How does an indirect water heater work?

Home and Garden

An indirect water heater, also known as an indirect-fired water heater or a tankless coil water heater, is a type of water heating system that uses a heat exchanger to indirectly heat water. Unlike traditional water heaters that use a burner or electric heating element to directly heat water, an indirect water heater utilizes the heat produced by a separate source, such as a boiler or a solar thermal system, to heat the water.

1. The working principle of an indirect water heater

An indirect water heater works by transferring heat from the primary heating source to the water stored in the tank. The heat exchanger, typically made of copper or stainless steel, is immersed in the water tank and connected to the primary heating system. When the heating system is activated, hot water or steam flows through the heat exchanger, indirectly transferring heat to the surrounding water.

1.1 Types of primary heating sources

There are various types of primary heating sources that can be used in conjunction with an indirect water heater:

  • Boiler: A boiler is a common primary heating source for an indirect water heater. It uses fuel, such as natural gas, oil, or propane, to heat water or produce steam. The hot water or steam is then circulated through the heat exchanger, heating the water in the tank.
  • Solar thermal system: A solar thermal system uses energy from the sun to heat a fluid, typically a mixture of water and antifreeze. This heated fluid is then circulated through the heat exchanger, transferring heat to the water in the tank.
  • Heat pump: A heat pump extracts heat from the air, ground, or water and transfers it to the water stored in the tank through the heat exchanger.

2. Advantages of an indirect water heater

Indirect water heaters offer several advantages over traditional water heating systems:

  • Energy efficiency: Since indirect water heaters utilize an existing heating source, such as a boiler or a solar thermal system, they can be highly energy efficient. The primary heating source does not have to work as hard to heat the water, resulting in lower energy consumption.
  • Abundant hot water supply: Indirect water heaters typically have large storage tanks, allowing for a continuous supply of hot water. This is especially beneficial for households with multiple bathrooms or high hot water demand.
  • Longer lifespan: The indirect heating mechanism of these water heaters helps reduce the buildup of sediment and scale, which can prolong the lifespan of the unit compared to direct-fired water heaters.
  • Lower maintenance requirements: Since the primary heating source is separate from the water tank, the maintenance needs of the indirect water heater are often lower compared to direct-fired models.

3. Installation and maintenance considerations

When installing an indirect water heater, it is important to consider the following:

  • Compatibility: Ensure that the primary heating source is compatible with the indirect water heater. Different models may have specific requirements.
  • Space requirements: Indirect water heaters typically require more space than direct-fired models due to the presence of the heat exchanger and larger storage tanks.
  • Insulation and piping: Proper insulation and piping are essential to minimize heat loss and ensure efficient operation.
  • Maintenance: Regular maintenance, such as flushing the heat exchanger and checking for leaks, is necessary to keep the indirect water heater running smoothly.

4. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

4.1 Can I use an indirect water heater with a gas-fired boiler?

Yes, an indirect water heater can be used with a gas-fired boiler. The hot water or steam produced by the boiler will be circulated through the heat exchanger, indirectly heating the water in the tank.

4.2 How long does it take for the water to heat up in an indirect water heater?

The time it takes for the water to heat up in an indirect water heater depends on various factors, such as the size of the tank, the temperature of the incoming water, and the heating capacity of the primary heating source. On average, it may take around 30 minutes to an hour for the water to reach the desired temperature.

4.3 What is the lifespan of an indirect water heater?

The lifespan of an indirect water heater can vary depending on factors such as maintenance, water quality, and usage. However, with proper maintenance and care, an indirect water heater can last for 15 to 20 years or even longer.

4.4 Can an indirect water heater be used for radiant floor heating?

Yes, an indirect water heater can be used for radiant floor heating. The hot water from the indirect water heater can be circulated through the radiant floor heating system, providing efficient and comfortable heating for the space.

4.5 Are there any disadvantages to using an indirect water heater?

While indirect water heaters offer many advantages, they may have some disadvantages, including higher initial installation costs compared to direct-fired water heaters and the need for a separate primary heating source, which may require additional space and maintenance.

4.6 Can I use an indirect water heater with a solar thermal system?

Yes, an indirect water heater can be used with a solar thermal system. The heated fluid from the solar thermal system can be circulated through the heat exchanger, indirectly transferring heat to the water in the tank.

5. Conclusion

Indirect water heaters provide an energy-efficient and reliable solution for heating water in residential and commercial settings. By utilizing a separate primary heating source, such as a boiler or a solar thermal system, these water heaters offer abundant hot water supply while reducing energy consumption and prolonging the lifespan of the unit. With proper installation, maintenance, and care, an indirect water heater can provide years of reliable hot water supply.


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