Solar Appliances That Will Save You Money
Say the word “solar” to a homeowner, and nine times out of ten, they’ll picture a sprawling rooftop system with a huge pricetag to match. While photovoltaics are growing increasingly affordable, the price may still be prohibitive if you’re on a budget—especially if your state provides only a meager handful of incentives to choose from.
But solar power isn’t just about large panel systems. There’s another way to reap the benefits of solar energy without investing in a several-thousand-dollar setup: solar-powered appliances. While still an investment, solar appliances have the potential to save you hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars, on your electricity bills, at much lower costs than a full PV system.
Solar water heaters
Unless you love an ice-cold shower, you’re probably like most Americans, who devote almost a tenth of their electricity use to water heating, racking up a combined 132 billion kilowatt hours annually for the nation. Considering that the average home pays about 12 cents per kWh, a reduction in spending here could potentially save us billions.
The Department of Energy recognizes solar water heaters as a cost-effective alternative to traditional electric or gas pumps and heaters, estimating that sun-powered hot water could reduce water heating bills by as much as 80 percent.
There are three basic types of heaters, and each one is a little bit different. Here’s a quick breakdown of the pros and cons:
- Batch collectors: These store water in a glass-topped insulated box until it is needed, and they’re generally only recommended for areas with mild to hot climates.
- Flat-plate collectors: Flat plate collectors are similar to batch collectors, but they’re better-suited to cold weather areas because they can be combined with closed loop circuit systems—pipes fitted with antifreeze fluid that keeps them from freezing during a cold snap.
- Evacuated tube collectors: These systems are composed of insulated double-layered tubes: the inner one holds water or antifreeze, with a vacuum between this and the outer tube that reduces heat loss. These are some of the most efficient systems on the market, especially when it comes to heating in colder temperatures, but they’ll cost you slightly more.
What’s more, while a new system will run you between $1,000 to $2,000, the federal government’s ENERGY STAR program offers a 30 percent tax credit for residents installing new water heaters in their home. Some states and local governments may offer additional incentives as well.
Solar pool heating
If a pool sounded a lot more attractive to you before you started racking up the maintenance bills, you’re not alone. That summer oasis can really drain your bank account—between cleaning, chemicals, and heating, pools cost homeowners a monthly average of around $250. Yikes.
Solar pool heaters work a lot like household water heaters, powered by the free energy from the sun. Pumps carry pool water up to a flat plate collector located on the roof where it can warm, then funnel it back down to the pool again once it’s heated. A new system costs between $3,000 to $4,000, according to the Department of Energy. But be careful if you’re factoring in government incentives to mitigate costs since pool equipment isn’t always covered by renewable energy rebates.
Solar powered water pumps
Have a fountain in that pool? Your backyard probably looks lovely, but circulated water quietly siphons electricity off the grid, leaving you holding the bag for the costs. A solar water pump installed in a fountain in a pool or pond is a much greener option, and it usually costs under $300, making it a beautiful addition to your landscaping without wasting electricity.
Why waste heat warming up the outdoors? Some homes make double use of the pipes housing heated water by placing them below flooring, which in turn warms the interior. These are called hydronic systems, and they’re most effective in cold-weather climates, where heating is frequently needed.
Floor heating is actually more efficient than your typical duct system. Since heat rises, pushing it into rooms from above creates cold zones at ground-level, in turn requiring more energy to keep the rest of the room warm. Radiant flooring, on the other hand, regulates temperatures throughout lower and upper levels using the natural physics of temperature. And, as another advantage, it doesn’t blow dust particles throughout your home, so it’s a great choice for those of us with allergies.
Radiant flooring will, however, require redoing your home’s flooring—and in a 2000-square-foot house, that will cost you about $3,500. But if you live in an area with high heating costs, you can easily recoup the cost in a few winters with the money you’ll save. The best part is that by using a solar appliance, you’ll be doing something great for the environment, a benefit of incalculable value.
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