Which way to go-where to start?

1 Posts
Sep 15, 2009 10:36 am
Which way to go-where to start?

I am fairly new at all this and I feel like my head is about to explode trying to calculate cost/savings and where to start! After Much reading, I think solar water heating may give me the best cost/benefit ratio and a good starting point. 
I'm one of those guys who always thinks more is better, so I was thinking: If I'm going to all this trouble, why not just install extra collectors and use the solar  heated water for supplemental home heating as well? I did notice that altE does not offer any solar hot water space heating items. Is there a reason for this? Is the solar air heater the way to go for this purpose? I live in the southeast, so winters are mild to moderate. I currently use all electric with propane as a backup heat source for power outages.  For a long time I was leaning heavily towards a whole house propane tankless water heater, but my instincts tell me we are looking at a BIG rise in all energy costs in the near future.
Any suggestions(not limited to just water heaters) from those with more experience would be appreciated.
578 Posts
Sep 15, 2009 12:23 pm
Re: Which way to go-where to start?

hi roy,

there are not a lot of solar space heating kits because the variables start to pile up. 

as always step 1 is know your loads, and step 2 is to reduce them.

after that, solar thermal is likely the next most cost effective way to go.  a few on our staff are teaching a class right now on solar thermal, but if you call the phone line, and press the directory for solar thermal, somebody should be able to help you with the design elements.

otherwise there are some good books on the subject here.


and here is a free web video that is somewhat basic but useful.


good luck,

altE staff

"Making Renewable Do-able"

Tel: 877.878.4060 x107  or +1.978.562.5858 x107
Fax: 877.242.6718  or +1.978.562.5854
46 Posts
Sep 15, 2009 06:18 pm
Re: Which way to go-where to start?

Hey Roy, don't let your head explode! Be excited because you are entering an amazing world. Much of this stuff is relatively new, and almost all of it changing fast.
Have you checked out Homepower Magazine? They also have a decent website. They are probably a great place to start. This website here is also a great spot, as well as the staff. Every employee I have spoken to seems to be very knowlegable. I bet the janitor knows more than I do.
Most of what I have read\heard is that solar hot water has the fastest payback. Does that mean it is the best for you? Hard to say seeing that It sounds like you are electricity dominate.
I am a big fan of radiant heating.
All in all, I feel the best "first place" to start is conservation. Not very sexy, but it is the real foundation of renewable energy of any type. A load analysis will help you see what you are using and in which areas you can start  making  reductions.
Electric base board heater - 1500 watts
5 100 watt bulbs           - 500 watts
1973 green fridge          - 8 billion watts
all equals about 4 kw of photovoltaics ($50K ?)

Radiant floor heating      - 5-10 watts
5 cfl bulbs                - 60 watts
high efficiency fridge        - 175 watts
this equates to like .8 kw pv.
Happy studies and hope to hear about your progress. -m
462 Posts
Sep 16, 2009 12:00 pm
Re: Which way to go-where to start?

Roy, keep it simple. Yes you can use SHW in conjunction with radiant heat. I usually suggest installing a zone inside a sunspace. This eliminates all the crazy calculations associated with trying to heat many rooms. Basically you get the space hot with both the direct sunlight and the radiant. Utilizing a sunspace or sunroom allows you to heat one space then duct the hot air to whatever other spaces you want.
 Alternatively, you can add the old style cast iron radiators, if you can get your hands on some, and pipe those to the SHW. These can be controlled manually or automatically. (You may have to consider installing them in parallel) Otherwise they can be hooked up in series on the return side of your SHW loop, just add a bypass for summer/winter operation.
 And as always, consider passive gain, once again using a sunpace or strategically located windows....
99 Posts
Sep 25, 2009 07:29 pm
Re: Which way to go-where to start?

As others have said, you have to start with conservation.  Alternative energy is not generally the cheapest or easiest option.  It is only cheap and easy so long as you've minimized what you need to get from it.  That means first and foremost ensuring that your home is well-insulated and draft-proofed.  Put insulated curtains on your windows.  Weatherize all your doors and windows.  Consider how your landscape contributes to heat gain and loss.  Et cetera.  Also think about passive solar gain... paint the south side of your house a darker color, install extra windows on the south side, and ensure plenty of thermal mass in your sunlit areas.

After that, solar thermal is an excellent way to go assuming you have open skies to the south.  Shading of your panels can severely diminish their effectiveness.  Also, you have to think about how you will deliver the heat.  How is your "all electric" heat currently delivered?  Through forced air ducts?  Through base-board radiators?  If it would require a major renovation of your entire house, maybe solar thermal wouldn't work for you.  I would recommend radiant floor heat, although hot water radiators may work OK, and I think you can adapt it to a forced air system, but I don't know anything about how efficiently or effectively that would work.

Solar thermal works very well with an on-demand propane tankless water heater for backup.  You just put it in series.  If the solar is hot enough, the propane doesn't turn on.  If it's not hot enough, the propane tops it up.  Even if you don't have enough solar to heat your entire home, the solar can effectively pre-heat the water so that you use less propane. 

As far as energy prices going up, I'm sure you're right.  Especially electricity, and especially if we get cap-n-trade legislation.  However, propane should remain plentiful and relatively cheap for the foreseeable future.  I'm currently in negotiations to lease my land in Pennsylvania to a gas company to tap the Marcellus Shale gas under my feet.  The Marcellus Shale contains hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas -- more than in all of the Middle East.  We have at least a few hundred years' supply.  And there are other plentiful gas resources in the U.S.  Natural gas, propane, and other components of this resource should remain relatively cheap long after we're dead and buried.  The key word there is "relatively", since prices will increase along with inflation as long as the government keeps spending like nuts and the Fed keeps the printing presses going.  Solar is a good inflation hedge because all of your cost is up-front.  Once you own the system, there's nothing else to buy, so you don't have to worry about inflation.

Other than solar and propane, you may also want to consider an outdoor wood furnace.  If you have a wooded lot or can purchase cord wood inexpensively, these are great alternatives to traditional heat sources.  You just stoke it with a few logs once or twice a day and it provides plentiful heat to your home and hot water.  My parents have one and they keep their 5000+ sqft home, garage, guest apartment, and workshop at above-average temperatures all winter.  Most models have a backup propane or oil burner built-in so that you can go away on vacation and not have to worry about frozen pipes (or if you're just too lazy one snowy winter day to feed it with wood).  If you're concerned about greenhouse gases, remember that wood is carbon neutral -- each tree you burn is replaced by one that's growing.

Something else to consider is a nice high-efficiency wood stove inside your house.  I have a BIS Ultima, a built-in-stove which looks like a traditional fireplace.  It's 80% efficient and draws its combustion air from outside.  If you like the cozy look of a fireplace and the comfort of a point source of heat (so you can regulate your own temperature according to how close you are to it), then these are an excellent choice.  You can even duct heat into different rooms from it.  I sized my solar thermal system to maintain a baseline temperature in the house at around 60 degrees.  I can then burn wood for an hour or two in the morning and evening to bring the temperature up from there during the coldest months.  I also have a propane backup on my solar thermal, thus providing me multiple redundant heat sources.

Disclaimer and Disclosure

The Alternative Energy Store, Inc reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse or delete any posting or portion thereof, or terminate or block the access to this forum.

The opinions and statements posted on this forum are the opinions and statements of the person posting same, and do not constitute the opinion or act of the Alternative Energy Store, Inc (AltE). The Alternative Energy Store, Inc does not endorse or subscribe to any particular posting. No posting shall be construed as the act or opinion of the Alternative Energy Store, Inc.

Click here for BBB Business Review

McAfee SECURE sites help keep you safe from identity theft, credit card fraud, spyware, spam, viruses and online scams
Desktop Website | Mobile Website


Click on an icon to share! If you don't see the method you want, hover over the orange "+".


What can we do to help you?

Please enter a summary
Sorry, the copyright must be in the template.
Please notify this forum's administrator that this site is using an ILLEGAL copy of SMF!
Copyright removed!!