How Much Does a Solar Water Heater Cost to Install?

Typical Range:

$1,798 - $6,031

Find out how much your project will cost.

Cost data is based on actual project costs as reported by 173 HomeAdvisor members. Embed this data

How We Get This Data

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  • Homeowners use HomeAdvisor to find pros for home projects.
  • When their projects are done, they fill out a short cost survey.
  • We compile the data and report costs back to you.

Updated September 2, 2022

Reviewed by Jeff Botelho, Licensed Journeyman Plumber.

Written by HomeAdvisor.

The average homeowner spends $3,903 to install a solar water heater. Installation and equipment considerations put typical costs between $1,798 and $6,031. Higher-end models and components could cost up to $13,000.

The type of collector chosen significantly impacts the cost. Bulk collectors are $500, while evacuated tubes and flat plates can cost up to $2,500. The tank and parts will add between $500 and $1,500 to the equipment total, for a combined $1,000 to $4,000 before labor and permits. Labor for this kind of work tends to run $70 to $200 per hour, depending on the region. Add $1,000 or more if a backup heater is necessary.

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National Average $3,903
Typical Range $1,798 - $6,031
Low End - High End $357 - $13,000

Cost data is based on actual project costs as reported by 173 HomeAdvisor members.

Solar Water Heater Costs by Type

Active and passive are the two types of solar water heating systems. Active can either be a direct or indirect system, while passive is either integral collector-storage or thermosyphon. 

Passive systems are less expensive than active systems, but they're also considerably less efficient. Passive systems quickly run out of hot water on overcast days and can only heat around 40% of the average home's required hot water, so require an electrical backup system. 

Active systems are more costly and more complex, but they're much more efficient and can produce enough hot water for the average family, even if there are several cloudy days in a row. They do not require a main backup system.

Active System

Active solar water heaters cost $2,000 to $4,000. They require solar collectors and a heat storage area. Since the storage area can hold much more heat and is equipped with an internal electric or gas backup, the possibility of running out of hot water after several cloudy days is nonexistent. 

The equipment is slightly more expensive to install, but it eliminates the need for a traditional backup unit. Since it completely replaces the conventional one, you need to consider only the costs associated with an active system.

Two versions of active systems are available to meet homeowners’ needs in different climates:

  • Direct systems move the water itself through the collector to heat it. This kind functions best in warm environments.

  • Indirect systems move antifreeze through the collector, then it returns to the tank and warms the water via a heat exchanger. These types are more reliable in colder climates where temperatures drop below freezing.

"Indirect units require some periodic maintenance to ensure that there are no cross connections between the antifreeze and the potable water system, as these units often require toxic antifreeze to function properly,” says Jeff Botelho, professional plumber and Expert Board Review member. “Consider the cost of annual or semiannual maintenance when choosing a solar water heater."

Passive System

When it comes to solar energy, a passive or active version can be used for a cost average between $1,000 and $3,000. Each collects and stores water heated by the sun for use. Passive systems are the most cost-effective, though less efficient and more restrictive than active systems. Therefore, most homeowners will benefit from the active style.

This type is very easy to create and use, but it comes with several drawbacks. A passive system will quickly run out of heated water after a few cloudy days. This essentially means that a home will need to keep its existing water heater as a backup. Another disadvantage is the weight of a passive unit. They can both be extremely heavy, which will limit where they can be safely installed on the roof. The two types of passive solar heating are integral collector-storage and thermosyphon.

  • Integral Collector-Storage (ICS): Often less expensive. Many homeowners have successfully built their own from scratch. It warms the water up for the conventional home tank. The tank will draw from the stored “batch” when the plumbing demands hot water. ICS units won't work in climates that drop below freezing and can be extremely heavy.

  • Thermosyphon: More expensive. Hot water rises to the top of the collector and moves into a storage tank. This tank must be at a level higher than the collector itself to receive. It then moves to a second tank within the home. These are even heavier than ICS units and may not meet the weight-bearing capacity limitations of some roofs. They also have more components.

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Solar Water Heater Installation Cost Breakdown

There are many variables when it comes to the total price of solar water heater installation. The size of the tank, the type of collector, the amount and cost of labor, and any additional features all play a role in determining the final project cost.

Thermal Collector

Thermal collectors vary in price from $600 for a small, flat plate model affixed to your roof, to $4,500 for an evacuated tube solar collector that produces much more heat than flat plate units.

Type of Collector Price Range (Materials Only) Average Price (Materials Only)
Flat Plate Collector $600 – $1.200 $900
Evacuated-Tube Solar Collector $1,200 – $4,500 $2,850
Integral Collector-Storage System/Bulk Collector $3,000 – $4,000 $3,500

Flat plate collectors cost between $600 and $1,200. They're affordable but are prone to air pockets and blockages caused by debris, making them more likely to require repair. Plus, they're less efficient overall.

Evacuated-tube solar collectors cost $1,200 to $4,500 and are prized because they produce more heat than other types. However, they're prone to overheating and the internal tubes can break, resulting in costly repairs. Still, they're fairly efficient and, because they absorb solar energy so rapidly, there's no radiative heat loss. But these collectors may not be able to provide enough hot water during the winter months.

Integral collector-storage or bulk collector systems cost $3,000 to $4,000, and homeowners and pros prize them for their simplicity and lack of maintenance. The water tank and collector combine in a single unit, and the collector doesn't need any pumps, controllers, or heat sensors. It's also comparatively efficient in colder climates, although it does suffer from heat loss overnight.

Water Tanks

Water tanks for solar heating systems cost between $800 and $2,800. They're available as single- or double-walled units, and some have a heat exchanger and/or an auxiliary heater backup. Prices vary based on size, wall type, and additional features. Double-walled tanks are more efficient, keeping stored water hotter for longer and suffering from less heat loss than other types.

Size of Tank (Gallon Capacity) Average Price (Tank Only) Average Price (Tank With Heat Exchanger)
60 – 80 $800 – $1,500 $1,200 – $2,300
80 – 100 $1,000 – $1,600 $1,400 – $2,700
100 – 120+ $1,200 – $2,100 $1,750 – $2,800

Additional Parts

If you've chosen an active system, you'll need more than just the collector and the storage tank. These essential extra parts will increase solar water heater prices. 

  • Controller: $130–$475

  • Pump: $130–$600

  • Mounting bracket: $50–$250

  • Pump station: $500–$900

Labor

Labor for installing a solar water heater is around $70 per hour. This includes the cost of hiring a plumber, the solar contractor, and any other contractor services. Installation of a solar water heating system with a 60-gallon tank costs around $2,000 in labor, while a 100-gallon system costs around $4,000 in labor fees. A high-end, extra-large 120-gallon system with a dual heat exchanger will cost approximately $5,000 in labor

Solar Water Heater Cost Factors

Aside from parts and labor, location and accessibility, how much sun your property gets, and any incentives you may be entitled to for installing a solar heater will impact your project costs. 

Location in the House

The difficulty of installation and hours needed can fluctuate greatly depending on where the collectors are going. They can affix to the roof, the wall, or the ground. Roof work will be more dangerous and will take more time and precautions. The proximity of the collectors to their storage tank is also important. The shorter the distance between them, the less plumbing and labor needed. Your contractor may recommend an area farther away simply to orient the collectors for optimal sun exposure.

Sun Exposure

This factor can significantly influence the effectiveness and size of the collectors. For homes that only get four hours of absorbable sunlight per day, a larger area needs to be covered to gather enough hot water for the home. Those that get incredible sunlight won't need to cover as much area to get the same amount.

Tax Credits

The tax credit offered for this equipment is 30%, which can significantly impact your final cost. Considering this amount, the average $4,000 system would be $2,800. On top of that, states and counties have their own local incentives. There are state incentives that pay homeowners up to $6,000 for energy saved. More commonly, homeowners see $1,000 to $3,000 in rebates and incentives.

Energystar.gov and Energy.gov are great resources for up-to-date details regarding this tax credit. You can also ask your installing contractor or your utility provider for literature on state and local rebates.

Heating a Spa or Pool

Expect to pay between $3,000 and $7,000 when installing solar heaters for a pool or spa. Installing a solar pool heater costs an average of $5,000. The components involved in the installation include a solar collector, a filter, a flow control valve, and a pump. The unit pumps water up from the pool or spa, through the filter, and into the collectors to heat. 

The price of installing other pool heating systems isn’t much different, yet the solar version won't have an operating cost. The only downside is that a significant number of collectors will be necessary—taking up a roof area that is 50% to 100% of the surface area of the pool.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Water Heaters

It's true that, for many homeowners, the leap to solar water heaters is an attractive proposition because of the potential savings and carbon footprint reduction, but these systems are not for everyone. Take a look at the key pros and cons of solar water heaters to see if they're the right choice for you.

Advantages

The biggest benefit is the monthly savings. Energy Star has conducted studies to determine that energy bills will drop at least 50% each month with these systems. The savings can reach as much as 80%. While the money saved each month will ultimately depend on a wide variety of factors, it is guaranteed that the home's energy consumption will drastically reduce.

Other benefits include; 

  • 30% federal tax credit

  • Reduce household carbon footprint

  • Easy to maintain

  • Operate quietly

  • Can increase home value

Disadvantages

Since everyone is essentially guaranteed to see drastic savings each month, one of the only disadvantages is the high upfront cost. The average family will most likely have a hard time coming up with the funds for professional installation. The expense may require months of saving but, in the long run, it may be worth the sacrifice; these systems are projected to last for decades, and their payback period is typically only three to six years. After that, any money saved on energy is a profit to the homeowner. 

Compared to PV systems, there are other disadvantages to consider. Some homeowners would prefer panels that generate electricity for the entire home. This way, they can power multiple appliances while heating water. The solar collectors for a heater will only work towards the water heater and will not provide the electricity that a PV system does. PV systems cost more, running an average of almost $27,000 to install.

Other drawbacks include: 

  • Depending on system type and climate, you'll need a backup water heater and tank

  • These systems take up a lot of space

  • In hot climates, stored water can quickly reach dangerously high temperatures, putting users at risk of serious scalds and burns

  • Will be reliant on the backup system in areas with heavy cloud cover, negating potential savings

Solar Water Heaters vs. Gas or Electric

Solar water heaters cost more than either gas or electric, but they offer substantial savings on energy costs and consumption. Plus, solar water heaters aren't reliant on the grid, so you'd still have hot water during a power outage.

On the other hand, not all solar water heaters can manage to meet a family's total demand for hot water, particularly in areas where cloud cover is an issue, so most homes still have to have a backup tank to supply hot water when the solar system can't manage it. 

Gas and electric water heaters supply hot water faster than solar, too, but they don't reduce energy consumption like solars do. With solar and electric, you don't have to have an unsightly collector on your roof, and you can get away with a smaller tank than with a solar unit.

Type of Water Heater Cost Range (Installed) Average Cost (Installed)
Gas Water Heater (50 Gallons) $600 – $1,500 $1,050
Electric Water Heater (50 Gallons) $600 – $1,500 $1,050
Solar Water Heater (100 Gallons) $8,000 – $9,000 $8,500

DIY or Hire a Pro?

Plenty of homeowners have been able to design their own batch heaters to pull water from a conventional tank. If you want to make the switch, however, and get an active style that will last you all year round, installation is not a DIY project.

This work takes several days and multiple areas of expertise. Plus, most states require a trained and licensed professional to perform this work. The only way to make the most of your investment is to call a professional who can design and implement a perfect (and safe) system design for your house. 

Without the proper skills or knowledge, the unit will likely not be as efficient and may not be up to code. Consider where you put the collectors affects efficiency and that your consumption determines your tank size. These are details that need to be optimized to achieve the maximum return.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How does a solar water heater work?

Essentially, it uses the warmth and solar energy from the sun to heat water for the home. This water is either circulated through a collector to warm up or is warmed by way of a non-freezing liquid heated in the collectors. It is then stored in a tank for use when homeowners and their families need it.

How long do solar hot water systems last?

On average, solar hot water heaters have 20-year lifespans—but can last longer with proper care. While they are designed to last 15 to 30 years, maintenance and upkeep play significant roles in how long yours will function, especially in more extreme climates.

How hot do solar hot water heaters get?

The water in flat plate collectors can reach 300 degrees Fahrenheit. In evacuated tube collectors, it can get to around 370 degrees Fahrenheit. This will raise the temperature in a typical tank to a maximum of about 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

Do solar water heaters work on cloudy days?

Whether solar water heaters work on cloudy days depends on the situation. Passive units will not be able to supply hot water after several cloudy days and will need to rely on a backup heater. Active systems can operate much longer without sun due to their greater thermal capacity and their electric or gas backups.

Do solar water heaters work at night?

Yes and no. The solar panels themselves don't function at night because there's no sunlight for them to convert into thermal energy. However, if you have a storage tank, then, with most systems, the water inside it maintains its temperature until the following day when the sun comes out again.

How do I know if a solar water heater will work for my home?

You'd need to talk to a local solar installer to find out if your property, location, and demand for hot water means that installing a solar hot water system is worthwhile. If you're in a reasonably warm climate, have a property that can handle the weight of a collector and storage tank on the roof, and get plenty of sun year-round, a solar water heater might be a solid investment.