Green digest

Saving on solar hot water

A new program is offering Minneapolis home and business owners significant savings on the installation of solar hot water systems.

A project of the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society, Make Mine Solar H2O aims to leverage bulk purchasing and state and local incentives to increase the number of solar hot water units on Twin Cities-area homes. The first such unit purchased through Make Mine Solar H2O since the program launched in August was installed on a South Minneapolis home Dec. 13.

Project organizers set a goal of installing 1,000 solar hot water systems in the Twin Cities by 2012. If they meet that goal, “it would be a pretty big reduction in natural gas usage,” said Laura Cina, managing director of the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society.

Solar hot water heaters don’t replace traditional natural gas-fired water heaters. But over the course of the year they can provide an estimated 50–80 percent of the hot water used in a typical home, according to the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society.

Meeting its installation goal of 1,000 solar hot water systems could reduce natural gas use by 1.6 million cubic feet per year, the organization reported. Wider use of solar energy for hot water heating also would reduce air pollution associated with the burning of fossil fuels.

The program is open to businesses, multi-family dwellings, schools and places of worship, as well as single-family homes.

For most households, a solar hot water system with two roof-mounted, 4-foot-by-6-foot flat plate collectors should meet hot water needs. Installed, they run about $11,000, according to figures from the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society.

Cina said the Make Mine Solar H2O bulk-buy brings that cost down to about $9,000. After a state rebate and federal tax credit are applied, the cost comes down even further: to $5,180 for a Minnesota-made Solar Skies system or $5,100 for a Buderus system from Germany.

There are just a few catches.

The estimates from Minnesota Renewable Energy Society don’t include the cost of interior plumbing work or the additional cost associated with long pipe runs. Mounting the system on a garage and running piping into the house through a trench would also increase installation costs.

Also, some roofs may need a structural upgrade to accommodate the units. Finally, the state rebate factored into the estimates is set to expire at the end of the year, although Cina said there was a good chance it would be renewed.

Despite the caveats, Cina said about 160 people had signed up for a free initial assessment as of mid-December. That first step weeds out structures not oriented toward the sun or located on too-shady lots.

From there, homeowners must pay $90 for an on-site assessment to get a complete picture of the solar potential of their property.

Cina said so far about 20 Twin Cities-area property owners had moved on from that step to talking with installers. Installers typically handle much of the paperwork associated with applying for state and federal incentives, she added.

Go to makeminesolar.org to sign up for a free initial assessment and learn more about the process. Then, contact your neighborhood organization to inquire about additional incentives; some have Neighborhood Revitalization Program funds designated for home improvement or solar projects that could help cover installation costs.

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What to do with your Christmas tree

The jingle bells are already fading as this edition of Green Digest goes to press, which means Minneapolis homeowners soon will be wondering what to do with their Christmas trees.

For several years now the city has recommended an easy kind of tree recycling. Set the tree or a few pine boughs out in the backyard, where they might offer shelter for birds and other wildlife; or, if you own a chipper, turn that symbol of a winter holiday into mulch for your spring garden.

Alternately, Christmas trees can be brought to an area yard waste facility for composting. Hennepin County does not accept Christmas trees at their drop-off facilities, but several metro-area companies do, typically for a small fee.

The county lists locations and contact information for several of those companies in its A–Z How to Get Rid of It Guide, found online at hennepinatoz.org. Just search for “Christmas trees.”

Minneapolis Solid Waste and Recycling may offer the easiest solution. Simply remove all the decorations, cut the tree in half if it’s over 6 feet tall, and set it out on the curb for pick up on your trash day. They accept the trees through the end of January.

Reach Dylan Thomas at dthomas@mnpubs.com.