Going solar? Do your homework

Solar geyser vacuum tubes and panels ideally should face north in the southern hemisphere if they are to produce hot water.

That self-evident fact escaped not only me, but also the plumber who installed a 110 litre Kwikot low pressure system, the kind that has no electrical backup, on the roof of my house in Stilbaai.

For a brief while I owned a south-facing solar system and was an object of ridicule and hilarity in the neighbourhood.

The apparatus has since been turned around to face the right way, but did not immediately provide the sun-blessed hot water for which I paid close to R10 000 when the dust had settled. The actual system cost R5,130 with VAT. Parts cost another R2,000. Labour was R2,000.

“It doesn’t have to be true north,” a guffawing Johan van der Merwe, registered plumber, informed me when he first saw the south-facing faux pas.

“But facing south, the tubes have no direct sunlight. Flat-plate collector solar panels with glass tops can be a maximum of 7 degrees off north. Panels with tubes, like the one you bought, can be off north about 30 degrees west and 30 degrees east.

“However, ideally, they should face true north.”

Van der Merwe says all solar systems installed in our town will be inspected by the Plumbing Institute of SA — if the job was done by an accredited plumber and you want an Eskom rebate.

No, you guessed it. The plumber I employed is neither registered with the PISA or accredited with the PIRB.

To be fair, he did try to rectify his “mistake”. He corrected the angle of the geyser, but problem was, he broke one of the tubes, and has not been seen again since he left hastily, promising to replace it.

I’m guessing this was his first ever solar geyser installation, although he insists he has installed others. My eagerness to go green must have been contagious, because it took a mere two days from the moment I suggested he install the system for the south-facing solar geyser to grace the roof of my house.

To spell out the oh-so-obvious lessons in this tale of woe, I would have to start with a warning not to trust any plumber who is instantly available – a very rare combination in Stilbaai.

We’ve all experienced the time wasting and frustration that go hand-in-hand with the expected arrival of plumbers. Of course, that’s not to say that some of us have never been fortunate enough to meet one or two who are punctual.  But I personally have never known a plumber who was happy, nay keen, to leap into my car instantly and drive with me to Stilbaai’s On Tap outlet.

The next message is (probably needless to say), please check on the plumber’s credentials before you throw in your lot with him. If he is not registered, you are likely to become a laughing stock, like me.

Finally, do your homework on the product you plan to invest in. Do not lazily trust the “experts” you did not bother to confirm were indeed as qualified as they claimed.

Since then, I’ve had the broken tube fixed by another plumber, and am now using 100%-solar- powered water, switching only occasionally to the gas-powered geyser when cloud has blocked the sun for a few days consecutively.

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