A typical flat-plate collector is a metal box with a glass or plastic cover (called glazing) on top and a dark-colored absorber plate on the bottom. The sides and bottom of the collector are usually insulated to minimize heat loss.
Sunlight passes through the glazing and strikes the absorber plate, which heats up, changing solar energy into heat energy. The heat is transferred to liquid passing through pipes attached to the absorber plate. Absorber plates are commonly painted with "selective coatings," which absorb and retain heat better than ordinary black paint. Absorber plates are usually made of metal—typically copper or aluminum—because the metal is a good heat conductor. Copper is more expensive, but is a better conductor and less prone to corrosion than aluminum. In locations with average available solar energy, flat plate collectors are sized approximately one-half- to one-square foot per gallon of one-day's hot water use.