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You know how expensive energy can be—and it’s not getting any cheaper. Bills piling up is one reason why people look into solar energy solutions for their homes, but when people think solar they tend to focus exclusively on generating electricity and getting off their local grid. And while traditional solar panels are a great idea and can have a huge impact on your utility bills, there’s another option you shouldn’t sleep on: aolar water heaters.

Solar water heaters are exactly what they sound like: water heaters that use the sun’s energy. If you’ve ever left a beverage sitting out in the sun you know that it’s very good at heating up liquids, and adding a solar water heater to your home is a simple, straightforward way to cut your energy bills. As an added bonus, using a solar water heater also has a positive impact on the environment, because you won’t be using traditional energy sources.

How solar water heaters work

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Solar water heaters have two parts: a collector and a circulation system. The collector is mounted on the roof and stores and heats the water, and the circulation system transfers the water to your taps. The circulation system can be active, using pumps, or passive, relying on gravity or convection to move the water from one place to another.

Solar water heaters will work in any climate, but the type of collector and circulation system used is determined by the climatic conditions in your local area. For example, solar water heaters using an evacuated tube collector, which surrounds the water with a vacuum to prevent heat loss, can maintain water temperature even in very cold climates—but they’re typically the most expensive system to install. How much sun your roof gets, the likelihood of freezing temperatures, and other factors all affect which collector and circulation system is the best choice.


Installing a solar water heater will run you anywhere from $3,000 to $8,000, depending on your location and the type of system being installed. Which ain’t cheap—but as with solar panels, the up-front cost is an investment that will pay off over time in three big ways:

  • Bills. About 18% of the energy you use in your home goes to heating up your water. A traditional electric water heater costs about $438 per year to operate, while a gas water heater costs about $224 annually on average. Going solar reduces those costs to about zero.

  • Tax break. Solar water heaters qualify for a 30% tax credit, so your cost of installation will be reduced significantly.

  • Environmental concerns. Whether your traditional water heater is gas or electric, it’s relying on some portion of fossil fuels and other polluting sources to heat up your water. A solar water heater removes about 4,000 pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere every year.

If you live in an area that gets a lot of sunlight and you’re considering solar energy—or already have solar panels in place—a solar water heater is a great idea. Even if electricity and gas are relatively cheap where you are, that may not always be the case, and a solar water heater will save you some money in the long run no matter what. You can explore the models and available rebates in your area and other information using the government’s Energy Star website.

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