You are here
In many cases, mounting the heat exchanger is one of the easiest parts of system installation, especially if you buy a pre-packaged kit; you just put the module on the storage tank and tighten a few unions. However, you may decide to construct your own heat exchanger from individual parts. In any case, the first step is to install the storage tank, then attach the exchanger.
Good plumbing is a return on investment in itself. Proper plumbing, carefully planned and implemented with professional soldering and workmanship can last 100 years, so it's worth doing it right. If you're a newbie, you will want to either practice beforehand or employ a skilled professional.
Although it is usually preferable to connect your solar thermal space heating installation into a grid-tied system and have the two work together, it's not always possible. Some retrofits simply do not lend themselves to integration, so you will end up with two separate systems. They can still work together, just not to the same extent.
One of the oldest known man-made solar thermal space heating systems was built by the Romans, who constructed radiant floors for their bathhouses over 2,000 years ago. The systems heated the bathing water and the buildings by circulating hot air under the floors, then up through multiple chimneys. Today, radiant floors are not only the most comfortable heating system available, but the most economical – especially when tied into solar thermal heat generation!
Active solar thermal installations come in two main types for space heating: liquid-based and air-based. The third type – high-mass systems – is completely different to active systems and deserves separate treatment.
High-mass installations use a sand bed or pit underneath the building and a network of Pex tubes to gather, store and deliver heat to a radiant floor. They are extremely economical to run and provide very comfortable heating for the whole home. Remember to complete your installation in spring, so that the system starts gathering heat as soon as possible!
The simpler option for solar thermal space heating is to install what's known as a "dump" system. In this setup, there is no storage tank: the collectors heat the domestic supply when the sun is shining and send that heat to some kind of liquid-to-air interface, such as a radiator, a baseboard heating unit or a fan convector.
Although they are extremely efficient and produce very comfortable radiant floor heating, high-mass solar thermal systems can be difficult to live with, especially at first. They require changes in habits and it may take a few years to figure out the optimal approach for your particular situation. This article will provide the background knowledge and some pointers to help you along the way.
Drainback systems work very well for space heating applications without storage because, once they reach the target temperature, they can just switch off. All the solar fluid drains out of the pipes and collectors, meaning there's no risk of overheating, even during very hot periods when the system is inactive all day.