Are You Pouring Your Home’s Water (and Energy) Down the Drain?

Published on February 9th, 2012 | by

by Brittany Mauriss

Solar water heating system mounted on a corrugated metal roof

The world’s water supply is profoundly affected by manmade climate change. In fact, water disruptions are some of the biggest and scariest effects of global warming. Eleven of the warmest years on record have occurred during the last dozen years, and much of this heat is absorbed by the world’s oceans. As ocean and air temperatures rise, the rate of glacier retreat is accelerated. All over the world, glaciers that have remained stable for centuries are melting, both at sea and on land, not only diminishing the amount of fresh water available to millions of people, but endangering lives with the threat of catastrophic flooding.

Conserving Water and Energy at Home

What can be done? While long-term solutions may depend upon nations embracing wiser policies, you shouldn’t just wait and hope that governments act. Solar energy solutions are unique in that they can be adopted by almost every homeowner. Over the last decade, residential solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have not only become more efficient, but more affordable as well. A wide range of incentive programs are available that significantly reduce installation costs.

Among the array of solar installations available are solar hot water systems, used either to heat water for domestic use or to heat swimming pools. In 2010, more than 65,000 solar water heating system installations were installed in homes and businesses.

How Does Solar Water Heating Work?

Solar water heating systems can be either passive or active. In either system, solar panels are installed on your roof, using the sun’s energy to heat a fluid, typically antifreeze. Passive systems use gravity to circulate the water. Active systems use electric pumps. Copper pipes in the storage tank circulate the heated fluid. The preheated water is then sent into the home’s hot water heater, where it will stay hot all day, waiting to be used.

How Much Can I Save?

You can cut more than 50 percent off your hot water costs with solar hot water systems. The systems save energy even on cloudy days, as the water entering the water heater will still be partially heated. Government incentive programs offered at the federal, state and local level can substantially reduce the upfront installation costs.

Today’s modern solar water heating systems typically take around five years to recoup installation expenses through monthly savings on utility bills, but solar panel systems can last more than 20 years. The tanks last about as long as a conventional hot water tank. Some things you need to figure out, like how many solar panels you’ll need, can be answered with a breakdown of your home energy use versus your desired system’s output in kilowatt-hours.

The Takeaway

Reducing the world’s reliance on energy sources that release harmful gas emissions into the atmosphere is essential to both electricity and water conservation. With residential PV systems more affordable than ever before, almost every homeowner can participate in solutions that can make a real difference. Every home photovoltaic system, whether it provides electricity to the home or heats the home’s water supply, helps the fight against climate change and helps save precious water—a win-win situation for all.


Brittany Mauriss is a UCLA grad with a passion for all things renewable energy. Her specialties are solar advancements, green gadgets and human-centric journalism. Follow her on Twitter @BrittanyMauriss.

Solar water heating system via Shutterstock


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3 comments

  • Since my region has been and will continue to be in a drought, I was hoping that people will see this come around to seeing that greywater systems as a normal part of the home. More people are open to the idea. I am also hoping that with high utility costs that they will see the advantage of solar water heaters, solar lighting, and sun tubes. I do discuss the fact that our current energy production means are hurting the environment, but for most homeowners, water restrictions and high utility bills may be the driving factor.

  • I agree completely, Frank. It seems that with climate change, drought, and utility costs simply out of our control, we should protect our homes with alternative systems. Solar water heating and greywater, as you mentioned, are perfect for transitioning to a lifestyle that’s less dependent on things like fossil fuel and water costs & shortages. Thanks for your comment.

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