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Suncatcher creates steamy showers
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Tired of their high electricity bills and also wanting to do something for the environment, J.J. Hayden and Lois Upham decided the time had finally come to go solar.

"I've been thinking about this and studying this for about 10 years," said Hayden, who along with his wife, Upham, is a member of the Newton Climate Action Coalition.

They decided to contact Suncatcher of Atlanta, a solar heating and solar products installation company, which on Tuesday, installed two 4-by-8-foot solar heating panels or collectors on the roof of their house to heat the household's water.

Gerry Kilgore, president of Suncatcher of Atlanta, estimated the solar panels will provide enough energy to meet 90 percent to 100 percent of the household's hot water needs. The 80-gallon water tank his company is installing has enough storage capacity for about a two to three day supply of hot water.

The system is also hooked up to the electricity grid, so in the event of an extended period of cloudy days, the household can still produce hot water.

The panels work on a closed loop system that circulates a fluid called propylene glycol through the solar panels, absorbing more than 90 percent of the sun's rays that touch them, and past a copper pipe acting as a heat exchanger and used to transfer the heat from the panels to the water storage tank installed by Suncatcher.

As the house is completely run on electricity, Kilgore said the energy savings from a solar water heater will be large, between 35 percent and 40 percent of their total electricity use.

Suncatcher of Atlanta offers several kinds of solar systems: hot water systems, electric systems and swimming pool systems. The company also sells wholesale solar products.

Solar systems to heat your pool can cost from $3,500 to $6,500 to install. Solar hot water systems for your home cost from $5,900 to $10,000 and full solar electric systems can cost from $10,000 to $100,000.

Hayden said he was finally spurred to move forward with solar power because of the availability of a $2,000 federal tax credit and a $2,500 Georgia tax credit for households that install solar panels. He said they would be installing the full solar electric system next summer.

"A solar water heater provides the quickest return on investment," Kilgore said, adding that the more people in a household, the greater their water use and the bigger the savings in electricity bills will be if they install a solar water heater.

Kilgore estimated that a hot water system would pay for itself in utility bill savings in four to six years and that a solar electric system would pay for itself in about eight to 12 years. A solar pool heating system would have the shortest payback period of them all at one year.

Though his company has been around since 1983, Kilgore said demand for solar panels really took off about a year ago.

"We're booked solid," Kilgore said, adding the solar panel installation industry is somewhat backed up presently as they wait for manufacturing capabilities to catch up to consumer demand. "Manufacturers are producing as quickly as possible."

Kilgore said he has been to Newton County several times before to install solar water heaters, which are a very popular system with customers because of their quick break even point.