Green Heating System on a Tight Budget

    blog Unico                            This week we’re retrofitting a very green heating system in a former summer cottage. Unico high-velocity low volume air duct system, low-mass Biasi boiler with Riello burner, flat plate high-efficiency heat exchanger for domestic hot water. The overall efficiency of the system should be in the very high 80s, and the best part? Our bid came in lower than another company’s proposal to install a conventional hot air furnace. Green doesn’t mean an arm and a leg. And it pays dividends for a long, long time.

Connecticut Clean Energy Fund Shifts Focus

  The Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, a utility-funded quasi-public fund administered by the State of CT, has refocused its funding initiatives away from residential photovoltaic subsidies.

All forms of commercial and industrial on-site co-generation, including wind, hydro, PV, and solar thermal, are being subsidized by grants already funded in the amount of 12.86 million dollars. Any project projected to yield more than 10,000 watts of peak power qualifies.

Subsidies are also available, at reduced rates, for residential PV installations up to 5,000 watts peak, when installed by “eligible” contractors.

The good news is that solar hot water subsidies, which do apply to residential consumers, have been increased by 60% and funded  through March 2012. That’s actually the bargain of the month from subsidies, as solar hot water in CT has a typical payback of 5-6 years, much more attractive than a 12-14 year payback on PV purchases and 20 year leases.

Adding up federal tax incentives, state tax incentives and Clean Energy subsidies, solar hot water is a fabulous deal, yielding solar hot water covering app. 75% of yearly costs for about one third the total installed cost of the system. If this appeals to you, even as we move toward colder weather in CT (my panels were cooking over 100 degrees all day, pre-heating my 80 gallons of storage), leave a comment or contact me.

Solar Panels Deemed “not Historic”—- duh.

                blog-shaded-solar-panels                          The link accesses a New London Day article covering a Ledyard Zoning Commission meeting in which PV panels recently installed on the roofs of Town Hall and the Bill Public Library were described as “ugly” and as having no place in a historic New England Village. May the day never come, but PV naysayers in Ledyard are presumably not ready to return to candles and privies, are they? No. Thought not.

An interesting contrast appears when we examine Europe’s PV co-generating industry, actively supported by governments and utilities, in which panels are being installed on the roofs of buildings MUCH older than Ledyard Town Hall and Bill Library, with no objections from architectural purists. Britain’s Prince Charles exhorts owners of historic buildings in UK to refit them with energy features that make the buildings more liveable and energy-efficient, including roof panels.

A German study finds historic buildings apt candidates for energy retrofits and the mounting of panels, particularly flat roof PVs, and indeed, much of the architecture of Europe is older, but not likely to be torn down in favor of more modern, PV-friendly design.

Even the Vatican has installed an experimental PV array on one of their buildings, and advocates more energy equipment on Vatican rooftops, excepting possibly St. Peter’s Cathedral. I can see the point.

Few New England historic buildings retain their original cedar shingle roofs, and thatch never really caught on in the Colonies, for some reason. What we find on Town Halls and other public historic buildings is mostly asphalt shingles put there not to look good but to keep rain and wind out. We’ve gotten used to these modern roof coverings, and they’re now considered not jarring to historic sensibilities.

In time, we’ll come to view PV arrays as acceptable aesthetic on our Town Halls, and indeed, concerned citizens will learn to expect such things as signs of good stewardship from town officials and echoes of New England frugality, another historic value that could stand a revival.

    blog solar kitConnecticut Clean Energy Fund, a state-run and utility funded agency to promote the advance of renewable energy in CT, has increased rebate rates for solar hot water, in some cases as much as 60%. At $275 per thousand BTU per day, a two panel system with adequate tanks, connected to your existing hot water system, might yield a rebate of as much as 5500 dollars, over half the cost of the system. Add in federal tax incentives, and you get renewable, clean energy for about a third of the market cost, and a resulting payback under five years. The system I installed at our house has yielded free hot water from march to october, and will pre-heat hot water to save us money all winter. if you’re interested, give us a comment or a message.

The DIY Network Sifts the Green Options

blog this new houseWhether you are a realtor, contractor or homeowner, the learning curve is essential, and the people at the DIY network look like good interpreters of the dizzying galaxy of options. The “Green” building movement is already full of grinning hucksters, and the consumer cannot safely pursue energy independence without a big self-education learning curve. Sorry. Or you could just follow my page. The Do It Yourself movement has become a tremendous resource for beta-testing self-styled green products and features in modern homes. Linked below, a list of green ideas is evaluated by DIY enthusiasts on a new TV show, This New House.

Rainwater- use for plants, emergencies

blog rainwaterThe device in the photo is the legendary rain barrel of song and story, and it’s staging a comeback in conservation circles. Is your water metered? do you use that water to irrigate vegetable and ornamental plants? wash the car? wash the dog?

In the rain-starved American midwest, the rain barrel was used for many purposes, including emergency potable water. We don’t recommend any potable uses of collected rainwater, but we invite you to calculate the savings and independence of having 50-100 gallons of water at your disposal all the time to supply outdoor and bulk needs. If you’re chlorinating your pool, this water can be used. If you’re watering your plants, perfect. If you’re cleaning off muddy boots, go ahead.

   The movement to revive the use of collected rainwater will gain momentum as groundwater becomes more scarce and less pure. And whatever you’re paying per cubic foot for the municipal water supply, this water is free, and it’s rather clean, and it’s soft (minerally speaking). There’s a national association at this link.

Observe safety precautions, please. Keep the lid secured, don’t let the kids drink out of it or dance on the cover, and if it freezes in your climate, drain before winter sets in.

Passive Solar at Your House, Right Now

                                       blog sunset window                                                           Sunset through dirty windows, as shown at left, is beautiful. But it’s not efficient. Clean your windows, at least the south and west facing windows, and pull those drapes aside to let more sunight in, especially now while outside temperatures are moderate and the sun is still high and able to deliver comforting heat to your home.

   You don’t have to mortgage your house to get into the passive solar game. Figure out which windows in your house, if you haven’t already noticed, get the most sun, and put them to work for you. If you’re having trouble locating the most solar-friendly windows, follow your cat around one day. Modest-sized south facing windows can transmit as much as 15% of the house’s heat load, depending upon many factors, results will certainly vary. But the gain is always in the positive, and it doesn’t cost you anything but a little thoughtful planning.

   You can, of course, spend thousands of dollars replacing all the windows in your house with low emissivity argon barrier double glazed windows. And if you want to, go ahead. But if your budget doesn’t allow for that, substitute your brain for your credit cards and get those south facing windows working for you. When it’s colder, and here in New England it certainly will get colder as the year wanes, we’ll check in again and give you some additional strategies for covering those windows at night after they’ve worked for you all day. Be careful washing those second floor windows, please.

Green Builder Shares Wisdom

blog pepitone green builderAttended an open house/ green building discussion at 419 Norwich Road in Salem CT yesterday. Jim Pepitone, green builder, showed off the distinctive features of the home, his second in this area, for sale at 359,000 on 4 acres of land. The link below is his first green project in the area, a few miles away in Montville. The takeaway for this short post is: green features raise the price of a building by a smaller fraction than anyone would think, in this case about 10% overall. We’ll revisit this topic and point out things builders can do to inch toward energy-efficient building in a very conservative industry.

Point of Use Hot Water Heaters

blog point of use heaterWe solar contractors generally disparage electric tank water heaters, except when used for solar storage. But sooner or later, solar is going to let you down, in cloudy weather or when it’s very cold, and you’ll need hot water for dishes, hands, cleaning and filling the pasta pot (who wants to wait for that cold water to boil?).

Whatever backup system you use to close the gap between solar and the American lifestyle, it has to be available all the time, not dependent upon the solar equipment at all, and capable of supplying your assessed need for hot water until the sun replenishes your tanks.

Consider putting a little tank of electrically heated water under your kitchen sink. Two, three, five gallons of water, kept hot all the time (you can have a switch if you can plan those solar outages an hour in advance), ready to fill a pot, wash your hands, feed the dishwasher (yes, the dishwasher has a heater, but it lengthens the cycle by about an hour waiting for it), and even draw a mug of water for tea, almost hot enough to brew the leaves, can be had for the price of some electric power and an upfront cost ranging from $500 to $1000 US. How long will it take you to pay that investment off? Not sure that’s the right question.

   What you’re buying with your money is convenience. It’s not easy to calculate a payback on that. If you’re able, by means of two or so installed point of use heaters, to turn off your backup, whether it was a gas fired boiler, oil fired tank, or big electric tank, you may save enough energy from that idle system to give yourself a payback on the point of use heaters. But showers and laundry are not served by these relatively tiny devices, and you may need to use your backup hot water source just to keep those important services going. Go ahead. Tell me you wash all your clothes in cold water, all the time. Ok; I believe you. I don’t; and I don’t recommend it, unless you dry them thoroughly at rather high temperature. Don’t make the world a better place for all those bacteria, allergens and dust mites you want to remove from your clothes. Do you think you’re making them dizzy in the spin cycle?

   For houses with multiple baths, long piping runs, and several occcupants, point of use water heaters can be a real convenience and an energy saver. I say if your hot water source is less than thirty feet from your faucets, tank insulation and a timer are your best tactics. You can decide whether a significant upfront investment and the privilege of turning off your backup source for the day balance for you economically and energy-wise.

Fuses, Breakers and Meters, Oh, My

blog electrical panel

The mess at left may not actually be so bad, but it could have been neater. Your electrical service, from the rooftop attachment (weatherhead) to the bottom of the breaker (or fuse) panel, is a critical and expensive part of your house infrastructure. It isn’t beautiful, but it’s important.

Keeping this system clean, dry and free of rust is worth paying some attention to. Ensuring that the service is grounded, either to a buried water pipe or to driven rods, is vital to your safety.

If you have an old fuse panel, do not despair. Fuses are in disfavor with inspectors and insurance companies, but fuses are not intrinsically inferior to breakers. They do tend to be older and more liable to fail, though.

Here’s a link to a site that gives the dope on panels, grounding, meters and upgrades. Please take a look and cast a critical eye on that grey box outside your house, along with any suspicious wiring. If you see anything you don’t like, take a photo and send me a comment.