Save Money With a Solar Hot Water System

Greg Pahl explains how you can save money using a solar hot water system for your homestead, includes solar shopping tips, types of solar heaters and real-life solar applications.

| October/November 2003

Learn how you can save money by using a solar hot water system to cut water heating costs.

Hot water heating is one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways of harnessing solar energy. According to the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, hot water heating accounts for one-fifth to one-quarter of an average U.S. household's energy usage. Installing a solar domestic hot water system can reduce your hot water heating bill by 60 percent to 95 percent, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars a year. Invest in a solar hot water system for $3,000 to $6,000 and, in some cases, you might recoup the costs within only four to six years.

"If someone is really interested in renewable energy, and they want to get involved somewhere, a solar hot water system is probably the best place to start," says Rod Hyatt, owner of In Hot Water Heat & Power in Eden, Utah. "It makes the biggest impact at the lowest investment." Many states, municipalities and some local utilities now offer tax incentives; and rebates, significantly sweetening the solar deal.

Fueled by the sun (think free energy!), instead of fossil fuels, solar hot water systems emit none of the pollutants and greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, sulfur oxides — produced when natural gas or oil is burned. And solar hot water systems can be used wherever the sun shines. (Of course, generally the sunnier your location, the more hot water you'll reap.)

Hot Household Water

In most homes, domestic hot water (water for washing dishes and clothes, for bathing or cooking) usually is provided by an electric or gas-fired water heater, or boiler or furnace that also heats the home. Heating water with electricity is expensive and will become even more costly as the price of fossil fuels used to generate it continues to climb. And, although heating water with gas is less expensive than heating with electricity, burning gas still contributes to pollution and global warming.

In concert with an electric or gas-fired backup unit, solar domestic hot water can reduce the requirement for conventional water heating by two-thirds or more. The total amount the solar hot water system can contribute depends on your household's hot water consumption, and the amount of sunshine the collectors receive daily and throughout the year. In general, most solar systems are designed to meet one-half to three-quarters of a family's domestic hot water need. During the summertime, the system may usually meet all of their hot water needs. On average, an efficient collector in good weather will heat between 1 and 2 gallons of water per square foot per day. (A solar contractor can help you correctly size the collectors, storage tank and backup system.)

3/27/2015 4:31:03 PM

I think that solar heating systems are genius. I'm sure they're difficult to get used to using, but they are much more sustainable in the long run. If you're able to make the adjustment, it seems well worth the time and effort. Your article was very helpful in explaining how everything works for me!

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