Friday, July 13, 2007

What to do if your panels appear corroded or if there is no Building Consent

Don't be an idiot- Stay off the roof - Read the safety information first (search by labels _ "safety" and read).

Keep up to date with news about solar water heating in NZ. Bookmark this page.

Some things to consider before going solar
Installing solar is a technical job to be done by a trained technician. The plumbing must be done properly and the panels must be able to withstand exposure to the elements for at least 10 trouble free years. Go here to view these industry training videos to get a good idea of what is involved.
Here is an informative website by EECA called SolarSmarter. While it is full of information it does little to help those who have found themselves owning of a lemon that is out of warranty.

It is not a good move to install or buy a Solar Water Heater if you are not well informed about the different possibilities and systems . Every supplier offers “his best system with maximum efficiency and cheapest price ” so it’s difficult to compare the advantages and disadvantages of each system.

Here is a questionnaire to suppliers of SWH-systems by Eric Jansseune of Environmental Engineering to assist you with choosing the right system and installer.

Do you require a Building Consent?
Yes: Where a structure is being mounted upon a roof and alterations are being made to plumbing and electricity there would be few exceptions; your Council requires a building consent plus an inspection of the work upon completion.
Here is a copy of the regulations and the company quoting you for the job and the company doing the installation should, at the very least, advise you of the requirements.

"The installation of a solar water heating system requires a Building Consent because solar water heating systems interact with potable water supplies and can involve heavy loads on roof structures if the hot water cylinder is mounted on the roof. A Building Consent is also required where there is a change to the potable water supply system and to the heat source. Other permits may be required to cover electrical alterations, or where there is a building height restriction. All plumbing work will require certification by a craftsman plumber. A registered electrician will need to certify any electrical work that may be needed. Certifications may be in the form of a Producer Statement as required by the Building Consent. Solar water heating installers should ensure that any necessary Building Consents are obtained and adhered to. An installer must then be able to demonstrate to the Consent Authority that the installation meets the requirements of the New Zealand Building Code." Source: EECA Installers Handbook

Depending on the job, the consent application may require technical information about the product, including its durability and loadings. You may have to supply details of the structure of the roof and a schematic diagram of the plumbing and any electrical wiring. The firm that is quoting on your solar water heating installation should do this for you with the cost built into the quotation. The cost of the paper work is as little as $50 when the installer does it for you.

Getting a Certificate of Acceptance
The cost of getting a retrospective building consent (a Certificate of Acceptance) after the job has been completed is not cheap and it is time-consuming. Excluding the professional services with producing drawings and other documentation, the cost varies between Councils. I was quoted $700 plus $80 inpection fee by Hutt City Council. This cost must be included somewhere in your financial assessment of the payback period on your solar investment. Instead of the payback being 20 years, this unforeseen cost may extend the payback period to 25 or more years.

If your installer tells you that you do not require a building consent, it is recommended that you contact your Council's building inspector and have this confirmed.

If you do not have a Building Consent and if one is required

Act quickly because your house insurance may be compromised. Speak to your insurance company to establish any exposure.

  • You may have problems with selling your house, if it has unconsented roof structures and work such as plumbing and wiring.
Claiming for compensation if you feel you were misled
When you made the decision to place this structure on your roof and to alter your plumbing, you presumably relied on the advice of the company that provided the successful quotation. This advice should have included their professional knowledge of council building regulations. If they do not undertake to rectify the situation immediately, you may consider filing a claim with the Disputes Tribunal for compensation of the costs with obtaining a consent (in this case; a Certificate of Acceptance). Take it up with the Solar Industries Association as well.

If you have a Building Consent; but decide to remove your solar water heating installation - You must have a Building Consent before you can undertake the removal because you are making further alterations to plumbing and removing a structure from your roof. In some cases, a demolition consent is required.
Warranty Issues
(This is not legal advice: this is my interpretation of the law as a consumer)
The payback period on most hot water systems is 10-15 years- over 20 years in some cases. Under the Consumer Guarantees Act the manufacturer/supplier is obliged to supply goods that do the job expected. This should presumably be reflected in the length of the warranty. In this case, a solar water heating system should reasonably be expected to provide trouble-free operation for at least the calculated period for payback
on your investment (10-15 years in most cases). Although the Consumer Guarantees Act still gives you some protection, be wary of warranties that are for lesser periods such as five years.

If you think you have a warranty issue with your solar system
  • Be prompt and clear: Contact the installer and seek prompt action from them.
  • Do not try to open the panels to look at them because doing so may void any warranty.
  • Keep a paper trail of every letter and transaction in case you need to take the matter to a Disputes Tribunal.
    • If you make phone calls, make diary notes and, if an action is agreed upon, send a memo to the other party summarising what was agreed.
    • Take plenty of photos that show the problem.
  • Insist on an extension of the warranty period on the parts replaced (bearing in mind that the warranty should really be 10 years or more).
If you are having difficulties resolving problems with the supplier or manufacturer of your system

If you find that you have reached an impasse you may need to file a claim with the Disputes Tribunal.

If your warranty has expired

First of all, talk to the supplier or manufacturer and see if you can work out something reasonable with them. If you are unable to resolve matters satisfactorily, you may still have recourse under the Consumers' Guarantees Act.

If all else fails, consider filing a claim with the Disputes Tribunal.

If your dispute involves panels that have failed prematurely due to corrosion, you might also consider including the NZ Government in your claim because it is has been encouraging householders to install these systems without proper assessment of their durability under New Zealand conditions. Your case may be particularly strong if you financed the installation with a Government subsidised loan scheme.

Which system is best for New Zealand conditions?

Let us find out for ourselves. If you have a solar water heating system; especially if it is more than four or five years old and still in perfect working condition, I want to hear from you. Write in about your system. You must include photographic evidence and documentation of age that I can publish and include your contact details (Contact details will be kept confidential).

Build your own?
If you are a real enthusiast and have more than half a clue as a good resourceful Kiwi, here's where you can learn more about DIY . Seriously, though, building your own panels is a significant technical and time commitment and it must still comply with all building codes.

Why am I doing this?
I am an enthusiastic environmentalist, committed to energy conservation. We finally "invested" in a solar system after exhaustive research - I had to put my money where my mouth was.

unfortunately, we have discovered that there was a problem with corrosion that progressively degrades the efficiency of the collectors and that this could be widespread. This site is to assist consumers with making the right choices in the best interests of the environment - and possibly the survival of the planet as we know it.

Consumers Institute Buyer's Guide: Although it is too general and in my view an overly glowing report that does not assist directly with this pressing issue of solar panel corrosion, the Consumers Institute has this buyer's guide that is worth perusing.

If you want to add to this advice, offer corrections, or simply to comment, please do so by clicking on the "comment" tab at the bottom right below this message.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the info Gary, I'm surprised this hasn't become an issue earlier given the number of systems that are out there, but hey how many people get up on the roof to check things and would they know what to look for (prior to your info at least). I was about to get panels installed but will be looking much more closely at the quality,guarantees etc now before I do anything!