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7 Important Things to Know Before Installing a Solar Water Heating System

Solar water heating systems come with many advantages. They are easy to install, don’t cost much, work well in different climates, and save you lots of money. After all, they utilize the kind of energy that is abundant and absolutely free. 

But if you’re new to solar water heaters, you might have some questions in your mind before deciding to install the system on your property.

For example, 

  • Are solar water heaters suitable for me?
  • Will a solar water heater be enough for my home?
  • How do solar hot water heating systems work?
  • How much do solar hot water heaters cost?
  • How long does solar hot water take to heat water?
  • Are solar water heaters good for health?
  • Would solar water heaters really save me money?
  • Is there a tax credit for solar water heaters? 

And so on. 

If that’s the case, we got you covered. On this page, we are going to discuss everything—almost everything— you need to know before installing a solar water heating system. 

First, the basics. 

Are solar water heaters suitable for me?

Solar water heating systems are suitable for all homeowners, irrespective of the size of your family and where you live—of course, with a few caveats. 

If you have a bigger home, you would need a large solar collector and storage tank. Solar heaters heat water by utilizing solar radiation, which is limitless and free. It all depends on how much sunlight you can trap. Large homes would need a bigger system to meet their needs and vice versa. 

There are at least four types of solar water heaters available in the market, and all are designed for specific climates. If you live in a warmer region, where water rarely freezes, you need an active solar water heater with a direct circulation system.

A passive water heater ‘integral collector-storage system’ would also work well in your area.

On the other hand, if the water freezes in your climate, you might consider installing a solar water heater with an indirect circulation system. Another option could be a thermosiphon water heating system. 

How do solar hot water heaters work?

Solar water heaters have two basic components: a solar collector and a storage tank. The cold water is sent to the solar collector through electric pumps (if it is an active system) or through gravity (if it is a passive system). The solar radiation heats the water in the collector, from where it is sent to the storage tank. 

In climates where the temperature falls to or below 0°C, a non-freezing liquid is used instead of water. This liquid then transfers heat to the water. 

Is there a tax credit for solar water heaters? 

Yes, solar water heating systems are eligible for the federal income tax credit. It is a 30% dollar-for-dollar tax break homeowners can claim upon installing solar water heaters on their primary or secondary residence. It covers the entire system’s costs, including the heater’s price, labor costs, piping and wiring costs, etc.  

The credit can be claimed only on solar water heaters and not the overall heating system, even if the electric heater is attached to the solar system as a backup heater. Lastly, a system must be certified by Solar Rating and Certification Corporation to qualify for the incentive. 

How much does a solar water heating system cost?

On average, solar water heaters may cost you around $1,000 to $6,000. But this is only the cost of solar water heaters and doesn’t include the installation costs. The cost also depends on the type of solar water heater you need to install. Considering all the expenses, the final cost may be between $2,000 and $6,000. 

Passive heaters are inexpensive and may cost you anything between $1,000 to $4,000. On the other hand, active solar water heaters are a bit expensive but are also more efficient. Their cost may range between $2,500 to $6,200. 

The type of solar collectors and the storage tank size also affect your system’s final cost. If you want to add an additional backup heater, add $6,00 to $2,000 for that. 

Our national average cost of installing a solar water heating system is $6,000. But a basic system could come in as less as $2,000. Note that solar water heating systems are also eligible for federal income solar tax credit. That reduces the upfront cost of installation even more.

Do solar water heaters really save me money?

Yes, and yes—solar water heating system does save you money. While traditional heaters may cost you less upfront than solar water heaters, they run on electricity—and electricity is expensive. In contrast, solar water heaters draw their energy from solar, which is absolutely free. 

You get year-round hot water without incurring any cost for it. You may need to pay for the routine maintenance of your system, but these costs are not as high as your electricity bill. At the end of the day, you save more. As per the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, your water heating costs could drop between 50 to 80% after installing a solar water heating system.   

Are solar water heaters good for health?

This is a legitimate concern. Solar water heater works by drawing heat from solar radiation, which contains ultraviolet and infrared rays. So, is this water safe for use?  

Yes. The water heated by solar water heating systems is completely safe for consumption. We all swim in pools and beaches exposed to the sun’s radiation throughout the year. In fact, solar radiation is considered a natural way of disinfecting water

However, hot water, irrespective of whether it is heated by solar, gas, or electric heater, should not be used for cooking and drinking. This is because water heaters have metallic parts that corrode with time, contaminating our water—hot water is more prone to contamination, as it dissolves contaminants faster than cold water. 

How long does solar hot water take to heat water?

It takes roughly 4 to 6 hours for an average solar water heater with a tank of 26 gallons to heat water. This frankly appears a lot of time—who is going to wait for hours to take a shower? But systems take this amount of time only initially. 

Once the system is up and running, you will have a steady flow of hot water. Your storage tank, though it depends on the type and material of the tank, can store water for up to 24 hours. In addition, the type and size of solar collector also play a due role in the heating time. Evacuated tube collectors are considered more efficient than flat plate collectors. 

To avoid any inconvenience, many homeowners, especially those who live in colder climates, use an additional backup heater for emergency needs. Even if your water comes directly from a traditional water heater, you will still save on your electric bill. The solar water heaters ensure that the water is preheated for your electric water heater, reducing the cost of electricity.

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