Carefully, consider these 10 factors before you commit to buy a solar water heater collector system.
1. Certification – The Solar Rating and Certification Corporation (SRCC) reviews and certifies both solar collectors (OG-100) as well as the entire solar water heating system (OG-300). This certification provides a minimum standard of quality for the industry as well as providing a basis for comparison between different products. Don’t consider buying a solar water heater without both OG-100 and OG-300 certification.
2. Collector frame materials – Solar hot water panels come primarily with either aluminum or steel frames and backs. The aluminum products will come with either raw, painted or anodized frames. The steel only come in painted versions. Generally speaking if you are in an area away from the coast any of these styles will do as long as you can handle the aesthetics (generally painted or anodized will be preferred for appearance). If you are within proximity of the coast the anodized surfaces will provide you the long term corrosion protection that the other materials won’t.
3. Fluid path materials – a solar collector can come with aluminum, steel or copper tubing for the fluid to flow through . The most common material in north America is copper although the other materials are available. Be aware that the aluminum may suffer from galvanic corrosion as a result of the other copper, brass and bronze that are likely to be in the system and therefore prematurely degrade. The solar collector (s) that have steel fluid paths are only appropriate for glycol systems.
4. Warranty – while the SRCC certification mentioned above covers the minimums there are differences in both the length of the warranty as well as if they warrant labor. It isn’t much good if a collector goes out after 6 months, and then the contractor can’t get paid to replace the one on your roof.
5. Installed base – It is a perfectly fair question to ask for references or what other solar heating project the installer may have done. As a homeowner you need to be patient because depending on the area where you are located you might not have any choice of contractors.
6. Absorber connection method – solar water heaters come with four main styles of producing the absorber
Ultrasonic welding – this method is probably the most common method for attaching the absorber fin to the tubes but it leaves a line down the absorber that some homeowners find objectionable The advantage is you can see the quality of the weld.
Soldering – this has diminished in popularity over the years since it is difficult to maintain the quality of the process although some companies still use it to great effect.
Mechanical bonding – the absorber is crimped around the tube that holds the water. This can be an effective means to attach the tubes to the sheet but there is a risk of poor mechanical sealing and then the thermal performance of the collector is greatly diminished with the buyer being none the wiser.
Laser welding – this process is very capital intensive but provides an excellent seal between the absorber and the tubes without having the witness line associated with ultrasonic welding above.
7. Pre-engineered – solar heating installations are technically complicated and require the greatest of care to insure that the system will function properly for years to come. Either go with a pre-engineered system from a manufacture or stick with a very experienced installer. Having an installer cut there teeth on your house isn’t the way to go with solar heating.
8. Aesthetics – Congratulations you are leading the green revolution by going with a solar water heater. Keep the positive vibes going by making sure the installation is good looking. Nothing will turn off future solar customers more than an unattractive installation.
9. Maintainability – Murphy’s Law usually to many situations including in your solar heating installation. Make sure the system is designed and installed so any of the components can be replaced should they fail while providing the minimum disruption to the system. Insist that the components are isolated from the balance of the system to allow easy change out. This also plays a part in the system design that you go with. If you have easy access to internal heat exchange tanks then they become a reasonable option. If you live in parts of the country where you local plumbing supply house doesn’t stock them, then stick with an external heat exchange system so the tank can be replaced when it fails (and it will).
10. Mounting hardware – How solar hot water panels tie into your roof is as important as the other components. You don’t want you system to create problems with your roof. The manufacturer should have had engineering done on the hardware to insure it can withstand any wind you might see in your area. In addition, you should look to be sure that you only use materials on the roof that can stand the test of time, aluminum, and stainless. Avoid using steel, galvanized steel or zinc plated hardware as part of the mounting system unless you live in the desert.