Friday, January 29, 2010

Too Much Light

We invited our good friend, Dave Emond, over to our house to take some professional pictures of the inside of the house. Unfortunately, it was actually TOO sunny and bright inside and we were getting glare in all the shots. Here are a couple nice ones he captured. The top picture is taken from the dining area looking toward the stairs and kids play area (the cleanest it's ever looked and will ever look again).

The other picture is of our bedroom - I wanted to show everyone how the sliding barn doors turned out. We used these beautiful solid wood doors salvaged from an office building remodel. Most of the doors were full view glass doors, but we used the only solid door for our bedroom. Most of the doors in the house were traditional swing doors, but in two places we used this inexpensive barn door hardware that we found at Tractor Supply. Tractor Supply came through for us on two occasions when we couldn't afford the expensive designer look we wanted. We used galvanized hog fencing for the railing on the stairs and balcony at the cost of $39 for a 10 foot sheet!! And our building inspector was fine with it because it had small enough holes. And then we found this sliding door hardware at a fraction of the cost of the stuff we were originally pricing out. So we are really embracing this whole barn theme, after all. We finally got some fresh snow yesterday, so tonight I'm going to try to take some outdoor shots as the sun goes down. The house looks awesome at night with the light shining up out of the cupola windows.

Friday, January 22, 2010

We're in Hot Water!

Our solar (hot water) panels were installed in the finals days of 2009.  We've been running our system, as designed, for two weeks using the sun to heat our water for both domestic hot water use and space heating.  We have four SunMaxx solar panels which consist of 20 evacuated tubes per panel.  For those who want more technical information on evacuated tube collectors, please use the link and I won't bore the rest of you with details.  We chose the evacuated tube (ET) collectors over the more common flat plate collectors for two reasons:  1)  the ET collectors are much more efficient in cold and overcast/cloudy conditions and would, therefore, be better in the winter when we need hot water for heating our house, 2) to get the btu output needed for space heating we would have needed 10 flat plate collectors to do the same job, requiring much more space and sun exposure.  I may get disagreements from experts on this, but it seems that flat plate collectors, which produce lower water temperatures, are great for domestic water heating only.  ET collectors can produce very high temperature water (170 degrees) so your system must be designed to accommodate this.  Our system is designed to store the high temperature water and then uses several water mixing valves that cool the water before it enters PEX tubing either for domestic use or in the radiant tubing.  It's what is called an open system where domestic water actually goes through our radiant tubing, where it is cooled (heat transferred to the floors) and returns to the system either through the mixing valves or to the bottom of the storage tank to be used again.  Moving backwards in the system, our tank is an Eltron Steibel solar tank with two coils (heat exchangers) inside.  The bottom coil is where the solar loop transfers it's heat and the top coil is where the backup heat enters via a Takagi on-demand water heater.  Here is a general schematic of the system; ours is the second to last picture on the page titled "Open System with Solar Tie-in".  

Friday, January 8, 2010

Let the Sun Shine On

After much anticipation, our solar systems are operational (mostly).  Our photovoltaic (PV) system, for electricity production, was installed during two very cold and windy days right before Christmas.  It consists of a DC power inverter and 38 roof panels which will produce about 7.6 KW of power, more than enough for our energy efficient home (minus the hot tub which we haven't yet figured out how best to connect to the solar hot water system).  We applied for the PV system through the CT Solar Leasing Program, a program within the CT Clean Energy Fund, where we lease the system.  After having our house "approved" for it's inclusion in the program, i.e good sun exposure and a CL&P (Northeast Utilities) customer, we signed a 15 year lease for the system.  The net amount of our lease is the cost of the system minus a 60% rebate from the CT Clean Energy Fund, and minus a large federal tax credit that the leasing company receives for purchasing the equipment.  This resulted in a very small monthly payment (about 1/3 of the typical monthly electrical bill for this size house.  After the term of the lease is up we can choose to purchase the system at current market value, or renew our lease for an additional 5 years at a greatly reduced cost, or remove the system.  No matter how you look at it, we couldn't find a single reason not to proceed with the program.  1) There were no out-of-pocket costs and we now have a small, locked-in monthly price for our electricity - our monthly lease payment plus whatever CL&P is going to charge us to mail us a net metering bill (which should be zero energy use averaged over the course of a year, 2) Talk about "green" more efficient can you be than to use power at the point of generation - no losses in transmission and it's CLEAN power, and 3) we hope that technological advances and lower costs for these systems will be a reality in 15 years and we'll have many options when our lease is up.  We used Alteris Renewables, and were exceedingly pleased with their professional installation.   Right now our system has been inspected by the local official and CL&P showed up today to install our "net meter" that will spin in both directions.  It's our hope that we will be able to flip the switch ON any day now and start producing clean, free power.  What a liberation!
UPDATE:  Today we received approval from CL&P to turn on the inverter and start receiving power from our panels.  So at daybreak tomorrow morning we'll flip the switch with a toast over coffee and waffles.