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Solar Hot Water System

Updated on January 13, 2010
Image: Danilo Rizzuti /
Image: Danilo Rizzuti /

Solar technology has never been more viable.  More than 1.5 million solar hot water systems have been installed in the United States, and the industry just keeps growing.  Hawaii has even passed a law that requires all new homes built after January 1, 2010 to be equipped with a solar hot water system or another comparable energy efficient system.  All of Hawaii’s oil is imported, and it is expected that the new law will cut the state’s consumption by as much as 30,000 barrels and save families as much as $600 a year.

 This year the U.S. government is offering a tax credit of 30% (up to $2000) of the cost of a solar hot water system.  A system like this typically costs $1500 to $3500 dollars.  That’s 100% more than most electric or gas heaters, but  the solar hot water system will pay for itself within 4 to 8 years.   These systems will operate for 20 or more years before any serious maintenance is needed.  That’s an excellent return on your initial investment.

Solar hot water systems are good for more than saving money though.  They also give the environment some much needed relief.  The University of Wisconsin’s Solar Energy Laboratory says that the typical electric hot water heater is responsible for dispersing 8 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.  Solar technology is the first step in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and a solar hot water system is one of the simplest ways to start.

Solar hot water heaters can be active or passive.  Hot water rises and a passive system depends on this property along with gravity to circulate the water within the system, a passive system is easier to maintain and doesn’t require any outside power source.    An active system uses pumps and other mechanical parts to circulate the water.  Sometimes an active system will use food grade propylene glycol to absorb the heat from the collectors and then transfer the heat  to a water storage tank..  Active systems are usually more expensive, but they are also more efficient. 

If you’re thinking of  making some solar upgrades to your home this year, a solar hot water system is definitely the easiest and least expensive way to start.  Refer to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to see if your planned improvements qualify for a federal income tax credit.  The type of hot water system that you ultimately choose will depend on your budget, your climate, and the size of your family, but whichever one you choose, rest assured that  you’re doing your part for the environment and saving money.


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    • tdarby profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks so much for this hub. I am looking at various solar systems for my house and a hot water solar system is one of the items I have been considering. Great info.


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