Some Like It Hot

As I mentioned last month, we planned to install a solar water heater in our home this year. That plan has come to fruition. Installation was finalized last week, and we are now enjoying the warmth of the sun every time we take a bath or a shower. The work was performed by Missouri Solar Living (MSL), and overall I am pleased with the job they did installing our system. With the exception of one major issue we had with a local plumber that they subcontracted with (Finch Plumbing of Chesterfield, Missouri — I would not recommend them for anything), everything went off without a hitch.

If you are thinking about installing a solar water heater, here are a couple of considerations. First, be prepared to have a crew of 2-3 workmen walking through your house for an entire weekend or more. They will need access to your basement, attic, and possibly the walls in between. Second, the system will likely take up more space in your basement than your existing water heater. MSL’s system, for example, includes an 80-gallon electric water heater that is much bigger than our previous gas water heater. In addition, the system uses a 10-gallon drain-back tank that normally can be set on top of the water heater, but depending on the ceiling height in your basement, it may need to be placed somewhere else adjacent to it. This was the case with our installation, but MSL constructed a shelf for it to sit on so we didn’t lose any floor space. Another consideration is the PEX (polyethylene) tubing that is typically used for these installations. While it is a flexible tubing, it cannot be made to turn tight corners, so allow for extra plumbing space in the vicinity of the water heater.

Lastly, don’t forget about the IRS’s tax credit for alternative energy systems — to qualify, they have to be installed by December 31, 2008. I am anxious to see how much this will cut our monthly energy bills, and how efficient it will be in the winter. Stay tuned to this space for updates.

[Update: August 2, 2008 — I perhaps spoke too soon when I said that things went off without a hitch. As it turned out, there were a couple of issues. There was a small roof leak that they had to come back out to repair. Also, when the county inspector checked their work, the connections to the water heater had to be completely redone (in copper) and an expansion tank added (which is a recent addition to the code). They once again subcontracted this work with Finch plumbing, and they did a decent job on the rework (although my basement carpet is covered with solder slag which they didn’t bother cleaning up). I am confident that this has been a learning experience for all parties involved, so these mistakes will not likely be repeated.]

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