What is Solar Energy Heating?

Barbara R. Cochran

Solar energy heating is the process of using heat from the sun to warm a home or other building. World supplies of fossil fuels like heating oil and natural gas, which traditionally have supplied radiant energy for homes and other buildings, may become more and more depleted. Such fuels are not environmentally friendly because they give off polluting greenhouse gases. Fossil fuel energy can be quite expensive for heating the average three- or four-bedroom home. The disadvantages associated with conventional forms of heating have lead many organizations and agencies, including governments, to advocate the installation of solar energy heating systems since solar energy is an economic and clean source of heat for homes and businesses.

Solar panels can be installed on buildings to create energy from the sun's rays.
Solar panels can be installed on buildings to create energy from the sun's rays.

Solar energy heating systems tend to be cost-effective. The United States federal government offers tax incentives to home and business owners who have them installed. Under normal circumstances, tax breaks usually offset the initial costs of setting up a solar heating system, as well as the ongoing maintenance expenses related to the same, over the long haul. Generally speaking, a solar energy heating system requires less than 20 hours of maintenance per year, and in some cases, even less than 10 hours of maintenance. Many solar panel collectors carry a 10-year warranty and actually have the capability of lasting for many more years.

The supply of solar energy is unlimited and free, as it comes directly from the sun. Solar panels, which are installed on the ground or rooftops, are equipped with collectors. In the case of active solar heating systems, fluid or air is used to transfer heat to where it is needed. No mechanical equipment is required for passive solar energy heating systems, in which many of the building's surfaces are designed to collect and store heat. Anyone who is contemplating installing a solar energy heating system should look at the building codes and zoning ordinances in his or her locality to make sure that any system installed conforms to pertinent regulations.

There are some drawbacks related to the use of solar energy heating. For example, the sun’s rays might not be intense enough to produce sufficient heat to warm up an area or water, especially after dark. A homeowner might then be inconvenienced by being forced to fall back on more expensive, conventional polluting type of system as back up. Many homeowners who have installed solar energy heating systems opt for the more environmentally friendly burning of fireplace wood on days or during nights when sunlight is scarce.

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