A major challenge for solar water heaters is to provide heat at a cost comparable to or lower than conventional fuels. Since the price of a passive integral-collector-storage (ICS) solar water heater has historically been less than that for active systems with freeze protection, they can potentially heat water at a lower cost. However, ICS panels are subject to freeze damage, as the collector generally has metal tubes carrying pressurized water that can freeze and burst. In order to delineate the geographical areas where ICS panels can be deployed safely, it is necessary to experimentally characterize the conditions causing freeze damage, to develop a model relating the freeze behavior to climatic conditions, to validate that model with experimental data, and to run the model against long-term weather data across the U.S. Two variations of an ICS panel and/or their bare tubes were tested in a walk in freezer and subjected to freezing conditions until freeze damage occurred. The units tested include both a single and double glazed tubular ICS panel. Key data includes the volume expansion of the tube(s) at burst and the collector loss coefficient near 0 degrees C. Under freezing conditions the insulated supply/return lines would freeze solid initiating a pressure-buildup and eventual burst in the collector tubes due to further internal freezing. An additional test on the single glazed unit was also conducted in which heat tape was installed on the inlet and outlet pipes to prevent them from freezing, which increases the freeze tolerance of the panel by forcing small internal interconnection pipes to freeze solid before damage occurs. Existing models for ICS thermal performance were modified to incorporate the freezing process, and have been validated with the experimental data. The validated models were used to predict regions of the country that are safe for installing the ICS panels. Simulations were run using 30 years of weather data available for all TMY2 sites, and maps were created to illustrate regions of safe installation throughout the US for both the with and without heat tape scenarios for the two ICS models. A correlation using record minimum temperature was developed to generalize the maps to any location for which the record minimum is known. The maps show quantitatively the expected conclusions: 1) that double glazing and higher insulation will extend the safe region; and 2) that the use of heat tape on the inlet and outlet pipes significantly increases the region in which ICS panels can be safely installed in the US.

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