Solar Water Heater Installation Cost

How much does it cost to install a solar water heater?

Technology has advanced to such a level that most modern homes can easily and affordably create the majority of their hot water supplies directly through sunlight. This would be done through the use of a solar water heater which is capable of operating in any climate. For this discussion we will look at the costs and requirements for sizing and installing a solar hot water system for domestic use.

While "passive" systems are less expensive, they are not as efficient as the "active" varieties, and for this discussion we will consider the installation of an active closed loop solar water heater suitable for all areas of the world, even those prone to freezing. This is a project that will cost between $6000 and $17000 depending upon the size of the system and the needs of the household, along with any additional considerations, such as the use of radiant heating.

Solar hot water heater installation isn't a DIY project and according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the "proper installation of solar water heaters depends on many factors. These factors include solar resources, climate, local building code requirements, and safety issues; therefore, it's best to have a qualified, solar thermal systems contractor install your system".

Cost breakout

What needs to be included:

  • Permits obtained and HOA and utility permits approved;
  • Balance of system parts which can include a somewhat extensive list of items such:
    • The support structure for the large solar collector;
    • A liquid handling unit that includes a pump to transfer fluid from collector to storage tank;
    • All necessary valves, strainers, and a thermal expansion tank;
    • A controller which activates the circulator when heat is available; and
    • Freeze protection fluid and the necessary piping and insulation to keep it separate from water and heat exchanger;
  • Solar collector which could be of the flat plate or tube variety. These vary in cost and efficiency with the evacuated-tube solar collectors being capable of commercial applications and the integral collector-storage systems being vulnerable to areas of intense cold and freezing;
  • Provide carpentry or installation to code - This is going to depend upon the amount of work required, but installers can average $70 per hour. This project might be priced on a per item basis, or the carpenter might simply base it on the square footage;

Enhancement and improvement costs

  • Backup hot water system for overcast days or when usage is too heavy for size of system;
  • Installing a flat plate collector system for swimming pool heating, and
  • Opting for a passive system if an active system is outside of the current budget.

The wisest course of action for any solar hot water heater installation is to work with a licensed contractor who can accurately determine the appropriately-sized system for the home. Always request references, obtain information about warranties, and seek at least three bids before selecting the provider. It is also essential to understand the SEF or solar energy factor of the system to ensure that it will function at optimal efficiency as well.

Additional considerations and costs

For the solar hot water heater installation, the following issues and tasks must be considered:

  • Assessment of home water needs - the average household with two adults needs a forty gallon water tank. Installing a system smaller than what is needed can cause supplementary costs to escalate. This is another reason to consider hiring a contractor to manage the entire project;
  • Purchase and installation of solar collector and storage tanks, and the pumps and controls for "active" systems.
  • Addressing all available local, state, and federal rebates and programs for this installation which encourage and reward such improvements to the home. There are also the financial savings to consider on traditional water heating costs.