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 Solar Water Heating in the UK - Frequently Asked Questions 
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Post Solar Water Heating in the UK - Frequently Asked Questions
by: Glen Freeman

Will we need planning permission to install a Solar Water System?

Typically planning permission doesn't need to be granted before installing a domestic Solar Water Heating system under 9m2. Exceptions include listed buildings or homes within protected areas or national parks. In our experience local authority planners look favourably on the installation of these systems.

What will a system look like on my roof?

An average family home's domestic hot water needs can be supplied by a neat single panel, similar in appearance to a velux roof light window. If asthetics are important or planning issues are in place similar performance can be found through the installation of solar tiles, solar slates or solar cladding which integrate into or form part of the fabric of the roof.

How long will it take to get a system installed?

The first step is to carry out a survey of your property. The survey will cover off physical aspects such as where to place equipment, what style of panel(s) best suits the property and an evaluation of your existing energy infrastructure such as boilers and pipework. An average domestic installation takes 2 engineers between 1-2 working days to complete.

Can a Solar Hot Water System heat radiators?

As a rule a Solar Hot Water System wouldn't be able to heat the radiators found with typical Gas Central Heating Systems. This is due to not being able to heat the same volume of water neccessary due to space constraints on the roof and the size of the panels that would be needed. However Solar Hot Water systems can be succesfully integrated into underfloor heating systems. Also intelligent placement of storage tanks can negate the need for or replace some radiators. A lot of the options available are dependent on the existing layout of the house.

Do Solar Water Heating systems and Solar Electricity systems need different equipment?

The simple answer is yes, Solar Hot Water systems work on the principle of converting light into heat wheras a Solar Electricity installation will convert light into DC power i.e. electricity.

Do we still need a boiler?

A Solar Water Heating system is capable of producing 100. To make up the difference in the winter moths you will either need to retain your boiler or find another back up heat source. The perfect CO2 neutral complement to Solar Water Heating is a Biomass boiler. A Solar Water heating system will not work with most tankless combination boilers. The tank or hot water cylinder usually forms an integral part of a solar water heating setup.

Is my property suitable for a Solar Hot Water system?

A quick look at your roof will give you a good idea if a Solar Water Heating system can be installed. You are looking for physical free space of around 4m x 2m (front or back) with a solid structure that can hold the weight of the panels. The area of roof should also be unshaded by chimneys, trees or other properties and face anywhere from East through South to West.

Does it need to be sunny in order to work?

No, Solar Water heating systems utilise both direct and indirect sunlight. What's important is the amount of hours of daylight that is available. This is why 100 in some parts of the UK) in winter.

What’s my options if I don’t have a South-facing roof?

You can install an 'East-West' system which has a panel facing each direction. Also, a number of our customers have asked us to build an annex or small roof onto the house. We will talk you through any particular problems or costs associated with this type of installation.

What types of solar collectors are available?

There are two types of solar collector

1. The most common type consists of flat plates with water pipes inside an insulated box with a glazed front.

2. The second type, know as evacuated tubes, looks like an array of oversized fluorescent tubes. They produce more energy per unit area but are generally more expensive.

We have written an article about the types of Solar Collector that can be used with Solar Water heating systems at

Do solar panels have to be fitted to a roof?

No, they can be mounted on a free-standing frame in the garden or they can be mounted vertically on walls and balconies.

Is there any assistance available in the form of grants?

The Department for Trade and Industry (DTi) can help with funding for your system under the Low Carbon Buildings Programme. In order to obtain a grant, you must submit details of your project and a quotation from us. We will provide all the necessary information for your application and a decision typically takes 7 working days. Once the installation is complete, the DTi will refund the grant amount to you directly.

You must undertake a number of energy efficiency measures before you are eligible to apply for a Low Carbon Buildings Grant. These measures will ensure that you are minimising your energy requirements:

* Insulated the whole of the loft of the property to meet current building regulations e.g. 270mm of mineral wool loft insulation or suitable alternative

* Installed cavity wall insulation (if you have cavity walls)

* Fitted low energy light bulbs in all appropriate light fittings

* Installed basic controls for your heating system to include a room thermostat and a programmer or timer.

We recommend that you contact us as early as possible, it is sensible to incorporate much of this work at the same time or as part of an overall renewable energy installation as man hours can be saved, the duplication of work can be avoided and costs can be reduced.

About The Author
Glen Freeman is a renewable energy systems designer and co-owner of In Balance Energy Ltd. In Balance are specialist designers, suppliers and installers of bespoke energy systems for homeowners, businesses and communities in the UK. Their website can be found at

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Sun Feb 07, 2010 7:55 am
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