Solar Hot Water – Not easy, but worth it!

Traditional Roof Mount
Traditional Roof Mounted Solar Hot Water Array

When we bought our new house about 4 years ago, we wanted to be able to take some control over the utility costs so that when energy prices rise, we would have a bit of protection. There are lots of technologies out there that are environmentally friendly, but not all of them are suited to use in a sub-division and many have a low rate of return on investment. Further complicating matters is the fact that many of the municipal inspectors have no idea what they are looking at when presented with some of the new technologies. So which one to choose…

When we began looking for options 4 years ago, the main eco-friendly technologies included geo-thermal, solar voltaic, wind turbines and solar hot water. We considered all of them, but in a suburban setting, geo-thermal is a pretty hard sell because you have to drill vertically (which can be expensive) and timing the drilling with the building plans of the contractor is difficult, so that was out for us.

Solar voltaic was the next option that we considered, but it was still very expensive and the province had not yet introduced net-metering so we would have to install a set of storage batteries. Since that time, the cost of the technology has gone down dramatically and some exciting products like solar shingles have hit the market in Canada, but when we were looking, the cost was prohibitive.

Wind was never really a possibility in a suburban setting given the need to install a large turbine (Although our house seems to have been located in an ideal wind tunnel setting!) and that would not go over well with the neighbours.

So, we were left with solar hot water. The problem with solar hot water was that, while it is a mature technology (having been used in Europe for decades) it has not had much penetration into the Canadian market until recently. It has been around in Ontario for about 20 years, but its use has been sporatic.  That means that not all available equipment is CSA (Canadian Standards Association) approved. Further getting municipal inspectors to approve the installation proved to be a challenge because they had no “standards” to use to determine if the installation was acceptable or not. This meant that the installed system had to be inspected and certified by an independent engineer, and that engineer had to attest to the safety of the system. One thing that we did not understand is that this type of certification in the engineering community can be considered precedent setting, which means that if an engineer signs off on a design, they are attesting to the safety and efficiency of the design where-ever it is employed. It isn’t easy to find an engineer that is willing to put their reputation on the line for a handful of implementations. In the end, our installation never did get certified although it has worked flawlessly for four years.

Cost is another big factor and I will deal with our experience in future updates, but a lot has changed in the past 4 years.  When we put the system in, the province of Ontario allowed for a rebate on PST, but it did not cover GST and there were no other incentives.  Today, there are a lot of potential incentives available from the Ontario government, but I am not sure if the PST rebate is still available given the change to the new HST in Ontario.  In the next installment, I am going to talk a bit about the technology that we purchased to implement our solar solution, how we went about getting it installed and I will discuss some of the pitfalls we stumbled across during the implementation.


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