Skip to main content

How much do solar heating and cooling systems really cost? What you need to know

Home heating and cooling choices occupy a small but significant part of new construction or renovation. These appliances typically claim about five percent of the total cost of new home construction, but 46 percent of the monthly power bill. An investment in a solar heating and cooling system could pay dividends in reduced power bills for many years.

Interest in renewable energy tech has been on the rise for decades as a way to reduce pollution and lower monthly expenses. Clean, renewable solar heating and cooling systems have become an increasingly significant part of the conversation. If you have been thinking about harnessing free solar energy for your home’s heating and cooling needs, keep reading.

Worker installing solar panels on roof
Zstock / Adobe Stock

Solar heating and cooling systems cost

Every solar installation is unique, with heating and cooling demand taking into consideration the climate, home size and configuration, type of system, and available sun exposure. Residential backup systems available from home improvement retailers range between $3,000 and $7,000. Average costs of whole-home solar heating and cooling systems run from about $15,000 to $30,000.

Incentives for installing a solar heating and cooling system

Not only are solar heating and cooling systems easier on monthly energy bills and better for the environment, they may also qualify for tax breaks. The best incentive available at the time of publication is a 26 percent federal investment tax credit (ITC). It directly offsets owed taxes and may even come back in the form of a tax refund.

When you file your federal tax returns, the current tax credit gives back 26 percent of the amount you paid for qualified systems placed in service after December 31, 2019, and before January 1, 2023. For systems placed in service after December 31, 2022, and before January 1, 2024, the ITC drops to 22 percent.

Additionally, some states and municipalities offer a variety of tax incentives and rebates for energy-efficient home appliances. It’s worth investigating if you’re thinking about making the switch.

How does solar heating and cooling work?

Solar heating and cooling systems capture sunlight on solar collectors and convert it to usable thermal energy. The captured heat is transferred by means of a fluid (water) or air distribution system to heat or cool the home.

System components are made of common recyclable materials like aluminum, copper, steel, and polymers. Energy storage technology is often built into solar heating and cooling systems so they can function at night and on cloudy days.

Solar heating and cooling system components

  • Solar collector
  • Heat exchanger
  • Distribution system, such as fans, ducts, or insulated water pipes
  • Controller system
  • Thermal energy storage system, such as a water storage tank

Types of solar heating and cooling systems

Solar heating systems

Solar heating systems use either liquid or air to transfer collected sun energy and heat the home.

Liquid-based solar heating systems circulate heated water or a non-toxic antifreeze solution through a heat exchanger that is connected to a storage tank. The stored water is circulated through the home’s distribution system to heat the home.

Air-based solar heating systems circulate air through an air solar collector, and use fans to distribute the warmed air.

Solar cooling systems

Solar cooling systems use either absorption or desiccant technology to cool the home.

Absorption-based solar cooling systems use liquid solar heat collectors and a process of thermal-chemical absorption to cool the air in much the same way as a traditional refrigerant-based system, only the electric compressor is replaced by the solar-heated water.

Desiccant solar cooling systems move air across a desiccant, such as silica gel, to lower the humidity, making it feel more comfortable. Solar energy powers the desiccant drying process for reuse.

sunroom with plants near windows
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Pros and cons of solar heating and cooling

Is solar heating and cooling right for you?

Solar heating and cooling system pros

  • Clean renewable energy
  • Zero operating pollution
  • Near zero operating costs
  • Can be combined with home solar electricity production using PVT technology
  • Low maintenance

Solar heating and cooling system cons

  • Higher purchase price and installation costs than conventional systems
  • Inconsistent heating and cooling
  • Storage
  • Dependent on home location and orientation
  • Installers are not available everywhere
  • Manufacturing processes still contribute to pollution

Although it has dropped significantly in the past few years, the upfront cost of solar technology is still higher than conventional tech. But the return on investment happens rather fast. Solar space heating and cooling systems can pay for themselves in as little as three to six years. When combined with domestic hot water and electricity production, the benefits only increase. While solar may not be the right choice for every consumer, it does offer a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Wolfe
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Mark Wolfe is a freelance writer who specializes in garden, landscaping, and home improvement. After two decades in the…
How often should you water new sod? What you need to know
Taking care of your new sod is an investment
Lawn sprinkler

If you need a new lawn quickly, sod is definitely the way to go. Unfortunately, it’s not cheap. Professional installation of just 500 square feet of sod, an area slightly smaller than two parking spaces, typically costs upward of $750 for materials and labor. Even then, most landscapers can't guarantee a healthy and flourishing lawn. If it dies, you have to pay even more to replace it. With that kind of investment on the line, give your lawn the care it needs to grow. All it takes is water and a little bit of patience. 
What you will need to water your sod
If you don’t have an in-ground sprinkler system, you will need the following equipment:

Garden hose(s) long enough to reach the entire sodded area
Hose-end lawn sprinkler(s) of your choice
Several rain gauges
Hose "Y" or manifold splitter (optional)
Hose timer/automatic shutoff (optional)

Read more
Should you ditch your gas stove? Unpacking the controversy – and what you can do about it
Here's what to know about the gas stove safety debate
A close-up of a gas stove

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that gas stoves recently ignited a firestorm debate among policymakers that naturally leaked onto the internet.

If you’re unclear about how exactly the now-heated debate started, here’s a recap:

Read more
Gas vs heat pump pool water heaters: Which one makes sense for your pool?
Want your pool heated? Here are the facts about gas vs heat pump pool water heaters
Outdoor inground pool with white two story home

You've invested a lot of time, money, and energy into making your outdoor pool a clean, enjoyable feature in your home. And there's nothing quite like cooling off in that crystal clear water on a hot day. Pool heaters for in-ground pools can be even more of an investment, but the benefits of heated water in your outdoor oasis greatly outweigh the cost. You'll have a more comfortable swimming experience, and if you live in a cooler climate, you can lengthen your swimming season significantly. With the different types of pool water heaters on the market, what's the best one for your pool and the area you live in? We'll dive into the two most popular types so you can decide which is best for you: Gas vs heat pump pool water heaters.

Gas pool water heaters
Gas pool water heaters have been around for a long time, so they're tried and true options for heating your pool. They work by pulling water in and using natural or propane gases to heat the water. Then they return the water to the pool, all warm and cozy.
Pro: Heat your pool quickly
Gas heaters are popular among pool owners because they heat the water quickly and keep the pool's temperature stable, regardless of outdoor temperature. For this reason, gas pool water heaters are ideal for pool owners in cooler climates who use their pool less frequently, particularly at the beginning or end of the summer when the outside temperature fluctuates often.
Pro: Lower initial purchase and installation cost
Compared to other, more energy-efficient pool heaters, gas pool heaters are more economical upfront. Their price tags are significantly lower, running between $1,500 and $2,500, and the cost of installation can run as low as $500. Installation is particularly low if your home already has gas energy hookups. If you want to stick to a lower budget for the first year of use, a gas pool heater is a good option.
Con: Use more energy to operate
Unfortunately, if you're looking for the greenest option in pool heaters, gas heaters are not it. They use finite natural resources to operate, so they are not the most environmentally friendly option when compared to other types of pool heaters. They also cost more to operate overall, which you'll see on your energy bills. In general, gas pumps can cost between $300-$500 per month to operate, but you can save money by turning them off when not in use since they work quickly after being turned on.
Con: Higher maintenance costs and shorter lifespan
While initial costs are low, with so many moving parts in these machines, there is a higher likelihood that maintenance will be required. This could end up being an additional cost and headache. Gas pool heaters also tend to have a shorter overall lifespan than their heat pump counterparts since maintenance costs will eventually rise to the point where purchasing a new model will be more cost-effective.

Read more