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Which household would benefit from solar thermal?

Posted by Cecilia Eisner on 29 June 2015 at 1:15 pm

Are you thinking of installing Solar Thermal? Are you wondering how much your family could benefit? It is always tempting to install Solar Thermal as a renewable way to heat your water since it can cut your home’s carbon emissions and help to reduce your energy bills. 

Does your household tick most of the following boxes?

  • A good South facing roof, or one which is somewhere between East and West, which is not at all shaded.
  • Enough space in your loft or airing cupboard for a new dedicated solar cylinder with a solar heating coil.
  • Regular users of showers in the evenings.
  • Regular handwashing of dishes.
  • Not a listed building.

It’s not as complicated as it sounds. Solar Thermal uses the sun to heat water during the day. A South facing roof gets the most direct sunlight, but East and West facing roofs get enough to make it work.

You will need somewhere to store heated water and this is usually just a normal water tank with an additional heating coil fitted. One coil heats the water using the solar and one heats the water using your normal boiler. If the solar is not heating the water to a high enough temperature then the boiler will kick in to top up. If you haven’t currently got a tank in an airing cupboard you will have to find space for one. 

If your family is one which has endless baths then perhaps Solar Thermal is not for you. A bath uses about 80Ltrs of water, which for an average 200Ltr tank would not even manage three baths and then you would need to heat more water using the boiler. If, however, you use nice efficient showers (that’s not power showers by the way) then you should get plenty out of a full tank. It also helps if you have your showers late in the day or early in the evening when the water will have had the greatest chance to be brought up to temperature by the solar. 

If you have a washing machine and dishwasher which only uses cold fill, you may think that you can’t benefit from Solar Thermal, but you can. You can have a thermostatically controlled valve (TCV) fitted to the appliances which would use the solar heated water in the appliance and regulate its temperature.

Depending on how 'hands-on' you are you can fit the TCV yourself or have it fitted by a professional. You can buy TCVs online easily. The way the TCV works is the same as the water mixer in your shower, where you regulate the temperature of the water as required. The valve needs to be accessible and its temperature needs to be adjusted prior to every wash and do not forget to set the temperature of the dishwater/washing machine to 'no heat'. 

So what about the listed building bit? Well sadly, or not so sadly depending on your point of view, planners like to protect our heritage and in the main they don’t want to see unsightly solar thermal systems sitting on the roofs of heritage buildings. You may not be able to install if your home is listed or in a conservation area. 

The government is currently providing financial help to households installing renewables, like solar thermal, through the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). For more information on these see our page. But watch out, this new government is trying to cut more costs and the recent changes to subsidies for onshore wind may be setting a worrying precedent. Perhaps you should install now while you can….

Photo: SuperHomes

More information about Solar Thermal on YouGen

Find a Solar Thermal installer.

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