Solar contractors answer our editors’ questions.

It’s more than half-way through 2009, and this is our mid-year Solar Heating Report. PM editors, hoping to get a handle on the direction of the industry, recently contacted many of our solar thermal installer readers through a Web-based survey. The 50 qualified responses we received produced some interesting findings and point to positive trends.

For instance, the majority of solar thermal systems being installed today are for domestic water heating only. Combo systems - those that heat space and DHW - was the second most frequently installed type of system mentioned. Few solar installations were reported for space heating only.

As for the length of time pros have been involved with the solar thermal market, most respondents said they have been installing these types of applications for a short period - less than three years - though we did have a few veterans from the solar-’70s mixed in.

While our surveyed group was split about the importance solar thermal currently plays in their businesses, the respondents were very optimistic that their sales of solar systems would increase over the next five years. But watch out for any incentives or rebate repealing: Solar thermal installers feel the removal of any federal or state tax credits will reduce their sales.

Getting into the minds of customers was also something PM was interested in. Our respondents believe their clients’ motives in purchasing solar systems are split evenly between financial and emotional - to either reduce costs or contribute to environmental preservation.

Another item we were curious about was what “team” today’s installers are on: flat plate or evacuated tube. The results showed more than half of the systems installed by our group use flat-plate collectors, but it was followed closely by evacuated tube arrays. Also, a majority of systems use antifreeze for freeze protection.

Finally, according to our results, nearly all of our group’s solar thermal installations were residential applications. Few of our contractors surveyed installed systems for commercial businesses.

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