Solar 2009: Hidden solar thermal collector

Don Bruen of Pride Roofing in Providence, R.I., was approached by homeowners who owned a home built in 1879 by Pardon Bosworth.

Concerned with rising energy costs, green house gas emissions and the state of the environment, the owners of the Italianate style home wanted to re-roof their home with a product that addressed these concerns, and integrated a solar heating system that would preserve the century-old appeal of the home.

An alternative to solar panels is a solar thermal collector system that installs under the metal roofing material horizontally between the battens.

Dawn Solar is the manufacturer of a solar hot water system that uses heat from the sun to heat the water in the home. In addition, as the water is pumped through the system, the cooler water flowing within the tubing on the roof aids in cooling the attic; the system requires the roofing product to be offset from the deck. Emulating wood shakes, and able to be installed on battens, the Decra Shake profile in Granite was chosen for the project.

Bruen has completed two Dawn Solar projects and expects to do more. “Is it complicated? No,” he says. “There are a few little tricks you pick up along the way, but it’s not difficult. It’s new.”

He says his crew successfully completed this installation with no major problems. The installation of the Dawn Solar products on the south side of the home added about two days to the project. Success for the project is about being careful. “The roofing on that side has to be screwed and not nailed,” Bruen says. “You can’t run the risk of a nail curling into the solar components.”

The battens to which the roofing is fastened not only provided a casing for the solar product, they also solved another problem — the stability of the roof frame and the uneven deck. According to Bruen, the deck was not level and the battens — fastened through the asphalt shingles and into the rafters at 24 inches on center — leveled the roof deck and provided structural integrity. The addition of the steel panels further enhanced the structural integrity and increased the shear strength.

Bruen says instead of using 2×2-inch battens like on most jobs, Pride Roofing used 1-1/2 x 1-1/2-inch battens to bring the metal roofing down to the metal purlins from Dawn Solar — that conduction helps create more heat.

The battens also served as a ladder on the 8:12 roof once they were installed. “We still had the harnesses and necessary safety equipment, but the battens make it easy to get around and install the solar tubing and the roofing,” he says.

Bruen, a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, likes the Decra product because he can roof over the existing material thereby diverting it from the landfill. “When the TV station came out to interview the homeowner, the first thing she said was that she was happy we weren’t throwing the old roofing into a landfill, it stayed on the roof, under the new system.”

Bruen says anytime he can do a re-roofing job and not have to dispose of 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of asphalt shingles, or “junk,” it’s OK with him.

That’s a big selling point. Bruen says he gets most of his leads for solar directly from Dawn Solar. He’s still learning how to sell solar, but like the installation, that will come.

In addition, Decra Roofing products are 100 percent recyclable at the end of their useful life. By choosing Decra and products from Dawn Solar, the owners were able to lessen the environmental impact of their material choice, qualify for a tax credit and get a payback on the solar system in 10 years or less.

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