Solar Retrofit Part 7: Installation

It's been a long road but my system is now up and running! I expect that a lot of people will ask how much energy my installation actually collects so I ended up taking the $600 Government of Canada Eco-Energy rebate for my high-efficiency boiler and bought a BTU meter ( from the guys at WSE Technologies ( So far the BTU meter is up to 84kwh which means I've collected (84 kwh * 3400 BTU/kwh =) 285,600 BTUs of heat. The temperature sensor at the _bottom_ of my storage tank didn't drop below 58 degrees C all week so I'm pretty sure that my boiler hasn't run since I completed the installation.

There are a few outstanding things I have to take care of: Insulation and cladding on a portion of the exterior runs and insulation on the piping in the house. Also, I've talked to IBC boilers and they don't yet have a controller module that integrates the boiler and the solar so I'll try and rig something up so that I can use the collectors to help heat my home. At 9:40 this morning (August 28, 2010) the outside temperature was 12 degrees C and I was suprised to hear the collector pump start. Despite the fact there was light cloud cover, the temperature sensor in the collectors was reading 68 degrees C.

Here are some pictures:

The view from the back yard.

The view from the street to the south west of the house.

The view from the street directly in front of (on the west side of) my house. My house is on a corner lot with a street on the west and north.

The view from the street on the north side.

The storage tank under my back entry. Note the BTU meter.


Here's a detailed picture of the solar meter from before the installation was complete.

As the temperature at the bottom of my tank reached 72 degrees C, I spent the extra money (approx $105) to buy an anti-scald valve to make sure none of my family would be hurt. Hot water comes in from the bottom, cold from the top and the mix comes out on the left. You can also see that I installed a thermometer in the line to check the temperature coming out of the water heater.

Here's a detailed picture of the layers of pipe insulation I used on the solar runs and the cladding I used on the exposed portions. Each layer of insulation is one inch thick which gives a total diameter for the fully insulated pipe of 4 7/8”. (The copper pipe is 3/4” inside diameter.) The insulation shown is therma-cel. The inside layer of insulation on the return piping from the collectors is K-Flex which has a higher temperature rating. Why the different types? Because I couldn't find a vendor that sold both K-Flex insulation and pipe cladding, I was tired of driving around Edmonton trying to find the supplies I needed and I REALLY wanted to get the installation completed so I could start collecting the benefits of my investment.



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Did you install it all yourself? If so, about how many hours did it take?

The pipe run from the basement to the attic was done as part of a home renovation.  Not counting patching the drywall, the installation of two copper pipes and one plastic conduit (for the temperature sensor wires) probably added 3 or 4 hours to the reno.

Reinforcing the attic to support the collectors (Shown here: took myself and two other guys (one of whom was a carpenter) 16 hours and cost me $1600 for labour and supplies (2x6's, threaded stainless steel rods, bolts, lock washers, screws, roof sealant, etc).

Next was completing the plumbing lins in the attic.  I did this myself and it took me probably 10 hours.  The plumbing lines in the basement were much more complex and included changes to the water lines going to the water heater.  The changes in the house probably took me 30 hours.

Assembling the racking on the roof was pretty straight forward and took me and my 12 year old son about 6 hours (much to my wifes dismay).

Getting the collectors up on the roof took me and three other guys (with scaffolding) 6 hours and cost me $850.  Making the plumbing connections took another 4 hours.  Finally, installing the insulation and cladding on the outside and the insulation in the basement has probably taken me 16 hours and I'm not _quite_ done.  The extra-thick insulation and cladding probably cost me $500.

Ballbark totals are: 92 hours and $2950.  The collectors, the storage tank in the basement and the racking material were around $8400 for a total in the$11,350 range.  Initial payback calculations were based on a completed price of $14,000 and worked out to 18 years.  Since I saved a bit by doing it myself, the payback period should be a bit less.




Very impressive.
I am wanting to "net ready" my home since I got $$ from last year's hail storm. So far, I mostly get discouraging words. I would accept discouragement from like-minded folks, and I feel much more secure with my feel firmly planted in reality.

Are you heating your home with water heated from solar panels? Are you disconnected from the gas line (their lines and simple hook-up, even with 0 usage seems expensive!)?

I moved to Calgary after living 20 yrs in Edmonton. If you come near here, let me know! I am looking for someone else to talk to!

Mary Anne

Mary Anne,

Sorry to hear that you have encountered some resistance. Don't be discouraged.

The best money is almost always spent on insulation. I would aim for at least R40 in the walls and R60 in the ceiling.

We are disconnected from gas, but I would only recommend doing that in the most efficient of homes - heating with electricity is very expensive (and dirty). In fact, most of our supplemental heat will come from an efficient wood stove.

We are not using solar hot water to heat the space, just our domestic hot water. I don't believe that space heating with solar hot water is viable.

Keep looking for a contractor who knows about this stuff - they are becoming more and more numerous. The Alberta Sustainable Home is in Calgary (, they do some retrofit work, I believe.

Good luck!


Thank you very much, Conrad.

Yes, I will keep trying to contact someone with experience here. Thank you for the guidelines. Very soon, I'll likely add up the fixed costs on my gas bill - but I was thinking that I could end up with the high costs of both systems (high fixed costs of gas hook-up, and high cost of insulation) resulting in high costs of half measures, although with the achievement of a smaller footprint - one that is already relatively small (thanks to Dad's training in energy conservation).

I'll see what I decide. But I do keep imagining how I can reach R40-50 on the walls.

Can I ask which company provided your windows? I really want to add a couple east windows, and enlarge two north windows because they will look out onto a beautiful garden.

Also, do you think that program (?Hsomething2000) is still worth working out? (Maybe I'd see the difference of adding windows?)

I really appreciate reading these blogs and seeing the Edmonton cooperation!! It's inspiring,

Mary Anne

Mary Anne,

Duxton provided the windows. I still believe that Hot2000 has a lot of value.


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