What Are the Pros and Cons of Solar Water Heating?

Conserving energy is on a lot of people's mind these days. 

With the cost of electricity skyrocketing, people are looking for different ways to cut back on energy consumption. 

There are a number of alternative energies you could implement. 

You have solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass energy.

But, one of the most popular methods these days, is to use the sun to heat your water. 

This is done with some cool ingenuity, and a lot of creativity. 

The rest of this article will be a basic break down on solar heating systems.

Types of Solar Heating Systems

 There are two different types of solar water heating: Passive and Active.

Passive Systems

  •         Integral collector-storage systems

These are also referred to as ICS or batch systems.

The system is comprised of one or more black tanks or tubes in an insulated glass box. 

First, the water passes through the solar collector, which begins heating the water.

The water then travels to the conventional back up water heater, enabling you to have a reliable source of hot water. 

The conventional heater only works as a backup for those frosty days and nights.  

It is recommended that you install these solar water heaters in a climate that only freezes a little, because the pipes outside could freeze if the cold weather is severe.


1.       Cost less than thermosyphon systems

2.       Simple design


1.       Very heavy tanks that must be installed by experienced contractors

2.       Can suffer heat loss at night

3.       Only for mild climates

  • Thermosyphon systems

Water flows through the system via natural convection.

That means warm water rises as cooler water sinks.

The solar collector is installed below the storage tank so that warm water will rise into the tank.

These are excellent solar water heating systems, but caution is needed when mounting them on your roof due to the heavy weight of the water tank. 

Natural convection systems normally cost a little more than integral collector systems as well. 


Storage tank is better insulated than the Integral systems, so you do not have heat loss


1. Heavy tanks that must be installed by a professional

2. Costs more

Active Systems

  •          Direct (or “open loop”) circulation systems

Pumps circulate water through a solar collector then into your home. 

These solar energy systems work best in milder climates. 

These systems are typically cheaper than other methods, but there are some cons you need to consider:

1.       They offer little or no overheat protection unless they have a heat export pump.

2.       They offer little or no freeze protection, unless the collectors are freeze-tolerant.

3.       Collectors accumulate scale in hard water areas, unless an ion-exchange softener is used.

Active systems use a pump to circulate water around your house.

Modern active solar water systems have electronic controllers that offer a wide range of functionality, such as:

  • The modification of settings that control the system
  • Interaction with a backup electric or gas-driven water heater, calculation and logging of the energy saved by a SWH system
  • safety functions
  • remote access
  • various informative displays, such as temperature readings.
  •                  Indirect circulation system

Pumps circulate a freeze resistant, heat carrying fluid (commonly called heat-transfer fluid or HTF) through the solar collectors and heat exchanger. 

These solar water heating systems are great for frigid temperatures. 

These systems cost a little more, but they offer freeze protection and over heat protection.

Pros for Active systems include:

  1. The storage tank can be situated lower than the collectors, allowing increased freedom in system design and allowing pre-existing storage tanks to be used.
  2. The storage tank can always be hidden from view.
  3. The storage tank can be placed in conditioned or semi-conditioned space, reducing heat loss.
  4. Drain back tanks can be used.
  5. Superior efficiency.
  6. Increased control over the system.


The installation of solar water heaters depends on a number of things. These include:

  •          solar resource
  •          local building codes
  •          climate
  •          safety

If you do not have any construction experience, then you should hire a professional to do the job. 

If the tanks are not properly mounted, they will cause a lot of damage to your house. 

Defeating the purpose you are probably on, which is to save you some money over time. 

Environmentally friendly

Another huge plus for switching to solar water heating is that you are promoting an eco friendly technology. 

Many utility companies (in the US it’s a whopping 42 percent!) depend on coal burning. 

By switching to solar hot water heating, you would be helping to offset the many problems that are associated with coal production. 

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