Are Solar Water Heaters Right For You?
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Are Solar Water Heaters Right For You?

by TimJones on September 19, 2012

This a guest post from Diane Kuehl.

You see the headline. But, be honest… when is the last time you thought about your water heater?

Probably never, unless you are a particularly attentive home owner.

Let’s imagine for a moment that you are thinking about your home’s hot water heater right now. Do you know what it costs to run it, regarding your wallet and the environment? Again, you probably don’t. Hot water heaters are extremely eco-unfriendly, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.
Let’s take another imaginary trip, one where you are now wondering what the actual cost of your hot water heater is, both financially and environmentally. Follow me and we’ll talk a little bit about why a solar water heater might be a good option for you.

Water Heaters Are Like A Footprint On The Moon

Why? – because they stick around. Traditional water heaters are no friend to the environment. Their carbon footprint is huge. How huge, you ask? Most people think of cars and other forms of transportation as the general population’s greatest detriment to the environment, but traditional water heaters actually produce as much, if not more, CO2 than the average automobile.  The average electric water heater needs 6,400 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

Based on this stat, the average electric water heater would then emit about eight tons (yes, eight tons!) of carbon dioxide annually – double most automobiles. Why didn’t Al Gore do a documentary on non-solar water heaters?

It’s All About Green With Solar Water Heaters

At $150 to $450 per unit, traditional water heaters are a little more cost efficient at the outset, but you’ll still pay an arm and a leg for the rising cost of electricity and natural gas costs. Typical water heater replacement isn’t cheap either. Manual labor, contractor costs (or company costs), payment by hour, etc. … it adds up. That on top of what you’re already paying per day and per year just to keep the whole water heater running… eesh.

On the flip side, solar water heaters cost anywhere from $1,500 to $3,500 on your initial purchase, but because you are using sustainable, renewable energy (the Sun is free!), the money you save on gas and electric bills will be astronomical (you could go brush off that old water heater’s footprint on the moon…) The Consumer Energy Center says that the average solar heating system pays for itself in four to seven years. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a long time, especially if you’re on that 30-year fixed mortgage.

The U.S. government is so jazzed about this, as well, that they offer homeowners tax credits of up to 30 percent (with a $2,000 cap) to offset the cost of installing a solar water heating system. Just don’t try to get one of these if you plan on heating your pool with the solar water heater. They frown upon that.

Check out this program from the government to see which benefits are available to you.

Save money in the long run and make an immediate impact on the environment – what could be better? Consider a few things before taking the plunge into the solar market first, though.

  • What if I’ve never seen the sun where I live? Let’s say you live in Seattle or the rainforest or some place that is rainy and lacking sunlight for much of the year – this does not mean you cannot have a solar heating system. There are many different types of solar water heating systems available for all different types of climates.
  • The leader of my HOA is pretty strict. Are there codes I have to follow? If you have the solar water heater installed outside of your local code, you may have to re-install your system, taking a green bushel of money out of your pocket. There are also other standards that you may need to consider if you live outside the United States. Ask you local utility district about your options.

Diane Kuehl is a freelance writer and “green living” advocate. She lives on her farm in Springfield, Illinois with her husband and two kids.

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