paul has a new video  

 



visit the thread.

see the DVDs.

  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Getting off the "propane grid"  RSS feed

 
                              
Posts: 15
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
We are in the midst of designing an off-grid home which will probably have a wood-based heating system (e.g. masonry or wood or pellet stove). 

But we are also worried about "backup" heating if we are away from the house for more than a day in (central New York) winter. It seems that 99% of the solutions to that problem I see and read about  use propane.

Now I don't mean to challenge anyone's choices, but for us having the propane truck visit even once a year (or driving to town to get a refill) is just a different flavor of being "on" the fossil-fuel "grid"!

Can anyone suggest a decent alternative. I'm pretty handy but not quite ready to build my own biogas processor (I figure all the propane users out there just bought their small backup heater) so i would prefer something that is equivalent; e.g. actually commercially available. Something that can keep the house from freezing on an automatic/thermostat basis for 2 days to 2 weeks ?

thanks
Daryl

p.s. There is a lot to be said for avoiding use of any of the fossil-gas fuels. Living here in the heart of the "Marcellus Shale" - home of "the future of American energy independence" and "clean, safe, natural gas" I can tell you that natural gas production can be as ugly and poisonous a business as coal - and the communities here in the US that have been exposed to the "hydro-fracking" process to get this all-American fuel look just like the poisoned, strip-mined towns of Appalachia in the 60's. Check the movie "Gasland" and see if you don't rethink the use of natural gas or propane or their kin.
 
                              
Posts: 15
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
dander wrote:
We are in the midst of designing an off-grid home which will probably have a wood-based heating system (e.g. masonry or wood or pellet stove). 


Hmm... Lots off views but no answers - which, I suppose, reflects the reality of the situation. Not too many "off the shelf" options for non-propane backup/away heating ?

Discussion points:

(a) We will have adequate PV electric at our site (although a lot less sun in Jan & Feb). Between Federal and State subsidies and tax breaks we are looking at about $2.50 per kilowatt -- installed !

(b) Which leads to what seems to be the second most common backup after propane - ELECTRIC water-heater-based hydronic heating ??  I am almost as startled to see this as a player in the RE/alternatives  arena as I was with the predominance of propane. Of course in this case the electricity would be my own but we are still talking at least 4500 watts for a typical water-heater element to produce a maximum of about 15,000 btu equivalent heat. And the battery system to support availability of such a system for even 2-3 sunless days in January is tres cher ! (We get something like 25% of available sunlight here in January & February)

(c) Are there commercially-available BIOFUEL-based heating systems ? Or can one convert propane heaters easily? We might be able to get in an acre or two of canola and make our own (about 200 gallons  from two acres I hear) but I also hear that the biofuel creation units are in the $5-10,000 range. Yikes. Good idea for a cooperatively-owned machine!

(d) What about pellet-based systems. I have heard that these have auto-feed systems that can be run on timers. Does such a system exist that could run independently for, say, a week ?

thanks for ANY suggestions !

p.s. I didn't mean to bash on or scare away all you propane users - it is clearly the economical choice. But we might as well ALL be talking about what we will use when the price of propane triples !
 
Shawn Bell
Posts: 156
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Dander,

Since you are designing your home this really is not a problem for you.  First of all use all the thermal mass you can in your building design,  this helps regulate temperature fluctuations. 

Now for the really cool off-grid heating design, solar hot water radiant heat floors!  Your solar panels can power the pump to circulate the solar heated water.  The thermal mass stores the heat to release it later that night.

You might also consider a rocket mass heater, it is a lot like a masonry heater only cheaper (I believe).

How about really big windows facing south letting the sunshine warm the thermal mass floors, then automated draperies to insulate at night.

There is also geothermal heating, again I believe the solar panels could power a low energy version of this.

Just my thoughts...
 
Philip Freddolino
Posts: 53
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have the same issue. We use wood to heat ,but when we leave town , we use a propane water heater plumbed into the hydronic floor. The pump and thermostat only use 10 watts, but the propane bugs me. The only thing I've found that has the automation needed for a 7-10 day trip would be a dual-fuel (oil-wood) boiler that would run on WVO.
 
                    
Posts: 0
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I believe there is no way to use electric resistance heating off solar. None, with the exception of using grid tied solar with the grid as the "battery" or a combination thereof.

My opinion is that something like bio diesel is easier to store than gaseous home brewed fuels, so if I was making by own bio-fuel I'd go liquid, and be able to use it in a motor vehicle too.  Toyo oil heaters are used by many folks in Alaska for backup or as the main source of heating.

What about geothermal? There are units that are efficient enough to be used off grid. If I was building new or doing a major retrofit I'd be looking at that. (But I'm in the SW with more sun than NYS.

To my way of thinking a pellet stove is not very desirable either, as they need pellets (made in a factory). They can be good for a day or two, maybe more depending on size, weather, etc. But after that the hopper needs filling.

Like it or not propane does offer convenience, long run time and so on.
 
Mick Cressman
Posts: 23
Location: Upstate NY, zone 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Actually, my wife and I are building a home in Central NY and have been struggling with the same issue.  It seems to have been competition between immediacy/convenience (I'm going away for about a year this fall) and sustainability.  What we've decided on is to go ahead and use propane, with the goal that as soon as I come home we'll begin walking down the path of bio-gas production.  Hopefully the propane tank can figure into that system as well.
 
Len Ovens
pollinator
Posts: 1452
Location: Vancouver Island
29
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
As you are building your own home.... High mass. High mass connected to the ground, preferably an insulated chunk of ground. All insulation should be on the outside of your high mass walls. Berming is nice but not required. You do not need to keep the house at 72F when you are gone. Keep your plumbing away from outside walls. Heat the mass not the air. Lots of mass will allow over sizing south facing windows without over heating the house. There are homes in some pretty cold places at high altitude that use no heat all winter and still have 60F plus min. temp. Some are partially buried but others are all above ground. Our crawl space seems to stay at a minimum of 12C (50 -55F) even though it is isolated from the heated areas, but it is connected to the ground 4 ft below the surface. Just an ordinary stick house.
 
                              
Posts: 15
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Shawn, Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

Shawn Bell wrote:
Dander,

Since you are designing your home this really is not a problem for you.  First of all use all the thermal mass you can in your building design,  this helps regulate temperature fluctuations. 

I should clarify that we have almost completed the design stage but had agreed to isolate-out the heating & electric systems design so those remain up in the air. Our builder is quite confident that our tight" strawbale design will not need more than a small woodstove to heat. I have done some analysis using the areas and R-values and it seems pretty good. My wife and I are in the over-55 set and not comfortable on concrete floors so that source of thermal mas is out. The design does incorporate passive solar elements including solar-south orientation and a relatively large area (135 sq ft) of south-facing double-pane, low- glass. The overall footprint is 1000 sq ft plus a loft and an unheated basement.

Now for the really cool off-grid heating design, solar hot water radiant heat floors!  Your solar panels can power the pump to circulate the solar heated water.  The thermal mass stores the heat to release it later that night.

Very definitely looking into that. Lacking structural thermal mass I am trying to figure out how much water-mass we might need. We could easily accomodate, say, a 500 gallon insulated storage tank in the basement and my quick calculations suggest we could potentially store a decent amount of heat from a solar thermal system for hydronic floors.

You might also consider a rocket mass heater, it is a lot like a masonry heater only cheaper (I believe).

This is a very interesting technology but doesn't seem suited to long-term unattended usage ?

How about really big windows facing south letting the sunshine warm the thermal mass floors, then automated draperies to insulate at night.

There is also geothermal heating, again I believe the solar panels could power a low energy version of this.

The house faces south across a 2.5 acre pond and we have looked HARD at pond-source geothermal. Unfortunately the numbers just don't seem to add up with a requirement for quite a bit of electricity (even with a COP (efficiency factor) of 3.0 or 4.0) at the time of hear when we are getting the least amounts of sunlight.These systems also have a pretty high upfront cost ($20K plus) and a spotty reputation for performance in some circles... too bad since it would be very cool (no pun intended) to heat our home in the winter from a frozen, snow-covered pond !

Just my thoughts...
 
                              
Posts: 15
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Mick wrote:
Actually, my wife and I are building a home in Central NY and have been struggling with the same issue.  It seems to have been competition between immediacy/convenience (I'm going away for about a year this fall) and sustainability.  What we've decided on is to go ahead and use propane, with the goal that as soon as I come home we'll begin walking down the path of bio-gas production.  Hopefully the propane tank can figure into that system as well.


Good luck.

Our local propane dealer shows up as a distributor of biofuels !? I have yet to call but their webpage doesn't mention it and I think they may have backed out of it. Otherwise I would go for having that truck drive up once or twice a year and make my own plans to grow and make my own.
 
                              
Posts: 15
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Len wrote:
As you are building your own home.... High mass. High mass connected to the ground, preferably an insulated chunk of ground. All insulation should be on the outside of your high mass walls. Berming is nice but not required. You do not need to keep the house at 72F when you are gone. Absolutely! I have run the thermal models for 50 degrees and it makes quite a difference. Our local "solar thermal and PV" installer says that in our climate it is very tough to get 100% solar thermal-based heat but that 70% can be done. I am asking them if that 70% can be translated from 7-days-solar-3-days propane to 10 days of solar at 50 degrees !? Keep your plumbing away from outside walls. VERY good point. I will make sure this happens. Thanks for pointing it out. Heat the mass not the air. Lots of mass will allow over sizing south facing windows without over heating the house. There are homes in some pretty cold places at high altitude that use no heat all winter and still have 60F plus min. temp. Some are partially buried but others are all above ground. Our crawl space seems to stay at a minimum of 12C (50 -55F) even though it is isolated from the heated areas, but it is connected to the ground 4 ft below the surface. Just an ordinary stick house.
 
Shawn Bell
Posts: 156
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Dander,

There is a thread on here that might interest you, the "Jean Pain Method".  It describes using large compost piles to heat water that can then be used to warm your house.  A thermostat set to run a pump to circulate the water through the radiant system should be fairly automatic.

Now for some almost crazy no cost ideas...

1.  Have a friend house sit for you, and let them keep the fire stoked.

2.  Rent your house to eco-vacationers while you are gone for two weeks.  Let them pay you to keep your house warm.

Just some more of my ideas...
 
I've got no option but to sell you all for scientific experiments. Or a tiny ad:
Permaculture Playing Cards by Paul Wheaton and Alexander Ojeda
https://permies.com/wiki/57503/digital-market/digital-market/Permaculture-Playing-Cards-Paul-Wheaton
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!