Abstract The receiver’s back surface radiative characteristics of a heat-pipe evacuated-tube solar collector (ETSC) may have a significant influence on its performance. This influence is generally related to the back surface emissivity and temperature; however it has been not studied previously. This paper firstly presents a heat transfer model for the ETSC, which is then derived to characterize the relationship between the heat loss and the back surface emissivity of the ETSC. A steady state experiment has been also performed to measure the heat loss of ETSC with different back surface emissivity values. The experimental results indicate that the heat loss of the ETSC increases with the increase of the back surface emissivity, but the rate of increase differs for different operation temperatures. When the back surface emissivity increases from 0.03 to 0.12, the heat loss of ETSC only increases by 31% when the operation temperature is below 100°C, but the heat loss will increase to 96% when the operation temperature is over 200°C. This means that the change of back surface emissivity can significantly affect the performance of the ETSC at higher temperature but affect little at lower temperature. Based on this, a novel method by performing roughness treatment on the receiver’s back surface is proposed to solve the overheating problem of ETSC in summer. Two solar water heaters including 6 ETSCs with standard and roughness-treated tubes were tested under real weather condition. Experiment reveals that when the water temperature in tank is below 60°C, the two solar water heaters own similar temperature change. But when the temperature is over 80°C, the solar water heater with roughness-treated tube shows obviously lower temperature increase than that with standard tube. Therefore, it is very effective to prevent overheating of some solar water heaters used in high latitudes in summer by increasing the receiver’s back surface roughness.