Avista Testing Solar Water Heaters On Three Homes

NINE MILE FALLS — No one is more excited for the sun than one local family who’s cutting back on utility costs by heating their water with solar power.

Avista is testing out the solar-powered technology on three homes in the Inland Northwest. In the average home, the cost of heating water is about 15 percent of the monthly electric bill. But in Eric Walker’s house, he’s hoping that this month, it’s much less.

“I can’t really tell the difference,” says Eric Walker, a homeowner taking part in the test. “The water is hot as it always was. I’m excited to be the guinea pig for this.”

Thanks to the sun and a couple of solar panels on his roof, Walker’s old hot water tank is able to relax, while the bigger tank next to it runs entirely off of the sun.

The first step is for cold water to fill the water heater, and from there the sun heats the water. It heats up to around 135 degrees

“Instead of taking cold water into the regular hot water tank,” Walker explains, “it’s taking preheated solar water into the hot water tank. That way, this tank doesn’t have to turn on as often, hopefully not at all, and that way hopefully it’s saving energy.”

In fact, at times, the sun heats the water too much and cold water is added, making it safer for anyone turning on a faucet.

“Replacing electric hot water, because that’s the most expensive way that we make hot water,” says Avista’s Tom Lienhard.

Walker is an Avista employee. His is the first of three homes to have the trial solar panels installed by Avista.

“Part of the reason for doing this is to see how much we can pay people to put these on their roofs as an incentive to do this,” Lienhard says.

Also, the panels would reduce the amount of energy Avista has to buy, reducing rates for everyone.

“This a way for them to do something thats going to last a long time,” says Lienhard, “and is going to create energy for them without concerning about what happens to rates as time goes on.”

And for Walker, it’s all the more reason to hope for sun.