‘Makeover’ Home Features State-of-the-Art Heating System
By James Straub
Originally published March2008
Ron Smith and Brittany Ray’s new “Extreme
Makeover” house in Milbridge features the latest in solar technology
used in water-heating systems.
Ray Plumbing & Heating of Ellsworth installed
the solar hot-water system. The system utilizes high-efficiency
evacuated tubes to cash in on the sun’s energy.
rebate of $4,500 cuts the price in half; so, you get a
three-year payback on saved energy costs.” — DANNY
PLUMBING & HEATING
Co-owner Danny Ray says advanced technology,
better affordability and government rebates have made using solar
energy for your home’s hot water supply more appealing than ever.
Ray said a standard 6-foot-by-6-foot solar
panel with 30 individual evacuated tubes is sufficient to serve the
hot water needs for a family of four.
A typical system installed costs about $7,200
to $8,500, but
homeowners can cut the price in half by taking advantage of rebates
from the state and federal governments.
Through Efficiency Maine, a program of the
Maine Public Utilities Commission, consumers receive a check for
$2,500 after installing solar hot-water systems. The U.S. Internal
Revenue Service offers another $2,000 in tax credit.
The solar energy rebate program, part of
Governor John Baldacci’s Soar Initiative, was signed into law in
June 2005. The rebate program applies to solar systems bought after
July 1, 2005. The program, which is
funded by money raised through a small charge applied to
Maine’s electricity consumers,
originally had a sunset date of
Dec. 31, 2008. The Legislature extended the
Dec. 31, 2010,
during the first session of the 123rd Legislature.
“A total rebate of $4,500 cuts the price in
half; so, you get a three-year payback on saved energy costs,” Ray
Richard Fortier, Solar Program manager for
Efficiency Maine, said he isn’t certain whether it’s the improved
technology or an increase in the number of dealers carrying solar
water heating systems, but the use of solar to heat water in Maine
is gaining in popularity.
He said the Maine PUC restructured its
incentive levels, starting in January. The rebate for installing
residential solar hot-water systems doubled from $1,250 to $2,500,
and for the first time, the state is offering a $10,500 rebate for
the installation of commercial solar hot-water systems.
As of Jan. 1, the state has sent rebates to 244
households that have installed solar hot-water systems since July
2005. Fortier says the rebate program is rapidly gaining in
“In January, we had 76 reservations, which
exceeded any month since the program’s inception.” he said.
Ray explained that a typical system, such as
the one installed at the house in Milbridge, includes two water
tanks. Solar tubes heat water in one tank, which functions to
preheat water in the tank that supplies the house with hot water.
The system is designed to provide hot water
exclusively from solar energy for 80 to 85 percent of the time
year-round. Solar energy supplies 100 percent of hot-water needs in
the summer months.
At colder times of the year, the additional
energy needed to heat water comes from electricity or other
traditional energy sources.
Ray said the design of evacuated tubes, which
are made in
efficiency in solar collection. Because they are round, unlike the
earlier flat panel solar collectors, the sun hits them from any
angle, providing near 100 percent effectiveness in capturing solar
Solar energy output is immediate when the sun
comes up and continues all day long until about 30 minutes after
sundown, Ray said.
The tubes are more efficient in another way.
The design features a glass tube inside another
glass tube. The evacuation of air from the tubes creates a surface
with the same effect as thermo-pane windows. The inside of the tubes
is coated with a substance that works like a two-way mirror,
attracting sunlight then reflecting it back and forth inside the
tube. The trapped sunlight focuses more energy on the tube’s copper
Use of the technology is growing in
Ray said his company installed seven systems
last fall, two in new houses and five in older houses being
remodeled. The houses are in Lamoine, Castine, Hancock, Aurora and
“We have four designed to go this spring,” Ray
Plumbing and heating wholesalers in the
Ellsworth area are now supplying the equipment needed to install the
type of system used in the Ray-Smiths’ house, but they didn’t just a
year ago, Ray said.
The solar controller box used in the Ray-Smith
house was donated by Purist Energy, a manufacturer in
Kennebunkport. The solar panels
were donated by Maine Green Building Supply in