Domestic Solar Heating Questions Answered
How will we heat our homes with fuel shortages on the up and prices increasing? Some commentators say that oil production will peak within the next twenty years and from then on will be on an irreversible decline. If true, then eventually oil and gas will become progressively more expensive and shorter in supply.
Today’s alternative energy sources will become the norm. The most promising alternative energy source for domestic heating and electricity is solar power – it’s free, cost effective, there’s an unlimited supply, and eco-friendly.
What is Solar Heating?
There are various types of solar heating on the market. Their principles are similar but differ in efficiency. Essentially, they trap solar energy and transfer it to the central heating boiler which heats up the water, giving a constant supply of hot water as long as there is sunlight. The existing boiler is only used when sunlight is low, at nighttime, and less frequently during the winter. Systems typically have a lifespan of between 20-30 years, although some are still running well after over 40 years.
How Does it Work?
There are two types of solar heating panels. Flat solar panels are more traditional and familiar looking. They work by trapping solar heat in a heat transfer liquid which is then directed to a separate indoor or outdoor storage tank and then re-circulated throughout the system.
The other type is evacuated solar tubes. The tubes contain heating elements and heat up liquid antifreeze. The resulting heat is distributed though the hot water system. Although not as pleasing to the eye as flat solar panels, they are more efficient, require no maintenance and perform very well in colder climates.
There are two options: DIY or professional fitting. DIY solar heating kits are available from good home improvement stores. Anyone proficient in basic electrical and plumbing skills can tackle the job, although be prepared for unforeseen problems and a potentially dangerous day or two on the roof.
A professional fitter will give an appraisal of the suitability of the building, the best location for the panels, an all inclusive price, fitting by trained experts, maintenance when required, and a guarantee. The average fitting by professionals usually takes only one day.
Primarily, installing domestic solar heating is an investment. Not only does solar heating reduce heating bills, help reduce carbon emissions, it also boosts property value. Solar heating also gives peace of mind when it comes to unpredictable fuel prices and supply, as the home will always have a reserve of hot water.
It only takes a few years to pay off the initial cost of the system. After that, hot water is free. For this reason, many people approaching retirement opt to install solar heating to lower their outgoings.
In a bid to encourage home owners to become more self-sufficient, to reduce current demand for fossil fuels, and to create a more eco-friendly society, governments around the world have set up solar heating grant schemes. This significantly reduces the cost to the homeowner.
In the UK, schemes’ criteria such as planning permissions and cash grant amounts have changed over the years. Grants can take the form of a one off payment or a percentage of the overall cost. A good point of contact for UK residents is the Energy Saving Trust who offers up-to-date advice on all aspects of solar heating grants.