. There are two types of solar collectors – flat plate collectors and excavated tube solar panels.

Flat plate collectors are the most common. These are airtight boxes with water pipes inside. You’ve probably seen these on West Aussie roofs, as they’re the more affordable option.

Evacuated tube solar panels are glass tubes with copper pipes inside. Air is evacuated out of the pump, creating a vacuum that reduces heat loss. These collectors are a new technology and they perform better in the colder months. But seeing as we’re in Australia, flat plate collectors are more than sufficient.

System types: close-coupled vs. split system

Roof-mounted or close-coupled solar hot water systems
Roof-mounted solar hot water systems are where the solar panels and tank both sit on the roof together. These systems work through a process of thermosiphon. What the? Thermosiphon is where cold water from the tank travels to the solar collector, heats up and rises to the top of the tank.

Which ones do I recommend? I love the Envirosun Thermosiphon System. It’s a single integrated unit that collects water in a flat plate solar collector. The 444 stainless steel helps save energy and delivers more hot water with a higher pressure.

Another option is the iHeat Roof Mount Solar Hot Water with an electric boost. It’s similar to the Envirosun but gives you the added benefit of an in-tank heating element that activates only when the stored water temperature drops below a set temperature. You can choose from a 1 or 2 panel depending on your hot water requirements.

The benefits of roof-mounted systems are:

  • The tank and collector is a single unit on the roof
  • They’re efficient and don’t require energy input (no pump)
  • They’re durable
  • They’re cost-effective

What are the cons? You’ll need a strong roof to hold these systems. And it will obviously affect the overall look of your roof if that’s something that concerns you.

Split system
A split system is just that. Your tank is stored on the ground and an electrical pump pushes the water up to the solar collector. “But aren’t we avoiding electricity?” you ask? Good one! Yes, but these pumps only use around 30 Watts of electricity so it’s far better than relying completely on electricity.

Thinking of a split system? I recommend the Envirosun’s Active Solar System or the iHeat Ground Mount Solar Hot Water with electric booster.

The benefits of these systems include:

  • Being more discreet than rooftop tank
  • The tank can be located indoors or out
  • Retaining heat better
  • Ease of connection your solar hot water system with electric booster

The cons of a split system is that because there’s a gap between the collector and the tank, the system can experience heat loss. Also, some people don’t like the fact that they need a little electricity to function.

What other hot water systems can you try?

Want to skip solar panels but still want to do your part to save the environment? The iStore hot water heating system extracts heat energy from the air and heats the water inside to supply hot water. The iStore is easy to install and saves you a generous amount of energy.

What about a solar hot water system with electric boosters?

Still with me? Good. So the other thing to consider with solar hot water systems is boosters. You’ll never get stuck in winter and have to skip your hot shower with a booster up your sleeve. Boosters monitor your water temperature and kick in if the water isn’t hot enough. You can choose to have a solar gas boosted hot water system or an electrical one.

So what’s the best solar hot water system in Australia?

Still confused about what type of solar hot water system is the best? I’m a big fan of Envirosun and iHeat for both close-coupled and split systems. Both are 100% Australian owned and built specifically for our country’s hot climate.

The TS system is one of the most advanced hot water systems available. It’s simple, efficient and durable without costing you a bomb. If you prefer your tank on the ground, then the split system is a reliable option.

Whatever type of solar hot water system you choose, you’ll enjoy savings on your electricity bill. And of course, you’ll know you’re doing your part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Oh, and! You can enjoy a solar hot water system rebate from the government.

– Kev

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