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Tony Masterson
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Hi all,

This is my first post on this forum, so'll start with an introduction; I have some general knowledge about things discussed on this forum but never actually build anything. I'm planning to emigrate from Europe to somewhere in North America. Central Indiana, Nova Scotia Canada or somewhere on the border of the USA and Canada. I'm no real Permie and likely will not become one. But I see the benefits of cutting back on until bills and being more independent. I'm planning to build my own home I full control over energy saving things.English isn't my first language so sometimes things may sound more direct as intended.


Earning back investments obviously depends greatly on the fuel that's being used, but I plan moving to an area with natural gas because I would like it as a backup. I mention this because in that situation it will take 4x longer to earn back my investment.


ELECTRICITY
Electricity is my biggest problem I think. I did rough calculations that indicate I would need $18000 on batteries alone. Add to that the required solar panels. With a limited lifespan of the batteries that will be hard to earn back. Likely I can cut back on batteries by doing my laundry etc. at the daytime using power directly from the solar panels. Where I live it's possible to sell electricity to util company. That way I could earn during sunny hours and buy during the other hours. Surely they won't pay what they charge but it saves on battery costs.

To be honest I have no clue how many PV solar panels I need. They all state peak output so I can calculate a minimum number, but I have no clue about real life performance. If the average is half of the peak I obviously need double the amount of panels. Which means earning back my investment will takes twice as long.


GEOTHERMAL
Rough calculations show that compared to gas heating a BTU is only 25% cheaper. Cooling in the summer is a bonus. The continuing costs are the electricity for the pump which could come from solar cells but they hav eto be earned back.


SOLAR HEATING.
Solar panels on the walls or roof blowing hot air in the house seem quite efficient and worry free.
But only peak performance is stated so it's hard for me to calculate the ideal number


WOOD STOVES
I would like one but worry a bit about getting cheap wood.
I've been thinking about Ashley stoves or http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=nl&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bergkachel.nl%2Fhoutkachel_hoogrendement.html


COMBINING IT ALL
My home needs heating is 6 smaller rooms (bedrooms, study, playroom for the kids, etc) And a big living room with kitchen. Central heating would be great because that way each room can easily control heat. So in my uneducated mind a system like this would be ideal.
Regular central heating that runs on natural gas combined with hot tap water. The gas is just for backup because the water in the system is heated by solar panels. So on sunny days no gas is used.
I don't know the efficiency of PV panels vs heating panels but assuming they are the same I would place a large quantity PV panels on my roof. They power all electric equipment, the excess power is used to heat the water, or to charge batteries, or sold to the utils company. The benefit of this system is that during summer I likely get an excess of electricity I can sell. Heating panels are only useful during the cold months. Electricity is more all-purpose.
Even better would be if the wood stove also could heat the water. (but that might overheat the system)






MEASURING
I've been thinking of installing the minimum of all alternative energy solutions.
Say 3 PV solar panels, 3 heating panels etc.
Then add sensors that measure airflow, heat, voltage and amps.
Measure, say, every half hour for a whole year. That way I would know the performance where I live.
Then add stuff based on the util bills.
Is such equipment available?


Suggestions?
 
John Elliott
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My suggestion would be find a place to land first.

Indiana is quite different from Nova Scotia. In fact, every place is unique; they have a unique set of parameters of solar insolation, geothermal energy potential, biomass resources, soil types, rainfall, climate, etc. Until you pick a place and have a value for each of those parameters, you can't really start a design. Oh, you can have some ideas and preferences, but until you know the parameters, you can't start making choices.

Perhaps if you tell us what kind of a place you are looking for (i.e., mountains, desert, coastal, woods, big city, small town), we can suggest places that you can put on your short list.
 
Tony Masterson
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That's all true. But my choice also depends on the "green possibilities".
Certainly no big town. Small village or even a few miles away from the next neighbor. I'm an internet addict so internet should be available. Natural gas should be available.
Yeah, I'm fully aware the best answers are given to far more focussed questions. So I'll ask a few that are valid for every climate.

I'm looking for something multifunctional. Not a panel for water heating. A panel for air heating. Put a panel that heats my water and when done it heats my house. That way the panels are more fully utilized which is likely more cost efficient.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Another question that is valid for all locations (I think):
Just assume I have one massive heating panel that has enough capacity to heat my entire home. My home has 7 rooms. Can each room have it's own temp control.
3x bed rooms.
1x Guest room.
1x Study room.
1x extra room.
1x Living room + kitchen.

The living room is 3x the size of the other rooms combined. The bedrooms usually should be cooler than the living room. The heating in the guest room most of the time will be off or very minimal.
 
R Scott
Posts: 3363
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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First, WELCOME.

Second, there is no affordable way to size a solar system to what we are used to in a modern grid house. You HAVE to minimize your usage first--Small efficient fridge, no or minimal AC, heat, hot water, clothes dryers, etc.... Then follow passive solar designs for the house--all the bedrooms on the north side with a sleeping porch to the far north, built to catch the prevailing summer winds, tall ceiling in the great room with solar chimney exhaust, etc. Use small efficient AC units in the bedrooms if you HAVE to. Small ones are actually more cost effective on solar because they can run from small inverters and don't have huge start up surge demands.

You can easily heat that home with a properly placed cookstove, rocket, or masonry stove. Build the house with transom windows and/or small fans to pump heat into the rooms. My wood cookstove also heats my water all winter.

I could use solar to heat it in the summer, but I use a geyser heat pump because it cools and dehumidifies my basement at the same time (which I needed) but could be used to cool the main room as well. It uses half the electricity as an electric water heater and could be set up to run only during the day when you are producing excess electricity if you size the tank properly for a solar system.



Knowing what I know now, I could build an off-grid house much easier than taking my current house off grid.
 
Marcos Buenijo
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Tony, you mentioned batteries while also mentioning the selling of electricity to the grid. Bottom line is that, if you have grid power available, then getting a battery system is a serious waste of money. Only off grid energy systems require a battery system. An off grid energy system makes sense only when grid power is not available, or if providing grid power to a site is cost prohibitive.

For heating in a cold climate, I see natural gas as unbeatable (assuming it's available). If not, then wood makes the most sense. A geothermal system can make sense, but there are a lot of variables to consider such as the soil conditions at a site and the up front cost of the system.

You did mention the following, and I concur that providing useful advice is impossible without having specific information. You can get a lot more useful advice by providing more information.
 
Tony Masterson
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Marcos Buenijo wrote:Tony, you mentioned batteries while also mentioning the selling of electricity to the grid. Bottom line is that, if you have grid power available, then getting a battery system is a serious waste of money.
I guessed so; but I'm to new to all of this to make any firm statements about it.
For heating in a cold climate, I see natural gas as unbeatable (assuming it's available). If not, then wood makes the most sense.
I aim to combine both. I get wood whenever I can. But that's another problem. I don't know much about burning wood. I know soaking wet tree sized logs are not what I need. I guess getting wood is an art itself.


A geothermal system can make sense, but there are a lot of variables to consider such as the soil conditions at a site and the up front cost of the system.

Great about geothermal is that it heats and cools.


You did mention the following, and I concur that providing useful advice is impossible without having specific information. You can get a lot more useful advice by providing more information.
Your view on the battery system was actually very useful to me. But as mentioned earlier I have no fixed demand on where to live exactly. Total cost of ownership is a big part of the picture. An all glass huge house on the North Pole would be great but I can't afford even one day of heating
So it's all a trade off. Right now I think heating (solar, gas, wood) is less expensive than cooling (AC driven by a huge array of solar panels)
Geothermal may be the big exception. For example a stream/river running over my property may be great and cheap source for geothermal cooling.

Thanks for your answers.
 
Tony Masterson
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R Scott wrote:First, WELCOME.

Second, there is no affordable way to size a solar system to what we are used to in a modern grid house. You HAVE to minimize your usage first
I know but I'm still resisting the thought
For me part of the whole thing is a garden. And a garden means storing food. Which requires a big freezer. (Yeah I know about canning)


built to catch the prevailing summer winds, tall ceiling in the great room with solar chimney exhaust, etc.
Good tips!


You can easily heat that home with a properly placed cookstove, rocket, or masonry stove. Build the house with transom windows and/or small fans to pump heat into the rooms.

I already considered that but I'm unsure on how to efficiently regulate the heat in each room. It would require a thermostat that regulates the fan.
Quick thought on that. Assume a well heated main room. A pipe from the main room each bedroom. In that pipe a fan that blows air into the bedroom and it's simply switched on/of by a simple thermostat.
Sounds like a good plan in theory. But I will only find out it works when I installed it. Quite often theories don't work as expected.
My wood cookstove also heats my water all winter.
By putting a kettle on; or by heating a pipe that runs to your boiler?


Thanks for your insights.
 
C. Letellier
Posts: 228
Location: Greybull WY north central WY zone 4 bordering on 3
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You are missing many possible. Is active solar heating needed for example? Passive solar is functional in many areas. Also can you tap passive geothermal by simply having a basement or building earth berm or an in ground home?

For example I live in a passive home and even given the month and that I am in northern WY I haven't even bothered to light the auxiliary heat yet this fall. The make up heat needed is relatively minor to stay comfortable here. But I live in one of the best areas for solar on the basis of sun days. So you location really matters in final design.





 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Tony Masterson wrote: For me part of the whole thing is a garden. And a garden means storing food. Which requires a big freezer. (Yeah I know about canning)


Two things: Root cellars and Ice houses.

A root cellar can keep a lot of your stuff fresh without power. And act as a storm shelter in tornado season.

If you live somewhere you can harvest ice blocks, you can keep a lot of stuff refrigerated for free. Even if you have to buy ice, it is cheaper than solar refrigeration. My (Amish) neighbor spent $400 for ice for his icehouse for the whole year.


Tony Masterson wrote: I already considered that but I'm unsure on how to efficiently regulate the heat in each room. It would require a thermostat that regulates the fan.
Quick thought on that. Assume a well heated main room. A pipe from the main room each bedroom. In that pipe a fan that blows air into the bedroom and it's simply switched on/of by a simple thermostat.
Sounds like a good plan in theory. But I will only find out it works when I installed it. Quite often theories don't work as expected.

We don't find the difference to be that bad, and would be better if the house was designed for wood heat to begin with. Put your bathroom closer to the heat, then bedrooms further down the hall that can be cooler.

You can install a simple fan (like a computer muffin fan) at the top of the wall and a simple electric baseboard heater thermostat on the wall (total of $40 or less for everything). When the room needs heat, it pulls the naturally hotter air off the ceiling and pumps it into the room. You don't need all the pipes, just let natural convection do most of the work for you.

Tony Masterson wrote: By putting a kettle on; or by heating a pipe that runs to your boiler?


Yes. I have a waterfront piped to the boiler, a water tank on the back of the stove, and can put a kettle on the stovetop if I really want it hot.
 
Tony Masterson
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R Scott wrote:
Tony Masterson wrote: For me part of the whole thing is a garden. And a garden means storing food. Which requires a big freezer. (Yeah I know about canning)


Two things: Root cellars and Ice houses.

A root cellar can keep a lot of your stuff fresh without power.
Never heard about that but I'll Google when done with this post.
Tony Masterson wrote: I already considered that but I'm unsure on how to efficiently regulate the heat in each room. It would require a thermostat that regulates the fan.
Quick thought on that. Assume a well heated main room. A pipe from the main room each bedroom. In that pipe a fan that blows air into the bedroom and it's simply switched on/of by a simple thermostat.
Sounds like a good plan in theory. But I will only find out it works when I installed it. Quite often theories don't work as expected.

We don't find the difference to be that bad, and would be better if the house was designed for wood heat to begin with. Put your bathroom closer to the heat, then bedrooms further down the hall that can be cooler
. I have designed my own house and roughly put the living room and kitchen is on the south The rest like storage, bathrooms and bedrooms are on the north. Between the bedroom and the living room is a corridor. A cavity wall idea so to speak. But that doesn't solve my whole problem because the kids may want to turn on heating when studying in their bedrooms. So that means each room has its own preferred temperature.

You can install a simple fan (like a computer muffin fan) at the top of the wall and a simple electric baseboard heater thermostat on the wall (total of $40 or less for everything). When the room needs heat, it pulls the naturally hotter air off the ceiling and pumps it into the room. You don't need all the pipes, just let natural convection do most of the work for you.

Tony Masterson wrote: By putting a kettle on; or by heating a pipe that runs to your boiler?


Yes. I have a waterfront piped to the boiler
I have no idea what that is. So much to learn....
a water tank on the back of the stove,
That I do understand
I thought of similar things but go a bit worried. Heaters switch of when the desired temp is reached; but wood, coal etc stoves aren't part of the boiler system so never switch of. How do you prevent overheating which can lead to explosion?
 
Tony Masterson
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C. Letellier wrote:You are missing many possible. Is active solar heating needed for example? Passive solar is functional in many areas. Also can you tap passive geothermal by simply having a basement or building earth berm or an in ground home?

For example I live in a passive home and even given the month and that I am in northern WY I haven't even bothered to light the auxiliary heat yet this fall. The make up heat needed is relatively minor to stay comfortable here. But I live in one of the best areas for solar on the basis of sun days. So you location really matters in final design.
I started this thread stating I dont know where I'm going to build but that seems to make discussions/advise impossible.
I have two main spots.
Somewhere outside Indianapolis. http://weatherspark.com/averages/30595/Indianapolis-United-States
And on Nova Scotia. http://weatherspark.com/averages/28340/Yarmouth-Nova-Scotia-Canada
I added some temperature info to give a fair impression. The site requires enter a town so I just picked one. It's not the exact location I'll be building.
Nova Scotia is big and very diverse energy wise. For example only the Halifax area has natural gas. Living outside that area and being forced to use expensive oil, propane of electricity heating makes Geo Thermal a good choice (I think).


Nothing is set in stone but my house likely will be 1 level 2500-3000 sqfeet. Aiming for R6 or even R7 walls. The roof/ceiling even more. At least double glazing, but considering triple. I like a single floor home because I want to live in it the rest of my life. My grandmother slept in the living room during the last 15 years of my life. My father currently sleeps downstairs for about 2 years. So they can't reach/use half of their house. For that reason I never considered a cellar. But now I'm told cellars also have geothermal benefits besides storage. I like a double bang for a buck so please explain or point me to an article if possible.
 
Marcos Buenijo
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Tony, based on everything you've written here it seems clear that off grid is out of the question. So, let's face the fact that you will have electricity provided by the local utility and there is no need for a battery bank. If you will have natural gas available, then it seems the most rational choice for heating and backup power generation if/when required. If no natural gas, then a geothermal heat pump does seem practical and cost effective. The only practical alternative energy I see possible here is a grid-tie PV system, and this can be reasonable depending on the conditions. It seems to me that you're interested in having a more or less conventional North American home beyond the possibility of grid-tie solar. Just augment insulation as best you can, get good insulating windows, and incorporate some passive solar gain to help in space heating. If you want backup power generation, then a modest Diesel generator seems best. I think you could tell any modern home builder that you want an energy efficient home, and this is what many would come up with.
 
Tony Masterson
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Marcos, of the grid is indeed impossible without extreme costs. I've dropped the entire battery backup idea. Still considering panels but likely not to cover my total electricity demand. So you are right I want my conventional North American home.
While doing so I want to cut back on the costs by solutions like geo thermal. I also want to learn and be prepared (to some extend) in case of a crisis. Insulation is most certainly on the top of my list. I did some calculations and it really pays of fast. Besides of that good insulation gives a stable temp which adds to comfort. And in case fuel gets insanely expensive I'll be able to heat with my wood stove I'm very likely going to install. Likely also a few solar panels. Going to do solar cooking as a science experiment with the kids.
So as I said in my first post I'm certainly not a permie but very open to save some $.
 
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