Dummies guide to: Solar Hot water

EEEK! Plumber coming this weekend! Stay tuned for big updates! 😀

Before I get there though – last week I started a very loose version of a Tiny Hot Water for Dummies guide, based on the premise that I, myself, am a dummy. Through my many hours of research and calling people and guessing and getting things wrong, I’ve now worked a few basics out and it only makes sense to share. Let us unite in our dumminess!

I must admit I didn’t research the solar hot water option as thoroughly as the hot water jackets or gas because from the get go it didn’t seem like the best option for my house.  Although it’s an environmentally friendly choice, I struggled to find good options that would suit an off-grid tiny set up. I’ll try for a quick overview, but if it’s something you’re seriously thinking about then I’d get in touch with some solar hot water suppliers and see what options there are.

On the whole, it seems there are two ways to think of solar hot water:

  1. Electric hot water powered by solar energy
  2. Solar hot water

Electric hot water is probably the least efficient option for heating water. It involves a storage tank that holds the water, while an electric element heats the water inside. Think, giant kettle. It’s a little more sophisticated and there are variations on the theme but that’s the gist of it. Generally speaking, using electricity to generate heat in any appliance (toaster, hair dryer, kettle, hot water service, etc) takes massive amounts of energy. Think about how much water you heat up when you’re making a coffee or tea, for example. Do you fill the kettle all the way up, or only put in enough for your cup? Apparently, the amount of energy used to boil excess water for one day could power all the street lights in England for one night. Ridiculous! You can get small electric systems and some people do choose to use them in a tiny house, but if you’re planning to use solar to power the electric element you’ll be looking at a very pricey set up.

solarhotwater solarhotwater1

Solar hot water can be run without an electric element – either through evacuated tubes or a flat plate collector (images above). Things to keep in mind with solar hot water are:

  • You’ll need a storage tank and this is often mounted on the roof – they’re big and heavy. Not ideally suited to a tiny house with a small roof and weight restrictions.
  • I couldn’t find any systems that were designed to heat only a small amount of water. Most of them (including those pictured) are for standard homes and are pretty excessive if you’re only supplying one person in a tiny’s worth of hot water.
  • Most solar systems are combined with a gas or electric booster for when there isn’t enough power to meet all of your hot water needs. This means doubling up on heating systems and if you don’t have large hot water requirements then it just seems like extra money and work and resources for very little benefit. The amount of gas I’ll be using to heat all of my hot water is going to be pretty minimal and although I love the idea of not relying on gas, I think it’s best to pick your battles. Hot water just doesn’t seem to be one of the most effective ones to fight.

For more info on solar hot water systems jump on to the Aus government’s webpage, they have some useful starting points. It’s a brief overview I know, but there are bigger fish coming who will also need the frying. THE PLUMBER! Did I mention he’s coming this weekend? Happy Tiny Plumbing Christmas to meeee!

Big steps! 🙂


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