San Francisco Department of the Environment

Multi-Family – St. Francis Square

Largest Solar Water Heating Installation in San Francisco

Built in 1963, the St. Francis Square cooperative affordable housing community includes 299 apartments, covers 3 square blocks, offers a vibrant social atmosphere oriented around large open spaces, and is home to one of the largest collective solar water heating systems in San Francisco. Located in San Francisco’s Western Addition neighborhood, the cooperative is self-managed and pays all utilities commonly, which presents a great opportunity to provide all the residents with the energy and utility savings made possible from solar water heating.

In 1982, after several years of consideration, the St. Francis Square Board of Directors decided to install a total of 227 solar collectors covering 9080 ft2, along with thirteen 1000-gallon storage tanks. This system provides pre-heated solar water that feeds the conventional water heaters supplying their apartments, and reduces their natural gas bill substantially. By realizing significant savings on their utility bills, taking advantage of state and federal tax incentives available at that time, and making use of their cooperative financial structure, they were able to completely pay off the cost of their installed system within ten years.

John Herbert has been a member of “The Square” for 40 years, previously serving on the Board of Directors, and currently on their Conservation Committee.  John is a strong advocate for solar water heating and feels that, “Solar water heating is low-hanging fruit” when it comes to energy saving strategies. Asked about his opinion of solar water heating at The Square, John said, “I’m ecstatic with it. I think it’s terrific!” Today, 27 years after the initial installation, John reports that their solar thermal equipment is still providing their community with plenty of hot water and is enabling them to reduce their gas use significantly, with past studies showing an estimated $40,000-$50,000 per year in savings. John also has plans to incorporate monitoring devices in the future that will allow them to more accurately evaluate the amount of energy generated by their solar thermal units.

Occidental Power installed this sizable solar thermal system and still provides regular annual maintenance, a key factor in realizing the long service life of the solar water heating equipment at St. Francis Square. With proper care it’s possible that the residents at The Square will continue to reap the benefits of solar water heating for many years to come.

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