Tax Credits for Solar Hot Water Heaters

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By Roger A. Varner, II

According to the US Department of Energy, the average American home spends 9-13 percent of its energy heating water. With energy prices constantly rising, an increase in the efficiency of heating water can translate into monthly savings no matter the source of heat. There is a source of energy, however, that can be used to heat water that does not fluctuate in price year after year and it doesn’t have to be imported or create any pollution. This miracle source of energy is the sun and it comes to us with the unbeatable price of $0.

That being said, there is a cost to translate the sun’s free energy into hot water and that is through the purchase, installation and upkeep of a solar water heating system. There are many varieties of solar water heating systems out there, but due to Virginia’s cold winters and freezing temperatures, many of them are unsuitable for use in our part of the country.

What does work here is an indirect solar water heating system. It has a collector pointing towards the southern sky where the sun’s rays are the strongest. This collector has a glass cover to allow the thermal radiant heat in, but resists its attempt to get out. Inside of the collector is a continuous black painted coil that absorbs the heat and transfers it to the ant-freezing liquid inside. This liquid is then pumped to the water tank and through the use of a heat exchanger, the heat is transferred from the anti-freezing liquid to the water in the tank. The tank has a backup source of heating such as electric or natural gas for the times the solar system can’t provide enough water due to time of day, overcast skies, or large demands for hot water. A solar system like this can save 50-80 percent on the energy costs for heating water than the method you currently are using.

The cost of solar water heaters will be higher than the more conventional water heaters, coming in at around $3,000-$5,000 installed. This cost, however, can be recovered by your reduced energy bills month after month, year after year. The federal government wants to increase the incentive to switch to a solar system as well. On the IRS Form 5695 you can claim a federal tax credit equal to 30 percent of the cost of the heater on your federal tax return. With the federal government essentially paying for 30 percent of the heater, the payback period for the increased cost is reduced. A solar water heating system will also cushion the financial blow any temporary or permanent energy price increases.

To qualify for the federal tax credit the system has to be installed and hooked up by December 31, 2016 and be for your home water supply. The solar water heater must also be certified by the Solar Rating & Certification Corporation to ensure that it is energy efficient. Only the tax credit can only be claimed on the cost of the solar water heater itself and not the rest of the system or installation. The tax credit cannot result in a tax refund. Be sure to save your receipts and manufacturer’s paperwork should your credit be scrutinized by the IRS .

When seeking a contractor, be sure that they are certified to install solar systems as they are more complex than a typical system and need to be correctly installed to be fully efficient. Be sure to ask how many solar systems they have installed and ask for references on ones they have installed.

If a solar water heating system sounds interesting and you want to learn more, visit the Department of Energy’s site at www.energysavers.gov. 

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