Planning Your Solar Thermal Installation

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Before you choose a solar thermal system for your home, it's important to go through the steps of energy conservation. We've said it before and we'll say it again: improving your home's energy efficiency is less expensive and more effective than any new renewable energy installation in the short term.

Plug the cracks, put some insulation in place, fix the old windows, put a low-flow shower head in your bathroom, change your habits... all of these things and many others are vital because they will save you money twice over. They will reduce your existing bills and they will reduce your power use, which means a smaller, cheaper renewable energy installation to cover your needs.

Assuming you've done this, you will want to take the following advice into account:

Plan for the worst case

What's appropriate now may not be later. Just look at how the world has changed in the last ten years and consider that your solar thermal installation is likely to last decades. How many other dramatic changes will your location see in that time? Plan ahead wherever possible.

In most cases, this means allowing for colder and hotter temperatures than your home experiences right now. If your region almost never freezes, consider what you'll do in a freak blizzard. If the weather is always cool, consider how your system will survive in 100-degree heat. That may seem extreme but you never know what may happen, so put together a backup plan.

Only use quality gear and laborers

We all know it's tempting to cut corners. But in solar thermal, like in many things, you get what you pay for. The majority of unreliable installations that break down are built with cheap, uncertified equipment, often fitted by fly-by-night scammers out to make a quick buck at your expense.

Whatever installation you decide suits your needs, look for a reliable, established installer with experience and, wherever possible, certification for their work and the equipment they install. There's no guaranteed protection against bad luck and some systems will break down anyway, but the better the installer and gear, the better the chances of longevity. Don't sign anything on the day you talk to the installer. Don't take a cheap option just to save a few bucks. Ask for references and check them.

Check local rebates and grants

Many regions offer rebates or grants for homeowners who want to install renewable energy systems. Some of these are local offers, some are national, some may even be in conjunction with reputable installers offering a discount, but they can all help reduce the initial cost of installation and improve your return on investment.

Make sure you check all the details of any offer: some are dependent on the type of system installed and most require that you use certified equipment. Don't miss out on a grant or rebate simply because you didn't check the small print.

Choose the right system

It may sound obvious but it's important to choose the right system for your situation. For example, If you are ground-mounting your collectors, you