Should I get a solar water heater?
April 11, 2005 4:23 PM   Subscribe

My 50 gallon (electric) water heater is on the verge of complete breakdown & it's time for a new one. You'd think living in Arizona I'd know somebody with a solar water heater, but no. Are they efficient? How much more initial expense than a conventional unit? Thanks!
posted by carriest to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
I have heard that solar works well in Arizona if you live in one of the desert areas. I used to live in Tucson and Phoenix. Had one electric water heater, all others were gas. The gas is efficient and way less money than electric.

I would suggest solar with a gas back up for the cloudy or cold days.
posted by lag at 5:09 PM on April 11, 2005

My only experience with the Aquastar Tankless Water Heater is actually using it in a foreign land, but perhaps this might be an alternative option.
posted by user92371 at 6:16 PM on April 11, 2005

Metaefficient has ecologically focused reviews of a lot of different products. Here's their run down on water heaters, with links galore.

If you're going with a non-solar heater, maybe you cold also install this heat waste recovery system.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:31 PM on April 11, 2005

I will second the tankless water heater as something to consider. Rinnai also makes one. Works great: you just have flip a switch before you use hot water.

In my experience, they are more expensive, but a) less wasteful and b) ensure that you never, ever run out of hot water. I assume that resource conservation is one reason you're looking into a solar heater, so this might appeal to you as well.

It will certainly be more expensive up front, but may well pay for itself in the long term due to diminished energy costs. I don't know how about the economics of installing them in your area, but especially if you have or are planning to have a large household, this may be worth it for the "never run out" factor alone.
posted by jeffmshaw at 8:31 PM on April 11, 2005

Oh, one more thing: codes up here require the tankless heaters to be vented outside, so if your bathroom is next to a wall, it may be a significantly cheaper installation than otherwise.
posted by jeffmshaw at 8:32 PM on April 11, 2005

A simple cheap-ass solar water heater I've seen is to simply replace the pipe between the water supply and the water heater with a super long black garden hose that you coil flat on the roof or on the ground. The sun heats the hose so that the water is considerably heated by the time it enters the water heater, wherein the heater needs far less power to heat the water the rest of the way. I don't know how much power savings this produces, but I imagine that if you don't include a labour bill (because you do it yourself), it would pay for it's low parts cost very quickly :)
posted by -harlequin- at 2:44 AM on April 12, 2005

Your first stop should be Home Power Magazine, which has an excellent online back-issue archive, and frequently carries articles about solar water heating.

Consider buying a subscription for your local library too. The fact that you don't know anyone with such a setup tells me that there's a lot of potential for raising awareness. You can save a little energy by installing a solar heater on your own house, but you can save a lot of energy by helping many others do the same.
posted by Myself at 8:55 PM on April 14, 2005

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