Sunday, September 13, 2009

What is a Solar Water Expansion Tank?

Expansion TankClosed-loop systems require an expansion tank. An expansion tank has a chamber in which air is locked inside a bladder or diaphragm. It screws into standard 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch threaded plumbing fittings. When pipes are filled with heat-transfer fluid (water and glycol) and the operating pressure of the system is set, the fluid will occupy a given volume based on the temperature. As the fluid is heated by the sun, it expands. This is where the expansion tank is critical. Without it, something would blow!

The expansion tank allows the fluid to safely expand by compressing the air in the chamber. The size of the expansion tank needed depends on the total volume of fluid, which is determined by the number and size of collectors, and the length and diameter of the pipes in the solar loop.

In most cases, a total of 3 to 6 gallons (11-23 l) of fluid is in a solar loop. A #15 (2 gal; 7.6 l) expansion tank is usually adequate. It never hurts to go larger, especially for systems with more than 60 square feet (5.6 m2) of collectors. A #30 has twice the expansion capability. With the proper expansion tank in place, the fluid can go from 0 to 200°F (-18-93°C) with the pressure in the solar loop remaining the same.

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