Solar energy has long been used to generate electricity, but did you know you can also use it to heat your home? By switching to solar, you guarantee yourself an unlimited supply of eco-friendly heat; best of all, once you make it past the initial investment, you'll save money each month on energy bills compared to heating with gas, oil or electricity. Check out these four options to find out if solar heating could be an option for your home.
The cheapest and easiest way to incorporate solar heat into your home is by choosing a passive solar home design. This means building your home from the ground up to take advantage of solar energy. Passive solar homes have large areas of windows facing south, with more facing west and east to maximize solar heat gain during the day. These homes also incorporate materials with significant thermal mass, like concrete or stone, which absorbs heat from the sun and holds onto it to keep the home warm and comfortable day and night. Of course, passive solar techniques only really work when you're building a new home, so existing homeowners who want to heat with solar energy will have to try a different technique.
Room Air Heaters
If you live in a moderate climate zone, or only need to heat a few rooms, you may benefit from room air heaters. These units consist of solar collector boxes mounted on south-facing walls or windows, which are designed to collect solar heat energy. Fans or blowers pull air from inside the room through the boxes, where the air warms up, then exits the boxes to heat the room. Though they sound simple, they represent an economical and effective way to incorporate solar heat.
Thermal Water Heating
Solar panels can be used to heat water, which comes in handy to use in the hot water tank, but can also be used to heat the home. These systems use either direct heating -- heating water -- or indirect heating, where pipes containing refrigerant travel past the collectors to absorb heat. The hot water or heated refrigerant is then used in a traditional radiant heat system, which may include baseboard radiators or in-floor heating. These radiant systems can heat the entire home, and are controlled via a thermostat just like a standard furnace.
Photovoltaic, or PV systems are special solar panels that collect solar energy and convert it into electricity. This electricity can then be used to power not only the lights and appliances in the home, but also any electric heating system, including a furnace, heat pump or room heaters. These systems are economical because they often allow you to sell excess electricity you generate back to the local power company, which can greatly offset the initial setup cost. Keep in mind that the area of panels you'll need can vary significantly based on where you live. Depending on the efficiency of the panels, you'd need between 409 and 574 square feet of panels in sunny Arizona, compared to 615 to 861 square feet in Vermont to power and heat the average home.
If switching to solar-powered heating isn't feasible for you right now, a professional contractor, like Tri State Enterprise, can help you with your current HVAC system repair and installation needs.