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Solar hot water is an effective, environmentally friendly water-heating option for most consumers. There are a few geographic, environmental, and financial factors that you should keep in mind to be certain that solar hot water is a good fit for your needs.

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Most homeowners will benefit from solar hot water, but you'll need to assess your situation before you sign on the dotted line. Geographical and environmental factors can impact the effectiveness of a solar hot water system. Your financial benefits will also vary depending on the availability of rebates in your area and the age of your current hot water system.

Geographic and environmental factors

One of the most important things to look into when considering a solar hot water system is your local climate. You don't need 365 days of sun a year for solar hot water to make sense – systems always include a backup water heater (usually gas or electric), so even when you have cloudy days, you won't run out of hot water. However, the savings you see on your water heating bill will be greater if you live in a sunny place, because you won't have to rely on your backup heater as frequently. Trees can also cast a shadow on your solar collectors, reducing the amount of hot water you get from your system. When you install solar hot water, try to locate it on the sunniest part of your roof. In some cases, there may not be enough sunlight reaching your collectors to make solar hot water a viable option without trimming or removing trees that could block the sunlight. 

What are your hot water needs?

For a standard U.S. home, solar hot water can provide the majority of your hot water. However, you may want to consider on-demand hot water options like electric or gas-powered heaters if you tend to use the majority of your hot water during hours of darkness. Because solar hot water needs sunlight to produce heated water, homes that use most of their hot water at night will not benefit much from a solar hot water installation, as they will need to rely much more heavily on the backup hot water systems in place.

Rebates and incentives

In most cases, a solar hot water system will save you money in the long run, but the upfront costs of installation can look a little daunting. If you are concerned about the price tag for solar hot water, understanding the rebates and incentives available to you can help you determine if solar hot water is something you want to go through with.

Massachusetts and Delaware have residential rebates available for solar hot water installations. Some utilities also offer financial incentives for solar hot water, like CPS Energy in Texas and Ocala Utility Services in Florida.

Additionally, the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit (also known as the Investment Tax Credit, or ITC) gives homeowners everywhere a tax credit equal to 26 percent of the total installed cost of a solar hot water system.

How old is your current hot water system?

A final factor to take into account before installing solar hot water is the age of your current hot water system. If you have a brand new efficient electric or gas water heater, it may not be cost-effective or practical to invest in a solar hot water installation.

However, if you know you'll need to replace your hot water system soon, solar hot water will likely save you money.

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