Is Solar Water Heating Still An Option In A Less-Than-Sunny Area?

Whether you'd like to minimize your impact on the natural environment, or are just interested in reducing your monthly utility bills by making your water heater more efficient, you may have begun to investigate your various water heating options. There is now a plethora of solar water heaters from which you can choose -- however, are these types of heaters the best choice in areas that don't receive a consistent amount of sun? Read on to learn more about the different types of solar water heaters, as well as some other efficient and environmentally-friendly options if you live in a cloudier clime. 

What types of solar water heaters are available?

There are three primary types of solar water heaters -- active, passive, and combination.

Active solar water heaters are composed of a tank, a series of solar panels and collection cells, and a converter. The solar panels are mounted on the roof or outer wall of your home to absorb the sun's rays, while the solar cells will store excess solar energy. As hot water is requested, the stored solar energy travels to the converter, where it is used to create electricity to heat the water in the tank. 

Because of the storage capacity of solar cells, you should be able to operate your water heater at night or during cloudy days without much interruption. Most active solar water heaters also have a backup source of electricity for lengthy periods without sun. 

Passive solar water heaters don't rely on solar panels or cells to convert the sun's rays to energy -- they simply use the rays themselves to heat the water. Most passive systems involve a collection tank (usually mounted on the roof) that is made of a highly conductive material. As the sun's rays hit the tank, they warm the water inside, which is then piped down into your home.

Combination water heaters include both an active and a passive component. The tank on the roof of your home may also have solar panels installed on top of it -- these panels can convert solar energy to electricity to help the water reach higher temperatures than those available through pure passive heating.

How much solar energy do these heaters need in order to function?

If you live in Florida, Arizona, Texas, or another state known for its sunny skies, installing a solar water heater may seem like a no-brainer. If you live in an area where the sun is a little less consistent, you might wonder whether a solar water heater is worth the investment -- especially if you'll often be using the backup electricity option.

To operate a passive solar water heater, you'll need nearly constant daytime sun -- so these may not be a good idea in areas that don't have very sunny climates.

However, active solar water heaters have lower energy requirements -- and in some cases, expanding the solar collection area by purchasing additional photovoltaic (PV) panels can help you compensate for a slightly cloudier sky. 

In general, as long as your solar panels receive at least 6 hours of sun per day (ideally between 9 am and 3 pm) you should be able to operate a solar water heater. 

Are there alternative environmentally-friendly options?

If you don't think a solar water heater is the right choice for you, but still want an eco-friendly alternative to the traditional "tank" water heater, you may want to investigate more information on a tankless or on-demand heater.

These heaters are much smaller than traditional water heaters and heat water on demand, rather than having a constant supply of hot water at the ready. By avoiding the constant heating process, these tanks can dramatically minimize electricity consumption, saving you money while conserving the environment.