5 Best Solar Water Heaters to Use in 2021 [Review]

solar water heater - pixabay

Solar water heaters are a great way to get hot water without adding to your electricity bill or drawing on your renewable energy setup. They are simple, low maintenance, and relatively inexpensive to install.

Solar water heaters can be used to heat household water as an alternative or supplementary geyser, heat water for swimming pools and garden ponds, or heat water for an outdoor shower! Whatever your needs, there is an overwhelming number of options available to choose from.

To make the selection process easier, we have compiled this list of the 5 best solar water heaters available. Whatever your needs, there is a great option for you here!

The 5 Best Solar Water Heaters:

No: Name Type Capacity
1 Sunbank 40 Gallon Passive Solar Water Heater Passive 40 Gallons
2 OREAD Camping Solar Water Heater Bag Passive 5 Gallons
3 SunHeater S12OU Universal Solar Pool Heater Active <18 ft Pool
4 Duda Solar Water Heater Evacuated Collectors Active/Passive Various
5 Smart Pool S601 Solar Pool Heater Active <15×30 ft Pools

Benefits of Using Solar Water Heaters

Solar water heaters are a great option for any eco-conscious homeowner. They offer many benefits, including:

  • Free heating: solar energy is a free, renewable energy source for heating water. Once the initial investment is made, there is very little maintenance needed and heating your water won’t cost you a cent! As long as the sun is shining, your water is heating.
  • Easy to install and low maintenance: solar water heaters are fairly simple systems that do not require much ongoing maintenance. They’re easy to install yourself and need little in the way of plumbing knowledge. Passive systems require less maintenance than active systems because there are no pumps or wiring to maintain.
  • Affordable initial investment: As a fairly simple technology, solar water heaters are not expensive, especially when compared to other solar systems like solar panel arrays.
  • Environmentally friendly: solar water heaters do not rely on conventional energy and use completely sustainable solar energy. As such, they do not cause any of the pollution, environmental degradation, or greenhouse gas emissions associated with the extraction and use of fossil fuels for conventional electricity.

There are many other benefits to using solar water heaters, depending on where you are located and the climate and seasonal weather changes.

However, solar water heaters are not ideal for areas where there is minimal sunlight or heavy snow in the winter and will work best where there is good sun and the temperatures do not drop below freezing.

Some systems have anti-freeze protection and/or use an electrical heater to combat this but it needs to be taken into consideration when selecting the best system for you.

Have a look at this simple overview of the different types of solar water heaters:

How We Selected the 5 Best Solar Water Heaters

We have selected the solar water heaters on this list based on several factors:

Type

Broadly, there are two types of solar water heaters – active and passive. Active water heaters require a pump to move the water through the system and sometimes have additional features like an electrical heat source.

They’re generally more expensive and require more maintenance and other additional hardware connected to the pump, such as a connection to a solar array or mains electricity.

Passive solar water heaters are standalone systems that are either pressure or gravity fed. They do not need a pump to move the water through the system and are generally less expensive and easier to maintain.

We have chosen a combination of active and passive solar water heaters. We looked for ones that are simples and easy to install and maintain.

Capacity

Different solar water heaters have different capacities. The capacity you need depends on the application and the volume of water you need to heat. If you need a greater capacity, you can always install two of them, alone or in series, to double the capacity.

Uses

There are many different applications and uses for solar water heaters. The most common uses include heating pools or ponds, heating water for household use and heating water for showers when camping. We have chosen options that meet all these needs but can also be used for other applications, depending on what your personal requirements are.

User Reviews

Reviews from real-life users – we have chosen solar water heaters with a high rating on Amazon and positive reviews from many different reviewers. Reviews from real-life users give a more balanced and accurate depiction of the quality and practicality of an item and provide information on the potential setbacks you may encounter in practice.

The 5 Best Solar Water Heaters

#1. Sunbank 40 Gallon Passive Solar Water Heater

Sunbank 40 Gallon Solar Water Heater

Type: Passive

Capacity: 40 Gallons

Description: The Sunbank Solar Water Heater is a passive system. It is comprised of a tank and solar tubing that absorbs heat from the sun and then feeds into the tank, which is insulated with high-density polyurethane.  The system is pressure fed and needs no pumps and no connection to any power source. It heats up to 140F and retains heat well, due to the insulation of the tank.

Price it on Amazon:

What the Amazon Reviews Say (5/5):

Pros:

  • Very easy DIY project to install
  • Lots of hot water in a short period of time and retains heat well
  • Excellent after-sales service

Cons:

  • Not recommended for places that go below – 40F
  • Tank is suitable for 3-person household (larger tank needed for more than 3 people)
  • Available in USA (including Hawaii) only

#2: OREAD Camping Solar Water Heater Bag

OREAD Solar Water Heater Bag

Type: Passive

Capacity: 5 Gallons

Description: The OREAD Solar Water Heater bag is a portable bag, fitted with a temperature sensor and a showerhead. The PVC material absorbs heat from the sun and heats the water inside the bag, up to 113F, in 3 hours of direct sunlight. The water then gravity feeds to the showerhead when the bag is hung up. This is a great portable option for camping or hiking.

Price it on Amazon:

What the Amazon Reviews Say (4.3/5):

Pros:

Cons:

  • The bladder can burst if dropped when ¾ full
  • Can leak through the showerhead
  • House can be a bit short for some people

#3: SunHeater S12OU Universal Solar Pool Heater

SunHeater Pool Solar Water Heater

Type: Active (connects to existing pool pump)

Capacity: Rated for pools up to 18’ round (two can be connected for larger pools)

Description: The SunHeater Universal Solar Pool Heater is a passive system that involves circulating pool water through the heating panel using the existing pool pump. It can be installed on the ground, on a rack or the roof and it is rated to raise the pool temperature by 6F to 10F.

Price it on Amazon:

What the Amazon Reviews Say (3.7/5):

Pros:

  • Can be mounted on the ground, rack, or roof
  • Works well with minimal sunlight
  • Very easy to install

Cons:

  • Build quality is a little brittle
  • Kit may require extra fittings based on specific pool designs
  • Some clients received broken pieces in sealed box

#4: Duda Solar Hot Water Evacuated Tubes

Duda Solar Hot Water Tubes

Type: Passive or Active, depending on set-up used

Capacity: Varies depending on the size of your tank.

Description: The Duda Solar Hot Water Tubes are vacuum tubes that trap heat energy from the sun to heat the water inside them. Their insulated inner tubes have a double-walled design that keeps the water hot in the same way a thermos flask does.

They can heat approximately 1 liter of water an hour, enough to boil, and will keep the water over 100F overnight if it stays in the tubes. These tubes are great for a custom heating system and can be rack or roof mounted. The tubes can be used with a gravity or pressure/pump-fed system.

Price it on Amazon:

What the Amazon Reviews Say (3.7/5):

Pros:

  • Tubes heat up very quickly
  • Rack or roof mountable
  • Can heat 50 gallons easily

Cons:

  • Slightly fragile
  • Can be tricky connecting to the water supply
  • Some tubes have arrived broken from shipping

#5: Smart Pool S601 Solar Pool Heater

Smart Pool Solar Heater

Type: Active (connects to existing pool pump)

Capacity: Rated for pools up to 15 x 30’

Description: The Smart Pool S601 Solar Pool Heater utilizes an 80 square foot panel polypropylene heat collector. The heater connects to the existing pool pump and can be installed on the roof, the ground or a rack. It is rated to raise the pool temperature by 6F to 10F. Installation requires a separate installation kit, which can be purchased separately, or pipes and connectors to be purchased from a local hardware store.

Price it on Amazon:

What the Amazon Reviews Say (4.1/5):

Pros:

  • Raises temp by 10 degrees
  • Works really and well designed
  • Can be used on in-ground and above-ground pools

Cons:

  • Separate installation kit/parts needs to be purchased
  • Panels can leak in colder months
  • Can’t handle high water pressure

Conclusion & Our Two Top Picks

In conclusion, there is an overwhelming number of options to choose from when you’re looking for a solar water heater.

They range in size, price and specifications from tiny portable ones to large permanent setups that can replace a household geyser. They’re relatively inexpensive to purchase and install and require little in the way of ongoing maintenance.

In the right conditions, even the largest and most complex solar water heating systems can be hugely cost-effective and will pay for themselves in a few years of free heating.

We have selected our two favorite options of the 5 solar water heaters on this list:

Top Pick #1: Sunbank 40 Gallon Passive Solar Water Heater

We love that the Sunbank Passive Solar Water Heater can heat water for an entire home. The design is simple and effective, requires very little maintenance and is easy to install.

It does not need a pump or any electrical connection but it can be connected to a pump and separate storage tank for additional capacity.  It is ideal for any setup – on, off or partially connected to the grid.

While the unit has quite a high price point, it is certified and eligible for tax and property rates rebates in certain locations. This combined with the savings on your water heating bill makes it much more cost-effective.

We also love that Sunbank got great reviews for after-sales customer service. A great product and great customer service are a win in our book!

Top Pick #2: SunHeater S12OU Universal Solar Pool Heater

Swimming pool heaters are hugely popular and the SunHeater Universal Pool Heater makes our top pick because we love that it works so well, with so little maintenance required!

It is suitable for pools up to 18’ in diameter, both in-ground and above-ground. The panels are large but thin and flexible, allowing for installation on almost any surface, including vertical walls or fences. There are no moving parts so aside from the pool pump that the pool uses anyway, there is no routine maintenance required.

We also love that they got such good reviews for effectiveness. Reviews from areas with little sunshine were raving about how well it works!

Useful Resources

Wikipedia: Solar Water Heating

US Department of Energy: Solar Water Heating

DSIRE: Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency

Frequently Asked Questions

Are solar water heaters worth the investment?

Yes. Solar water heaters can reduce a household utility bill by as much as 80%, depending on the efficiency and capacity of the system. Some areas also offer incentives and tax breaks for adding solar water heaters so there may be additional savings there too. Check out the full article for more info.

Can I use a solar water heater to heat my pool?

Yes. There are many different solar water heaters designed to specifically heat swimming pools. They come in various shapes and sizes and at different price points. Read the full article for the best options to try.

Does a solar water heater need a pump?

Passive solar water heaters do not need a pump and rely on water pressure or gravity to move water through the system. Active solar water heaters do use a pump. Check out the full article for more info on passive and active solar water heaters.

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