Thursday, 14 July 2011

A vote of confidence in the sun

I’ve just had a solar geyser installed. In July. In the western Cape.

It’s hard to get more optimistic than that – but what else can you do when the weather is so determinedly bloody glorious? The surrounding mountains have even tried to have snow on them, as usual for this time of year, but it’s hopeless. It’s just way too damned sunny.

The whole having-a-solar-geyser-installed exercise is fraught with niggles and worries. The technology is new and relatively expensive – so, will it work, and will it be worthwhile? Sure, it should pay for itself within a few years – but what if a piano falls on me and kills me next month? And the stats are all so iffy – will it really save up to a third on my power bill or is that just so much hot air (so to speak)?

One way to find out is to get in some quotes. I had two vastly differing experiences of this, and it’s worth relating them because it shows how new this industry is and how easy it is to be bamboozled.

The first quote was provided by a rather yummy man with the most luvverly gravelly voice and steely-blue eyes – in fact, I kept him talking, telling me a lot more than I really wanted to know about solar power, just so I could have the pleasure of basking in the charismatic warmth of his presence. Let’s call him Guy Blue.

The second was provided by two young, keen, chatterbox brothers, eager as anything to tell you that they’re complete newbies to the scene, but keen to do whatever it takes to get a foot in the door. Let’s call them Guys Bright&Shiny.

Guy Blue warned me right at the outset that I’d have to pay him to quote: R250. Not a vast sum, to be sure, but enough to make you aware of his presence (as if his eyes weren’t enough).

Guys Bright&Shiny said they’d be there lickety-split, and they were. I suspect, if I’d pushed, that they would have paid me to quote. I liked them right away.

Guy Blue told me repeatedly that a 150-litre tank was too small for a household in which there are usually two people, sometimes three, and occasionally up to 10 (although not all of us showering at once, or, sometimes, several people showering together). The 200-litre tank (his suggestion) was considerably more expensive.

Guys Bright&Shiny said, ‘One hundred and fifty litres? Well, that’s what you’ve got now. Is it working for you?’ I said yes. They said, ‘Well, that answers that question, then.’

Guy Blue told me that his company would pay my Eskom rebate upfront and thereby ‘act as your bank’. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a bank - I’d rather my plumber just act as my plumber. And I dislike this ‘added extra’ sales-talk that makes it clear that a ‘favour’ is being done for you, the customer, when anyone who isn’t using a new brain for the first time knows that you get nothing for nothing.

Guys Bright&Shiny told me, in sad tones, and with frequent use of the word ‘unfortunately’, that there was a lot of paperwork to be filled in to get the Eskom rebate – but then they cheered up and said that as soon as it was all done, the rebate request would go into the system and four weeks later I’d be several thousand rands richer (or less poor, depending on how you look at it).

Guy Blue quoted me about R12 000 for a 200-litre lightweight fibreglass solar system that ‘might make your water smell funny for a while’. (I thought about making a joke about asparagus wee but lost courage.)

Guys Bright&Shiny quoted me R9 000 for a 150-litre standard cylinder that will probably stand up to an air-to-ground missile strike. I asked them about the fibreglass cylinder. They said, ‘It makes your water smell funny.’ I said, ‘But only straight after you eat asparagus?’ Not really, I actually said, 'But only for a while, apparently?' And they both kind of kicked their feet and said, ‘Um, ja…’ (So, no, then.)

Guy Blue quoted me R2 500 for ‘pipe and fittings plus hot-water mixer’ (solar-heated water can become so hot that it literally melts your tap’s washers; a hot/cold-water mixer has to be included in the installation to prevent this – I didn’t know that, did you?).

Guys Bright&Shiny quoted me about R2 000 for all the bits and pieces that go with the solar system. I asked them why the hot-water mixer wasn’t included in their quote and they looked puzzled and said, ‘Because it comes with the system – it’s not a separate item.’

It was at this stage that my misgivings about Guy Blue started turning into serious doubt.

Guy Blue quoted me R2 400 for ‘water mains and lagging’. Guys Bright&Shiny quoted R340 for ‘lagging’ but didn’t mention water mains. I asked them why not. They looked surprised and said, ‘Because we don’t have to do anything to your water mains – you’ve already got an existing geyser, so it’s all there, ready to use.’


Guy Blue quoted me R450 for ‘plumbing CoC’ (certificate of compliance). Guys Bright&Shiny again looked surprised when I asked why this wasn’t in their quote: ‘Because it costs us only R48 to buy the document itself, and we don’t feel it necessary to pass on that cost to the customer,’ they said.

Okay, then.

Guy Blue quoted me R3 800 for labour and installation. Guys Bright&Shiny would cost me R2 800.

And Guy Blue’s quote included this unwelcome proviso: ‘Your electrician is to do all electrical connections and issue an electrical CoC.’ (Guys Bright&Shiny’s quote cited a R750 electrician fee – for the installation of an Eskom-approved timer, basically – which included the electrical CoC.) Now, I ask you, who wants to go to all the trouble and expense of employing a contractor to install a solar geyser, only to have to go to yet more trouble and expense to get an electrician to do the extra fiddly bits?

Guy Blue also sent me, via email, a vast document including five pages of legalese which absolved him of all responsibility for everything, up to and including the coming of the End of Days, which I would be required to sign before he deigned to start work.

Guys Bright&Shiny asked, ‘When can we start?’

In a nutshell, Guy Blue quoted me R24 000, excluding the electrician’s fee (and I would have to employ the electrician separately) – which would take over five years to pay for itself. Guys Bright&Shiny quoted me R15 000, all in – a three-year investment.

I was, to be honest, very worried about this huge disparity in the quoted sums. Why would Guy Blue so unashamedly quote so incredibly high? I kept telling myself, ‘But it’s only a geyser, for god’s sake – why should it cost the same as a small yacht?’ Was I missing something?

Then I read an article in last week’s Sunday Times that told me that a solar geyser shouldn’t cost more than R9 000 plus installation, and it all came clear: Guy Blue was visiting from a parallel universe, and there’s nothing worse than running into trouble with a recent plumbing installation when your plumber is contactable only through the ingestion of generous quantities of magic mushrooms.

So I went with Guys Bright&Shiny and now I have free hot water – or will have, in three years’ time.

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Gretchen Bong Spoodle said...

Niiiiiiiice. You cracked his system. =D

Bryn said...

That is so funny. I laughed so hard I almost sprung a hot water leak of my own! Well, Bright&Shiny it is then (they come tomorrow). May the beings from a parallel universe be with us. Thanks for the link. Bryn.