A solar hot water system is an excellent way to save money passively by having your home’s hot water generated by energy from the sun. But can you be equally as passive when it comes to servicing your solar hot water system?
You should have your solar hot water system professionally serviced every year to maximise the system’s life. Annual servicing will allow you to get the most out of your system for a significantly longer time, with regular professional servicing adding years to the lifespan of your unit.
In this article, we have outlined the basic maintenance and servicing information you will need to know about your solar hot water system, signs that you have to look out for, and common problems with solar hot water systems. If you have a solar hot water system, keep reading to keep it going longer!
Table of Contents
Do Solar Hot Water Systems Need Servicing?
Yes, solar hot water systems require regular maintenance and servicing. As the product suffers wear from regular use and ages over time, some of its components will have to be repaired or replaced. Failing to do so will significantly reduce the life of the unit.
If you fail to have your system serviced routinely, it will reduce how long your solar hot water system lasts, given the harsh weather we experience here in Australia. These systems usually last anywhere from 20 to 30 years. In fact, some systems installed as early as the 70s and 80s are still functional today. As you’d expect, keeping it in good condition is a better investment than replacing it earlier than it should be.
Depending on where you live, the weather effects that can harm your solar hot water system are:
- Dust build-up
- Acid rain
- Excessive heat
- Extended exposure to the sun
- Heavy winds
Intense weather conditions may cause physical damage to your solar hot water system, including dents, scaling, corrosion, and even freezing.
What Are the Signs My Solar Hot Water System Needs Servicing?
The most common signs that your solar hot water system needs servicing are:
- Slow Heating – The most common sign that your system needs servicing is when the solar water heater is taking too long to increase the water temperature to your desired level. If you find yourself standing in the shower for a while, waiting for the water to heat up, then there might be a problem.
- Lukewarm Water – If the water isn’t getting as hot as it used to, then there are probably issues with the solar collectors or solar tubes. This is most obvious when it happens on very hot days when the sun is visible.
- Reduced Flow – Even if your solar water heater heats up fast and is hot enough, if the water pressure is noticeably reduced, it is a sign that your system requires a maintenance check. This is usually caused by a sediment build-up or a leak in the pipes.
- Pooling of Water – Metal solar water heaters expand under heat and may sometimes cause leaks in your solar water tank.
- Unclean Water – If the water from your home’s fixtures is not clear, then an immediate maintenance check should be scheduled. The water coming out can either be brown or orange or smells metallic due to corrosion somewhere in the tank. Although the systems are designed to resist corrosion, galvanic corrosion sometimes still occurs.
- Scaling – ‘Hard’ water causes calcium deposits in the heating system. These deposits significantly reduce the heater’s performance. If the scaling has become uncontrollable, call a certified technician to take a look at the system.
How Often Do Solar Hot Water Systems Need to Be Serviced?
Most manufacturers and installers recommend that your system be serviced every one to three years. You should expect professional servicing to cost 2% to 5% of the solar hot water system’s price.
Although this may seem expensive, it’s very affordable considering the amount of money solar hot water systems save and the cost to get your unit replaced years earlier than necessary due to a lack of maintenance.
What is Involved in a Solar Hot Water System Service?
A solar hot water service will involve a physical inspection of the unit, inspecting its plumbing and insulation, and checking for corrosion or scaling.
The things that a licensed solar specialist will do during a solar hot water system service are:
- Removing Collector Soiling – Dirty or dusty solar collectors will inevitably perform poorly. Although these can be washed off by rain, this won’t remove all types of grime and dirt that will affect the quality of your water and the condition of the unit.
- Inspection of Collector Shading – Conducting a visual inspection of the collectors during the day (mid-morning, noon or mid-afternoon) and looking out for any signs of shading is an important step in a professional service. Shading will considerably impact the performance of solar collectors. Plant growth and nearby construction will also affect the condition of the collectors, which may require more frequent maintenance.
- Checking Collector Glazing and Seals – The collector glazing will need to be checked for any cracks, and its seals will be checked for any damages. If the plastic glazings have turned excessively yellow, they may need to be replaced.
- Plumbing, Ductwork, and Wiring Connections – Pipe connections will be checked for any fluid leaks, and a visual inspection of duct connections and their seals will be done. The ducts should be sealed with a mastic compound, and all the wiring connections should be checked for tightness.
- Piping, Duct, and Wiring Insulation – The valves will be checked to see if they are in the correct position, and the insulation which covers the pipes, ducts, and wirings will be checked for any damage or degradation. If required, the pipe insulation will be covered with protective plastic or aluminium wrappings or even replaced. Wiring inside conduits should be checked to see if they need additional or replacement insulation and protection.
- Checking for Roof Penetrations – Flashing and sealant around roof penetrations should be maintained as needed. If visible, signs of water leakage on the underside of the roof will have to be monitored to prevent significant damage.
- Inspecting Support Structures – The nuts and bolts which attach the solar collectors onto the support structures will be checked to see if they are secure. The steel parts will also be checked for any signs of corrosion and will be cleaned or painted over if necessary.
- Pressure Relief Valve – This is found on liquid solar heating collectors. The lever will be activated to ensure that the valve is not stuck in an open or closed position.
- Pumps and Blowers – The pumps and blower fans will have to be checked to see if they are operating as intended. The solar specialist will listen and check if they turn on when the sun is shining on the solar collectors after mid-morning. If no pump or blower can be heard operating, then either the controller or the pump or blower has malfunctioned. However, the most common problem here is the starting capacitor, which is easily replaced without replacing the pump or motor.
- Controls – Solar water heating controls include a temperature sensor on the solar collector outlet and at the bottom of the solar storage tank, as well as a circuit (also known as a delta-T controller) to start the pump whenever the collector becomes hotter than the tank and stops the pump when it isn’t. It is common to encounter temperature sensors falling off the surface they were meant to measure, so they will usually be checked and fastened with a lug or stainless steel clamp.
- Heat Transfer Fluids – It is important to have the Propylene Glycol Antifreeze Solutions in Hydronic (liquid) Solar Heating collectors changed. The acidity (pH levels) and freezing point of this fluid are measured by your solar specialist using handheld instruments. Your solar specialist will have to ensure that the water that circulates directly in the solar collectors does not have high mineral content (hard water), as mineral buildup within the piping will need to be removed through the inclusion of de-scaling or adding a mild acidic solution to the water every few years.
- Storage Systems – The storage tanks will be checked for any cracks, rusting, leaks, and other signs of corrosion. The steel storage tanks all have what is known as a ‘sacrificial anode’ which corrodes first before the tank does. This will have to be replaced at a specific interval recommended by the supplier.
What Are the Main Causes of System Failure in Solar Water Heaters?
The most common causes of system failure in solar hot water systems are issues with the heat pump and the heat-conducting arrays not working correctly. These are issues that can easily be avoided with consistent, professional maintenance from a local solar hot water technician.
- Defects in the Heat Pump – This is often the culprit for causing the system not to heat water or barely warm it up. The pump impeller or volute can be damaged from wear and tear, poor maintenance, or poor quality parts used in the system. However, it could be a deeper underlying problem, such as corrosion or sediment build-up. As more clogs develop, damage to the electrics in the pump increases, which causes the component to perform poorly until it completely falls apart or fails.
- Malfunctioning Heat Conducting Arrays – If the solar panels are completely fine, but the water is not heating up, then this could be the likely culprit. Solar water heaters use special conducting rods and coils, which, when not working as intended, will not be able to transfer the heat energy to the water. Floating sediments may also disrupt heat transfer. If sediments floating within the storage tank have an orange hue, then a part of your unit may be corroding.
Can I Service a Solar Hot Water System Myself?
You should not service a solar hot water system yourself. Apart from missing issues that can damage or even destroy your unit, you could hurt yourself and void your warranty. It’s also not allowed in many states in Australia.
Who Services Solar Hot Water Systems?
Solar hot water systems must be serviced by qualified technicians. These systems have some sensitive components that require the expertise provided by technicians trained to service solar hot water systems.
If you’re looking for solar hot water system technicians you can rely on, then look no further than the team at JFK Electrical. With decades of combined experience and exceptional reviews from their thousands of satisfied customers, you can rest easy knowing that the team at JFK will find and eliminate any potential issues in your solar hot water system during their affordable, routine maintenance.
What is the Life Span of a Solar Hot Water System?
Solar hot water systems can last anywhere from 20 to 30 years, depending on the model and make. However, this is under the assumption that the system is taken care of and regularly maintained. How long your solar hot water system lasts is directly affected by how regularly it is serviced.
This article is published in good faith and for general informational purposes only. JFK Electrical does not make any warranties about the ongoing completeness and reliability of this information. Always seek personalised advice on solar energy to ensure any recommendations suit your property and scenario.
John Lyons, the owner of JFK Electrical Solar & Air, started his career in the electrical industry in 1997. With years of experience gained in the industry across multiple continents, he relocated to Australia and decided to specialise in solar and air conditioning. After deciding he wanted to be closer to his family, John began his own local electrical business in Mandurah, using his extensive knowledge and training in the industry. At JFK, John’s number one goal is to provide tailored solutions to his customers. And thanks to his experience and commitment to his customers, JFK Electrical is now one of the most trusted local businesses in Mandurah for solar and electrical services.