Interview with Gary Stewart, Senior SAP developer at CSR Limited

Building homes that are energy efficient is now the standard, with all new builds having to meet a six-star rating. But what if you’re the owner of an older home? Can you reduce the costs of heating and cooling a house built decades ago? That was the question Gary asked, and solar panels were the obvious choice. We look at how Gary revamped his roof with CSR Monier and CSR Bradford Energy.

It’s getting more and more justifiable to switch to solar,” notes Gary.

With the house originally being built in the 1970s, the roof had gotten to a state where replacing the cover was more viable than a simple refresh. “Normally cosmetics aren’t a driver for replacing a roof, but the (tiles) were in such a poor state. There were lots of cracks on the tiles, and flashing issues around the windows we have built into the roof.” Before getting solar panels put on, the focus was to get the roof replaced. “You don’t want to put up a whole set of panels, and then have to take them off again to replace the roof cover,” Gary says.

Revamping a Roof with CSR Monier and CSR Bradford Energy
Stage 1: The original roof before restoration

Keeping the elements out

One of the primary functions of a roof is to protect a home from rain and the sun. Gary noticed that whenever there was a heavy downpour, there would be water dripping from the cathedral ceilings. Cracked tiles are an easy way for water to enter your home. Once water gets in, homeowners can find themselves with not only cosmetic issues but structural problems as well.

The water around the perimeter of a home is usually dealt with by weep holes and drains, allowing it to leave quickly; however, it can cause a lot of damage to the inner parts of a home. Wall linings are porous and will readily absorb water. This is fine in small quantities as they will dry out, but constant exposure will lead to cosmetic issues, such as flaking paint, and environmental issues like mould.

Mould is also a common occurrence in ceilings, but of greater concern is the added weight they take on when absorbing water. If left unchecked, there’s a high chance the additional weight will surpass the ceiling’s breaking point, causing a collapse.

Boosting energy efficiency

Underneath almost every tiled roof is a protective layer known as sarking. Sarking is a membrane that helps to protect the building from the elements, as well as provide added insulation. Sarking will degrade over time, becoming brittle and less effective. Gary had also found that sometime during the life of the home, the sarking had been cut into to accommodate the installation of downlights.

The materials we build our homes with has vastly improved, and modern sarking is more resilient with better insulating properties. By replacing the sarking as part of your roof restoration, not only are you restoring that protective barrier, you’ll also be adding another layer of insulation. “We wanted to get the home to the stage where when you’re putting money into heating or cooling the house, it retains that temperature for a much longer period,” says Gary.

Combined with the insulation offered by sarking, roof tiles are generally very good at reflecting heat. Even with darker colours selected, Monier roof tiles absorb minimal heat, which reduces the amount that is passed on to the rest of your home.

Why choose a concrete roof tile?

The decision to opt for concrete tiles over sheet roofing was a simple one for Gary. Having previously lived in a home with a metal roof, he described like “having someone playing the drums in the next room” during periods of heavy rainfall. For this reason, Gary opted for Monier’s Horizon concrete roof tiles, choosing sambuca for the colour to offset his dark grey rendered walls.

Monier’s concrete tiles are great in all environments, being resistant to frost in colder areas and salt in coastal regions. The tiles also provide acoustic insulation, with a potential reduction of around 30 decibels.

In addition to the acoustic benefits, there were additional savings from not needing to re-engineer the roof. Changing from a heavier roof cover like tiles to a much lighter cover needs to be done properly. With the lighter load a sheet roof provides, additional straps may need to be installed to keep the roof securely attached.

To minimise the impact on the home, the installation was carried out in stages over two days. This enabled the installers to efficiently and correctly install the sarking, which helped maintain the home’s energy consumption. Once the new roof cover was on, it was time for the solar system to be installed.

Revamping a Roof with CSR Monier and CSR Bradford Energy
Stage 2: Monier Horizon tiles installed

Harnessing the power of the sun with CSR Monier and CSR Bradford Energy

Given that more and more Australians are opting for solar panels, the installation process was designed around a roof with its cover already installed.

With solar panels being available for many years now, it is becoming more affordable for Australian homeowners to install larger systems on their roof. As technology has evolved, the panels have become a lot more efficient as well. With so many panels on the market, it helps to do your research on what each manufacturer brings to the table.

Not all panels are created equal

We spoke with Gary, who recently had a solar panel system installed by Bradford Energy. While the orientation of the home was fine, there were some large trees casting shadows across the Northern side of the house. Having done his research before shopping around, Gary found that the NeON 2 panels from LG would maximise the amount of solar energy he could collect.

The LG panels have a low light requirement before the inverters would start, which means that they will begin creating power earlier in the morning than most others. The panels also have their mini optimisers built in, boosting their efficiency even further.

“We wanted to make sure that the panels which were shaded didn’t degrade the power that was generated in the other panels,” says Gary.

Having optimisers in each panel alleviated potential bottlenecks in the system.

Is bigger always better? “I wanted to oversize the system” Gary notes. It was for this reason that he opted for a 7.2kW system. Not only would this provide the home with a great deal of solar energy, but it would also help with any potential power demands in the future. Although battery storage options are available, the return on investment didn’t suit the budget. Modern systems are designed to incorporate battery systems at a later date, however, which would allow for one to easily be added.

Installing the system was not without its challenges, but the team were able to install the whole setup in just over a day. The main problem came from Gary’s cathedral styled ceilings, leaving very little space for running the cables. Gary said, “there are four different areas of our roof that have banks of solar panels, so each of those has to have the wiring right underneath the tiles.” Once the system was fully installed, the energy retailer was able to come and change the meter over to a smart meter.

Revamping a Roof with CSR Monier and CSR Bradford Energy
Stage 3: Bradford solar panels installed

Changing how we think about energy

With the smart meter now installed, Gary was able to see his solar setup in action thanks to the SolarEdge Monitoring app. The app shows not only how much power is being generated during the day, but it also shows how much power is being used at any given time. Gary noticed some spikes during quiet parts of the day and is now investigating what is causing them. This reporting has also sparked conversations in the home, not about how much power is used but rather when.

Owning a pool can contribute to a large portion of a household’s electricity bill. In the past, it has always been best to run a pool filter at night when electricity is cheaper. Knowing how much power is being generated during the day, Gary will be swapping his cycle from night-time to daytime as this will be more cost effective.

By pairing efficient panels with an app that provides information on both energy production and consumption, Gary can further refine his household energy consumption.

The new roof cover and solar PV system have already caught the eye of his neighbours, and Gary notes “there’s an appreciation that it’s definitely improved the look from the street.”

To find out more about boosting your home’s energy efficiency, get in touch with the friendly team at CSR Bradford Energy today.

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