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Integral Collector Storage

If you’re looking to save money on operation and maintenance costs while utilizing free power, passive solar heating is for you. Passive solar heating garners energy from the sun without the use of mechanical or electrical devices. An Integral Collector Storage (ICS) unit is one example of a passive solar system.

Here’s how it works.

Unlike flat plate or evaporated tube collectors, which use absorbent metal plates to transfer heat, ICS units begin and end with water. In other words, the water itself is the collector. It is placed in a tank, which is painted black and mounted in an insulated box with glazing on one side. As the sun shines through the glaze on one side and hits the black tank on the other sides, water within the tank becomes hot. It is typically drawn from the top.

Homeowners looking to heat minimal amounts of hot water can build their own ICS units. In these cases, the hot water cools down overnight and will only be available during the day when there is a sufficient amount of direct sunlight. With more sophisticated ICS units, cold water can be drawn on demand from the house, flow through the collector, and wind up in a storage tank. ICS units can also be used to preheat water before it goes into a backup heater. Hot watered is gathered from an outlet pipe at the top, where it is reaches its hottest, and cold water has continual passage out through the bottom of the collector. Because they do not contain hot water at all times, ICS units do not suffer from hard water, or high mineral content.

Some units have a series of black metal tubes instead of the tank. Either alternative holds 30 to 50 gallons of water.

Special Considerations

  • 30 to 50 gallons of water can weigh up to 450 pounds, so the ICS unit should have strong mounting support.
  • Collectors and pipes are prone to freezing in cold/freezing climates. In these cases, an ICS unit should be used seasonally or not at all.

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