Archive for November, 2010

Hot water, solar panels and finish details

November 15, 2010

I now began to aggressively research my options as far as getting a hot water storage tank with 2 heat exchangers that would be appropriate for my planned hot water solar panels to provide heat in the radiant floor circuits when needed to supplement what is coming in the windows. My first check was with local plumbing supply houses, and when they would not give me a price quote, through my plumbing contractor, Mike Noe of CPE. What I needed was going to be expensive so I cast my net further afield checking with a solar energy specialist in upstate NY, and got a very competitive quote on an appropriate tank that saved me roughly $1000. They also were having a Fall promotional sale on solar panels (probably to move out existing stock at the end of the main construction season) so I decided to jump forward and get my solar panels at the same time. I ordered 3 – 20 tube evacuated tube heat pipe solar panels rated at 28,000 btu/day each, a drain back tank, fittings, pumps, and an electronic solar controller, as well as the 80 gallon storage tank. I arranged to go to their office and warehouse in Bainbridge, NY and pick the stuff up on Friday October 15. My timing was complicated by the fact that the appliances (stove and frig) I had put on layaway from the Boxing day sales last winter were being delivered on Thursday afternoon. So after receiving and securing them I loaded up and headed East, with a first stop in London to get a bank draft, and then on to Bainbridge.

My GPS was overly optimistic in terms of the driving time required to get there and I was planning on stopping at a reasonable time near destination and getting a motel. By the time I got to that geography, it was 2AM, and I just pulled into a parking area, climbed the back of the van with a blanket and slept until about 7AM.

Rolled in to Bainbridge about 7:30, had some breakfast at a diner and showed up at Silcon Solar shortly after they opened for the day. After a bit of consultation with the installer/engineer decided on the final assortment of bits I would get, settled the payment and headed out to the warehouse which was a few miles away on the other side of town. Morning had dawned gray and wet with building wind and heavy rain and I had my sturdy tarpaulin and bungee cords which I thought would be adequate to cover my precious load and keep it dry in my trailer. Started off and before I got back to Bainbridge it was apparent I needed more tiedowns to keep the tarp from flapping wildly. After a vist to the Dollar store had more bungees, and it seemed to be doing well but then I got on the interstate and more or less up to a safe cruising speed. The tarp started to flap wildly in spite of the tie-downs, split up the middle and was doing nothing to protect the packages in the trailer. Hence I had to pull of and hunt for a building supply outlet and get another tarp and even more bungees. I also had a bunch ratchet strap tie downs in the van which I used over the months to secure loads in the trailer, and with a combination of the bungees around the edges and 3 ratchet straps from front to back of the trailer was able to control the effect of the wind on the tarp and finally about 12:30 really got started on the trek back home.

It was decidedly unpleasant driving with the wind and rain and after a couple of hours the short night began to catch up with me and I pulled into a rest area for a nap. Still not really sure what happened, but when I woke up from my snooze, my battery was so low the engine wouldn’t start. I determined I had left my headlights on, and maybe had my foot on the brakes so the electric brakes were also draining power. Had a moment of panic but I had my jumper cables, and the first people I encountered as I headed toward the bathrooms were willing to give me a boost, so in short order I was back on the road.

The nasty rain and wind continued nearly till I reached the border as daylight was fading and it was dry pavement from there till I got home at about midnight, where I crashed for a recovery sleep. Next morning was dry and sunny, and peeled of the tarp and loaded everything into the garage. On Monday I ordered an additional two pumps which I need for the system, and the specialized pipe insulation for the lines to the solar panels. In about a week I should have pretty much everything I will need to assemble the solar hot water system. Below are pictures of my new stove and fridge in the newly painted kitchen area, Silicon Solar location and of the boxes of the components I acquired,.

Stove and fridge in their approximate final locations.

Slightly different angle showing the painted surfaces of the kitchen area. Paint color is called Warm Hug:)

Silicon Solar sales office.

More of the demo solar panels at the sales office.

Hot water storage tank and all the solar components in boxes. Some assembly required ๐Ÿ™‚

A "found" dresser left out by one of my neighbors. Solid real hardwood, must be good for something ๐Ÿ™‚

After recovering from my trip over the weekend and reading the operating manual for my solar controller, I decided it didn’t make sense to have two pumps working in parallel to pump water to the solar panels and called Silicon Solar to cancel the back ordered pump which would have doubled the pump input with two small pumps.

I then ordered a larger single pump which would be able to pump water to the height needed at an appropriate flow rate (Taco 008 a cast iron pump housing) and a small bronze housing pump to circulate potable water from the storage tank to the tankless natural gas powered heater if the solar panels are not generating enough heat for radiant heating and household use. I also, on the recommendation of the Silicon Solar people located a source for high temperature pipe insulation to insulate the pipe circuit to the solar panels. Placed my orders by phone and had them shipped to the Bluewater Ferry as per earlier strategy for US shipping sources. The pump source was Pex Universe a plumbing supply house in Brooklyn, NY, and the pipe insulation was from AltEstore in Massachussets. They both arrived at the ferry by Friday and I buzzed over and picked them up.

I then set about to begin assembling the pieces of my solar system starting by moving the hot water storage tank into the mechanical room from the landing zone in the garage. Also got some help from my friend Ron of the strawbale house down the street to put up my range hood so the kitchen will be ready for cooking shortly. The following Monday I got a voicemail message from the folks at Silicon Solar telling me they had shipped the back-ordered pump which was still on my bill for the the system ๐Ÿ˜ฆ So I planned to make a trip to pick it up at the ferry later in the week. I had also scheduled the gas company to hook up my gas meter and had the gas fitters do their final stuff so I had a working appliance with my gas range when the gas company lady showed up. Anyway, I now have a working refrigerator and stove, but it will be a while before the kitchen cabinets are ready.

I decided that rather than just pick up the pump from the ferry, that I would cross the river and do some shopping for door latches and locks in particular to match the ones I had purchased earlier, and to get the deadbolt that was out of stock, as well as to have them all rekeyed to one key. I checked on the web for Lowes where I had purchased the original locks, and behold, my brand was on 50% off special, so decided to really go whole hog and get the hardware for all my doors. Went smoothly, except that it turned out that Lowes is terminating the lock brand, so it was hit or miss if any store had what I needed in stock. The service people at my first encounter didn’t have what I needed but another store only about 8 miles away had some of what I needed. So off I went. I got several of the locks and deadbolts and passage hardware that I needed but not everything. It was going to take almost 2 hours to get my locks rekeyed, 3 sets of exterior locks and deadbolts, so I took the time to visit two other Lowes stores each within 20 minutes of that location, and planned to hit a 5th one that was on the path back to the ferry. Still can’t believe the density of Lowes stores in the Detroit suburbs, and all but one of them had a Home Depot virtually across the street. I was only able to get two more of the closet and bath/bed privacy latches, but got a very close match with Weiser brand in appearance although not the solid brass hardware like the Gatehouse locks I was getting on special. Interestingly when I checked at the new Lowes store in London on the Canadian side of the border, no special on the Gatehouse locks, and no sign that they are being discontinued. The big difference was in price, the fancy main entry set I got for $59 US was $159 Canadian and the currencies are almost on par right now.ย  Theย  Weiser locks were a good buy, about $10ย  less than Canadian prices but nothing like the closeouts.

Working stove and range hood.

Hot water storage tank in mechanical room, heat exchangers installed and solar panel drainback tank on top.

All three panel bases assembled and positioned as they will be on the roof.

Scaffolding and foot rail in place for installing solar panels on the south face of the roof.

In preparation for mounting the solar panels 2×8 backing pieces were screwed between the trusses flush to the back of the roof deck, place such that the mounting feet would be centered over them. Thus the lag bolts which would penetrate the shingles and deck would be solidly attached into that mounting block. Took a couple days of thinking and planning and actually executing to get the preparation done for the panels working in the attic under the roof.

The roof was set up on the day of installation with 2×6 or 2×8 planks cut to hold the feet in the proper location over the securing block under the roof. The manifold frames were placed on the roof, fastened together with the brass unions between them, and then positioned laterally so no foot was over a shingle seam. Pilot holes were drilled, filled with silicone caulk, and then the lag bolts secured to fasten the frame and seal the roof penetration.

Solar panel manifolds and frames installed on the roof with interconnections. Ron Challis my neighbor and assistant in the operation.

Solar panel mounts with the supporting spacers removed.

On my Monday trip into London, for dental appointment, and choir practice, I scored track light fixtures at Costco. They are brushed nickel, Energy Star with CFLs in them. Fixture and lights $35 and quite handsome. May be retrofittable with LED lights when the price comes down. I also got tiles for the floors of my bathrooms, now just have to get organized to start on the tile work after I have solar panel and hot water details finished. Plumbers are scheduled to come in and hook up city water and plumb domestic hot water and radiant heat system on Tuesday Nov 16, so things should be percolating along.

New track light fixtures mounted on great room ceiling.

Kelly from CPE arrived with a helper on Tuesday afternoon, and then again for a few hours on Wednesday. Not complete, and still no water hooked up, but many benchmarks of the system are done. The circulation loop from the Takagi Jr. tankless natural gas water heater to the water storage tanks is complete. A small bronze Taco 006 pump is controlled by the solar panel controller computer to circulate water from the tank through the heater and bring the temp up to standard when the solar panels are either not hot enough or no sun is shining. The system is a “drainback” hot water system, otherwise known as an open or non-pressurized sytem. There is a drainback reservoir which sits above the main water/heat storage tank and a circulating pump moves the water from that tank up to the solar panels. More accurately it draws water through the heat exchanger in the storage, up to the panels, back to the drainback tank, and then down through the heat exchanger heating the water in the tank, and then back around the loop. When the sensor in the solar panel shows that the temperature difference is too small for effective heat capture (either because the sun is not shining, or the storage tank temperature is up to the maximum) the pump turns off. Since the system is open with a vent to the atmosphere in the drainback tank, and the pipes and solar panels are all sloped so the water drains efficiently back to the 10 gallon drainback tank, leaving the pipes and solar collector manifold empty. The benefit of this system is that it is simpler and has less hassles in meeting standards for pressure and freedom from leaks which is necessary in a closed system. The closed system also must be filled with antifreeze (Glycol) which is expensive compared to water, and requires an extra pump and arrangement for heat dumping when the storage volume is up to spec and the sun is still shining. The drainback system just empties out and heat dumping is not an issue. This approach is particularly simple when dealing with an evacuated tube/heat pipe collector which has a very small volume of fluid in the manifold, so the drainback approach works very nicely. The flat panel collectors apparently can also use drainback, but the mechanics of getting complete emptying of the loop are more complicated.

Below are pictures of the present status of the solar collector and radiant heating plumbing.

Plumbing of the hot water storage tank, lines and pump to the backup heat source from the tankless natural gas water heater. Pump will be controlled by the solar panel controller.

A slightly different angle, showing the two other pumps, up top to send water to the solar panels, below the circulator for the radiant heat in the floors, at bottom the manifold for the radiant circuits. On the shelf above is the drainback tank for the solar collector circuit.

Circulating pump and radiant heat manifold for the garage/workshop.

In the attic looking from the access door over the box of pipe insulation to the far west end of the pipe to the collectors.

Looking east under the trusses to the far end of the collectors and the turn of the pipes down to the mechanical room. Some insulation on the pipes.

Looking from the ceiling over the mechanical room up the insulated pipes feeding the collectors.

Plumbing complete on the workshop radiant heat manifold and pump.

Plumbing complete on the radiant heat, solar circuits, and domestic hot water connections. City water is now connected.

Plumbing complete to the west end of the solar panels with insulation in place

Feed and return pipes emerging from the mechanical room.

The dividing point where feed and return pipes diverge to go to the opposite ends of the solar array. Note the slope in the lines to give efficient drainback when the pump turns off.

Looking down the pipes to the penetration point into the mechanical room. Note the red wire which connects the temperature sensor in the solar array to the control computer below.