An architect’s view – Solar heating case study

Looking ahead, anticipating possible fuel shortages and increasing prices, wishing to reduce a carbon footprint: all sound reasons for considering a solar water heating installation; and all taken into account by architect David Coleman when he planned the refurbishment of his house in Abbots Leigh, near Bristol.

The 1964 house, which he bought just 12 months ago, had not been touched since it was built. Additional accommodation was part of the refurbishment plan and David was keen to ensure that any alteration carried out would be as environmentally sustainable as possible. To this end, cavity insulation, low energy lighting, loft insulation to the highest level, and a wood-burning stove are all part of his plan.

However, following on-line research into solar technology, he considered that this should be the initial step in providing a return in both environmental and economic terms.

He next had to find a heating specialist to handle the project and, following a trade recommendation, he commissioned Gregor Heating & Renewable Energy to install both solar water heating and a mains-pressurised system with an oil-fired boiler. “I was expecting to have to employ two different contractors” he said. “Gregor was the only company who seemed to know about solar, and the fact that they could handle both parts of the project was a bonus”.

The system Gregor installed comprises a Worcester Greenskies boiler, high efficiency flat-plate collectors on the roof and a thermal store cylinder. “They knew what they were doing” said David; “They even reacted graciously to my views on the positioning of pipework. The whole installation went very smoothly and the solar was completed in just two days”.

David says that it is too early to evaluate the economic benefits and, in any case, he does not have consumption information on the previous central heating system. However, he has already reached conclusions on how to get the best out of solar energy. “There is little point in conventionally heating water overnight” he says “Start the day with whatever heat remains in the tank and let the solar panels do the work. Get used to reading the dials on the tank to find out what the heat levels are. Set the boiler controls so that when solar energy is insufficient, the boiler fires automatically to bring the water temperature up. Manage your system to make it pay”.

Currently, David Coleman is participating in the Royal Institute of British Architects “Architect in the House” scheme whereby, in return for a donation to Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, house-owners are given a 1-hour consultation period to discuss the design potential of their houses. From his direct experience, he says he is now better able to offer practical advice on when a solar energy installation would be both appropriate and beneficial.