How to Select a Solar Water Heating System for Your Home


If you have decided that the time to convert to solar water heating has arrived, you are probably shopping around for the right system and trying to determine if you want to attempt a do-it-yourself project or hire a professional to do the job.

If you choose to tackle the job yourself, you'll want to be well versed in the use of hand tools and comfortable reading plans. You need to do some construction on the solar collector box, so you need to be comfortable cutting lumber to size. You will also have to do some plumbing. You'll have to climb onto your roof in most cases, so you will need to feel comfortable working at heights while holding a rather heavy collector box. You will also require a helper for some portions of the project unless you are especially strong and can handle large, heavy objects easily. If you are handy and like do-it-yourself projects, a simple solar water heating system is not beyond the skills of most dedicated home improvement hobbyists. However, if you doubt your skills, you may want to consider a professional for the job.

If you elect to have a solar water heating system professional do the job, there are some things you will want to keep in mind. The first, and perhaps the most important, is to know exactly what you are getting for a specified price. "Estimates" are for car repairs and "ball park figures" not acceptable either. You need to have a firm grip on what you are going to pay for and how much you are going to pay. You will want to have a binding contract signed by you and the contractor and document both the contractor's license and insurance. The last thing you want is to have someone hurt on your property and learn after the fact that the contractor didn't have insurance!

Before a single thing is done such as purchase of units and other materials, you should have a clear, drawn-to-scale diagram indicating the exact location and number of solar collector, the plumbing layout and the schematics for any controls or other electrical wiring. Don't accept a line drawing on the back of scrap paper. Require real dimensional drawings showing the entire system. This way, should something break years down the road, you'll be able to show a repair person exactly how the system is installed and wired. Be sure to file this valuable drawing away once your system is installed and keep it on file as long as you own the home with the solar water heating system.

In this contract between you and the contractor, all warranties on the collectors, controls, and installation should be outlined. The paperwork for any controls and certification of equipment should be provided to you and the controls should contain the Underwriters Lab (UL) approval. Collector panels, if purchased rather than build, should have solar rating certification in writing. If the contractor builds the panels, he should certify the performance of the panels. If the manufacturers provide warranty on specific parts, be certain the contractor provides you the necessary paperwork to ensure you can submit a warranty claim should one be required.

Another important point that should be stated in the contract is the exactly specifications of each part that will be purchased or built and installed to create your solar system. Manufacturer, model number, dimensions or other data as appropriate to the specific part should be clearly outlined. This way you will know what you are paying for and if substandard items were substituted, you would have legal recourse.

Establish in the contract the completion date for the job and any terms regarding progress payment including exactly what must be accomplished for payment to be made. Also, establish the terms for final payment clearly. If you are required to pay a deposit, be certain this is clearly stated in the contract. Define who is responsible for any clean up from the installation.

Make sure that any necessary city or county permits required in your area are properly obtained. The contractor should obtain these permits for you, but you may be expected to pay the permit fees rather than it being included in a package price.

Learn from the contractor how the solar collector panels will be attached to your roof if that is the location they will be placed. Some solar collector supports pass through the roof and attach to the rafters in an elevated position to prevent debris from accumulating around the solar collector and causing roof damage.

When the installation of your solar water heating system is complete, you should have the installation contractor provide a demonstration of exactly how to operate the system and obtain instructions in writing. Maintain copies of instructions, warranties, contractual agreements, certifications, permits and any other paperwork on file where you can find it if necessary.

About the Author: Anita van Wyk strives to make make more people aware of the benefits of using solar energy through her website

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