Sunday, January 30, 2011

Heating Thoughts

Today, my small solar setup would run a forced air furnace easily, although my battery bank would probably not be large enough to run it for the night. Thats with the system I am running at the moment. My battery bank at the moment is 6 12 volt deep cycle/marine batteries.
My prosine inverter controller is showing that my 6 12volt batteries are at +7C for a temperature as the outside temp is -18 C according to my thermometer. I hav'nt had the battery warmers on since about 10:00 pm the previous night.

My charge controller is showing some pretty fair power coming in from the solar panels today. The sun is just starting to peak over the trees.
WARNING: The following writeup about heating may be a long drawn out boring piece of literature to some. But someone may be interested. Just wanted to think out loud for a bit. I wrote it last night, and added things here and there and even a little more today. It could be all mixed up, but what ever. Personally, I hate reading real long blogs myself, I don't like writing them much either and I sure don't expect anyone to read it, but it is there anyway.

I have been working off and on lately. I have had a fair bit of time off awhile back, and it was in a real cold snap that we had for awhile there. I did'nt accomplish a whole lot on the house, but as usual, I have been doing ALOT of researching on various different topics pertaining to my project. One subject that has really got my mind going, is heating. As we should all know by now is that I kinda learn things as I go. I initially thought I was going to heat my basement with a propane space heater in the basement. I was even thinking about another high efficient (power vented) heater up in the living area somewhere, along with the wood stove. It would all work, but it really would'nt be very energy efficient, while I were away. I am basing this presumption on my experience with the space heater in my shack. My heat bill in the little shack is probably about twice of what it is in my mobile home that I have rented out in town. And the shack is alot smaller to heat, although it does have it's leaky areas, I guess. There other reasons against it also. What is the solution? I sometimes wonder. I have researched hydronics, which is when you circulate hot water (etc) through pipes to heat floors, or baseboard type radiators etc.) It is supposed to consume little electrical energy to run the pumps to circulate the water, but it does use power. I could use an on demand type water heater to heat the water(uses power when operating also, and I personally think alot of gas energy also, but I don't know that for sure). Or I could use a normal hot water tank(boiler). These would probably be an ok type heat system, but it just is'nt for me. In my opinion, they probably use less electrical energy while running, but probably have to run more. I am looking for a quick heat fix when I want it. When I come home on a cold winter day, I plan on lighting a fire in the wood stove. I just need something to keep the chill off while I'm away, and keep me nice and cozy at night while sleeping.
What I am seriously thinking about kinda goes against anything that I research on the internet. You don't often hear about people using forced air furnace to heat a Renewable Energy home, but I have done alot of research and figuring, and I honestly think it will end up being my solution. They work pretty good in an RV. I realize that for about 3 months in the winter, I will definately not be able to rely on incoming solar energy to power this thing, but I am seriously going to make it work somehow. It is kinda chilly in our parts off and on all year long, but in the summer, we probably get alot more sunlight than most of our southern neighbors. A little further north is known as the land of the midnight sun, after all. I find with my small system I have in my shack right now, that I tend to waste alot of the available sunlight I do have. For most of the year, my batteries are full by noon and the charging system shuts down as the ole sun just keeps on shining.

Sure, everyone thinks I'm nuts. Anyone out there think I'm nuts? lol. The way I have it all figured out is that, if my furnace ran, 1/2 of the time(12 hours per day), and with no incoming charge going to the battery bank, I would bring my battery bank down to about 35% depth of discharge. Which means my batteries would still be at 65% state of charge. This figure based on 24 Trojan T-105 6 volt batteries. Not saying this is what will be used, but this is what the calculation is based upon. They are 225 amp/hr batteries @20 hour rate. I also don't ever expect the furnace to run half the time. It could I guess on the coldest of cold days, but I really don't think so. In my calculation, I allowed for 80% efficency for the batteries, then I also allowed for another 80% efficiency after that, just for the heck of it, for inverter efficiency loss etc. I also added some watt/hrs (150) onto the furnace for a total of 600 watts, just incase I missed something there. The furnace is 66,000 btu 93% efficeincy rate(the one I have my eye on). Somehow I have figured that a Honda eu6500 generator should bring the batteries right back up in about an hour of charging for each day, but that is only if there is no other incoming charge, and in the real cold weather. I think that the furnace would run less than 1/3 the time (8 hours per 24 hour period) if it were -25C/-6F. We get alot of days that are alot warmer than this in the winter, but then we do get some that are alot colder also.
When it was -17 one day awhile ago, I experimented with my 24 foot holiday trailer. I turned the furnace on, and timed things as they happend. I brought it to a pretty nice temp in a relatively short period of time. That trailer is not very well insulated and has alot of single pane windows and thin walls. But it really did'nt seem to take long for that small 12 volt forced air furnace to warm it up nicely in there.

I also experimented at work one day. We recently set up an office shack outside the shop at work for the safety hand, and my foreman. An area of it also became our coffee room, which is pretty handy for me to perform some experiments. It's furnace is about the same btu rating as the one I have my eye on, although I don't know the fan cfm. It was -25C one day when I got in from trucking. I sat in there invading some goodies in the fridge and hot chocolate etc, and I timed the furnace run time and off time. The furnace in there ran pretty close to 1/3 the time on that cold day. I did open the entrance door 2 or 3 times in this period also. This building is roughly 14 feet wide, by 60 feet long (I paced it off). It is on skids, so the floor would cool off quicker that way also. A rough calculation of walls and roof are as follows. Experimental shack :3160 square feet. My House 2928 sqaure feet. My basement walls are 8 inch lumber and the upper parts are 6 inch, which is the same as the experimental shack. Four feet of the total wall area of my house is below grade which should really help. If a 600 watt furnace ran at 1/3 time all winter, it would'nt hurt my feelings, but it won't, I just know it. While I'm there, I will be burning wood. When I am gone, the furnace gets turned right down, as it should'nt take long to bring the temp back up again when I get home. A forced air furnace will be really nice at night while sleeping etc.

The plan at this time is to utilize an automatic starting generator, which is subject to automatically start up when the battery bank voltage gets down to a certain voltage setting. If for some reason the generator fails to start (which is quite a possibility), the inverter would eventually shut down at a preset battery voltage also, so as not to over discharge the batteries. I would think the furnace should run for at least two days before the inverter shutting down though. Then there is going to be a direct vent propane heater that should eventually kick in at an above freezing temp in the basement. All the plumbing and things in danger of freezing in my house are in 1/3 area all in one end of the house. I'm pretty sure it would'nt take much of a heater to keep things from freezing right up. Example:They built an entrance way on the shack at work that goes from the shop to the shack. I walked from the shop to the shack the other night for the first time in this insulated porch, and could'nt believe just how warm it was in there, with just the heat from the shack and shop warming it through the closed doors, and I guess the heat that enters from opening the doors periodically to enter the buildings. The outside temperature was quite bitter, about -20C with a wind. I might even eventually put in some kind of a hydronic system for when I do leave for a week or so maybe, even if it is just a real small system for experimental purposes. The possibilities are endless. All my furnace calculations were assuming cold temps and no other means of incoming charge. When ever the sun shines, that will be a big bonus, when I am at home, wood is burnt, and I also plan on eventually bringing in some wind power. If I ever decide, at some time in my life, to go away for a long time in the winter, such as the Canada goose does, I think I would simply winterize things just like I do my RV, and let it freeze up. Why not? Seems to me alot better than running a furnace for a month in the winter when you're not there anyway.

A little while ago, I was actually having second thoughts about even staying off the grid. I was doing some real serious calculations to see if it were even going to be worth it, as there is power pretty close by that I could always hook into. It would cost anywhere from $8500 to $12,000 or more to hook into the grid, then the monthly bills that follow for ever. But holy cow, how convenient would that be? lol. I could keep my solar setup under that price, but with a furnace it is probably going to end up being more, but then alot of the equipment is resaleable. Generators don't run for free though, and they tend to wear out with use. Sometimes I still do wonder if it will all be worth it, but then I come back to my senses. I know it will benefit me a little financially over time, as long as I can get a few years out of my batteries. But most importantly, is that I plan to live off grid mostly because of my love of learning new things, and I have a real interest in alternative energy. Just coming up with the ultimate solution and proving all the naysayers wrong makes it all worth the while right there. It is my entertainment. If things don't work out with it, or I get tired of the extra maintenance and everything that goes with it, then I can always, in the future hook right into that pole that goes through my yard. But I am going to put up a heck of a fight to avoid it for now. P.S. I know the generator thing sounds kinda harsh, but with or without a forced air furnace, the generator will need to be utilized at times in the winter in these parts. By mid February the sun starts getting higher and higher actually quite rapidly as the days go by, and there is still alot of winter like weather at these times. This is where I really think the forced air furnace will shine and also in the fall. I am still in the process of educating myself though and I am looking a little deeper into hydronic heating before actually making a decision. If I did both, I guess I can’t really go wrong.

I have been trying to stay away from using a B-type vent/chimney system, which was going to be part of the initial plan. A boiler would probably require this type of vent. There are high efficient boilers, but I believe they are pretty expensive and they require electrical energy to run also. High efficient appliances use pvc pipe going out the side of the house as their exhaust and incoming combustion air source. The initial plan was as follows, but it just seems to me, that what could end up being a problem is the permitting process. I seem to always forget that you can’t just do what you think is right. I know I could design a good working system, even if I do have to make some modifications as I go in order to perfect it. My plan was to have about a 50000 btu B vent type propane space heater at one end of the house in the basement. It would be in the end with all the plumbing. Above the heater would be a duct hole leading into the bathroom, and one into the kitchen up above. There could also be a couple in the living area, just so basement heat can rise through them. There could have even been a thermostatically controlled fan to force some heat into those areas when I am home. I could have even plumbed one up to the loft through a bathroom closet for night time comfort. The space heater can come complete with an optional fan mounted right on it. Come home flick a switch up stairs to turn on the fan and whole basement circulates heat which in turn should send some upwards. But then with return air, and heat recovery system issues etc. (I would have to bring in outside air for combustion air) I guess if I go this way, I might as well just do the furnace and be done with it. I was planning on forcing hot air from high above down to the basement while the wood stove was running, so this would help heat the basement with wood heat while I were there, in order to save on heating fuel. When I write or talk about it, I know it probably sounds stupid, but I think I was on to something. If it were not a code approved home, I would get a lot of things done a lot quicker, and I would just do what I want and no one would even know until it was all up and running, and working well. It seems to me though, when I think about, this system would more or less end being an oversized amateur built inefficient furnace, that ended up costing a lot more and taking up a lot more space and burns a lot more propane. So I am really thinking a smaller high efficient furnace, with auto gen start, and back up direct vent space heater as a last resort incase things decide not to run when I am away for 3 days or so. Still thinking though.
Ultimately, my plan was to have absolutely no electrical power usage going on while I were away, but I also would like to keep energy efficiency in mind. With a forced air furnace, I realize there are going to be a lot of days where a generator will have to run for an hour per day or more, but there are also going to be a lot of days where it won’t also. I really believe it would pay off on the yearly average. One other little thing that I keep in mind is that, I am guessing, but I’ll bet on a -30C day, I could walk away from the house when it was warmed up, and if there were no heat source at all while I were away, I don’t think anything in the house would start to freeze up for probably a couple days anyway. I am basing this on my experience with batteries that I keep in the deep freeze outside to power my shack at the moment. I did’nt take note of my battery temperature last night when I went to bed, but it was -30C overnight and my batteries at this moment are at +7C at this moment 12:30 pm the next day. It is -18 outside right now. I have noticed that my batteries have always taken at least two days before dropping below freezing. If that thin deepfreeze is going to hold heat that long, I think my house should hold some heat for awhile also with no one there to open and close doors all day. Any thoughts?


This is a personal blog, mainly for my own use. I am building a house with my own two hands, but I am learning alot of things as I go. I do not claim to know what I am doing, or if anything I do is even close to being done correctly or safely. So please, if you are planning on using any of my ideas or methods for your own use, please get professional advice before actually following through with your actions. I will not be held responsible for any injuries or damages of any kind caused by information or comments from this blog.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Snow and Plumbing.

That is my dodge pickup. It's a good thing she's a 1 ton with duals, because she is packing quite a jag.
The house did'nt fall down. Believe it or not, the solar panel side is pretty clean.

I finally got the main stack out the roof. Most of the drainage plumbing is done. There is just a little more where the fixtures connect to it all. It's 4" abs pipe where it goes through the roof and it is 4" abs where it goes under the basement floor and out to the septic tank, but it is 3" in between. Permit guy wanted 4" going out the roof for frost build up purposes. There is a fair bit of 3 " from the basement to the roof. It does'nt just go staight up. It winds around the tub on the main floor. All the drains and vents connect into the 3" somewhere on it's way up.

We had a few pretty mild days before it all got cold again. It was just enough to clean off the roof, and it took an extra couple of days for the ladder to self clean, then I got up there and flanged up my main stack where it comes out the roof. The next day it started to dump a bunch of snow again. Even the garage roof finally dumped a day or 2 after the house. You would'nt want to be standing under either one when it all takes place. I had to use the backhoe to open up a trail to get into the garage man door.
Anyway. I wrote a rather large thing in my word pad on my thoughts and changes of the heating system, then thought I would simply copy and paste it into this blog. As usual, I learn the hard way that maybe it is'nt quite that simple huh. I wonder, why not? Maybe there is a way, but I'll probably spend the night trying to figure it all out, so maybe I'll put it in later. Maybe it was meant to be. lol. Does anyone know if there is some simple thing I can do, I would really hate it if I have to print it out and retype it.
Not much got accomplished since the last post. I have been picking away a little at a time. I bought my electrical permit a little while ago. Sounds like fun to get started on all that. Usually there is 2 months or so in the spring where we are pretty slow at work. If I have to spend another winter in my little shack, no...... surely that won't happen. Anyone wanna place some bets?

This is a personal blog, mainly for my own use. I am building a house with my own two hands, but I am learning alot of things as I go. I do not claim to know what I am doing, or if anything I do is even close to being done correctly or safely. So please, if you are planning on using any of my ideas or methods for your own use, please get professional advice before actually following through with your actions. I will not be held responsible for any injuries or damages of any kind caused by information or comments from this blog.