This sound good?

jayneesFebruary 1, 2006

Okay, so I've been researching solar power/heating/cooling for the past few months trying to determine if it's something my husband and I can do in the house we'll begin building in the next 12 months.

We plan on trying for basic passive solar design. That's an easy enough thing to do.

However, we had also hoped to do active solar building and have always discussed employing a grid-tied photovoltaic roof system for harvesting electricity. We also wanted radiant heat flooring, instant water heater, etc. It was going to be expensive, but with rebates and tax incentives we figured it would be doable, and HEY! We'll have no utility bills!

Not so. Apparently SC doesn't allow net-metering, which is the main plus for PV solar power. SC also doesn't offer any rebate incentives, so the ONLY rebate we'd get is the Federal one for $2000.

So, I believe we're going to try and do these following things to have an energy efficient household - let me know if there are any other easy/good things we can do or have built in to the house:

1) East/South low-e windows with long eaves providing summer shade

2) Solatubes and skylights wherever feasible for natural daylighting

3) 2x6 framing with foam insulation

4) Ceiling fans and an open staircase for better air circulation

5) Grain or pellet stove for winter heat when needed

6) Radiant heat flooring in north section of house

7) Fluorescent light bulbs throughout house (which we already use)

Any other cost-effective ideas for handling the SC climate (hot humid summers, mildly cold winters with occasional snow/ice storms)?

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Gary, thanks for the links to those articles! I'll definitely look through them tomorrow and add to my list!

And yes, we are hoping to do solar water heating - I meant to type that instead of INSTANT water heating in the third paragraph of my original post.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2006 at 11:13PM
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I would recommend a geothermal heat pump for heating, cooling, radiant in-floor heating and full capacity hot water  all in one self contained, totally indoor unit!


Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   February 2, 2006 at 12:21AM
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If you're gonna build tight . . don't leave out an ERV / HRV . . . you'll be breathing stale, unhealthy air. I made that mistake . . and once I installed one the difference was immediate and dramatic. I've got radiant in-floor heat, so no ducting available. I found a "stand alone" unit . . that hangs happily in the attic . . by careful thinking / locating it and the vents; it gently flushes the house with fresh pre-heated air. Uses heat in outgoing stream to pre-warm the incoming stream. Doesn't have to be fancy to do a good job . . uses little juice . . I run mine on a timer as it's capacity is beyond what I need here for 1800 sq ft.

I'll also toss in another vote for cellulose . . . it's simply damn good insulation . . the fire retardant ( borate salts ) are also quite deadly to vermin . . ants etc. It is also very low embodied energy ( look at what foams and f'glass are ! ) and environmentally benign. Oh, did I mention it's damn good insulation ? ? ?

Solar water heating . . whether for domestic use or as a supplement to radiant heating . . is certainly something that can pay back in a time frame most people can deal with. Check out Radiantec web site for lots of good info on basic system configurations for radiant heating . . they also have a "sister" site which caters to solar collection . . . lots of good info there.

Pick all your appliances carefully too; they can have a big impact on your "baseline" energy consumption. Fridge and washer can be big ones . . and watch all the wall warts for everything . . . TV's aren't really off when they're off, etc . . Energy Star website has lists of appliances and their OFF consumption listed. The differences can be large; and it all adds up over time.

Good luck . .


    Bookmark   February 2, 2006 at 6:17AM
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Thanks for the add'l responses, SR and Bob! I'm making copious notes over here.

We will definitely be using Energy Star for all appliance recommendations. All the kitchen/laundry stuff in our current house will be left behind and we'll be buying EVERYTHING new once we build, and that's a top priority.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2006 at 9:17AM
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You have received some good information so far, I have just a few things to add.

If you will not be installing solar water panels when you build put in chase pipes for adding plumbing but not the actual pipes. Different solar manufactures have different requirements for size of piping and the wiring required for their systems. We put 2 2.5" PVC pipes from our attic to our basement in between 2 interior walls to use for our future panels.

I second Gary's suggestion for adding ridged foam to the outside of the house, it will only cost a few hundred but will really help improve the tight shell.

Bob brings up a important point about an air exchanger. Here they are standard in new construction but I am amazed that people actually build houses without them elsewhere.

LED light bulbs are coming down in price and they are starting to offer more varieties, keep your eyes open for them they consume about 1w compared to a CF 10w. The down side to LED's is that the produce a focused light, good for reading lamps, work lights but not useful for flood lights.

We have 4 sky lights in our living room and are very happy to have them, my room is well lit even on stormy days. I now think that most people have very dark rooms when I visit. We also have 8 sun tubes installed and plan on adding a few more when money allows.

In your climate I wonder if higher ceilings would help to stay cool in the summer. What do you consider "mildly cold"? I live in a place that I consider to be mildly cold, our winter temperatures are generally in the 20's and we get about 12' of snow(not this year).

What is your reasons for only having heat in the north section of the house? Depending on your construction it would likely be more cost effective to have the tubes laid for the whole house, you can always turn sections off.

"Mother Earth News" is a good resource for information.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2006 at 12:07PM
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mgmsrk - thanks for the post!

We plan on having 10' ceilings on the main floor and will consider 12' ceilings if it's not too cost-prohibitive for the extra materials (considering it would be less labor since the sheetrock wouldn't have to be cut, it may end up being about the same).

What you describe for winter is what we're expecting in SC - a few weeks of 20-30* weather which a few inches of snow every few years.

We were thinking radiant heat would only be needed in the north section of the house due to lack of direct sunlight. 2/3 of the house will have direct sun via windows and skylights, and combine that with the location of a grain/pellet stove in the southeast corner of the house and we figured only the north side would have trouble getting warm in winter. I wasn't aware that portions of the radiant heating could be turned off if need be - that's something I'll look into!

Based on the current floorplan we're working with, our skylights and solatubes will all be on the second floor - two in master bed and one each in secondary bedrooms. We'll have solatubes in 2nd floor bathrooms and the master closet, as well as two in the hallway and at least two in the bonus room.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2006 at 3:17PM
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If you're hoping to use solar gain through windows for heating, beware that some low-e windows are extremely good in preventing most incoming IR radiation from making it into your house. Of course, they also stop IR from being radiated out but the solar gain will be much less than you might expect. One solution is to use uncoated double glazed units with external shutters/screens to prevent IR heat gain in summer - though the heat loss in winter will be higher than would be the case if you did have low-e coatings. It's a tricky set of conflicting requirements to balance.

I also vote for geothermal heating - I have it in a 108 year old house as a retrofit and in a new house we just constructed. It is essentially using solar heat and I think offers the best compromise to those many conflicting requirements. And you can't go wrong with having a high level of insulation, low air infiltration and good quality construction (but don't forget to include an energy recovery ventilation system).


    Bookmark   February 2, 2006 at 3:59PM
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pyropaul - ERV definitely on the list!

As to the heating via windows, we were using windows and skylights mainly for daylighting effects to limit our use of electricity throughout the day hours. Grain stove and geothermal/radiant floors would be for the actual heating of the house. I saw online that someone now makes a grain stove that can put out enough BTUs to heat a well-designed 3500 sq ft house (about the size we are building).

We really want our new house to be as efficient as possible so that we don't have to feel like we're at the mercy of the gas/electric bill every month (which is how we feel in our 80-yr-old, poorly-designed and very drafty house in NoNJ).

    Bookmark   February 2, 2006 at 4:25PM
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As far as unwanted heat gain during the warmer times of the year, don't leave out the most obvious way to make the heat gain seasonal . . . . trees. Dedicuous give you LOTS of shade / cooling power during the warm months . . and become naked / transparent during the winter months. They also add greatly to appearance . . fall colors . . . critters they'll attract . . CO2 they'll cleanse . .

I'll also say that I think you should put radiant in the ENTIRE place; not just one end. Some day or days when Sol is not hanging out . . . might make the "unheated" portion quite cool . . just as a warm floor can make you feel warmer than you are; so too a cold floor can chill you in a hurry.


    Bookmark   February 3, 2006 at 6:11AM
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rcmjr - our lot has a few trees - mostly old pines. A few are dead and listing, so they will have to be removed. But we had planned on planting new trees to take their place.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2006 at 9:17AM
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How will hurricanes affect your PV panels? Will they be anchored down well? How about debris flying at 100mph? What will it do to your PV panels?

    Bookmark   February 7, 2006 at 9:38AM
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chuckr30 - we're not doing PV panels after all. Can't afford it.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2006 at 9:49AM
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My brother's a retired farmer on Canadian Prairies where it gets -40 degrees, so there's a big difference between outside and inside temp, and outside temp is very dry, so when it comes inside and is heated it is **really** thirsty.

However, they were having trouble with condensation on windows, so heavy that they had to put towels on sills and floor.

Got an air exchanger several years ago that has outgoing air warm the (br-r-r-r) incoming air.

They really like it.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   February 9, 2006 at 1:36PM
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