R2I Living – Solar Water Heater Installation Experience

An upgrade our builder offered was installing hot-water piping along with solar water heater hookup facility. Solar water heaters are extremely useful in Kerala for if installed the heat and humidity ensures year-round hot water supply free of energy costs. This holds true even during the monsoons unless the clouds hide the sun for more than three straight days.

Solar water heaters are relatively new to Kerala - till recently, electric geysers ruled the showers. Always ON water heaters (electric or gas) are not a viable option in Kerala for most people because of high marginal rates for electricity. Depending on the distance, it can take upwards of 30 seconds before hot water debuts at the faucet as the water in the piping from the water heater cools down with time. Solar water heaters are normally not suitable for high-rise flats unless a separate facility for the whole project is setup by the builder.

Although builders make it sound hooking up the solar water heater is a breeze once the upgrade option is in place, the reality is that is only a step. Placement is pivotal for solar water heater to work its magic – the heating coils have to be located roughly 4-feet below the inlet water supply. In many villas including ours, water tanks are located both at ground-level and atop the roof. KWA water supply has pressure to fill only the ground-level tank – water is pumped up to the roof-top tank. While installing the solar water heater, this roof-top tank needed to be raised 4-feet. Alternatively, a raised supplementary tank can be used which was what we went with. That arrangement has worked well in spite of the extra piping.

Standard solar water heaters have an incompatibility with pressure pumps installed with shower panels. This is rarely mentioned by distributors and homeowners are surprised when attempting to install shower panels with pressure pumps later on. The glass tubing used in the solar water heaters cannot withstand the additional pressure and so they break. The solution is to use solar water heaters with copper tubing which generally cost around 50% more than the standard version. Standard solar water heaters start at around Rs 20K for a 100-liter version and goes up based on the increase it capacity opted.

2015 Update: Having used the equipment for more than five years, we can vouch for the quality of the equipment. It has been maintenance-free for the most part. There was just one service call and that was attended to in a timely manner: at around the three-year mark, there was a leakage issue (the middle heater pipe on the outlet valve side of the main drum which is sealed using a plastic nut broke/melted and water leaked) and Hykon's service-rep replaced the part under warranty.


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