Frequently Asked Questions

1. If the power goes out, will I still have hot water?
No, solar thermal systems utilize a circulating pump to move fluid through the system to transfer heat from the solar collector to the storage tank.  So, if the power is out, then the fluid doesn’t circulate and it won’t heat your water.
However, if you have a hybrid Thermal-PV system with battery backup, then you can utilize the PV energy to run your thermal system and continue to produce hot water.

2. If I have gas water heating, can I still use a Solar Thermal System?
Yes, solar thermal systems can be used in conjunction with any type of water heater (gas, electric, tankless, etc.)  However, due to the cheap price of gas, your annual savings would be smaller and therefore your ROI would be longer.

3. How much can I expect to save with a solar system?
There are many factors involved in determining savings such as utility rate, roof orientation, shading, available roof space for equipment, and energy usage habits. The size and amount of photovoltaic modules, along with your home’s exact physical geography, will also determine how much money you save with a solar electric system.

A properly sized solar thermal system can provide about 80% of your annual hot water needs.  Considering that a water heater can account for up to 1/3 of your annual energy bill, a solar thermal system can reduce your annual bill by up to 25%

4. Where would my solar system go? How much space will it need?
The amount of space you need and the specific location of the solar array will depend on several factors.  Typically, we like to install solar systems on your roof, but they can also be ground mounted. Solar thermal systems produce about 4x as much energy per square foot than PV collectors.  So, we tend to install these collectors in the sunniest spot on your roof.  And, since thermal collectors are so efficient at converting sunlight into usable energy, a typical family of 4 only requires a pair of 4′ x 8′ collectors!

It takes a lot of PV collectors to offset the energy consumption of your home, so we typically will use all available roof space for installing PV panels. We can also make the system smaller to accommodate your budget, but we also try not to install systems larger than 10kW to avoid standby fees.

5. How long does the average installation process take?
Average residential systems typically only take one to two days to install. Commercial solar systems often require more time to install given the size and complexity of the system.

6. Are there government incentives for going solar?
The government does indeed offer forms of incentive that make the transition to solar much more manageable financially. Through the end of 2019, there is a 30% federal tax credit on the fully installed price of any new solar system.  This includes PV, thermal for domestic water heating, and solar attic fans.  Unfortunately, the tax credit does not apply to solar pool systems. Additionally, there are state grants, county property tax incentives, net metering, and Renewable Energy Credits. Commercial installations can also take advantage of accelerated depreciation (MACRS) to reduce the financial impact. Visit www.DSIREUSA.org for more details.

7. Will I need to do anything to my roof prior to installation?
In most cases, no. Photovoltaic panels can fit on the majority of roof types, and their low-weight construction makes it easy. Solar thermal collectors weigh about 3x as much as PV panels, but their weight is distributed across the roof and the load applied is only about 4 PSF (pounds per square foot). If your home has a roof that is well maintained, you should not need any additional work prior to installation.

8. What is a solar water heater?
A solar water heater heats your home’s water using thermal energy. The sun heats the water prior to entering the standard gas or electric water heater. If your home receives ample direct sunlight year-round, you could find 80% of your needs met with a solar water heater.

9. How much does a solar thermal system cost?
What you pay for a solar thermal system can range from $8,000 to $12,000 or more. Some of the factors that affect this cost include:

  • The number of people in a home, which affects heat usage
  • The specifications of your solar system
  • The style, shape, and size of your roof
  • Building code requirements
  • Local incentives

10. How long does until a solar heater pays for itself?
The ROI (return on investment) of systems can vary based on multiple factors.  Typically, the larger the system, the greater the savings and the faster the ROI.  While individual results vary, PV systems typically have a 10-15 year ROI and thermal systems are about 5-10 years.  Solar attic fans and solar pool heating systems typically have a 3 year ROI.

Investing in solar is similar to investing money generally. It is something that can build ROI over time and provide you with annual earnings. At the end of the day, you always pay for energy. While you may be okay with a monthly utility payment, you may desire the self-sufficiency that solar can provide. The decision is similar to opting for homeownership over continuous rentals. Investing in solar energy is a smart bet that promises ROI and can also help you build equity.