There are many ways to "go green" that are related to the plumbing in your home. Solar water heaters, Tankless water heaters, Heat pump water heaters, low water consumption toilets, low flow faucets, hot water recirculation systems to name a few. Unfortunately it can be some what of an engineering endeavor to choose the right systems for the right situation. Luckily, we can provide our expertise so that you don't waste your money on a bogus product. With all of the "snake oil" products out there, it can be hard to know what a good investment is and what is a waste of money. We provide solutions that actually work and truly reduce environmental impact.
Remember, there are always many factors in play but you can get a quick summery below. We recommend a home evaluation to determine what the systems would be the best fit for you.
Solar water heaters:
There are many types of solar water heaters out there. For the sake of simplicity we will discuss the most common type used in central Florida, the active-direct type also known as open loop systems.
This is by far the most common and time tested system you will find in the following parts of Florida: Orlando, Kissimmee, Ocoee, Winter Garden, Windermere, Dr. Phillips, Clermont, Polk City, Davenport, Haines City, Lake Alfred, Dundee, Lake Hamilton, Winter Haven, Lakeland, Lake Wales, Bartow, Mulberry, Plant City, Valrico, Dover, Brandon, Babson Park, Fort Meade, Poinciana, Bay Hill, St. Cloud, Hunters Creek , Celebration, Frost Proof, Tampa and Sebring.
In a nut shell, a solar panel on the roof heats the water and then the water is pumped down to a large storage tank for later use. The panel is made of copper tubes and fins inside of an aluminum case with a special glass surface to let the sun light in. The panel or more properly “solar collector” can lay flat on the roof or be tilted up depending on the situation. The sun heats the copper fins and heat is transferred into the water in the copper tubes. Because the solar collector is well insulated, it can produce boiling hot water even when the outside air temperature is freezing cold. It doesn’t have to be hot outside for it to work, just sunny. A sensor on the panel detects the water being heated and tells a special controller when to turn the pump on. The pump circulates the heated water from the panel down to the solar storage tank. The tank is super insulated and can hold the heat for up to 3 days (if properly installed that is). Because of this, you get hot water even if the sun isn’t out like at night or when it’s raining. This of course means you need a larger tank than a conventional water heater so you can store all of this free heat.
If for any reason you need more hot water, the storage tank has an electric heating element (like in a regular water heater) that will automatically heat the water so that you are never without hot water. It’s all automatic. You don’t need to do anything and you wouldn’t even know the switch had occurred unless you were looking at your electrical power meter on the side of the house when it happened.
The collector (solar panel) and all of the mounting hardware must be designed to withstand hurricane force winds (all of our systems are). You will also need a building permit and engineering drawings in almost all areas of Florida to install one of these( we take care of all of that too). In order to qualify for the solar rebates and incentives that the government and utility companies are giving out you must have a building permit, an “OG 100” certified solar water heater, and engineered drawings. For these reasons, solar water heater installations are usually not a good “do it yourself “job. It's best to hire a licensed solar contractor who is familiar with systems designed for central Florida.
The solar collector also has to be protected from freezing. This is done automatically as well.
Now that we’ve went over the technical stuff, let’s get down to the good stuff, saving money and going green! You can expect a properly designed solar heating system to reduce your water heating cost by 90%. The 10% that’s left is due to the energy needed to run the circulation pump and the backup heating element. The cost to install the heater will vary greatly depending on many local factors. For most people, the solar heater will pay for itself in 4 to 5 years. Sometimes it’s a little less, sometimes more. Luckily we can provide an accurate in house estimate. The cost before incentives is usually above $4000 ($2300-$2800 after incentives). They do cost more than conventional heaters up front, but the actual cost to own and operate(the true cost) over the life of the heater is thousands if not over ten thousand less than conventional heaters. Contact us today to learn more.
Heat pump water heaters (stand alone units):
Heat pump heaters are sometimes a good compromise between conventional heaters and solar heaters. They cost less than solar water heaters but they don't save as much either. Depending on the model chosen and installation conditions, the unit will cut your operating cost in half or a down to one third. Not bad, but no where near the solar heater's one tenth. They usually cost about half of what a solar heater costs but use 3 times more energy. The solar heater is obviously a better value in the long run. However, not everyone can afford the cost so a heat pump can be a good compromise. Just to be clear, we are talking about a stand alone heat pump heater. We are not talking about an ECU unit (A.K.A. heat recovery unit, de-super heater). They are similar in some areas and different in others.
Heat pump water heaters (heat recovery units):
Gas tankless water heaters:
Gas tankless units can save you money on your gas bill and provide increased hot water output. This is of course assuming you already have natural gas service at your house. If you don't already have natural gas and don't have the ability to get it in your location, you can still use a gas tankless water heater. In that case you will need to have a propane model installed as well as a propane tank, pipes and vents. You should be aware that due to the higher cost of propane verses natural gas, you won't see much savings on water heating costs. In fact, it may actually cost you more than an conventional electric heater depending on rates. You should also know that propane prices may drastically increase in the near future.
If you do have natural gas in your location, your standard tanked heater pipes and venting will need to be upgraded to handle the increased output of the tankless unit. This will add to the installation cost of the tankless unit. You will also need to make a decision about hot water recirculation. If you don't want a recirculation system and your sure you never will, you can go with a Noritz, Rinnai, or Rheam unit. If you do want a recirculation system or think you might in the future, Takagi or Navian would be the units to consider.
While gas tankless units are more efficient than their tanked counterparts, there are some downsides that you should know about. First, because of the higher cost of installation, the unit will usually take more than 7 years to pay for it self. They can also be very maintenance intensive. The heat exchangers will clog with boiler scale (calcium carbonate) if you have hard water. Because of this, you will need to flush the unit regularly to keep it's efficiency up and avoid heat exchanger damage. Some heat exchangers (like Rheam) cannot be replaced and will require the entire unit to be replaced. A water softener can be installed to soften the water but that will add installation and operation costs. This may not be an issue though if you already have a softener. All tankless units will put out inconsistent temperatures when multiple fixtures are being operated at once (one person showering, while the other is washing dishes). This can be avoided be adding a tempering tank and/or recirculation pumps. This of course adds further cost to the installation and depending on the design may increase operating costs as well.
To summarize, gas tankless heaters should be viewed as more of a "luxury item" than a "green/economy item".
Electric tankless water heaters:
The upside to this type is that it saves space and can save a few bucks in power consumption. Don’t confuse these with gas tankless units though. They are a totally different animal. You can expect to save about 3% on your water heating costs vs. a modern conventional electric water heater tank. Yes, only 3%. Why such a low number? The reason is because you are still using electric resistance heating elements to heat water. The savings come from the lack of heat loss that normally occurs in a tank type heater from all of that standing hot water. Unfortunately, modern electric tanks are so well insulated that the heat losses are minimal. Electric tankless water heater manufacturers advertise big energy savings, but they are using the "best case scenario" when they do that. They are comparing an old, poorly insulated tank and metal pipes with the tankless unit. So, the only way you are going to see their claimed numbers is if your old heater is from the 1950s. The average “economy” water heater will last about 12 years. This means most people will not see the savings claimed by the manufacturer. Another deceptive advertising claim they often make is that the tankless heater puts out hot water “instantly”. The implication is that you don’t have to wait for hot water when you turn on a faucet. This is deceptive because if you replace your old heater with a tankless unit, you will NOT get instant hot water out of your faucets. The heated water will still have to travel through the distribution pipes in the house to get to the faucet. The travel time for the hot water, from the heater to the faucet will not change. They can get away with making these claims because the heater is heating the water instantly; you just won’t get it out of the faucet instantly. The other reason is because you can (in theory) get instant hot water if you install a tankless unit next to every fixture in your house. This of course would cost many thousands of dollars. Another common misconception about tankless electric heaters is that they can simply be swapped out in place of an old tank type unit. This just isn’t so. The tankless unit will require new, larger electrical circuit breakers and new thicker wires ran from the main panel. This can add a substantial cost to the installation. These units can also put out inconsistent temperatures when several plumbing fixtures are being used at the same time. The last thing we will mention is that the electric tankless units tend to go thru heating elements quickly and you usually can’t get a replacement element at the local hardware store. You usually have to go thru the heater manufacturer directly and special order the parts. You count on taking cold showers until the parts arrive.
While there are sometimes situations where they make sense to install, we generally don’t recommend electric tankless water heaters.
Hot water recirculation systems:
If designed properly, these can provide you with instant hot water and reduce water waste. The down side is that if not done exactly right, they will actually increase energy consumption. Luckily, we specialize in this type of thing.
Low water consumption toilets:
Low water consumption toilets save water, and consequently money. However, not all "low flow" toilets flush well. Many models are the same design as their older high flow counter parts with a different flapper installed to use less water. This is a problem because the bowl and trap-way of the older designs need plenty of water to flush reliably. Since the federal "low water consumption law was passed rather quickly, most manufacturers didn't have enough time to redesign their toilets to actually work properly with less water. Many models still use the same design even though they now use less water. This leads to increased clogging. When getting a new toilet it's important to get a model that's designed specifically for low flow. Our techs are equipped with the latest toilet flush test reports from independent labs. We know which models are reliable and which ones are going to be lemons.
Check out the latest reports here: http://www.cuwcc.org/WorkArea/showcontent.aspx?id=14058
Low flow faucets: Like low flow toilets, low flow faucets can save water and money. They can also perform poorly if not engineered for the task. The typical complaint with low flow shower heads is over aeration. We carry models designed to rinse well and not lose heat all while saving water and energy.
If any of this was confusing, don’t worry. That’s what professionals are for :o)
We work on solar pool systems, gas/electric/heatpump/geothermal pool heaters, pool pumps and plumbing.
We offer solar site and shading analysis, system design and diagnostics, new system installation and service for all solar pool heating systems and solar domestic hot water systems (showering, cooking, washing).
Leak location and repair is is one of our most common service requests. We find it and fix it the right way on the first call out.
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