Solar Thermal Water Heating: Efficient and Green


Solar thermal is considered a renewable and green resource for hot water heating. A solar water heating system captures the warmth of the sun, transfers that heat to water, and works with your conventional water heater to help it use less energy.

“Solar thermal works pretty much all year long here in the North State,” says Patrick Wallner, president of Wallner Plumbing Company, Heating and Air Conditioning in Redding. “We are blessed to have a very large number of sunny days.” Wallner is a second generation plumbing, heating and cooling contractor to offer services in Shasta and Tehama Counties.

Wallner describes solar thermal in terms of a garden hose stretched across the lawn on a sunny day. When the hose is turned on, a lot of hot water comes rushing out before the water runs cool. With special materials that are designed to absorb solar energy, solar thermal systems can efficiently heat water for a lower cost than electricity alone.

The costs for solar thermal systems range from around $3,000 to over $6,500. Typically, 15-25 percent of a utility bill is for heating and maintaining hot water. Pacific Gas & Electric estimates solar thermal cost savings to be 50-80 percent, and Wallner says he has heard the cost of heating water with solar thermal savings reaching up to 90 percent.

There are credits and rebates available through some utility providers and government agencies to help offset installation costs. According to Wallner, the funds set aside by the utility companies are given out on a first-come, first-served basis until that funding source is depleted. PG&E is one of four utility companies offering rebates though the California Solar Initiative program; for details, visit PG&E’s website at Tom Gauntt, Spokesman for Pacific Power (serving far Northern California), says the company does not currently have a solar hot water incentive program in California.

Besides some utility company rebates for solar thermal installation (as well as solar electric), there is currently a 30 percent federal tax credit for the total installed cost of a system. For federal tax credit information, visit Go Solar California’s website at, or the US Department of Energy website:

Dave Nelson is a solar electric installer for Light It Up Solar and Electric in Chico. He says one key factor that qualifies a home as solar compatible is a southern exposure with little shading from trees or other obstructions. If roof mounting isn’t feasible, pole mounting is an option. Cost of electricity is also a deciding factor: “Solar is a great investment for the homeowner who is tired of paying high electric bills,” Nelson says.

“Conservation and efficiency upgrades are always the first step,” says Todd Cory of Mount Shasta Energy Services. “Reduce your consumption as much as possible before investing in renewables. Manufacturing solar panels is energy and resource intensive, so it doesn’t make sense for them to be powering waste or unconscious consumption … and lower energy consumption means the system you’ll need will cost less too, so everyone wins!”

Hiring a licensed contractor to install a solar thermal system for a home or business is recommended, and may be required for rebate programs. The California Center for Sustainable Energy recommends that you get at least three different bids before choosing a contractor. The status of a contractor’s license can be checked at the California Contractors State License Board:

Trula Van Noland, administrative assistant for Powerhouse Solar (Chico and Redding locations) thinks solar energy systems are more affordable than ever before. Powerhouse has been providing solar in the North State for the last decade, and offers no-money-down lease options. “This helps families save money right away and helps stabilize their utility rates from rising costs in the future,” she says. “I can’t even imagine families NOT using solar, with the cost of energy today.”

[sws_green_box box_size=”593″] To contact businesses mentioned:

Light It Up Solar and Electric, Chico.
C-10 #927742.
(530) 354-0207.

Powerhouse Solar, Chico & Redding.
C-10, C-46 #848901.
Chico: (530) 343-1377.
Redding: (530) 275-5600.

Wallner Plumbing Company, Redding.
CCL #336969.
(530) 223-5622.

Mount Shasta Energy Services, Mt. Shasta.
C-10 #811428.
(530) 926-1079. [/sws_green_box]


Kimberly Horg
About Kimberly Horg

Kimberly Horg has written articles on a variety of subjects.

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