Find out is the drainback solar water heater the right solution for your water heating needs. Review of its benefits, advantages and disadvantages.
Drainback system is one of the popular solar water heating systems whose main advantages over other types are reliability, simplicity and low maintenance. Drainback solar water heater is not the simplest, and it requires some knowledge, time and money properly to design and build. It is cheaper than the closed-loop system with the antifreeze (propylene-glycol based active type), but more expensive than ICS system. The risk of boiling water, high pressure, freezing and bursting pipes is low, as long as the down-flow pipe is large enough and the fluid loop in solar collectors and pipes is sloped adequately for draining.
Drainback technology uses water which does not corrode the pipes and other metal parts or deteriorates as the heating fluid with additives (such as antifreeze). Furthermore water is cheaper, its properties are better, and maintenance is lower.
There are three types of the drainback systems used in residential water heating. They utilize one (or more) well-insulated storage water tank, one small drainback reservoir, solar collectors, closed loop with the pump, controllers and heat exchanger.
Most of the time the heating fluid is water, less propylene-glycol, which can deteriorate over time and needs replacement. Using water as the heating fluid also allows you to go with an open-loop system, but as long as you live in warmer regions, since they are prone to freezing.
When sizing a drainback tank take into account all the fluid that will fill the solar collectors, piping that is above the tank and add several gallons on top.
The tanks should always be insulated to prevent heat loss, equipped with the pressure relief valve and vented.
They should be
equipped with the sight glass so you can check the fluid level inside
the tank. The best location of the tanks is close to the collectors.
Drainback solar water heater might have one or two pumps. The two-pump system utilizes one pump to circulate the water from the drainback tank to solar collectors, while the other one, from the water storage tank to the drainback tank. The recommended pump types are the high-head, low-flow, with a variable speed or booster pumps.
When the system turns on, the pump, after filling the system with the fluid, circulates the fluid through the system and when turns off the fluid drains back into the small tank.
The pumps must have a sufficient head pressure to move the fluid up to the collectors, but the energy consumption can be minimized by using the thermosyphon principle for fluid circulation. If you live in the area with the high mineral deposits in water, also known as the hard water, the pipes might clog over time and prevent thermosyphoning and draining.
One of the main disadvantages of the drainback solar water heater is the significant source of the heat loss when the pump is not working, such as during the night exposure. This system requires the largest pumps of all systems.
The drainback concept is simple, but the special attention should be given to its solar loop design. The most complex thing is to design the system so all the water from collectors runs down to the small reservoir when the pump stops. Water drains as the result of the gravity while the air flows upwards into the solar panels and outdoor pipes. This is the trickiest part.
Since the presence of air must be considered in these systems, you should also take into account a possibility of metal corrosion.
Drainback solar water heater is recommended for all climates,
even the coldest, since it
drains the fluid out of the collector and exposed pipes.
This is the reason why the system must be designed in a way to drain
fluid fast and completely. The tank must be installed as high as
possible but low enough to allow complete draining.With that in mind,
avoid horizontal pipes, make sure they all have at least 15 degree
slope; also use 45 degree fittings instead 90 degrees.
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Photo credit to viridiansolar.co.uk