The first question many people ask when considering a home expense is, “How much will it cost?” The answer depends on the type of system, how you want to use it (water or pool heating, for example), and your geographic location. But most solar thermal systems cost between $2,000 and $4,500. Although this is usually more than the cost of a conventional gas or electric system, today’s solar heating systems are cost competitive when you consider your total energy costs over the entire life of the system.
Your monthly gas or electricity bills will usually be lower and more predictable for as long as you own the house. Also, solar heating systems will insulate you from rising fossil fuel costs and protect you from fuel-price inflation over time. Investing in a solar thermal system could also increase the resale value of your home. Often, the entire initial cost of the system can be recovered when you sell your property. In addition, you will be earning an annual 6% to 25% tax-free rate-of-return on your investment, depending on how much hot water you use and how much energy you save.
Another important reason to invest in solar systems may be less tangible. When you purchase a solar heating system, you support technologies that are good for the environment. You are making a conscious, responsible decision to help reduce harmful emissions from fossil fuels, while maintaining your quality of life.
Depending on the type of conventional fuel used, replacing an electric water heater with a solar heater can offset the equivalent of 40% to 100% of the carbon dioxide emissions of a modern passenger car.
Carbon dioxide traps heat in our atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect, which alters our planet’s climate and ecological systems. Using solar energy in place of nonrenewable fuels may also reduce nitrous oxides and sulfur dioxides, which are components of smog.
The first consideration when building a solar thermal system is the site. If your site has unshaded areas and generally faces south, it is a good candidate for a solar thermal system. A professional installer can evaluate your roof as a location for collectors. If your roof doesn’t have enough space, you can also install the system on the ground. Please refer to the system-sizing section for more information on space requirements. The amount of sun that your site receives, how often temperatures dip below freezing, and other factors will also affect the type of solar heating system you choose.
Before getting under way, you need to consider your homeowners association rules and neighborhood bylaws, also known as codes, covenants, and restrictions (CC&Rs). In Arizona, California, and Florida, state laws prohibit CC&Rs that restrict solar system installations. Nine other states have similar laws barring regulations that unreasonably limit solar energy use in planned communities. Some cities and counties have ordinances or require permits for home improvement construction, including solar system installation.