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Adding another solar air heater

Post in 'The Green Room' started by precaud, Aug 10, 2010.

  1. precaud

    precaud Minister of Fire

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    Thanks Bill. Somehow I think the IRS might take issue with "estimated labor costs" on a DIY installation, don't you?

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  2. billjustbill

    billjustbill Member

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    It's something to consider. When we had 30 minutes of non-stop golf ball size hail several years ago, it took its toll on everything including the 8' tall cedar fence facing the storm and even split and broke out the ends of many other pickets. The whole cedar fence was only 3 years old. In the process of having the insuance company's rep go over all the damages, they included replacement cost for the pickets that had the ends split or splintered in the rest of the fence from those big chunks of round ice.... The insuance settlement also included tax, and labor charge, too.

    I got a fence company to come give me their estimate for repair and replacement. The labor was almost as much as the materials, but it would be months before they could get to it. So, I took their estimate, bought the materials myself, and installed all the new pickets and replaced the ones split. The insurance company paid me for my materials and my labor base on that estimate. With my time, care, and application of ample sealer, plus the extra thought in matching the pickets on the whole new sections of fence, and installing it "right", the fence may have been a little better.... In the end, I simply used my labor to buy more cedar fence pickets and repaired a larger and longer section of the fence to the right in the photo. It was a Win-Win solution. 30% of your labor, plus 30% the materials might just cover most of your cost for these solar heaters. Every BTU saved after the expenses are paid makes Payback and ROI in less than two years and that much sweeter.....

    Even if you had to pay $50 each to get them out there and give you a cost, I'd think that with a couple of professional estimates on paper, our friends at the IRS would consider your labor as good as the professional and include that cost in the 30% tax credit... Just a thought.

    Attached Files:

  3. precaud

    precaud Minister of Fire

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    Bill,
    Yes, I understand that when dealing with the insurance companies. But the IRS is a different matter; it has to fit within the rules, although I know that many in Texas that have a different view of that... :)

    At any rate, solar air heaters do not qualify under the current "alternative energy" program; "Qualifying property includes solar water heaters, geothermal heat pumps and small wind turbines." They basically want you to install larger, less-cost-effective systems, ones that require licensed contractors and have a longer payoff period.

    For tax deductability, my system falls under the "enhanced residential energy property credit", which covers energy-efficient windows, heating, insulation, and the like. It's only a 10% credit and the maximum tax credit is $1500 total for 2009 and 2010.

    PS - that's a lovely back yard scene you have there! Shades of green vegetation which simply do not exist here...
  4. billjustbill

    billjustbill Member

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    Thanks for the kind words about the green colors... I took that in early April, just after a 3" rain. The raised beds and trellis show some this year's onions and potatoes. Now, I've been watering the big old tomato plants and planted some squash and cucumbers in hopes for productive Fall garden.

    I see your point about the IRS guidelines. In view of how some of the older campus principals would "Pencil Whip" some of their reports to Central Office, I always joked with the other school adminstrators about me being 100% correct on my textbook counts and my IRS taxes..... I never had to worry if it's done right, the first time.

    I've been slowly and economically gathering PV panels, charge controllers, and old C-span satellite dish mounts to make several 4-panel tracker mounts for a 25% better panel output. With my focus on PV solar array to be up and running by December 31st, I'd forgotten about how solar heat is different from solar hot water, too. I used most of my $1,500 toward the installation of a Lopi Freedom Bay, so I know how quick it get used up.


    I like this website. http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index It keeps all things in line and easily shows what is left that the IRS will allow. You'd think with all the 200' diameter, million dollar wind turbines put in the state, that Texas would have a Much Better Renewable Energy program.... It doesn't, in fact, it except for $75 gas to electric credit one tiny Co-Op offers, or one or two large electric companies paying for their customers to rent out their roof space for solar panels, Texas has one of the WORST....

    What kind of Winter temps do you have there in New Mexico? Many days below freezing?

    Please keep this group updated as your experiences continue.
  5. precaud

    precaud Minister of Fire

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    Attention to detail is a good thing...

    I'm not surprised. NM's electric company has been dragged into it kicking and screaming and fighting it all the way. Promote it in their marketing and fight it in the legislature, that has been their tactic.

    http://www.hearth.com/econtent/index.php/forums/viewthread/56906/#641857
  6. precaud

    precaud Minister of Fire

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    Thought I'd give a first report on how the system is working. Last week we had a cold snap, and the first three days were solid overcast. Obviously a solar heater gives you little or nothing on those days; twice I had to light morning fires, and once in the evening. The following three days were a little colder (mid-20's lows, high-40's highs) but skies were clear. On those days, house temp was 67-68 in the morning. Usable heat output started by 9:15am (DST), at noon house temp was 70-71, at 2pm it was 74, and peaked at 4-4:30pm at 79-80F. At that point the temps slowly decreased to 72-73 at bedtime (10pm-ish), 67-68 the next morning, and the pattern then repeated.

    So far, so good. I'll give another update in a month or so, as outdoor and, more importantly, ground temps go down. But based on what I've seen so far, my guess is that, as long as the sun is shining, no supplemental heat will be needed. I am very interested to see how much impact this will have on wood consumption.
  7. PapaDave

    PapaDave Minister of Fire

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    If your house is staying that warm, you're not burning wood or turning on the furnace, wood consumption has GOT to be less.
    Those are the temp swings we're seeing right now, and I'm having fires morning and evening to keep the house around 70ish.
    Really appreciate the update, and looks like your ROI will be pretty quick. Besides that, think of the time you'll be saving not dealing with the wood as much.
    Nice job.
  8. precaud

    precaud Minister of Fire

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    Thanks Dave. Though I'm hopeful about reducing wood consumption, I'm not as confident about it as you are. It has to do with what I think is the impact of ground temperatures on this house (and probably any house with an uninsulated foundation). I think that is why wood use is always higher in late winter than early winter. For example, for Santa Fe, November and March are pretty well matched as far as average high and low temps, but the ground is much warmer in November. And I always burn much more wood in March than in November.

    And at the same time, the solar heaters are becoming less efficient as the sun gets higher in the sky. The sun angle in March is the same as September, so there's less solar gain. So for me the jury is out on wood use until late in the season. But I'll post updates approx. monthly. I prepped just slightly less wood this year than last, so it will be an easy compare.

    For now, unless this La Nina pattern breaks, winter may never show up here...
  9. precaud

    precaud Minister of Fire

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    Another monthly update. The heaters continue to perform incredibly well. But as expected, as ground temps go down, the house sinks more heat into the earth, so it doesn't hold heat as well. Afternoon temps peak at 74-75F, and fall more quickly.

    For example, yesterday was sunny, nighttime lows were 15F, highs were 36F. Inside, I awoke at 5am to 65F, burned one mid-size load in the Quad to take the chill off. By 8am the heaters start producing useable heat. By 9:30am heaters are above 95F and their fans kick on. By noon, house temp is 71F, heaters are at 108-110F. At 3:30pm house temp was a very comfortable 74. Just before 4pm, heaters drop below 95F, fans turn off, and heater vents are closed. Went to the health club, returned 6:15, house was 68F. Burned two mid-size loads in the Quad to maintain temps, 70-ish at bedtime (75 in living room). Sleep. Rinse. Repeat.

    The outlook: For the next couple months, the heaters are operating at max efficiency due to low sun angle, but wood consumption will likely be about the same as last year. So the heaters won't lower wood use in the coldest months, but are certainly making the house more comfortable. As I had guessed before, lowered wood use will come primarily in the shoulder seasons.

    Next report will be around the new year.
  10. precaud

    precaud Minister of Fire

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    Another month passes, so it's time for an update. And the timing couldn't be better, we're getting our annual new year's cold blast - sub-zero the last two nights, daytime highs in the teens. This is about as cold as it gets here. The good news is, when it's cold, it's usually clear and sunny conditions (clouds hold in heat - no clouds, heat escapes), so the solar heaters shine when it's coldest out. The temperature pattern was about the same as I described in my last post, except set back an hour (we're on standard time now). It's 9:45am as I write this, I burned one load in the Quad at 6:00am this morning, the solar heater fans have just kicked in (they're set for 95F), it's 8F outside and 72F in the living room and 66F mid-house already. Yesterday the high was 17F and it was in the low-to-mid 70's mid-house from about 11:00am on, with nothing but the solar heaters.

    So needless to say I'm extremely pleased with how well these things are working. If the sun is shining, no other heat is needed, so they're sized just about right for the space they're heating.

    I still have to wait on saying if wood consumption is down or not. Experience says the real challenge will come in March/April, when the sun is higher in the sky (less solar heat) and ground temps are still cold. See ya next month.
  11. spirilis

    spirilis Feeling the Heat

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    Kudos! Would love to do something like this myself someday. Maybe my next house if it doesn't have an HOA :)
  12. precaud

    precaud Minister of Fire

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    Lots of acronyms in my head, but not that one. What's an HOA? I'm afraid to guess!
  13. spirilis

    spirilis Feeling the Heat

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    Homeowner's Association ... Yes, you should be afraid :D

    My HOA requires that any minor-to-major change to the property (even digging a firepit) requires their committee to approve, a process that takes at least a month. I'd have a field day trying to explain this one.

    Of course, maybe it's worth a shot... one of those framed-in wall-hung furnaces right square on the south end of the house between the two big sliding glass doors would work, except for the fact that it's the part most visible by everyone in the neighborhood... Nah I doubt they'd approve it.

    OTOH, if I built a short slanted assembly that sits on the deck below there, they might not know what it is (and might not care). Hmmm...
  14. PapaDave

    PapaDave Minister of Fire

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    precaud, I understand your trepidation in delaying the inevitible, but if you would have otherwise been heating the space with wood, and you are now not, it stands to reason that your wood consumption is less. This year, at least....when the sun is shining.
    Sounds like those things are the cats pj's. I've thought of doing that for the shop. I have a 30' s/w facing wall that gets sun (when it decides to shine) from about 1-2 in the pm, and might negate the need for a furnace most of the time. I hate turning the furnace on when I go out there to work.
    Waiting for the next installment. :coolsmile:
  15. precaud

    precaud Minister of Fire

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    spirilis: Oh dear, that HOA... so sorry. There are different designs that are more discreet in appearance. Maybe you could get one of those by their scrutiny.

    PapaDave: I honestly don't think it's inevitable. I have pics of my wood pile at various stages last year, and so far this year's use looks about the same. Comfort levels in the house are much better, though, and that there is no denying.

    It's questionable whether it's worth it or not to harvest a couple hours' sun per day. Alot would depend on the design and size of the heater. Just like other things (say, woodstoves...), the larger it is, the longer it takes to warm up. It all comes down to thermal mass. In your area, before you throw money and effort at it, I'd consult with people in your area who have done it.
  16. jimbom

    jimbom Combustion Analyzer

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    Precaud, Thanks for your great pictures and for sharing your project. Jim
  17. precaud

    precaud Minister of Fire

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    Time for the monthly update. For most of January, the weather was milder than normal with full sun, and the solar heaters were able to supply most of the daily heat needed upstairs, with only one or two loads of wood in support. A couple days with highs in the low 50's/lows in the low 20's required no wood heat at all. Those temps seem to be the threshold for this house where additional heat is not needed.

    But the last three days temps plummeted, and have been the coldest yet this season (-22F last night), the first two with no sun. Despite burning an extra load of wood each day, the house gradually gave up its heat store to the cold, and it was 62F mid-house this morning (no overnight fire). Seeing we would have full sun today, I burned one load of wood early morning. By 9am, the solar heaters were producing usable heat, by 9:45am the fans kicked on (95F) and by noon the mid-house temps inside were once again at 70, topping out at 72 late afternoon (high of 14F outside). So even with the worse cold snap we've had, these heaters can heat the entire house to very comfortable temps.
  18. PapaDave

    PapaDave Minister of Fire

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    precaud, thanks for the update.
    When does your heating season generally end? I can't wait for the end of season synopsis.
  19. precaud

    precaud Minister of Fire

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    Papa, for the last couple years, tax day (April 15) coincided with the definite end of heating needs upstairs, though it was pretty sporadic the last few weeks. Jan and Feb were the months of greatest wood use. I'm hoping these heaters will trim a couple weeks off the end - that's what happened at the beginning.
  20. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Excellent! -22F is damn cold! Gotta love that solar gain on a 14F day.
  21. precaud

    precaud Minister of Fire

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    Absolutely. Much like sizing a stove to a house, this was the test of the sizing of the solar heaters to the house, and it's just about right.

    One of my summer projects will be to build a solar air heater for my lab in the basement. That will put a significant dent in wood consumption down there, and heat it even on the weekends when I don't make fires down there. To fit in the available space, the heater will have to be horizontally displaced, a substantially different design than these two.

    And if the stock market keeps going vertical, I might have to sell something and spray foam on the outside walls. My results so far are with zero insulation on the walls...
  22. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    How thick is that adobe?
  23. precaud

    precaud Minister of Fire

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    17" thick, but it's mostly doubled-up pentile, a red clay brick that was made by the state penitentiary back in the 1920's-30's. Still quite massive, though. A layer of foam on the outside would move many tons of mass inside the thermal envelope and make a huge difference.
  24. precaud

    precaud Minister of Fire

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    Well the results are in, and they are very good. Here are two pics of the wood supply for the upstairs at season's end, for 2010 and 2011. The second solar heater cut my wood consumption by 60%. So I won't need to cut/split any wood for the upstairs this year, though I may add a little just to be on the safe side.

    This summers project is to make a horizontally-displaced solar air heater to heat the basement.

    Attached Files:

  25. PapaDave

    PapaDave Minister of Fire

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    I feel vindicated. :cheese:
    That's excellent, precaud. Man, ...60%.

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