Can’t afford a solar hot water system? Try a retrofit kit


Dave Wakeham investigated several solar hot water options before finding that a retrofit kit was the best solution.

I couldn’t help but think there was going to be a big rise in the price of electricity, and as we are on a fixed income (both on disability pensions), I was worried that it was going to blow our budget. I was sure there was a way to beat this.

Our biggest electricity use is an electric hot water system, so I decided to start there. The cost of a close-coupled solar hot water system was about $5,500. Things are quite expensive in North Queensland but I thought this was exorbitant and beyond my means. There was additional expense because my house has an aluminum roof and needed beefing up to take the weight of a close-coupled system with a collector panel and tank.

The plumber said it was not feasible to remove the large sheets of aluminum to add the timber, as it is almost impossible to put them back due to the age of the roof. He suggested that I build a leanto off the side of the house and use the solar collector as a roof for it.

I deliberated for some time (my wife says I normally do), and when the next ReNew magazine arrived I was quite surprised to see there was an in-depth article about solar hot water systems. The article started me thinking that maybe I don’t need a full system. I already have a perfectly good, well-insulated 125 litre electric hot water tank with a good element.

A retrofit seemed to be the way to go. I read about a five-way valve, a 10 watt PV panel, 12 volt pump and a solar collector and fittings. I thought this may not be as expensive as a whole system if I could find the items locally. I investigated and found that people would rather sell me a whole system. Also, a retrofit would not be covered with a warranty and did not attract a government subsidy. Back to the drawing board.

Buying a kit

I then read about a Solar-Mio/Metal Dynamics retrofit kit made by Albury Consolidated Industries. After a few emails to establish exactly what is in the retrofit kit, we decided on a SM-Tops1 squat panel PV pump system with five way fitting at a price that included freight to Townsville. We decided that one panel would be enough as we are a two person household and only use hot water to shower each day. I was extremely happy with the price as it was less than a third of the price of a leading brand close coupled system that sold in Townsville.

Read the full article in ReNew 103