COLCHESTER — As restaurant owners, Christos Valkanos and Kostas Anastasiou would often find themselves in hot water, literally, and that was getting expensive.

A restaurant like their Family Pizza Restaurant & Grill at 296 S. Main St., uses a lot of hot water, Valkanos said. “We were burning so much propane and oil, the cost of doing business was insane,” he said.

To save their sanity and perhaps the environment, the two businessmen decided to try a solar hot water system from Aegis Solar Energy in Branford.

“We’ve always wanted to go green,” Valkanos said, adding that they also have installed motion-sensor lighting, started using biodegradable containers and installed energy-efficient outdoor lighting.

The project, funded in part through the Connecticut Clean Energy Finance Investment Authority, formerly known as Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, was finished a few weeks ago and Valkanos said they have already noticed a slight difference.

Chris Lenda, president of Aegis Solar Energy, said 15 flat-plate solar collectors were installed on the restaurant’s roof. The heat energy from the sun is then transferred through a heat exchanger in the basement to the hot water system.

Aegis estimates the hot water produced by the system will allow the restaurant to reduce its propane consumption by about $3,000 annually.

Valkanos said they expect to reduce propane use by 20 to 25 percent and they are no longer using heating oil.

Valkanos and Anastasiou learned about the alternative energy funding program from a relative, Jocelyn Anastasiou, who works as a manager at their restaurant. She also works for the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority.

“I was aware of what we had available and I spoke with my in-laws to have the company come out and get a quote,” she said.

The authority awarded Family Pizza Restaurant & Grill a grant of about $46,000 that that was used to help pay for the solar heating system that cost $62,000, installed. The restaurant is paying the balance.

Jocelyn Anastasiou said that because the restaurant has been in town for more than 30 years and the family knows the residents, the project sets a good example for other local businesses.

“When you drive by, the first thing you see is panels on the roof,” she said.

Valkanos said the system has generated considerable local interest.

“A lot of customers are interested in how it’s working,” Valkanos said. “It’s a really good thing for our customers and all the people in Colchester.”

Another plus, Valkanos said, is that during the winter when business slows, the restaurant owners won’t need to lay off employeees.,0,5478392.story