5 Types of Solar Thermal Collectors to Keep Your Home Toasty

Ben Kissam
Written by Ben Kissam
Updated February 14, 2022
A solar thermal collector installed on a roof
Photo: Aleksandr Simonov / Adobe Stock


  • Solar thermal collectors use radiant heat to warm the air and water in your home.

  • Most homes use non-concentrated solar thermal collectors, whereas industrial settings use concentrated ones that are more powerful.

  • Flat plates and solar bowls collect the sun’s rays, while hot water systems and panels may be able to warm your home by trapping ambient air.

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From warming hot water to heating your home, heat makes up the brunt of most electricity bills. By capturing natural heat from the sun, homeowners can use one or more of the various types of solar thermal collectors to convert solar radiation into energy that powers their homes. 

The components used to achieve this goal, however, can vary, as can the parts, size, and shape of the device. Let’s break down the different solar thermal systems used so you can decide what’s right for your home.

Concentrating vs. Non-Concentrating Solar Thermals

One difference to explore first in solar thermal collectors is concentrating versus non-concentrating solar thermal collectors. 

  • Non-concentrating solar thermal collectors use one (or a small handful) of angles to absorb solar radiation. They’re generally mounted in a fixed position, meaning the number of hours per day they can collect sunlight is limited.

  • Concentrating thermal collectors use mirrors and sensors to optimize the amount of solar radiation collected throughout the day, and are, generally speaking, much more powerful.

In most cases, homes use non-concentrated solar energy solutions. Industrial and utility settings most frequently call for concentrated products. 

1. Flat Plate Solar Collectors

Characterized by a flat collection plate with an insulated cover fixed over it, flat plate solar collectors are some of the oldest designs and have been around for over 75 years.

Basically, the flat plate solar panel is mounted on a roof and warmed by the sun during hours where it’s exposed, then transfers that energy into heat that’s used for the water and air in a home. Solar panels like this are typically mounted at a southern angle on your home to allow for maximum light exposure.

Overall, installing solar panels has many benefits. The cost to install solar panels on your home is usually between $17,000 and $32,000, although leasing solar panels could help you get them installed on a budget.

2. Thermodynamic Panels

Solar panels on the roof of a house
Photo: manfredxy / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

A newer product, thermodynamic panels offer the unique benefit of collecting heat from two sources: the sun and the air. This means that on warm, cloudy days, thermodynamic panels still can operate and gather natural energy for your home. It might also negate the need to remove trees to install solar panels to increase light exposure.

Because of this, thermodynamic panels are often double categorized as both one of the different types of solar panels or heat pumps you can install in your home and may be marketed as such.

3. Solar Bowl Collectors

One of the most affordable solar thermal options is the solar bowl, which, mounted in a fixed position on your roof, can help keep solar panel installation costs low. 

The parabolic mirror shape of the solar bowl helps channel the sun’s rays into one concentrated area of the dish. Pipes attached to the unit carry these high concentrations of heat through a fluid solution that’s then used to heat your home.

4. Hot Water Systems

Solar water heaters are more varied in their size and shape. In fact, some of the newer models may use primarily water to heat your home, but utilize any of the other types of solar thermal collectors mentioned in this article. Like thermodynamic panels, they’re a cost-conscious way to warm one’s living quarters.

Whether panels, bowls, or a flat plate is mounted on your home, they heat a tank of water (usually holding 40 to 80 gallons) that is then converted into energy,

The one drawback, or thing to at least consider, is that hot water systems almost always require (or highly recommend a backup mechanism for cloudy, cool days. High-demand households may need a stronger system.

5. Evacuated Tube Collectors

Commonly referred to as ‘ETCs’, evacuated tube collectors are lined with glass tubes containing copper, which boasts an impressive combination of high natural heat conductivity and affordability, especially when compared to other metals such as silver.

ETCs are considered more efficient than flat plate collectors, as they can hold onto heat from previously warmer days better than flat plates, which comes in handy during a cold spell or series of high-energy use days.

You can ask a local solar panel company for a quote or information on the types of products they specialize in.

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