Intro to Solar Workshop with Rex Rohrer of Silver Seed Farms, LLC

First solar array for InterCounty Electric Coop, St. James,MO

First solar array for Inter County Electric Coop, St. James, MO

Saturday, September 12, 2015

8 am to 4 pm at Waynesville Senior Center

1401 Ousley Rd, Waynesville, Missouri 65583

Fee: $25.00 ($15.00 for Each Additional Household Member) ~ Lunch included

Pre-registration Required By 9/4/15**
HOSTED BY: Wild Side Farm, LLC & Responsible Growth, US
Grid intertie w/ micro inverters

Grid intertie w/ micro inverters


Are you ready to go solar but don’t know how to get there? Does it seem expensive and a bit daunting? Did you know that you can start with a very small, relatively inexpensive system and work your way up?

Geared to the homeowner, we will start with the basics and go beyond. The information you receive in this class will help you make informed decisions about your solar requirements and will help you ask the right questions of a solar installer and know what to expect from your electric coop. You will be a much more knowledgeable consumer embarking on the path of solar ownership, be it a small or larger system. 


Become comfortable in your understanding of solar energy:

  • Learn the Language of Electricity
  • Receive informative handout and resource list
  • Hands-on access to solar equipment

Learn all about PV solar power systems:

  • How solar power works
  • Solar site evaluation, use of passive solar
  • Each type of system ~ grid intertie, grid-tie with battery backup, off-grid ~ and associated costs
  • How each system type is configured and constructed
  • How these systems can be incorporated into daily use

Be An Energy Guru:

  • Learn about recommended manufacturers and time-tested products
  • Learn about the laws pertaining solar energy, rebates and credits, and how to work with your electric provider.
  • Assess your household’s electrical load using simple mathematical equations.
  • Get rid of phantoms!
  • Develop and implement your own efficiency and conservation plan, cornerstone to efficient use of solar energy.
  • Get started providing your own electricity from the sun.

What to Bring to the Workshop: 

  • one year of month-by-month kwh totals, obtained from your electric provider
  • calculator
  • pen and paper

Registration:

Pre-registration Required By 9/4/15

Call 573-855-0128 or email carrieb806@gmail.com

**Homemade Lunch will be served to those in attendance

** Net proceeds will be used to help establish a community sustainability education foundation for Pulaski County, MO

 

When Are We Going to Have a Real Shower?

There is an ancient charm to heating and cooking with wood.  The irresistible draw of tending a fire on a cold winter day, and the cozy warmth of our natural home encircling us, gives us pause to be thankful and to feel the connection to our ancestors through our contact with the land and nature ~ through the straw, mud, rock and wood of our home and hearth.

tie dye fire 2

We have always wanted to use the wood stove to fire our hot water.  We wanted to use the wood we burn wisely and efficiently and always thought we could get more out of the wood we use. When heating our home, there is always heat on the stove top, which allows us to cook soups and stews and stir-fry veggies.  Inside the wood stove, we cook potatoes or cobbler among the coals. Still, couldn’t we devise a way to capture heat for our hot water tank, so that we could shower and bathe from the wood heat?  Of course, this has been done by others in different ways, but we wanted to do it affordably and with little, if any, electrical output.  Up until a few years ago, we heated the water in our water tank with propane.  We always knew that was a temporary solution, but once you settle on one way of doing things (especially a way that requires no work, other than the monthly service fees, ad infinitum!), it is harder to find incentive to change it. 

Nature is Perfect

When we lived in the tent (back in 1994) and for many, many lovely summer evenings over the years, we used black camp shower bags down the trail, which was definitely more work!  We had to think ahead – plan our day, refill and hoist the bags full of water over our heads, and give them time to heat up. The beautiful part of this method is that the sun heats the water in the bags and, by virtue of natural law, gravity allows the shower water to flow effortlessly over us.  Nature really is perfect. We try to respect and take advantage of the laws of nature in a lot of what we do.

The “Simple Life”

Oftentimes, the “simple life” is romanticized by those of us who yearn for times unencumbered by modern (in)conveniences.  The truth is, the “simple life” ain’t really that simple!  It can be a lot of work, but it can also be satisfying and full of joy.  This applies to our desire to bring awareness to natural resources and how we use them.  In the summer, to keep the house cool, we shut off the propane stove in the house kitchen, and our Summer Kitchen is open for business!  Thanks to the beautiful nature of straw bale and earth architecture and some well-placed fans and shades, our home stays pretty comfortable year-round, even in winter and in summer. Outside in summer, we use a propane camp stove, the cob oven, the sun, and a campfire for cooking or any hot water needs.

Kitchen 1

But what about hot showers and baths?  For the summer, we cool off in the pond or the pool.  We also enjoy hot-ish to cool showers, and for that we will stay with outdoor shower bags until we come up with a solar batch heater that is pressurized and heated by the sun. We also have our hillbilly hot tub, in which we can enjoy hot, therapeutic baths under the stars, even when the evenings are quite cool.

hillbilly hot tub 1     hillbilly hot tub 2

But during the autumn, winter and spring, we wanted to use the residual heat from our wood stove for our indoor shower.  And we had special encouragement.

We decided not to change anything until our propane water heater broke, because “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  It’s hard to tell just how many projects and how much child-rearing and cooking was accomplished in those 13 years that our propane tank worked for us, but we can say unequivocally – a lot!  It worked well for us – and for that we were very appreciative – but it was time to move on and do what we had always wanted.

The Complicated Life

Once the tank gave out, our showers consisted of hanging a shower bag over the bath and drawing it up or down with a rope and pulley. We heated water on the wood stove during late fall, winter and early spring to fill our shower bag. During the times of year with no indoor wood fire, we heated a kettle up on the propane stove in the kitchen or on the camp stove out in the summer kitchen and brought it into the bathroom to fill the shower bag. Taking showers inside the house had replaced our outdoor camp showers over time, due to convenience and the fact that our trees have grown bigger over these 20 years, and the showers down the trail had become more shaded!

Now, inside the house, our family of 4 became accustomed to heating water in a large pot and showering with 1 to 2 gallons of water per person ~ now that sounds efficient!  But unfortunately, that meant very short showers, and no one but Rex was real happy with this!  This was a temporary (almost two-year-long!) solution, which allowed us to continue all of our day-to-day activities and still be able to shower.  We all tried to be game for this new adventure, but on occasion there were a few refrains heard around here, such as “When are we going to have a real shower”?

All the while, we toyed with different ideas for heating our water.  We didn’t want to go back to propane, and most of our options carried with them some major drawbacks.

Pros & Cons

402px-The_Thinker,_Auguste_Rodin small Weighing the pros & cons went like this:

  • A regular propane water heater was certainly the easiest option and had the least start-up cost, but it would have kept us dependent on (“Frack and Iraq”) propane, which is a 50/50 blend of natural gas and crude oil.
  • The tankless propane heater was the next easiest option, but it still uses propane and has to be cleaned out every 6 months to a year due to the lime build-up inside the narrow tubes.
  • Solar Thermal 1 bending aluminum absorption plates smSolar thermal was our choice at first – Rex and two friends, Barry and Paul, built a solar thermal panel for just this purpose. While solar can be a great option, there were some big drawbacks for us. Our one-or-two panels would only pre-heat the water in the winter; we would still need a back-up system, as most people have unless they have several solar thermal panels.
  • We considered the heat wand, a $600 copper tube that goes down into the electric tank. Checking the rated BTUs per hour, it seemed like it wouldn’t get the water hot enough just on its own by the sun, and a few of us like really.warm.showers. You can buy tanks that have internal heat exchangers built in, but they run about $1500. Another option for solar is an external heat exchanger.  For us, being off-grid, these external heat-exchangers require more electricity than we would prefer to use.  If we had grid-connected solar, we might be inclined to rethink this one.  Our goal is to still use the solar panel/s in conjunction with wood-fired heat, if we can work that out.  Otherwise, we will use it during fair weather on the summer kitchen or one of our other part-time buildings.
  • For wood-fired heat, the biggest hold-up for us was where to place the hot water storage tank.  We needed for it to be up in the air to take advantage of natural convection, but we didn’t think we had enough room with a conventionally-sized hot water tank. However, once we found the tank we were looking for that would fit, it was smooth sailing.  🙂

And the Winner Is….Efficient Use of Wood Heat for House and Water!

Ultimately, there was enough heat coming from the wood stove during at least 6 to 7 months of the year, and we wanted to be able to use it, allowing it to perform triple-duty heating the house and the water and cooking some of our food. Ultimately, this also ended up being our least expensive option, we have no monthly fuel charges, and we live in the forest (with lots of dead wood available). We wanted a smaller electric hot water tank, one that was shorter and would fit into the space we had envisioned, so we had to purchase a new tank. We went with 30 gallon capacity, due to the tank’s size dimensions.  The copper pipe was the only other big expense for this system.

We made a thermosiphon loop of copper coil spiral-wrapped around the stove pipe. Rex forming coil  The key to the coil is: cold water goes in at the bottom of the coil – travels up the coil via natural convection, heating along the way – and hot water goes out and into the top of the water heater tank for storage. A big part of the thermosiphon loop lay in the placement of the hot water tank, because it needs to be high enough in the air to receive the heated water from the copper coil. A real bonus is the fact that this system requires no moving parts, which means there is less opportunity for mishap and it won’t be a constant drain on the electricity our solar PVs produce!

Hot Water Tank 2

We elevated our tank above the bathroom sink and just above the thermal mass brick wall dividing the wood stove and the bathroom.  We built a cob wall between the stove pipe and the water heater to allow heat transfer but to also protect the wood framing and equipment from excessive heat (see photo with coil below).

bathroom thermal mass 2

Water in the coil rises due to the natural flow of heated liquid in a thermosiphon loop.  The heat from the stove provides the mechanism to move the water upward.  This really heats up the water in the tank – really hot…which is why you want a Temperature Pressure Relief Valve (T & R valve), so that you don’t have an explosive situation on your hands! Unfortunately, a mixer probably would not work well in this system, due to the fact that internal mixers work with stable temperatures; whereas, our stove temperatures vary, based on how much or little we feed our fire.  ***Therefore, with our system, we have to mix hot and cold water manually. Turning on hot water at the faucet must be done thoughtfully so as to not get scalded! 

coil stove 2

We have been using this system for a year now, and it works great!  We have modified it, with the most notable difference after insulating and covering the copper coil recently, during this really cold winter.  The unfaced  fiberglass insulation (“unfaced” so that it has no paper backing to be a fire hazard!) allowed us to better capture and hold heat from the stove pipe, raising the pipe’s temperature significantly! The insulation did not diminish the heat radiating into the house; quite the contrary, heat actually radiated out further into the room than before! It also caused our fires to burn much more cleanly and efficiently, with no noticeable creosote build-up in the stove pipe now.  

Also, our initial concern about using a 30 gallon tank instead of a 40 gallon has not been an issue, because water in the tank reheats pretty quickly, especially now with the insulated coil. With a hot fire, we easily get 5 luxurious showers and can also do the dishes!  We will probably have to clean out the copper tubing at some point, just like the tankless propane heater, but all other factors make this a very promising solution for people who heat their homes with wood. 

As long as there is a fire in the wood stove, the water continues to circulate and heat up. Even a small fire provides enough heat on a marginally warm day. What would have been wasted heat going out the chimney, has now become an efficient use of the energy embodied in the wood, now heating our water for a delicious shower or bath. Expectations exceeded!

wood fired heat 1

**We will cover more detail about the copper coil wood-fired hot water system as well as detail about the solar hot water panel in upcoming separate blog posts.  🙂  Happy Adventuring!

A Big Winter Hug

Lantern

In Missouri on February 5, 2014, we have a few inches of snow, and the afternoon temperature is 14 degrees with a -18 wind chill factor.  But, inside our straw bale house we have 72 degrees, a toasty fire and a piping hot cup of java heated from our wood stove.

Brrrr…This is the coldest winter we have had in Missouri in a good while!  We feel so thankful to have a cozy, warm home! Ari Warm and Cozy Our Casa’s highly insulated and thick r 30 straw bale walls make us feel like we live in a big hug. Of course, our Casa’s hat (attic) is insulated, and its boots (foundation) has some insulation in it and around it. Wood heat centrally located in the house keeps us very warm, and we use approximately 1 ½ to 2 cords of wood per winter to keep us warm.  This wood stove works double-duty heating our water for the hot water tank, which will be covered in an upcoming article.  

Weatherization is a *hot* topic close to everyone’s heart…well…pocketbook, anyway. If it isn’t, maybe it should be. One look at a Plant Hardiness Zone Map, and you will know exactly where you stand with cold temperatures.  So really, don’t underestimate the importance of insulation here in Missouri!  Concrete, cob, earth, rock, sand, and brick are not insulators, and cold finds its way through these very easily.  

We feel badly for people who are having trouble staying warm, especially if they are paying for the privilege. The quality of the available housing stock is questionable.  Some houses, especially older homes, have minimal insulation.  Leaky doors and windows, recessed ceiling lights, and other unsealed penetrations in the house exchange far too much warm, conditioned air for cold, dry, winter air. It seems that some of the poorest housing stock has been turned into rental property. Renters will move in, unaware of previous utility costs, and find themselves unable to pay the high heating bills, so there is a huge turnover in these rentals.  One great option is to take advantage of the low-income and other weatherization programs where available.

Folks who heat with propane must have been in for quite a shock when the price of propane doubled this last month!  For rentals or older home purchases, propane companies do not have to tell you how much propane that house was using, unlike with electric.  Also, it can be hard to tell exactly when propane was used and how much was left in the tank.  Be sure to check before you purchase!  Having a walk-through and a peek into the attic or crawlspace done by an energy auditor is also advisable before you purchase your new home. At least, you would have a much better idea about what you are getting into!

Many older homes and some newer homes have HVAC duct work with gaps and poor fitting connections in unconditioned spaces, which are areas of the house that are not insulated as part of the thermal envelope, such as crawlspaces under the floor, uninsulated basements or in the attic. This duct work needs to be sealed with mastic (recommended) and then insulated, because much of the heating capacity is being diminished by the unheated space, adding significantly to the cost of heating. Also, hot water pipes should be insulated at any place accessible, along with the first 5 feet of the cold water pipe above the water heater.

Passive Solar should not be overlooked or underestimated.  Passive solar uses sunlight without active mechanical systems, which would include technologies such as heat collection, thermal mass, thermal insulation, proper window glazing, proper window placement and shading.  These same design principles would also apply to reducing your summer cooling requirements.  Active solar includes mechanical systems such solar thermal heating systems. Employing passive solar techniques in your house design can save from 20% to 50% and even more in your day-to-day energy costs!  If you can save annually upwards of 50% using passive solar, then why not?

Building Green really is the smart, fiscally sound option. Let us know if you would like to talk energy conservation in your home!  If you want to build with straw bales, we can help you stay warm and dry.

cup o joe 2Cheers!

4 Favorite Easy Tips for Winterizing Your Home (Saving Money and the Planet)

If you are serious about changing your carbon footprint or about saving money, then this article is for you.  Rex and I are big believers in energy audits, because you would be surprised to know how much a “regular” house leaks.  However, I like knowing that there are ways that I can personally accomplish something that will save us money and time and is ultimately good for the planet.  I especially like knowing there are easy ways.  I can imagine that I have options, and they seem attainable.

Within this informational slide show by The Daily Green, there are ways to clean out or tweak your current large, energy-consuming appliances and ways to get the most out of what you already have, and many of them for the DIY’er.  There are many important weatherizing improvements listed, such as caulking, sealing, and insulating around windows, and cleaning out or replacing appliance filters.  You should always determine if your improvements are covered by state or federal rebates, tax deductions, or if you qualify for low-income weatherization programs in your area.  You can Google that for your state.  Here in Missouri, we have several.  So in addition, I have a few favorites on this list of weatherization tips.

Okay, now the fun part.  My favorite Top 4 Weatherization Tips:

images Possibly the first thing we do in the fall in Missouri, is to get out our sweaters and jackets.  We really look forward to the autumn change in weather, in part because it generally follows a pretty hot summer, and also because of the beautiful autumn colors.  However, sweaters are not just for the outdoors; a light-weight sweater-type layer (over a sleeveless shirt or t-shirt) works beautifully inside the house to help maintain a comfortable body temperature without having to pay $ for it daily, as you would by turning UP your thermostat.  And it just feels right, like you could be snuggled up with a kitty in your lap, drinking a piping hot cup of tea.  For you die-hard t-shirts-and-flip-flops-in-winter folks – remember, it’s also better for your health to keep your room temperatures lower, and it’s better for the planet.

Another one of my favorite suggestions for winterizing your home is using an energy monitor.  ted-winterize-lgAbsolutely a favorite!  Especially, if you like to read gauges and thermometers, you will get a thrill from monitoring your energy usage.  We have a voltmeter in the house, which tells us how much solar energy we have stored in the batteries.  Also, our inverter tells us how much AC it is creating, which translates into how many watts we are currently using.  It helps you keep your usage in check.  Our batteries get more of a challenge during winter, so a monitor really helps us stay on top of things and adjust our usage.

**A sidebar: .  AC is Alternating Current, that which is grid electricity and DC is Direct Current, which is produced by solar power.  The inverter allows DC to switch into AC to be used in the house with regular electrical appliances.  We use both AC and DC in our off-grid application.  DC appliances tend to be more expensive and less available, but they are more efficient than AC appliances.  It’s a trade-off.  Our inverter is fairly efficient, inverting 93% of incoming DC current to AC, but inverters are different, some more efficient than others. **

This is a super-cool idea!  Get creative with your refrigeration to save energy and money.

air-fridge-winterize-lg (1)  Take advantage of the cold winter air outside to cool a hand-built insulated cabinet attached to your house, through a door or even through a window (which we used to do!).  This blog article says all you need is some wood, insulation and a couple of computer fans (or socks!).  Get detailed with the super-frig. 

And last but not least – my #1 favorite, because it requires some creativity and sewing on my part.  😉  A Draft Snake ~  You can find many different styles to purchase too.

drafts-winterize-lg

Dodging Drafts:  According to the U. S. Department of Energy, doors and windows can waste 5% to 30% of your energy.  That’s a lot.  As a tribute to what may have started back in the Great Depression, we can see some very artistic modern versions of this tried-and-true method, some with a lot of personality.

colin-draft-snake-lg green-draft-snake-lg

These draft snakes can be as subtle as the fabric they are made with,  such as this beauty on the windowsill, buttons-draft-snake-lg or they can be bright and lovely like this patchwork snake.

bright-draft-snake-lg

It’s especially fun when children can get in on the action, maybe even helping to make one.  Or, you may have to make a special snake just for your little one, since it may be moved all about the house, doing a different job – that of companion snake. 🙂

kid-draft-snake-lg

One blog post states:  “In the fight against cold drafts (not to mention pollution and global warming), draft snakes can be real superheroes.”

spidey-draft-snake-lg

Enjoy your process of weatherizing your home!  By all means, get an energy audit and save yourself some dough; many states offer rebates for weatherization if it involves an energy audit.  Inspire others, and share your photos and ideas here.  I will be sharing photos of my draft snake soon.

Cheers!

Lorian


The Power of Phantoms

This article concerns anyone who is into being more sustainable, solar powered, or just generally more energy efficient…

We remember those awesome appliances that didn’t hide anything.  They did what you expected them to do  Toaster Lady (once you got over the excitement of the fact that they actually *did* those things).  And they didn’t have any “sensing” abilities or black boxes. Ever wonder about those little black boxes that are attached to our power cords and what our appliances are “sensing” about us?

Phantom Dr_CaligariStandby power, also called phantom load, vampire power, vampire draw, or leaking electricity, refers to the electric power consumed by electronic appliances while they are switched off or in a standby mode.  

Any device that includes a remote or a little black transformer box is always on.  Home theater systems and other remote control “sensing” equipment draws on electricity 24 hours/day, 7 days/week.  These sensing devices are always on, watching…waiting…literally searching…for a signal, a sign of life from the couch.  Phantom load, as this is referred to, is approaching 15% of the electrical usage in the U.S.  Imagine all of the fossil fuels needed to run stuff we don’t even think about or know is turned on!  In Missouri, coal supplies most of the energy, then nuclear and hydro.  Many new products have phantom loads, products which may be inventive but are unnecessary, such as light-up picture frames.

The wasted standby power of individual household electronic devices is typically very small, but the sum of all such devices within the household becomes significant. Standby power makes up a portion of homes’ miscellaneous electric load, which also includes small appliances, security systems, and other small power draws.

Fix Those Phantoms!

One way to get around the phantom load issue is to plug equipment into $3 power strips, U.S. power stripand you can turn off the switch for the 2/3 of the day the equipment is not in use.  Also, cell phone chargers, camera chargers – anything with the little black transformer box on it – uses power when left plugged into the outlet.  These chargers also work well on a power strip.  We like to use the kind of strip that has a little red light.  It is much easier to see if it’s been left on.  Another option is to have an electrician wire your miscellaneous electronic devices to wall switches.

A Small Change in Habits…

Standby power can be as high as 10 to 15 watts per device, and occasionally more. A 2005 study estimates the number of standby appliances in the EU at 3.7 billion.  Although the power needed for functions like displays, indicators, and remote control functions is relatively small, the fact that the devices are continuously plugged in, and the number of such devices in the average household means that the energy usage can reach up to 22 percent of all appliance consumption, and around 10 percent of total residential consumption.  It’s up to each of us to make a difference, so turn off those phantoms!

 For something a little more technical…

Research on Phantoms

Alan Meier, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in Berkeley, noted that many household appliances are never fully switched off, but spend most of the time in a standby mode. His 1998 study estimated that standby power consumption accounted for approximately 5% of total residential electricity consumption in America, “adding up to more than $3 billion in annual energy costs” (this is calculated at current 2010 cheap electricity rate per kW/hr).  According to America’s Department of Energy, national residential electricity consumption in 2004 was 1.29 billion megawatt hours (MWh)—5% of which is 64 million MWh. The wasted energy, in other words, is equivalent to the output of 18 typical power stations!  Meier’s 2000 study (2 years later) showed that standby power accounted for around 10% of household power-consumption, twice as much as he estimated 2 years prior.

On a personal note, we are fairly frugal with our energy usage and have absolutely no phantom load, except for the occasional “I forgot to turn off the power strip last night!”.  Being aware of what appliances are running or being used and when really gets you involved with your energy usage.  It’s a good feeling, this Awareness.  🙂