I live in the midwest with both extremes in hot and cold. Lately I've been looking at possibly getting a solar water heating system for my house. I currently have a relatively new electric water heater that does a good job but is a little costly to operate.

Everything I know about solar water heating systems is from what I read on the internet. There's a lot of information out there and it can be tough to sort through it all.

The lingering questions I have are:

Is it really going to lower my energy bills? I get a LOT of sunlight here, but I'm still not sold on this concept quite yet to believe that there's enough for most of my hot water needs. There are 2 people in my house right now. We pay just over $500 a year to run the water heater. It seems like a big upfront investment for somewhat uncertain rewards. There's a lot of information out there about solar water heating systems but not a great deal about how much people actually spend on heating water BEFORE and AFTER. I'm fine with the initial upfront costs involved, from what I understand to be in the ballpark of 2-3 thousand after tax incentives and rebates, but that's only if I have some assurance that I'm eventually going to get it back in the form of dramatically lower hot water heating costs.

In this cold midwestern climate is a pipe going to burst? I can experience extreme cold temps below zero some winter days. It's not the usual, but it does happen. Even with the pipes filled with anti-freeze (glycol if you like), is that enough a safeguard to prevent a pipe from bursting and causing one helluva problem? I don't want that.

Is solar water heating REALLY that efficient? Wouldn't it be easier just to hook up a solar photovoltaic panel to my rooftop or garage and hook it up to my power system? If it could cut my annual energy expense by 200 or more dollars, isn't that basically accomplishing the same thing as the water heater but without all of the hassles of plumbing, storage tanks, heat pumps, worries about freezing pipes, leaks, etc? Factor in that installation of a solar water system is longer, more complicated, requires plumbing, more planning, and likely additional expense in maintenance?