Sizing your solar water heating system basically involves determining the total collector area and the storage volume you'll need to meet 90%–100% of your household's hot water needs during the summer. Solar system contractors use worksheets and computer programs to help determine system requirements and collector sizing.
Contractors usually follow a guideline of around 20 square feet (2 square meters) of collector area for each of the first two family members. For every additional person, add 8 square feet (0.7 square meters) if you live in the U.S. Sun Belt area or 12–14 square feet if you live in the northern United States.
A small (50- to 60-gallon) storage tank is usually sufficient for one to two three people. A medium (80-gallon) storage tank works well for three to four people. A large tank is appropriate for four to six people.
For active systems, the size of the solar storage tank increases with the size of the collector—typically 1.5 gallons per square foot of collector. This helps prevent the system from overheating when the demand for hot water is low. In very warm, sunny climates, some experts suggest that the ratio should be increased to as much as 2 gallons of storage to 1 square foot of collector area.
Additional calculations involved in sizing your solar water heating system will include the following:
Evaluation of your building site's solar resource
Before you buy and install a solar water heating system, you need to first consider your site's solar resource. The efficiency and design of a solar water heating system depends on how much of the sun's energy reaches your building site.
Solar water heating systems use both direct and diffuse solar radiation. Even if you don't live in a climate that's warm and sunny most of the time—like the southwestern United States—your site still might have an adequate solar resource. If your building site has unshaded areas and generally faces south, it's a good candidate for a solar water heating system.
Your local solar system supplier or installer can perform a solar site analysis.
Orientation and tilt of the solar collector
Both the orientation and tilt of the collector will affect your solar water heating system's performance. Your contractor should consider both factors while evaluating your site's solar resource and sizing your system.