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Starting energy efficiency journay - seeking general advise

 
Posts: 13
Location: Greater Vancouver Wa
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When it comes to energy I think there are three ways to be more sustainable. 1) Go without something. 2) Find alternate sources of energy to accomplish the same task. 3) Produce your own energy from sustainable, minimal impact means (micro-hydro, solar, geo-thermal...). I think all three are important. And to Mr. Wheaton's point, clotheslines are cheap. So going without some things is part of our plan.

Still there are some things we do need which do need energy of some kind. Based on cursory research the big three energy gobblers are hot water heating, home heating, and home cooling. But if we can eliminate our reliance on electricity for these three then we will have cut our overall usage by about half.

I aim to start a discussion around your energy journey, especially those who have implemented at least one system which transfers their energy dependence away from public utilities. Does anyone have systems like these which work well for you? Any epic failures we can learn from? Do you have first-hand experience with any of these systems? would you suggest other solutions? We live in the temperate climate of the Pacific North West, micro-hidro is not an option, neither is wind. But the conversation doesn't need to be climate or situation specific.

Hot water heating
  • Solar hot water heater.  Initial designs could feed into the electric heater for a year to determine actual operating temperatures for the winter months, while still bumping up the temp with the heater.

  • Home heating
  • Rocket mass heater.
  • Jean Pain compost mound. Compost + poly tube + water pump (or better, heat siphon) + radiator/fan.

  • Home cooling
  • Poor man's geo-thermal: 10' deep trench with lots of poly tube + water pump (or better, heat siphon) + radiator/fan.
  • With a 5' crawl space, it may be possible to filter/circulate air from crawlspace and dump hot air from home outside.
  • Anyone play around with using a garage concrete slab floor as a cooling mass? Could this be done after the slab is poured?


  • Remaining energy will likely be put under an off-grid solar/battery system. The cost of which is a great kick in the pants to do without or build other energy systems...
     
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    Ed Dunder wrote:I aim to start a discussion around your energy journey, especially those who have implemented at least one system which transfers their energy dependence away from public utilities. Does anyone have systems like these which work well for you? Any epic failures we can learn from? Do you have first-hand experience with any of these systems? would you suggest other solutions?



    We heat our home with one propane space heater.  We also cook on propane. Would that qualify as at least one system which transfers away from public utilities?

    We do have one of those infrared space heaters to use at night when necessary since we can't do the propane at night.

    The big problem with the system is that we just don't use enough propane to keep the propane dealers happy.

    At our other home, the propane dealer came and took the tank away because we did not use enough propane.

    So far, here we have been lucky that has not happened though it is still a problem.  Dear hubby likes to have the tank filled during the fall so we have a full tank at the beginning of winter.  I just can't get the propane dealer to come out and fill the tank. After multiple calls and requests, they finally say "When we are out in your area we will stop by and fill the tank."  After more calls, they finally call and say "We will be in your area tomorrow." So we have to change our plans so they can come out to fill the tank.

    Do you use propane? Do you have a similar complaint?
     
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    We are rural and off-grid, but started that journey with a propane tank and propane generator. There were no power poles nearby, and we had no desire to hook up to the grid, with ever-increasing fees, rules, etc.

    Propane is the cleanest fuel possible for a homestead (as opposed to gasoline, diesel) and the whole system of using propane has many (stacked) benefits:

    - great power system to start with, no shortage of power for construction phases
    - great emergency backup system, to solar and wood systems
    - love cooking on gas
    - no central heat system in use, just an indoor propane heater in each major room, and wood heat
    - our big propane tanks are a "buffer" of energy ... every system should have a buffer
    - wet leg on our big tank ... we fill little tanks from it

    We are using propane (on "keep full" basis) so no issues with supplier ... but, the driver has told us plenty of stories of "one refill every 5 years". So, our vendor doesn't seem to care about how often refills happen. You could solve the problem by buying your own tank(s), or keep vendor-shopping ...

    Don't know if it is just my inner caveman, but love seeing the "blue flame" on my systems ...
     
    Anne Miller
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    Jt said, "We are using propane (on "keep full" basis) so no issues with supplier ... but, the driver has told us plenty of stories of "one refill every 5 years". So, our vendor doesn't seem to care about how often refills happen. You could solve the problem by buying your own tank(s), or keep vendor-shopping ...



    I am not quite sure what "on a keep full" basis means but if I have trouble getting them to come once a year I don't feel a "Keep Full" option is available.  I am afraid if I owned the tank I would never see a propane truck ever again.

    I shopped all vendors before going with the one I chose as there are only two.  The other guy wanted us to buy regulators, etc, and charged more.

    The problem is it is a 60-mile trip to fill the tank and there are a lot of big ranches with 1000s of acres so not many people have tanks.
     
    gardener
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    Ed Dunbar said



    When it comes to energy I think there are three ways to be more sustainable. 1) Go without something. 2) Find alternate sources of energy to accomplish the same task. 3) Produce your own energy from sustainable, minimal impact means (micro-hydro, solar, geo-thermal...). I think all three are important.



    Can I suggest that a fourth way to sustainability is to be more efficient with energy use? It could be considered part of 1, I suppose, but there was a whole thread on only boiling as much water as you needed for your hot drink https://permies.com/t/165164, together with variations on the theme of using the heated water for multiple uses. I’m very much for reducing your needs, but it doesn’t have to mean doing without necessarily: for example increasing insulation, also reduces heating requirements.

    Back on topic again: We were very keen when selecting our stove that it would function without needing electric power , so the hot water will circulate passively by thermal current. It is a combined wood fired range cook stove, so has oven, hot plate, and hot water facility.  It definitely has room for improvement in it’s design, but does give us robustness against power cuts when they happen.
     
    pollinator
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    We are rural, off grid and combine all three I would say. We have a fairly large solar array and battery bank with two backup generators, one DC diesel and one AC propane. My daughter's house has a solar water heater with a backup propane water heater. My house has an instant propane water heater. Both houses have central propane heating systems and wood heating. Honestly given our mild weather, I feel like the propane central heating is more useful. We have magnetic covers for all of the heating vents which we remove when needed for certain rooms. I rarely require heat, my youngest requires much more. For cooling, very good insulation is a must, followed by blowing out the houses at night via a swamp cooler and closing up tight during the day, black out honeycomb shades help immensely for this. Each house has a small room AC for extreme temperatures, like our 116F days followed by two weeks of triple digit temperatures.

    We cook with propane but use more electric appliances in the summer when we have extra electricity, like slow cookers, electric grill/griddle, toaster ovens, etc. And use the oven/stove more in winter when the extra heat is appreciated.

    Our well using a fair amount of power given it's depth, 350', but we have it on a timer so it only runs during daylight hours. It fills two holding tanks that then gravity feed the houses.

    Redundancy is vital living off grid, as is learning to live without, at least for a while.
     
    Ed Dunder
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    This sounds like a very interesting solution. Could you name the specific components of the system for folks who may be interested in such a solution?
     
    Stacy Witscher
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    Ed are your referring to me, or someone else in the thread. I'm sorry, I'm not sure.
     
    Ed Dunder
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    Thank you for asking Stacy. You're answer was very helpful and got my creative juices flowing. I was trying to tease out more detail from Nancy. I hit reply under her comment but somehow it posted on the main thread... Thank you again
     
    Nancy Reading
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    Hi Ed,
    (Off topic the reply button on each post has been confusing and is being reconsidered, I wasn’t sure who you were referring to either).

    To elaborate on our system: we have a two story stone house from the 1920s that has a kitchen built onto the north wall probably in the 1960’s. In the kitchen we installed an Esse W25 wood fired range cooker in 2007. We chose that mostly because of the large firebox, but it does have some design flaws. This cooker can do all our cooking requirements, it has a ‘dog bone’ hot plate, a hot oven and a cooler oven, and also has a water jacket above the firebox that heats water. The hot water rises through a circuit to our bedroom in the main part of the house. There it flows to the hot water tank (a heating coil inside) and a thermostatically controlled radiator, and then returns to the stove. This water flows all the time the water in the stove is hot enough to thermosyphon.
    At the opposite end of the house we have a separate inset stove (an old Acorn stove that cleaned up really nicely) with back boiler water jacket (we modified the firebox slightly to make it a bit more efficient with wood). The water from this thermosyphons into a radiator in the bedroom upstairs at the south end of the house.
    We have a pump that will circulate the radiator water to the rest of the house radiators (the whole circuit is connected in a complex way but seems to work well) and this is mains powered. It comes on automatically if the heated water gets above a certain (adjustable) temperature. Longer term we hope to have a battery system for this pump (and probably some lighting) since it does mean we need to be careful on how hard we run the stoves if the power is off; the water could boil. But it is not a priority whilst the mains power remains reliable since the dc. pumps tend to be quite a lot more expensive (and it is working at the moment and there are other things to do!).
    Ideally I would like a solar system for the hot water as well, since we can only have hot water at the moment by running the stove and this can make the kitchen rather hot, (and burns wood!) however since the kitchen is at the north end of the house (which faces east) and the walls are approximately 2ft thick, this is not a trivial exercise!
    Hope this helps.
     
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    Some of my dream items are  a new version of a Victorian kitchen window box or a "California" closet. All of these have to do with food storage btw.

    The window box was a tin box with a shelf (like the interior of a bread box) with flanges which was manufacturered to extend out of a window, like a window air conditioner. The box was a mini fridge in fall-winter. My idea is to make such a thing, but insulate it heavily and do extensive crack sealing around the edges of the window/box joint on the inside and maybe the outside. My husband isn't sure of the utility of this, so we haven't done it. I know where I can get someone to make the box, but... it may never happen here.

    I call  one idea a "California Closet," not sure where I got the name? A closet with a vent pipe in the roof for exhausting hot air and a feeder pipe through the floor, into the unheated basement to bring in cool air. In between, an insulated closet with wire shelves. I've always planned on using old stove racks...

    There was a 1980s article about someone who created fold down furniture and such. They kept their shelf-stable foods, grains, etc. in an insulated closet on the exterior of the building...
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