Does a solar water heater make sense for you?

Interested in cutting down your energy bills? One option you might want to explore is using a solar water heater to supplement your existing water heater. Government estimates say water heating accounts for 25 percent of the energy used in an average home (and produces an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases). So replacing some of that costly energy needed to heat your water will dramatically reduce your energy bills and at the same time help preserve the environment.

Can a solar water heater actually produce enough hot water for my family?

  • The answer is ‘it depends’ on a number of factors. There is no doubt that solar hot water systems do work and solar water heaters in various designs have been used to provide hot water for hundreds of years.
  • However if such a system will work for you will depend on some specifics such as how much water you and your family use, where you live and the actual system you install.

Solar Water Heaters

  • There are two main types of systems and a number of designs for each type. Passive systems take advantage of the natural movement of water (as water warms up it moves towards colder areas, creating a natural circulation within the system). While active or forced circulation systems use pumps and controls to move the warm water around in the house.
  • Typically solar water heaters consist of an insulated, hot water storage tank, a solar collector to absorb solar energy, a back-up energy source, and (for forced circulation systems) a pump and related controls.
  • It’s estimated an active, flat panel system will produce between 80 and 100 gallons of hot water daily, while a passive system will produce somewhat less (and potentially be more prone to frost damage).
  • Depending on your family size and your life style a solar water heater alone may or may not be able to provide sufficient hot water for you.
  • As a result of their somewhat restricted capacity, most solar water heating systems installed in North America include some form of back-up water heating using either electricity or gas.

Can I really save money?

  • Solar water heating systems aren’t inexpensive and will cost substantially more than an equivalent energy based system. For example, passive solar water heating systems can cost anywhere from $1500 to $2500 to install while active systems will cost in the range of $2000 to $3500. As well, in colder climates additional components will be required to prevent possible frost damage to the system.
  • Offsetting these upfront costs are the estimates that a solar water heater will save a homeowner anywhere from 50% up to 90% of a the family’s heating expense. As well many states provide grants to homeowners who undertake improvements to make their homes more energy efficient (including solar water heaters).
  • You’d have to do the math to determine how long the payback period would be for in your own situation to determine if a solar water heater actually makes economic sense for you where you live.

For more information on solar water haters check out the Department of Energy web site at

Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer over 500 articles published on the web as well as in print magazines and newspapers in both the United States and Canada. He writes on a wide range of topics and is a regular contributor to He can be contacted at