Please help me! I need low cost ideas.

smile3May 27, 2004

I am planning on building a house in the next couple years and am trying to find info on how to conserve energy without having to spend large amounts upfront. I would love to be able to put in many energy saving ideas but wont be able to get a large enough mortgage to add in things like solar collectors.

Thank you in advance for your help.

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I'm not an expert, being only at the planning & researching stage, but I'd suggest that you look into building with ICFs ... it is (supposed to) cost only 5% more, but will be alot more energy efficient. It is becoming much more common in Canada, so you can probably find a local builder familiar with this process.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2004 at 8:07PM
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That's a WIDE open question . . . . .

I built 6 years ago . . . and did much the thing that I think you're trying to do. There's lots to be done . . . .

No matter your style of construction; try to incorporate passive solar . . . that is heat gain from the sun when you want it; and not when you don't. This will probably vary tremendously depending upon your location / orientation / lot where you're gonna build. Orientation of the house can have a great impact too.

Consider light tubes, such as Solatube . . . can really brighten up a room or rooms on dreary days . . . precluding the need for turning on the light lots of times.

Use ALL fluorescents . . . and I don't mean just the long tube things that CAN be ugly in some situations . . there are CFL's ( Compact FLuorescent bulbs ) that now are available in a myriad of shapes / styles / spectrums. They may seem "expensive" to buy . . . but if you sit down and go through some simple math it becomes obvious that it is really much MORE expensive to stick with incandescents.

Consider you appliances VERY carefully . . . too often people want to save $100 or whatever up front on that new fridge, washer . . whatever. By spending some extra spondolas up front for higher efficiency; it actually costs less over the life of the appliance to buy the "more expensive" ( more efficient ) one. And every time that rates go up the difference gets bigger . . . . Also consider do you really NEED an 85 cubic foot fridge ? Also, many appliances that come with electronic wizardry ( fancy displays etc ) use a good deal of "phantom" power . .. either background power all the time to power them . . . or in the case of TV's, stereos etc . . . the power they consume when they're "OFF" . . . if it's got a remote; it's never really off . . . a few watts here . . a few watts there . . before you know it you're using a fair amount of power to "idle" all these things. Avoid wall warts too if you can . . . if they're warm; that's energy being used that's NOT going to the widget that they run. Some of the newer electronic wall warts are much better in terms of what they waste; but avoid them if you can. Consider battery operated clocks . . . . they too use a few watts . . 24 hours a day. I've switched completely over to battery operated ones . . . you can get all sorts of the "atomic" linked clocks that will run on two small batteries for well over a year. . .. AND they set themselves . . you can get big wall ones, small desktop ones with alarms . .. all sorts are available.

If you're gonna be on a well . . . . consider the hp of the pump . . . there may well be a "norm" of 3/4 hp; but depending upon your well and the static head; you may be able to safely get by with 1/2 hp.

Your type of heating can use a good bit of juice as well . .. forced air in particular . . . . consider radiant hydronic heat . . . baseboard or my favorite; in-floor. Aside from heating the water for the heat; these types of heat use small pumps to circulate the hot water . .. not big blowers . ..

There's tons of other things too . . . . too many to go into in a single post . . . perhaps this can get you started thinking . . ..


    Bookmark   May 28, 2004 at 6:20AM
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I agree with Bob on this one.

In order to get an energy efficient house you will be spending more money up front than would be required by traditional contruction techniques, and it will likely come in two forms: higher material cost and higher construction cost. There just really isn't any way around this reality.

There is also a discussion of this issue in the "Why not here?" thread in this forum.

But there is one very important thing you can do to save on BOTH energy costs AND building costs - build a small house.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2004 at 10:59AM
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I agree with you that a reasonably sized house is one of the most important factos in conserving eneergy and saving money, but I do think there are alot of other energy saving features that don't cost much to implement but are effective in saving energy. Things like Bob metioned such as clocks, smaller pumps and passive solar add up to make a big difference.


I have been looking into ICF walls and they are quite popular in my area, I didn't know they were so close in pricing. I have found another system that is simular but with the foam in the middle to take better advantage of the thermal mass but I am not sure of the costs or if thier is someone in my area who does this.


Thank you for your post, please keep going. I am looking into using geothermal/passive solar heating/cooling along with infloor radiant heat (diy to keep costs down). You have mentioned a few things that I would have never thought of such as battery operated clocks and a smaller pump. Please send me more ideas like these.

Thank you everyone for your ideas, please keep them coming as well as links to websites.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2004 at 12:14PM
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Not to be difficult, but ...

..aren't pumps usually teamed with the motor that is in use?

If you have a 3/4 horse motor, likely a larger pump, so will pump the same amount of water in less time, I imagine.

Thus less electricity used.

The 1/2 horse may really use less power to pump that water - but maybe not by as much as appears on the surface.

joyful guy

    Bookmark   May 28, 2004 at 4:37PM
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Choose the house design carefully. A square, 4 wall New England style home looses less heat than exotic L-shaped homes with say a master bedroom extension with 3 exterior walls. I notice that traditional New England design had the chimney in the center of the house, not on an exterior wall. Bay windows also ask to lose heat from cold air flow under the bay. If you are in a cold climate try to have the major window area facing south, and minimize north facing windows. My rule in freezing Michigan: it is better to boil than freeze. I can survive most summer nights with a powerful attic fan blowing out in the summer instead of AC. The old double hung windows used to be great to create air flow before there was central air. We would lower the upper window of the pair on the hot side of the house, raise the lower window on the cool side of the house. Natural convection would start a draft as slightly cooler air would come in the low openings and warmer house air would be pushed out the high openings. If you live in tropical regions build high ceilings. In a cold climate forget high ceilings, cathedral ceilings, 2 story entryways, sweeping grand staircases and skylights that tunnel up to the roof. They will take all the heat your furnace can pump and keep it from you unless you run a fan constantly. For the same reason skip lofts and balconies over the palatial living room.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2004 at 6:22PM
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I bought a 'sunfrost' refridgerator a few years ago and am very pleased with it. It is saving me about $30 a month in electricity - the former fridge was my biggest juice user by far. The quality of construction is outstanding, there is no reason for it not to last indefinitely and is well worth repairing in any case.

They come in 12v or 120v.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2004 at 8:12AM
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Beware of the "Sunfrosts", the "Vestfrost" or whatever they are called nowdays . .. . and others that may be out there. While some years back they truly were way ahead of their time in terms of energy consumption; that is not the case now. When I needed fridge for new place I looked at energy consumption per cubic foot of space . . . . . the Vestfrosts for example are quite small by most people's standards. At any rate; I found that "conventional brand" better and best ( efficiency ) fridges in 2000 were indeed right on par with consumption with the Vestfrosts etc per cubic foot of space. So they no longer enjoy that advantage . . . and their reliability is not as well established ( nor the service network ) as more common brands. I am NOT knocking them; just beware that they do not offer a lot in energy consumption terms the way they once did.

Saving $30 / month by using a different fridge sounds off to me . ... unless you're where electricity costs a fortune. Most of my total bills are no more than that and I've got a 22 cu ft fridge / freezer and run a house on top of that . . . . paying .13 / kWh here . ... .


    Bookmark   May 31, 2004 at 6:36PM
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I did similar research about two years ago and nothing was even close to sunfrost for efficiency and quality. A friend bought a cheaper knock-off and it croaked in a few months.

It is true that the super-efficient 'solar' type fridges tend to be smaller than conventional ones, and that is a part of how they use less energy. I bought the largest sunfrost which is about the capacity of a small conventional.

The big reduction in the elec. bill is due to the fact that the previous fridge was a big old dinosoaur with a failing compressor - not an uncommon household item! Kinda like going from a 1970 lincoln towncar with loose rings to a 2001 honda accord.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2004 at 7:37AM
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Choose your design carefully so your house is a home with you in mind; not just a cavernous space to store stuff. Then, choose your construction methods and materials with effeciency in mind; SIPs, ICFs, etc. Then, make sure that the materials and methods are implemented by quality-concious builders; it doesn't matter if you have the best windows in the world, if they don't install them correctly, it's all for naught. Good luck.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2004 at 11:12AM
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I am about to start construction of a house in central Alberta. I am taking into account many different ideas listed here and other sites I have been lurkin at.

Here are the general big ideas I have implemented into my house design:

-ICF construction - right up to the gable ends, including attached garage.
-Double pane double glazing with heat shield pvc windows.
-Window placement - almost all facing south-south west, with only 3 faceing north, and straight south windows with overhang that will supply shade in summer months.
-Heating systems is hybred of radiant floor and High Velocity forced air, with a HRV and hepa tied in.
-Solar PV 2 KW array on a pole mounted tracking system to maximize exposure
-Solar vacuum tube heating (~18,000 BTU) to supply some of the heat for DHW as well as hydronic heating with 120 gal holding tank.
-High efficiency condensing boiler with DWH take off tied in to above mentioned holding tank.
-All energy star applian

    Bookmark   June 1, 2004 at 12:46PM
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Research all you can on passive-solar design (as mentioned by several others above). So much of it is free; it's just a choice of house shape and position. It's usually a choice of one simple shape over another simple shape. You could choose a more elaborate shape, but you can save that money for something else.

I'm not saying it's just shape and position. Those are just the starting points and good examples of choices that probably don't add any costs.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2004 at 10:56PM
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Chief18 . . . .

Sounds like you've put a lot of thought into things already . . . lemme toss something out to think about.

I will shortly be getting a PV system installed; and went through the tracking vs additional panels issue. One axis tracking picks up ~ 10% over fixed arrays. Over the LONG haul; simply putting in an additinal 10% ( or more ) capacity in PV panels will probably be a better alternative than tracking. The trackers are mechanical devices; no matter WHICH one you may choose . . . and as such they at some point will need attention . . .. grease, ice chipped off, clearing out the squirrel nest someone built there etc . . . and they do NOT tend to be as robust in the wind as fixed mounts . . . especially if you have 2 kW on a single pole. Also; at least here in NY state; there are incentives for doing PV systems; and it is based upon PV capacity installed . . . not actual output picked up by using tracker. So, in my case just that alone made it an easy decision to NOT track . . . but consider the long term mechanical nature of them as well . . .

Believe you are making a good choice with radiant in-floor; but suggest that HV forced air will consume a good bit of energy . . . radiant heat circulator pumps use very little . . and if you have an HRV ( or ERV ) then that should supply fresh air AND provide air circulation as well . . . no reason that radiant heat ERV cannot supply ALL of your heating and circulation needs. If you're doing forced air to accomodate A/C; then consider your summer sun pick-up and trees to perhaps eliminate the need for that . . . ..

good luck with your project


    Bookmark   June 15, 2004 at 6:29AM
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Read the building an energy efficient house post.
I had posted the spec sheet that I give my clients.
Keep in mind that I am in a hot/humid climate
so location of vapor barriers and other info
may differ from your location.

I tell my clients that to build to Energy Star
sepcifications will cost them approx $3,000 to
$5,000 more on an average 2,300 sq. ft. home.

Upgrading insulation package, windows, min. 12 SEER
heat pump (or gas min. 80 afue with 12 SEER a/c) ,air tight drywall and air tight recessed lights are required.

Savings depending in lifestyle, will range from $35 to
$50 per month on utility costs, payback 6 to 7

I do quite a bit of ICF, and SIPS systems and as
with EVERYTHING install is the key.
For clients not building other than standard stick
framing with proper attention to detail they can
achieve the same air sealing as with ICF, and foam
insulated homes. The key is to make the building
envelope tight and ventilate correctly.

We are installing make up air in stick framed homes
as well as ICF, and SIPS. Making sure that thermal
boundries are continous makes all the difference.

Orientation your home is also a factor if it is
an option for you.

C.F. lighting uses 1/3 the energy and the heat gain
is 1/3 that of incandescent lighting. The C.F.'s

Choosing water heaters, refrigeratior and freezers
that are more efficient will also reduce energy costs
as these are the appliances that are in use 24/7.

Best of luck with your home.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2004 at 9:50AM
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As for the PV array tracking, I am going with 2 axis tracking, which from what I have looked at will gain me as much as 40% in the FAR north I live in. For the 2kw array it will cost me approx $14,000-16,000, and the tracker is about $6,000 (all in canadian loonies), so a 40% increase is worth the while. I do realize the increased maintance complications and cost, but I see that as ok, I am a Mechanical Engineer by trade and see this as another big toy to play with, but one that the wife won't kill me for buying. In terms of robustness, I don't have the name handy of the tracker, but that should not be an issue, its beefy, besides I have a mig welder handy - and will beef it up even more if needed. I also simply like the idea of using the PV array to its max.

With our crazy climate, at -40 C/F, even with an HRV, at minimum I would need a fan coil inline with the HRV. Originally I was going to do this along with 100% radiant heat, but after some thought and input from the wife (who is to

    Bookmark   June 15, 2004 at 11:23AM
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humm my messages are getting messed up, here is the end of my last post:

... Originally I was going to do this along with 100% radiant heat, but after some thought and input from the wife (who is tough to sway) we decided on the hydbred system. Any areas that have hardwood or carpet will have Hi-V FA and the rest is going to have radiant with the tubing set in a gypcrete slab. I am not a big fan of sleeper - hardwood installation and looking at the offset cost by not need engineered hardwood, it looks more appealing to use the Hi-V in certain areas. Our building code requires .5 air exchange per hour, and I would require multiple HRV/fancoil combintions, as the house is fairly large (2525 sqf + 1300 sqft walkout basement all with 9' ceilings). I looked at this for a long time and still think I am making the best choice. The cost is high, but this is hopefully the last house I build, and plan to live in it for many years. At this time I have no plans for air condintioning, as in my climate it is really n

    Bookmark   June 15, 2004 at 12:38PM
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Sorry everyone, my posts are really anoying with the mess-ups. The damn things preview fine but...

... At this time I have no plans for air condintioning, as in my climate it is really not needed at all, plus I already have taken into account location planning as you mentioned. Almost the entire south faceing side of the builing is covered with trees.

Bob, do any of these thoughts hold water to your ideas? I welcome all comments ;-), and thanks for any input.


    Bookmark   June 15, 2004 at 12:45PM
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If you're a tinkerer then a tracker will be a useful toy for you . . my point was that strictly on economics / long term maintenance it doesn't make sense for all . . . sound like it does for you.

Not sure I understood you comment about sleepers / engineered flooring . . . sounds as though you don't think radiant in-floor heat and hardwoods play well together. They do; very well indeed without ANY special considerations. I've got nothing BUT radiant in-floor heat AND real hardwoods throughout. Been here through 5 heating seasons and have NO issues problems whatsoever. Did staple up under subfloor; hardwoods up top directly on top the subfloor. Insulated underneath as basement is unheated. While radiant is ideal for slab use; staple up works very well too. The notion of this type of heat "drying out" the wood is bolderdash as far as I'm concerned. The temp of the floor should never exceed 75 maybe 80 deg F . . . any shrinkage etc is due to humidity ( or lack thereof ) and NOT the radiant heat itself. Humidity is determined by sources in the house; and how much outside air "leaks" in . . be it from cracks in window frames OR an ERV. In fact; many use a humidistat to regulate the ERV. Your code requirement of an air exchange every two hours seems a bit much; but if that's the way it is that's what you've got to provide. Seems a shame to have partial radiant with all it's benefits and then to mix it with forced air.

Curious if you've got any idea of how much of your power you will be able to provide with PV panels . . . do you have a good handle on what your usage will be ? I'm putting in 2.8 kW of panels; and will produce 1.5 to 2 times what I use; on an annual basis. My house was built AND "equipped" with solar power in mind; it is something done much easier from the get-go . . . saving a few watts here and there by carefully choosing appliances / furnace etc can drastically reduce what you need . . . making your PV production more meaningful. The place that is installing my PV system called my place a "poster child for solar PV power" . . . I use about 220 kWh / month averaged over a year.

At any rate; good luck with your pursuit . . .


    Bookmark   June 16, 2004 at 6:10AM
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I have been installing radiant heating with hardwood floors for 20 years and have had no problems. As Bob said the temp of the radiant running under the floor will never dry out your wood. I bring my flooring into the house for a week before it is nailed down, in that way it acclimates itself to the climate , especially humidity, of the house. There is no better way of heating.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2004 at 7:56AM
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My comment to the hardwood/radiant floor situation is that I have come to the conclusion that a wet slab on the subfloor (either thin concrete or gypcrete) is the best method for radiant heat. This is because it can make us of the very high eff of newer condensing boilers that are ideal for low temp heating. As soon as you go to staple up, higher water temps are need, running the boiler out of its highest eff. If I were to use a wet slab on the subfloor, I need to glue down the hardwood hence the need for engineered. I don't know, am I out in left field on this one?


    Bookmark   June 16, 2004 at 11:37AM
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Even better than wet slab/gypcrete and under-floor staple-up is a sandwich of transfer plates, tubing and sleepers placed on top of the sub floor.

Staple-up doesn't need temps above condensing if the spacing is small (8 inches on center) and heavy extruded aluminum heat transfer plates are used.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2004 at 12:02PM
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As to the PV supply, I am *hoping* I can supply about 70-80% of my power. I will be supply to 2 houses on my property, the one I currently live in uses about 250-300 kwh/month, and the one I am going to build will use in the range of 300-400 month, but this is just an educated guess. Quite a bit higher than your astoundingly low 220, but significantly less than the average of 800-1000/per house in Alberta. I feel that anything provided by PV is meaningfull, no matter what the percentage is. Down the road (1-2 years) I am planning to add a wind turbine ~ 3.5kw Whisper 175 I think.


    Bookmark   June 16, 2004 at 12:34PM
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I'll ditto on water temp of radiant of ~ 120 deg F . . no more . . . a "boiler" is overkill; you must temper ( cool ) it's output for proper heating; or run it WELL below it's intended temp; either of which will send your efficiency down the cr%#^^@er. Domestic hot water heaters are IDEAL for this as they are designed to supply water at precisely the right temp for radiant heat. All you need know is how many BTU's / hour for the coldest day your place will need; and get capacity of that or somewhat higher. I do 1800 sq ft with a 50 gallon heater / nominally 40,000 BTU. I've been through the coldest this area can offer . .. - 25 deg F; and the heater still doesn't run continuously. I will add that I insulated VERY well; your mileage may vary. That's about 1000 gallons propane per year; ALL heat, hot water, cooking, and dryer for two people @ 70 deg F all winter long. I will also point out that conventional water heaters are VERY reasonably priced and easy / quick to service / replace . . . may not be the case with other types of stuff . . . .

For your PV . . . I believe there is data out there somewhere; I know it covers this side of the border; and perhaps Canada too; of average equivalent hours of full sun at various location all over the place . . . including fixed, one axis, and two axis tracking . . try a Google for "WBAN" . . . don't know what that stands for but there's lots of month by month data there that will give you a much better idea of what you can expect to generate at your locale. This data includes the actual climate of that location; ie some are sunnier than others, lake effects etc; in addition to the latitude. Let me know if you CAN'T find data; I can find some somewhere I'm sure. I'm putting in 2.8 kW array; and an average sun year will produce about 1.5 times what I need . . . the "best" year will produce ~ 2 times my use. You may also face some "resistance" from your local utility; here they are required by law to buy what I produce. Allows me to help offset costs as my generation is at a peak when I need the least . . . no sense in wasting all that power. And they ARE particular about how you hook up . . . and much as I will not defend utilities for the most part; I DO want to have a safe system that will NOT hurt someone working on the lines etc.

Again; beware of EVERY appliance you buy . . . auto igniting ranges . . . some use heaters . . VERY energy intensive . . some use sparkers . . much less though still a phantom load 24/7. Ditto with any appliances etc that have remotes . . they are never really "off" . . . there are energy star rated ones that comply with new, lower requirements for standby ( "phantom" ) power. Spending an extra $100 or whatever on a higher efficiency appliance, such as a fridge; may seem like a lot of cash up front for something intangible . . . but over the lifetime of the appliance you will spend far more than that $100 to operate it . . . . .

If you've got the wind; then a turbine or such can add a lot . . . . but look into it carefully; as there are low frequency vibrations that can impact comfort near them . . such as YOU . . . or neighbors perhaps. There may also be some code restrictions / requirements as well . . . .

Again; good luck with your pursuit . ..


    Bookmark   June 16, 2004 at 7:43PM
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Some comments on the water heater vs. boiler issue for radiant heat.

The new condensing, modulating boilers (HTP Munchkin, WM Ultra, Viessman), deliver water safely at any temperature that is needed for radiant floor heat. These boilers aren't made from cast iron which must have supply temps at 140 or higher to prevent condensation and rusting of the heat exchanger. Also, these boiler can operate (on gas/propane) at efficiencies approaching or even exceeding 95%. Water heaters have efficiencies only in the in the 60-80% range.

So although these boilers are much more expensive than water heaters, water heaters use more energy to supply the same amount of heat as the new, condensing, modulating boilers.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2004 at 9:09AM
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Thanks guys.
The utility company in my area sucks. It is VERY difficult to have an arrangement to sell power back to the grid. I would need to spend more money in contract and hook up fees to sell next to nothing back. The intertie option for me is a bust for now, we will see about it later when alberta pulls its head out of their coal burning butts and make these ideal setups more consumer friendly. I am going to be setting up a battery bank, basically a big ass ups for my house. Any excess power from the pv array when batts are full will be dumped into my hot water storage tank, free hot water I guess.

I have no concerns about the wind turbine, I have 80 acres, no space/vibration concern what so ever (remember I am a geer and am paid to know how to reduce vibration type problems , wink wink).

All appliances are energy star, best ratings I could find, and I try to not use standby on other home electronics. I am now starting to rethink the hi-v and going with an hrv and smaller f

    Bookmark   June 17, 2004 at 10:47AM
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ARGGH I hate how my posts get buggered in this form..

...I am now starting to rethink the hi-v and going with an hrv and smaller fancoil (for the really cold days), electrical loading with go down by 500 watts if I do that, as well as dumping the gypcrete, and going to staple up. Thanks for the tips Bob.

For the boiler I am using a NTI Trinity, modulating "boiler" which is the same type brewbeer mentioned, has efficiencies in 92-95% range for low temp applications. The cost of the units are quite nice, about $2200 CDN, which modulates its burn and has a independant dhw take off which has priority over heating and can supply 4 g/min @ 110 deg F.


    Bookmark   June 17, 2004 at 10:49AM
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When you do the math, it does NOT make sense for Chief18 to use a tracker on his PV system. He said that he'll get MAYBE 40% additional from the tracker. The panels cost $14,000-$16,000, and the tracker is $6,000. If you call the panels $15,000, 40% of $15,000 is exactly $6,000. If he FOR SURE gets a 40% improvement, then he's just breaking even. If he gets less than 40%, he'll get more for the loonie by buying more panels.

Of course, YMMV depending on whether you consider a tracker a fun play toy, or just one more thing you have to fix when it breaks. :-)

    Bookmark   July 16, 2004 at 5:49PM
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My basic belief is that if I can get roughly the same out put by adding a tracker system rather than more panels, it is a benifit. I am not for sure on this but I would believe that it costs less in raw material and energy to make the tracker rather than 40% more panels, so for me it is a no brainer. Plus I am REALLY looking forward to the new toy.


    Bookmark   July 19, 2004 at 1:16AM
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Most people are so concerned with finding high tech solutions they trip over the obvious. If you are building spec 2x6 framing on exterior walls with an additional 2 inch of insulation. install vestabules at each doorway, where an outer door is closed before an inner door is opened, (commercial buildings have done this for years) put a thermostat powered exhaust fan it the attic space, when the attic temp exceeds 80 the fan comes on, will drastically reduce attic heat load on AC sytem, A heat recovery system on the AC to produce hot water. A two ton AC can supply enough energy to meet the total hot water demands for a family of 5, and it reduces the operation cost of the AC by about 15 to 20 %, consider the color of materials you select on the exterior, any HVAC engineer can tell you, changing the color of the paint can effect AC demand by as much as 15%. Considerusing small appliances instead of the $2500 bells and whistle ranges we see ppl asking about. An electical surface burner on a stove uses almost twice as much energy as an electric frypan, yet the electric frypans energy efficiency is almost twice as high as a frying pan on a burner. If you live in a colder nothern climate, consider a setback thermostat and electric blankets on the bed. Do we really need to heat the entire house to 70 while we are tucked in bed? Dopping the thermostate a mere 7 or 8 deg would mean a substantial saving in energy, and a program t/stat can have the room temp right back up where you want it an hour before you wake up. a few years ago i helped a friend make some minor changes in the specs of his new home before building. He and I are still laughing at the fact that his power company has inspected his home a dozen times, and changed the meters 4 times, why? Because his electric bill is about 60% of the bill for his neighbors, and the power company wanted to know why. IN the end, the power company paid me two hours of my time to come in and consult with them what we had done.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2004 at 4:17PM
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Thanks lazypup, those are the types of ideas I'm looking for.If you have any more feel free to share.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2004 at 6:38PM
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Chief18, have you considered using straw bales to build your house? They are high in R value: somewhere aroound 50, and when covered, are highly fire resistant. Some insurance companies give a discount for fire retardancy, I hear.
this has been a great thread for me as I plan to build a house myself with many of these technics.
good luck with your home.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2004 at 12:20PM
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I can see the benifits of straw bale houses, but the three little pigs story imbedded itself in me very strongly...

All joking aside, my Father is an icf contractor, meaning I am getting an icf house for material cost, his labour and his crew's labour(mostly relatives) will be doing the building shell for pizza and beers on weekends. There is no better deal for me available ;-).


    Bookmark   August 6, 2004 at 1:23PM
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Has anyone heard of radiant paint (or something like that)? We are renovating an older home outside of Houston, and the contractor recommended we consider painting this in our attic- said it would help in the summer.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2005 at 11:21PM
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In responce to the original posters question, there is a very low cost way to improve the house, and most importantly it's a cheap way to use a large amount of solar energy.

I've seen passive solar designs that can supply 100% of the building's heating needs, but unfortunately they were very strange looking and expensive. However, you can still supply a large amount of heat by adjusting a more conventional house design to use passive solar. Apparently, just rotating the house design so that the wall (normally front) that has the most windows is in line with south can reduce the heating requirements by 10-25%. Using different percentages of glazing for each angle, and even different types of glass can also bring large savings. You can certainly get much more in depth, but this gives you an idea of how it works. Implementing these simple passive solar techniques shouldn't cost anything, it's not about adding new materials, but instead placing things you would allready be using like glazing and roof eves in specific places.

A number of people believe that passive solar homes will be great in the cool weather, but then overheat horribly in the summer. Thankfully this isn't true, the angle and direction of the sun changes with the seasons, thus you can use the correct percentage and type of glazing for each facade to collect heat in winter and reduce it in summer. A well designed passive solar home will reduce costs and increase comfort all year round.

Passive solar homes also need some other small modifications, starting with thermal mass to store the heat. One of the cheapest and most effective options is a well insulated slab on grade foundation. Thermal mass will absorb the radiated heat from the sun and release it in to the building, and it also provides some thermal buffering as it collects heat during the day and releases it overnight.

Extra insulation is also important for passive solar, but generally it's not a huge expense and will save energy for the entire life of the building. This insulation will retard the transfer of heat both from inside and outside the building. In the winter it will retain collected solar heat longer in to the night, while in the summer the internal heat gain as the sun goes up will be much slower than it would in the same building with less insulation.

You don't need any expensive or complex solar systems to use solar energy, the very building itself can be a solar collector for minimal extra cost. And it will never break down, need replacing or servicing, it will just keep working as long as the building stands and isn't altered.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2005 at 5:57PM
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