Supplementing Radiant Heating with Solar Thermal

I live in upstate New York. I have an existing 1200 sq ft hot water radiant heated area. It is well insulated. I have a relatively large south facing roof area available. I need information on solar heating to supplement and/or replace the propane heaters in this system (currently two 40,000 Btu units). — Bob M, Upstate, NY

Bob, radiant floor heating is about 25 percent more efficient than hot water baseboard. Design temperature for radiant is about 125 degrees F compared to the design temperature for hot water baseboard at around 160 degrees F. According to Don Bradley of Solar Strategies (PA), you will need a lot of hot water storage from 400 to 700 gallons (depending on the sq/ft to be heated). When adding solar hot water panels, you must increase the usual number of panels from two for traditional domestic solar water heating use to at least eight solar thermal panels for space heating. From my view, you must keep in mind when you need the heat the most (such as, in the middle of the night in January) the Sun is not out – so keep your propane system as your evening-only input. Technology wise, adding solar thermal to your propane radiant heating system can be done. You will need to be dedicated to using the right products, specs and having the space for both extra hot water storage and solar panels on the roof, which appears likely that you do. A qualified solar installer will check the solar access and roof orientation to insure optimum performance. Good luck! – Scott Sklar
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Scott, founder and president of The Stella Group, Ltd., in Washington, DC, is the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition and serves on the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and The Solar Foundation. The Stella Group, Ltd., a strategic marketing and policy firm for clean distributed energy users and companies using renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage. Sklar is an Adjunct Professor at The George Washington University teaching two unique interdisciplinary courses on sustainable energy, and is an Affiliated Professor of CATIE, the graduate university based in Costa Rica. . On June 19, 2014, Scott Sklar was awarded the prestigious The Charles Greely Abbot Award by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and on April 26, 2014 was awarded the Green Patriot Award by George Mason University in Virginia.

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