Preparing for Plumbing

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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.

The plumbing is always one of the longest parts of any installation project. Not only does it take a lot of time to properly solder and push the pipes into position, but the insulation and (if necessary) wall repairs add to the job. Plumbing can be quite expensive, so the best compromise is always between ease of installation (and access), length of run and overall price.

Part of the preparation phase of any solar thermal installation project is to properly plan, investigate and diagram the entire system, so you should already have a full piping schematic to hand. If you haven't, draw one – it will be invaluable for calculating lengths and working out where to run the pipes.

If you are retrofitting your solar thermal system, one of the hardest parts is finding the space for the pipes from the collectors to the storage tank. The easiest solution is to break open walls wherever necessary but many homeowners are understandably reluctant to do this. There are a few alternatives:

  • Look for spare space (or "chasing") that runs along any wall leading from the tank to the collectors. Many homes have an enclosed chimney that often has a bit of spare space around it, unless the floorboards are fitted tight up against it. Make sure you can see clearly, all the way from source to destination, or you may find that there are hidden obstructions when you try to ram pipes through.
  • If there is space available but the floorboards are tight to the walls, you can consider lifting them and sawing a corner off to allow the pipes through – less attractive but possible.
  • Look for stacked closets. Few people mind having a pipe run down the back of their clothes, especially if it is well-covered and concealed.
  • If all else fails, you can build an external pipe run, hiding it behind gutter drains and making sure it is very well-insulated, especially in cold climates. You can construct boxing around the insulation to maintain a better aesthetic and improve the insulation at the same time as protecting it.

Make sure you have all the appropriate tools for the job before you start and do not rush the plumbing job. It's better to spend longer and get it right than to have water bursting out from behind your walls.