FAQ: Can Solar Water Heating System Still Work in Frost-prone Areas of Australia?

February 21, 2019

There’s some debate over whether a solar water heating system can operate in the cooler parts of Australia, especially when a frost deposits its tiny white crystals. Yes, the sun still shines on a frosty day, so solar energy is generated. On the other hand, the heat-absorbing fluid could freeze solid on a sub-zero morning. Here’s a FAQ that’s designed to put this question to rest.

Is Frost Really A Problem In Australia?

Although this southern continent is famed for its hot, sweltering days, winter weather can put in an appearance at night or during the early hours of the morning. Therefore, at least in the southern states, a clear morning sky can allow frost formations to solidify.

What Happens To Piped Water?

Transported in pipes, the water in a solar heating system passes through outside walls or rooftops. It’s exposed to the icy white crystals of a frosty day. Granted, the sky is bright and sunny, but the lack of blanketing cloud cover has caused the thermometer mercury to plummet. Soon enough, the pipes freeze. The solid ice expands, seals and pipes creak under the pressure, and a system leak develops.

What Is Frost Protection?

By adding a chemical to the water, its freezing temperature drops. Now, if a frost hits hard, the water/glycol blend will retain its liquid form. It won’t freeze in the roof-mounted collector panels. Remember, just like a car engine’s antifreeze, frost protection chemicals need to be checked occasionally to ensure the blend is still active.

How Does An Open-Loop System Stop Frost?

Equipped with a pump, a solar water heating system can be programmed to periodically run warm water through its collector panels. This little trickle flow function employs a temperature sensor as an active frost protection mechanism. When the frost arrives, the sensor simply turns on the water and sends it through the exposed components.

What Else Can An Installer Try?

Keeping the equipment operational in frost-prone regions, way down in Australia’s southern regions, expandable frost tubes prevent ice damage. Alternatively, drain back systems completely evacuate the source of trouble, the water, when a chilly period approaches. But beware, some collector designs are not fully drainable.

Every answer on our Frequently Asked Questions list favours solar water heating, even in frosty areas. Going back to the top of the post, be aware that the southern states can experience frosty periods. That’s a good piece of information to have on-hand. The knowledge should be used to install and maintain a frost protection mechanism, one that uses chemicals, or a temperature sensing pump, or a drain back system. And, as a final line of defence, expandable frost tubes can be fitted as a damage mitigation measure.

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