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My Ultimate heating system (ME)

Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 2,542
Wallies, Here it is, the days are technically getting longer, and I have an urge to build something, if not physically (an impossibility) then mentally, and on paper.

This system is going to be the ultimate system, because I'm willing to put some extra in up front that I know will have a terrible return on the investment(ROI) but will cause me to be a net zero energy operation in the long run. That combined with the fact that it will be my summer retirement home, in which I want to pay zero for my energy, dictate design, and sweat equity.

Starting from the bottom (septic system) and working our way to the roof, I would have three underground storage tanks. A standard septic tank with its walls lined, and connected to a water source heat pump. The e with 3/4" pex, insulated with 6" of XPS foam on the exterior heat pump would extract the sensible heat from the effluent tank and transfer it to a second underground super insulated tubed concrete storage tank. This tank would be the thermal RISE pre-heat , or waste heat recovery tank. It would pre-heat all incoming well water (40 degree worst case scenario). I figure I can recover around a 2.5 to 1 C.O.P., so for each BTU I get out of it, I get almost 3 back. Not a bad ROI...

There won't be ANY excess energy going to the leaching field in this home. I'll be capturing arobic, anerobic and thermal BTU's. That in and of itself will probably put a pretty good dent in my utility bill. Hang in there and wait until you see what the electrical source is, you'll love it.

The third tank will act as a Pre Cool or Pre Heat tank, depending upon the time of the season.

The above ground system will be an LP powered condensing , modulating thermal energy converter, whose combustion air inlet will be connected to the attic, where it will collect "free" BTU's that have landed on the roof and saturated the attic area.

There will be a solar thermal system that will be made of Ejaculated Tube Solar Collectors, connected to a large German tank with LOTS of upper and lower coil capacity.

There will also be a Hydrogen Fuel cell generator that will generate the power necessary for the physical plant only (Including WSHP's). When it is operating, it will also generate around 22,000 BTUh of thermal capacity with a maximum temperature approaching 180 degrees F.

There will also be a small solar thermal system that will he available for ANY thermal load within the compound.

Wherever I will have the need to pour concrete, I'm going to take advantage of the cheap, dependable thermal mass (12" thich slabs with copious amounts of input and output circuits on it). There will also be a small solar PV system for communications and internal control logics.

I will be connected to my local rural electrification program, and I can spin the meter backwards if I want to...

Did I forget any thing???



  • bobbob Member Posts: 97

    Hi Mark, Aren't we all a "net zero energy operation in the long run" ;>) Get well quick, i think you need to get back to work. Happy New Year. bob
  • GMcDGMcD Member Posts: 477
    Ultimate home?

    Start with the house itself- a heavy mass house that will maintain a stable indoor climate based on the daytime to nightime temperature cycle. Use the natural laws of physics with the daily thermal time lag of the building to create the indoor comfort conditions. Once the house is stabilized, the rest is gravy. Small geothermal to provide some trim, if needed, powered by PV, domestic water heating by solar and large storage tank, siphon style septic (no pumps). Direct ground circuit bypassing the geothermal would provide radiant cooling, if required using direct ground temperature. Heat recovery ventilator with demand control, with passive natural ventilation when the climate allows.

    Concentrate on minimizing the building loads first, then whatever mechanical plant you want to apply will be the absolute minimum. Well shaded glass to eliminate solar gain in summer, but allow passive solar heating in winter, high thermal perfomance glass with a U value of at least 0.15 (R-7.5 or better).
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 11,373
    Coils in the Septic Tank

    preheating well-water? Is this the same well you'll get your drinking water from?

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  • hrhr Member Posts: 6,106
    What is the building to be constructed of?

    Sounds like a good application for insulated foam concrete form constructions. Give you lots of mass and a nice tight insulation package. Easy to use for DIYers.t

    Consider a small wind spinner. It can produce electric even in the evening hours, unlike the PV panels. Lots of small quiet ones on the market these days.

    I'd like to get my hands on a small cogen unit to play with. Think this would be more pratical than hydrogen power, at least for me, since I already have LP on property.

    I wonder about reducing the septic temperature too much and stopping the bacterial breakdown? Is that possible? Is there a not ot fall below temperature for septic tanks? You may need a case of Bio-Clean to keep things working in the tank.

    Hit Tierney up for some ideas on what's hot and what's not in the off grid arena. I watched some of his 120 volt PV panels spin electric meters backwards a few summers ago. Nice to leave the batteries in the truck instead of a rack full in the basement!

    Clever ideas, when can we start :) Count me in, I'd be glad to spend some quality work time in the Rockies again!

    hot rod

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  • Paul RohrsPaul Rohrs Member Posts: 357
    Power distribution lines

    I recall from the Coors Power Plant Facility that Dennis Capps stated they didn't sell power back to the utilities because they would have to pay for the line, then It would ONLY be regulated by the utility company.

    Red Tape, Beaurocracy? I assume it is economically sound to pursue? My interest is piqued. Energy star rebates? Love to hear more about your project.


  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 2,542
    My goal....

    is to spin the electric meter backwards!!

    Net Zero is a big term beinb bounced about by the Energy Ratings experts. Zero impact. (Yeah, right...)

    Good to see you Robert!

    Happy Holidays!

    And you're right, "I've got tooo much time on my hands.."

  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 2,542

    it will have that and much more.. Thanks for your input.

  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 2,542
    The coils...

    will be within the cement walls of the septic tank. Not directly immersed in the sewage. If will also be seperated by a DX heat pump, so in reality it is a quadruple walled heat exchange process. That should satisfy the need so fth local coder authorities. I anticipate some adverse reaction to soem of my ideas, but am willing to back them up as being technically sound.

  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 2,542
    Building construction...

    Basement foundation walls, as you said will be insulated concrete forms. Not sure which yet, but they're in the plan. Upper internal and external walls will be SIPS. There will be numerous core walls made of brick and mortar to act as thermal stabalizers.

    THe exterior will be made of materials that will require a minimal maintenance factor. I don't want to spend a lot of my time working on maintaining my "retirement" home. Probably river rock or something like that.

    As I previoulsy stated, it will be radiant floors (THICK) in the basement and garage areas, and probably radiant walls in the main level, weith soem radaint floors in a appropriate areas (bath room, kitchen/dining room).

    You would be more than welcome to come up and spend some quality time on the project, which I shall repay you for by taking you fishing and feeding you copious amounts of good food and Colorado hospitality.

    Wind power is not completely out of the picture, nor is Co-gen.

    Tierney WILL be consulted for sure.

    Thanks for the offer.

  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 2,542
    Buy backs...

    by the utility are generally done at a rate equal to their cost of production. In other words, I can sell it back, but at a substantial difference in cost compared to what I paid for it. As time goes on, and demand capacity diminshes, this may change. For the time being, it is not a very effective cash flow operation, but I'm really not doing it for positive cash flow. Just trying to limit my cash out flow...while taking advantage of whats available.

  • Dan PeelDan Peel Member Posts: 431

    Mark, you might want to use evacuated tube solar collectors?? Dan

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  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 2,542
    You mean...

    ejaculated collectors are not the same???;-)

    I didn't want to start any controversial threads by talking about Flat Rate solar collectors here on the Wall. And I refuse to use those Focusing Constipator types of solar collectors...

  • what about

    geo-thermal cooling? bob
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  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 2,542
    Geothermal cooling..

    its in there. That's the reason for the third tank. Cold or Hot storage depending on the time of the year...

    Radiant cooling backed by whole house humidity control.

    Although the actual demand for cooling is about two weeks long, if then...

  • Greg SwobGreg Swob Member Posts: 167
    Excellent ideas, Mark

    Our ICF basement/ SIP two story home uses a lot less energy as compared to the surrounding "energy efficient" dwellings. I wouldn't build any other way. Blower door showed .10 ACH (pretty unhealthy) so we had to deal with that issue mechanically. Our next home will probably be built using ICF above ground, also. Don't forget the interior egress designs to allow for a home you can grow old in. Wide doorways, easy access showers, raised appliances (dishwasher, laundry equipment, etc.), supporting framework so it is easy to install grab bars where, when, if needed. We're planning such things into the next home. As for planned energy use, we have a development locally which never caught on, but the developer landowner has stuck to his guns. His covenants require among other things: some % solar or equivelent heating (GSHP is acceptable), approved landscaping so trees to not block solar gains of neighbors, buffalo grass or xeriscaping so the lawn does not waste water, etc. Not too many folks willing to do away with bright green lawns or think the only way to get solar is with a chicken coop-looking home. We plan on bulding there just to prove that you can meet these covenants with a conventionally looking dwelling. Greg
  • hrhr Member Posts: 6,106
    The utility company

    in some cases will buy back at the same price they sell you. I believe in Aspen, Colorado this is the case. However, they don't mail out checks! They credit your account. If you spin back 50KW, for example, your next statement will show that credit amount.

    I suspect the "buy back" policy varies from utility to utility.

    hot rod

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  • DuncanDuncan Member Posts: 33
    Low temperature septic

    That thought occurred to me too about the septic, hot rod. Maybe an upstream gray water heat recovery system separate from the sewage? It could dump 50° water into the septic after scavenging the higher temps?

    Mark, from a practical point of view I'd try to keep it as simple as possible. Bermed house. Thermosiphoning driving everything possible. Big piping, small pumping. Flate plate collectors. Redundancy. Primitive.

    Heat pumps and fuel cells could satisfy your urge for tinkering and still leave time for fishing!

    Don't forget the graywater system and greenhouse!
  • Larry WeingartenLarry Weingarten Member Posts: 1,177

    The next time you (or your friends) are travelling to Monterey CA, let me know. I'm building something along the lines you speak of. It has ICF basement with SIPS floor, walls and roof above. The house faces North to minimize thermal swings. We use solar thermal for heating and cooling with heat stored low and coolth stored high. There is a GFX heat exchanger on the main shower. Gravity drives everything but solar collection, so mechanically, the house has little to break. Heating is radiant in the walls. I just started it up and it actually seems to work! It's off grid, needing only 630 watts of collector. With hook-up charges to consider, staying off grid has an immediate payback. The outside uses cement fiber shingles for the walls with copper flashing and trex trim. Hoping for very little upkeep as I get daily grayer.
  • Murph'Murph' Member Posts: 209
    on the coast

    I thought you were over in the seirra some where, I think the only one on the wall close to you is Alan Forbes up near oakland somewhere, thanks for the help with the water heater Q last year!!

  • JeffJeff Member Posts: 15
    Wind Power

    Have you thought about a windmill. They can get that eletric meter spinning backwards in a hurry.I also worked on a house that saves all the rain water in a 10,000 gal. tank and uses it for any outside watering.

    Jeff M
  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 2,542
    Tell us more Larry...

    Got any pictures you'd care to share?

    Hope your better half is getting along well.

  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 2,542
    On rain water...

    I'd thought of that angle. I had a friend of mine who is a water attorney look it over, and she found that I would be in violation of a senior water rights holder in the valley.

    Whooda thunk. This is the same firm that sent me a letter telling me that they owned the water in the aquafer that I had my well in, and that they noticed outside watering spigots on my home and wanted me to put a water meter on my well so they could charge me for excess consumption if necessary. My well permit specifically excludes exterior water use for lawns, crops etc.

    I fired them back a letter explaining that I didn't water any outside plants on my property, that the spigots were intended for fire protection if needed, and that if they wanted to play "Water Utility Company", that I wanted to know who was responsible for my well water having fecal coliform in it...

    I've never heard back from them, and I haven't installed a meter on my well either.

    Grey water can be done but it too presents some sanitation challenges. I considered a Clivus Multrum waterless toilet, but my wife poopooed that one (pun intended). Said the thought of going potty on top of a bottomless black hole didn't appeal to her...

  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 2,542
    Frozen poop soup...

    is NOT a goal I care to acheive. There would be a minimum range I'd chill the contents down to.

    If needed, I could theoretically operate the septic at an optimum temperature to generate methane gases. that gas could be put to some thermal potential somewhere.

    I'm thinking 50 degrees is probably the coldest I could chill it down to without killing the anerobes.

  • DuncanDuncan Member Posts: 33

    Yeah, a giant poopsicle.

    I was thinking more along the lines of using the higher temperature water from sinks and showers.

    Wouldn't it be more efficient to scavenge heat from a slightly higher temperature heat source? Before it mixes with all that cold septic water?

    I dunno, I'm not a geo whiz kinda guy.

    Geo whiz. That reminds me... SideKick Rick and his crew were a little put off by the ultra-cool slickness of the men's fashion magazine, GQ. They were gonna start their own parody fashion magazine. Instead of GQ Magazine, it would be called Gee Whiz Magazine. Straight eye on the queer guy, I guess. This crew of irreverent iconoclasts also wanted to market a "Shroud of Turin Beach Towel" You gotta uderstand, when I first met SideKick Rick at a party at his place, there was an old gashed up AMC Gremlin parked at the side of the house with a double-bit axe sunk into the roof. Did you know a full sized axe goes through car sheet metal like butter? These are the kind of guys your partner Tom used to hang out with before he got housebroken and domesticated. I liked that crew instantly and like 'em still.

    No, I'm not drinkin, I'm just a lonely late night typist remembering the good ol days. Til tomorrow, which hopefully will soon become another good ol day. *chuckle*
  • JeffJeff Member Posts: 15

    Thats to bad , they wouln't let you collect the rain water.Next you know they will start charging a fee for using the sun to grow your grass. As far as the grey water goes I know there is a septic system that filters the water out so much that they use the water to water crops.
    I have seen this on a episod of this old house. It is widley used in the arizona area if my memory is right .

    Jeff M.
  • BradBrad Member Posts: 24
    net metering

    I've tried to do a bit of zero energy in our new house, but with a limited budget am just "low energy". During the zero solar energy winter here in the NW, we run our house on a single 20A 240v circuit, plus some propane for heat and cooking. In the summer the solar electric system will cover most of the loads. When I get a good deal on some more panels I'll cover even more. My oldest ones are from 1980 and still work!

    I work in the solar electric field so can answer questions about same. As for selling back to the utility company, there is a law in many states that requires the utility to "net meter". This means they buy back at the same cost you pay. You just offset your use or if there's an excess of production you turn the meter backwards. It differs a little from state to state as to how much and how they credit your excess over time. Details can be had at for all incentives available in all states including buydowns and grants. Usually the economics look best if you don't hook up to the utility at all and save the connection charges, assuming you are some distance from the utility lines (like >1/4 mile in most areas). Also check out this site also for the latest in inverter technology

    Wind power is for those who like to tinker with mechanical thing on top of towers. If you have a good wind site (read very windy) it might be worthwhile. Some people are really into it, but it's not simple and reliable like solar electric panels.

  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 10
    Makes sense

    I guess the thermal potential of feces is not that high... Instead, maybe I'll go with the GFX heat exchanger, and a small sewage lift station to recirculate the hot water and extract as much thermal energy as possible, as opposed to giving it just "one look" as it currently gets.

    HMMmmm, thanks for the brainstorm Duncan.

  • AlchemyAlchemy Member Posts: 2
    Evacuated solar collectors and a Munchkin

    I too am ready to place evacuated tube solar collectors into my heating system!!! You always seem to be one step ahead of ther game mark.... so here's my question. Why not let the primary loop of a radiant system have the hot water generated by the solar hot water panels and allow the Munchkin to modulate (or not even fire) instead of the large storage tank getting the hot water?
    Happy new Year
  • Larry WeingartenLarry Weingarten Member Posts: 1,177

    Perhaps this will give a flavor of the place. One shot is of my "micro co-gen". Two others are of heating fins. One is a GFX to a shower and one is the house from the North West. Hope this helps!
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