1, Watch out for the fine print on those warranties, many of them are written so that you have to pay freight on the replacement panels, or the may be prorated for if the failure happens after X years, they let you buy the panel at 50% of list price, which may be similar to what your discounted price is now.
I did notice they pretty much all had the %50 off normal cost after 12 years (or whatever the warranty term is.) I'm quite alright with that, as it's better than having to shell out full price again should the system fail catastrophically a year outside of warranty. Of course, the 50% would be at the price 12+ years from now, so I'm sure it's all a wash. Another thing about most of their warranties is that it is transferrable should we ever sell the house. Nice touch, I'd say.
2, Fafco, Heliocool, and Aqautherm are all big brands, all seem to offer quality products, but approach the way they market their products somewhat differently, Fafco and Heliocool seem to both use a locked in dealer network system (perhaps with some variations), Aquatherm seems to sell through more independent dealers, they also sell a lot of their panels through private label programs, Elm Distributing, and Aqua Sol being a prime examples, this may account for you finding less review information on them. The private label marketing lets them somewhat play multiple parts of the market, but also lets them shift warranty burden to the private label company, this lets them sell the identical panel under a different name with different warranty coverage at different prices. Lets say you have panel A that cost $100, and has a 10% failure rate at 5 years of age, and 20% failure rate at 10 years, etc. If you sell that panel at a lower price with a 5 year warranty you make money, but to allow you into the market for people thinking they are getting a premium product, you can also sell the same panel with a 10 year warranty, but under a different name for $150, and still cover the extra 10% of increased failures.
That makes a lot of sense on the AquaTherm panels. I can see, however, how all that could give someone a headache.
3, Your comment on Helicool and bashing the competitors fits right in with what I have seen on their web site, just look for yourself it is compare A to B competitor and never about what makes A good on its own.
Yeah, I must say that it kind of left a bad taste in our mouths. I can understand pointing out why your system is better than the other guy's, but that really shouldn't be the basis of your sales pitch, especially when your panels output the fewest BTUs of all of them!
4, You noted the spiral flow panels, when I was shopping for new panels a few months ago I found several comments online about failure in these tubes where the spiral flow dimples are, it was enough for me to remove them from consideration.
I hadn't thought about this initially, but my wife did bring it up. It was enough of a concern for us to decide on the regular non-dimpled SunSaver panels over the Revolution ones.
5, You mention concern about coated steel straps vs poly straps, in a correctly installed solar panel (at least according to some installation manuals) these straps are an emergency backup attachment method and should never touch the plastic panel except in extreme wind situations. Instead they should be a fraction of an inch above the panel.
I agree that they shouldn't touch the panels in a proper installation, but what are the chances that the installer tech is going to get them all exactly right? I could definitely see them just strapping them down without the same level of care that a DIYer would exhibit. The dacron straps do need to be replaced every 4-5 years, but I think I can swing the 80 bucks for that.
6, On the whole O-ring coupler, vs hose clamp, I can see benefits to the O-ring systems, but hose and clamps do work, and they don't lock you into a proprietary system that you can only get from one dealer.
The big deal with the hose couplers/clamps, as Heliocol LOVES to bring up, is that they must be re-tightened every year or so. The other guys basically say that it's not true at all and it's just what Heliocol says to talk up their own coupling system.
7, Now down to price, WOW, I know every market is different, but WOW, by comparison I did mine as a DIY project with professional roofer doing the roof top work, I paid about $2,700 delivered for 11 4x12 Techno Solis panels, plus about an additional $1,000 -$1,250 to cover plumbing, additional hardware and about 9 hours of roof top labor for one roofer and one helper. I probably spent an additional 8-10 hours with the help of my college age son prepping the panels (laying them out, adding fittings to one side, painting the PVC pipe for UV resistance, running the ground level plumbing and replumbing the pad)
That's not bad at all for that number of panels, but I prefer the peace of mind of having it done professionally by a really good local dealer. I definitely don't need anymore home projects right now!
8, Speaking of Techno-Solis you might want to check them out, as they make their panels in the Tamp Bay area, which could be a BIG advantage for you in terms of freight cost if you ever needed to replace a single leaking panel.
Yeah I will read up on them some more. I did look into them briefly, but I decided not to DIY so I stopped.
9, I am not sure what to make about the comment about the Solar Touch Controller not working for you.
Yeah, I understand that these things interface with variable pumps to raise the speed when the solar is opened, but I can keep using my digital Intermatic timer to run the pump on hi/lo cycles and use the SolarTouch to open/close the solar valves as needed.
10, I would strongly suggest getting a solar controller system if at all possible, even a cheap $300-$400 one is far better than manual control, my solar heater is now on its 3rd or 4th incarnation (had the roof replaced last year so all new solar panels this year), you likely have summer thermal thunderstorms like we do, which just SUCK the heat out of running panels that may be on a simple timer.
I think at this point, we've pretty much decided on the Fafco setup with all of the extras they're providing. I think in the end it really does boil down to BTU/cost.