Builders push use of Kennewick company's solar water heaters

By Franny White, Herald staff writerJanuary 9, 2013 

The Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities is encouraging its builders to use solar hot water heaters from a local company.

Silk Road Solar of Kennewick has become the official provider of solar hot water heaters for the builders group.

The new partnership means Silk Road Solar will donate $50 from each unit sold to association members to pay for training on sustainable green building technology through the Built Green Tri-Cities program.

Troy Woody, representative for Silk Road Solar, said it already has had association members buy about eight systems since the partnership began.

Jeff Losey, the association's executive director, said this is a tool to help members get connected with the least expensive solar water heaters around.

Silk Road Solar's hot water heaters cost about $3,000 installed, while Losey said other products range from $17,000 to $25,000.

This seemed like a no-brainer because it is a chance for customers to get the best return with a cost-effective system, while being green, Losey said. The price tag makes it palatable for consumers, he said.

It also allows association members' customers to benefit from federal tax deductions, at least for this year, Losey said.

Woody said the system is affordable because of the unique design and the low-margin, high-volume business model of Silk Road Solar.

The system includes big glass tubes with a vacuum seal. Inside the tubes are copper pipes with antifreeze, Woody said. The glass tubes capture the heat, and then cold water runs across and absorbs the heat.

Because the system uses ultraviolet rays, even on an overcast day, it will heat water, Woody said. There is about 75 to 85 percent production on an overcast day compared with a sunny one.

The vacuum system is not affected by ambient temperatures, so the solar hot water heater does not need to be winterized and can be used year-round, he said.

The hot water tank in the house doesn't turn on unless the preheated water from the solar hot water heater is not at the desired temperature, Woody said.

Association members who have already installed the Kennewick company's solar hot water heaters have said their customers have seen benefits with the system, Losey said. "It's pretty amazing," he said.

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