February 13, 2007
Solar Hot Water: A Good Deal that Keeps Getting Better
by Bob Ramlow for Mother Earth Living
The typical American household spends 15 percent to 20 percent of its
total energy outlay to make sure the "H" tap means what it says. That
same household can save thousands of dollars over the next 40 years by
installing a solar water-heating system.
It costs more to install the solar water heating system, compared to a
conventional gas or electric heater, but your home equity will
increase instantly, frequently enough to offset installation costs.
And it's so much less expensive to operate the solar heater that, at
some point, you'll make up the initial difference. At the same time,
you'll save more money every time electric or gas rates go up. Many
homeowners recover the initial installation expense within a few
years. Experts agree, a solar water heater is the easiest initial
investment in renewable energy.
Several kinds of solar water heaters exist, and the choice depends
primarily on your climate. They all do the same things: gather heat in
a solar collector; transfer the heat to the water supply; and store
the heated water until it's used. They use simple, proven technology
-- one reason they're a best bet in renewable energy.
Save money with solar water heating
Solar water-heating systems have minimal -- sometimes zero --
operating costs, and maintenance costs only about $2 per month.
When all costs for purchase, installation, maintenance and operation
are taken into account, a solar water heater usually pulls even with an
electric heater after just eight and a half years, and equals a gas
heater in about 15 years. From then on, through the expected 40-year
life of the solar system, you've got FREE hot water.
The deal only improves when you add in the positive environmental
benefits of a solar water heater. A typical residential solar water
heater will offset greenhouse gas emissions by about 1,500 pounds of
carbon dioxide (CO2) per year. That's equal to the amount of CO2
released by an average vehicle every 1,685 miles.
The first things to consider about a solar water heater are siting and
Siting your solar water heater
Solar collectors must be in full or nearly full sunlight all year, so
have a solar professional assess your site to find the best location
for the collector. Collectors are typically mounted on roofs, but also
can be mounted on the ground near homes.
Sizing your solar water heater
Solar water heaters are rarely designed to provide 100 percent of your
hot water -- there are just too many cloudy days over the course of a
year. Nevertheless, a typical solar water heater will provide between
50 percent and 75 percent of your annual load.
Solar hot water is a long-term solution
Solar water heat systems can last more than 40 years -- just make sure
the design is appropriate to your climate and the system is built with
high-quality materials and workmanship. An investment in a solar
hot-water system could even be considered patriotic, because solar
keeps our energy dollars at home and reduces our dependency on others.
You'll pay to heat water in any case -- why not choose to do it with
solar energy? Your pocketbook, and the environment, will appreciate it.
Read more in Go Solar for Free Hot Water
from the February/March 2007 issue of Mother Earth News,