For individuals and families trying to go green, a solar water heater is an excellent investment. It helps you save on electricity or gas, depending on what type of water heater you have, and it is eligible for a number of tax rebates and credits so you end up saving that money for cheaper or even for free.
As one of the largest energy consumers in your home, a conventional hot water tank is pretty wasteful. A hot water tank has to heat up all the water in the tank just to use a fraction of it, and then when the water gets cold, it has to expend the energy to heat it all up again. By harnessing the sun’s energy, you don’t need to see high electricity or gas bills again. According to Energy Star, a solar water heater can cut your water heating costs in half or even more.
Using solar power to heat your water is cost-effective, energy efficient, and, after an initial investment, free. The technology for solar hot water heating has been around for more than fifty years, and in some parts of the world – notably Israel – solar hot water heaters are quite common. Below, you’ll find a closer look at how solar hot water heating works, what types of set-ups are available, and pros and cons.
The two basic components of a solar hot water heater are the storage tank and the solar collector. The tank itself, like other hot water heaters, should be well-insulated, with an outlet and inlet that feeds into the solar collector. Some solar hot water heaters are two-tank set-ups, with a tank that pre-heats water, then feeds it into a regular water heater.
Additionally, you can opt for a passive solar water heating system, or an active solar water heating system. The active type includes controls and circulating pumps, whereas the passive system does not. In a passive system, you literally use the sun itself to heat the water directly, without relying upon a solar panel.
As for the process of heating up the water, you can choose from an open loop system, which is ideal for mild climates where the temperature does not dip below freezing, or a closed loop system if you live in a colder area. Your climate will also determine what kind of solar collector you choose.
Installation and Maintenance
Installation and maintenance of a solar hot water heating system is not simple. Once you’ve decided which system will work for you, you’ll want to look into building code requirements, safety issues, and other factors.
A passive solar system is not hard to maintain. An active system, however, is more complex and has additional plumbing and other factors that need to be regularly maintained. You’ll also need to make sure that your system will last by protecting it against the elements.
Pros and Cons of Solar Hot Water Heating
A solar hot water heating system will cost you between $3 and $6 thousand, but that cost will be repaid in energy savings within the first five years. In most cases, as long as you maintain your system, you can expect it to last for around 25 to 30 years. If you can imagine removing the cost of heating your water from your water bill for twenty or twenty-five years, you will start to get the picture of how much a solar water heater will save you.
Of course, if you’re not sure that you’ll stay in your home for at least six years, a solar water heating system may not be worth the cost. Nevertheless, this disadvantage and the disadvantage of potential maintenance headaches are the only real cons to a solar hot water heating system.
How Much Does a Solar Hot Water Heater Cost?
Depending on whether you’re seeking professional installation or you want to do it yourself, and depending on the size and scope of your hot water heating needs, it could cost as little as a few hundred dollars and as much as $4000-5000. Additionally, it is more expensive to install a solar hot water heater if you are retrofitting an existing home, because you need to connect it to already-existing electrical and plumbing systems.
Furthermore, some states require you to hire a professional to install your water heater, which will substantially increase your costs. Certain roofs can be difficult to build on, and depending on where you live, you may have certain building code requirements that require you to spend more money.
Ultimately, the cost of a solar hot water heater is measured in the amount of time it takes to pay back your investment. The money you save by installing a hot water heater typically varies from four years to ten years, meaning that it is best purchases if you plan on staying at your current location for awhile longer. A solar hot water heater is an investment that pays for a significant portion of your utility bills each month for as long as you have it installed.
How Do I Get Solar Hot Water Rebates and Tax Credits?
Tax credits can significantly decrease the cost of your solar hot water heater, helping you pay back your investment more quickly. Rebates tend to be given on a state-by-state basis, so the best way to get a solar hot water heater rebate is to visit your local energy company’s website and click on their “Environment” or “Green” menu item. While not all energy providers offer rebates, many do, as solar hot water heaters help to decrease their load. They also get tax incentives from the government to provide those rebates.
A rebate typically consists of 30-50% of a particular project. To be eligible for a rebate, you generally, but not always, must:
* Receive your energy from that company
* Have a SRCC-rated solar water heating system (Solar Rating and Certification Corporation)
* Use the services of an eligible contractor in that county or state
Additionally, if you install a solar hot water heater, you are also eligible for a federal tax credit. Known as the residential renewable energy tax credit, you can save 30% of qualified expenditures to install the hot water heater. Qualified expenditures include labor costs, system costs and cost of the materials used to install it. The tax credit stacks differently with different rebates, so you should consult with a certified accountant before claiming the federal credit for your solar water heater installation costs.