As you get ready to design a solar thermal system for your home, there’s one factor you may not be considering that could make a bucket load of difference: What’s the beginning temperature of the water you’ll be heating?
In the United States’ northern climes, it’s likely 50°. In warmer, more southern climates, you’re likely beginning with 70° water.
And common sense tells us, the colder the water you start with, the more solar uumph you’ll need.
I’m asked all the time how to design a residential system. And, as I worked on the attached chart, I realized it pretty much tells you the basics of what you need to know – the size of the storage tank and the number of collectors.
This attached chart will give you an idea of what to expect. The chart allows you to determine if, for instance, you’ll be heating an 80-gallon tank in a system sized for up to three people, or a 119-gallon tank sized to serve three to five people. I chose these sizes because they are averages for family-sized systems. These numbers can be easily customized.
So, to read the chart: Say you’ve decided on an 80-gallon tank and you live in a colder area, then you’d chose line 1. And, reading across, it will tell you the number of solar collectors you’d need based on the sizes of the collectors you’d like.
Continuing this example, you decide that your home in Michigan has a large roof area and you’d like the largest collector — the 4’x10’ collector. Based on this chart you’d need two of those large collectors — or 80 square feet of collector real estate — to heat that 80-gallon storage tank.
As someone who lives in a northern climate, I shake my head sometimes knowing that we colder people all need a little extra uumph. But I know that we snow people – I live in northern Utah — will enjoy our hot water all the more.
Just as a side note, the input water temperature also has a bearing on how steep should you tip your collectors, believe it or not. If you live in 70 degree, you’ll living in a 30 to 40° latitude, so you’d use a tilt or angle of 30 to 40° for optimal performance. Likewise, those in the colder climes with colder water probably live in a 40 to50° latitude, therefore using a 40 to 50° tilt or angle.
To download an Excel file of the chart, click here.

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