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Good heating system to pair with solar power in cold climate?

Location: Upstate NY

We are thinking of rigging a full solar panel system on a 1300 square foot ranch in an effort to use as little alternative power source as possible (property in rural area that gets power outages in the winter). The property is being built new with no northern windows and only southern (similar to other green/passive house builds)

Cost isn't a problem, the goal is just having an energy-efficient system (at least within reason) that will last the best in a long term power outage. I imagine we would need a room with a battery bank, but as far as propane backup/furnace/hot water boiler I have no idea what would be the most compatible with solar panels.

Any advice is appreciated. :smile:
Lynn

Comments

  • Solid_Fuel_Man
    Solid_Fuel_Man Member Posts: 2,500
    Is this new construction or retrofitting an existing 1300 square foot home?
    Serving Northern Maine HVAC & Controls. I burn wood, it smells good!
  • HVACNUT
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 4,623
    Energy Kinetics offers solar options for their systems. The EK-1 Frontier or the Accel mod con are both excellent boilers. Send a PM to @Roger , President, owner, and frequent poster here for all EK related queries. A contractor has to be an EK dealer and EK can help you find one near you.
    Here's a solar manual to get you familiar.
    lynnalexander
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,150
    From your comment on a battery pack, I presume that you mean that you are talking about photovoltaics for your roof, and not solar heating or hot water collectors?

    1300 square feet -- assuming you put that much photovoltaics on -- will produce somewhere in the vicinity 13 kilowatts of power while the sun is shining, and none, of course, when it's cloudy or at night. That is not enough for heating purposes, but, with adequate battery backup it may be enough to power your house (equivalent to a 50 amp 240 volt electrical service from the grid in full sun).

    If you are planning on using this for power backup during a grid outage, you need to do two things first, make sure that it will work when grid power is off (not all systems do) and second make sure that you have enough battery capacity for your expected power outage duration (warning: it's going to be a LOT of battery).

    On the best heating system? Assuming you don't want to heat with wood and stoves, almost any heating system other than electric should be fine.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    lynnalexander
  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 7,355
    Are you grid tied?
    I would look into microgen systems if you need backup.
    John Siegenthaler has been doing a lot of research with air-water heat pumps in your area. He is always worth a read.
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
    lynnalexander
  • nibs
    nibs Member Posts: 471
    If you already are wired to the grid, chances are that photo voltaics are probably not cost effective. PV is the way of the future and with panels retailing at $0.80/watt the cost benefit line is moving Northward steadily.
    A small backup PV system that will hold for a few hours may be a good idea, you also may want to consider using solar heated water which will tie in to a hydronic system using off the shelf components. A small propane powered generator may be a good idea, (propane does not go stale like gasoline).
    If you are not worried about cost/benefits, then a big PV array with an adequate battery bank, is a fantastic way to go.
    If you use enough LIPO4 batteries they will likely last the rest of your life, with very little maintenance, and are becoming more cost effective.
    You need to do the math for your particular location, good luck, it is a fantastic sign of the times that you are doing research on, and considering alternate energy sources, thank you.
    lynnalexander
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,150
    Allow me to add a few more comments here. First among those, I note that this is new construction.

    Properly architected and engineered new construction can be completely solar heated, even through three to four days of cloudy weather in upstate New York (depending on what you mean by upstate it's more or less difficult -- if you're talking Watertown or Plattsburgh it's a little harder than Dutchess County...). If your plans aren't too far along that's the very first thing I'd work on. I might add that it does not necessarily mean fancy panels on the roof. Nor does it mean a wacky interior or exterior. It does mean lots of thermal mass in the construction, lots of southern glass, some low energy consumption way of moving heat energy around (low velocity high volume fans are excellent), a means of controlling outside air exchange for air quality, and so on. Not rocket science, but not your average architect, either. It also means that your builder really has to be onboard. Construction shortcuts are lethal.

    I'd hesitate to contemplate a cost premium over normal construction; there will be one, but probably not that much.

    That takes care of the heating -- which is where this started. Would I put a backup heat source into such a structure? Probably -- but not for backup, more for the cosy factor and drying wet snowy mittens and the like. If I -- or my client -- were up to it, I'd suggest a really good airtight wood stove.

    The second largest heating loads after the house are hot water and cooking. Hot water of a sort can be done with solar hot water collectors. I say of a sort, because it is really hard to store enough hot enough water to last through any long cloudy spell. I think my preference there -- and for cooking and clothes drying -- would be for LP gas powered hot water heating and cooking and drying.

    Electric power is another story, and it depends on whether you want to be off grid or don't mind being grid tied. The biggest single problem with being fully off grid (whether all the time or only during power outages) is not really storage -- if you are conservative your electricity use will be relatively small -- but, oddly, frequency stability of your converters (which must be true sine wave, which itself isn't cheap). Although most appliances these days don't mind off frequency power that much, some do, and in any case it must be clean power. I think if I were doing it, and going off grid, I would use photovoltaics -- but I'd also have a wind turbine as part of the mix. I would mention that if "green" is part of your thinking, neither photovoltaics nor lithium batteries are green, despite the hype, if you count in production and disposal, so you want to minimize them.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    lynnalexanderBrewbeer
  • lynnalexander
    lynnalexander Member Posts: 7

    Is this new construction or retrofitting an existing 1300 square foot home?

    The house is a new construction.
  • lynnalexander
    lynnalexander Member Posts: 7
    Zman said:

    Are you grid tied?
    I would look into microgen systems if you need backup.
    John Siegenthaler has been doing a lot of research with air-water heat pumps in your area. He is always worth a read.

    Yes, it's grid-tied, and I'll check them out. Thank you. :smile:
  • lynnalexander
    lynnalexander Member Posts: 7
    HVACNUT said:

    Energy Kinetics offers solar options for their systems. The EK-1 Frontier or the Accel mod con are both excellent boilers. Send a PM to @Roger , President, owner, and frequent poster here for all EK related queries. A contractor has to be an EK dealer and EK can help you find one near you.

    Here's a solar manual to get you familiar.

    Thank you this is helpful. :smile:
  • lynnalexander
    lynnalexander Member Posts: 7
    nibs said:


    If you are not worried about cost/benefits, then a big PV array with an adequate battery bank, is a fantastic way to go.
    If you use enough LIPO4 batteries they will likely last the rest of your life, with very little maintenance, and are becoming more cost effective.

    That sounds like a great setup. There is a room on the property specifically for a battery bank so that might work out well. Thank you.
  • lynnalexander
    lynnalexander Member Posts: 7

    Not rocket science, but not your average architect, either. It also means that your builder really has to be on board. Construction shortcuts are lethal.

    I'd hesitate to contemplate a cost premium over normal construction; there will be one, but probably not that much.


    Yes, the project is going to be a challenge, as the whole passive house concept isn't very widely used yet. I except to pay a premium, but for long term sustainability and energy efficiency, it's definitely going to be worth it to me. It will actually be pretty close to Dutchess county so while I don't expect winters to be anything but harsh, I am anticipating it will be more manageable than say lake Ontario. Thank you for your comment it was very informational. :smile:
  • nibs
    nibs Member Posts: 471
    @Jamie Hall , Jamie in the early 80's while living aboard our 40' sailboat. I built about 600 small wind turbines, 4ft blade, rated at 200 watts, my source of generators dried up so that ended a wonderful little business venture. For sailboats they work very well, you have a mast to mount it on, and relatively clear air flow. Much as I love them, most houses do not receive enough wind to give a real return on investment. Later, I even mounted mine on an RV, but it was more a conversation piece than a practical energy source. They require a whole lot more knowledge than solar, and have moving parts, which of course need maintenance.
    lynnalexander
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,150
    All that is true, @nibs . But they are still very available (even Northern Tool and Tractor Supply have them!). You are quite right about one thing -- they do have to be sited where they can get wind. Most ag. installations put them on a mast -- sometimes a fairly substantial mast. They aren't cheap. But they do work at night... if there is enough wind.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    lynnalexander
  • Solid_Fuel_Man
    Solid_Fuel_Man Member Posts: 2,500
    I've built both a near passive house (in climate zone 7 north Aroostook county Maine) and a couple of off-grid solar and grid-tied systems professionally.

    You have a few options for your electrical needs:

    Are you most concerned about when you loose power and riding out the storm?

    Building and living with a smaller consumption of kWh and would like to supplement your electricity?

    Or both?

    A. You have the options of a inverter/charger which charges batteries while on grid power and supplies loads when the grid goes down.

    B. Option A, with a solar controller which charges said batteries and provides/supplements grid power, and rides out storms.

    C. Options A,B, with a propane generator to go any length of time off grid only running the generator to charge batteries when solar cannot keep up, which can be done on a time schedule (when needed) or manually when needed.

    On the efficient home, your builder and architect are the real key. How involved will you be in the construction process?

    I built my own home in 2009 and can go into many construction details if youd like. What @Jamie Hall said is absolutely correct about not necessarily needing a wacky layout if that's not your thing. Insulation, tightness, good/well oriented glazing, and thermal mass are the essentials. All else is pretty much a variable.

    And yes I burn wood!
    Serving Northern Maine HVAC & Controls. I burn wood, it smells good!
    lynnalexander
  • lynnalexander
    lynnalexander Member Posts: 7

    I've built both a near passive house (in climate zone 7 north Aroostook county Maine) and a couple of off-grid solar and grid-tied systems professionally.



    You have a few options for your electrical needs:



    Are you most concerned about when you loose power and riding out the storm?



    Building and living with a smaller consumption of kWh and would like to supplement your electricity?



    Or both?



    A. You have the options of a inverter/charger which charges batteries while on grid power and supplies loads when the grid goes down.



    B. Option A, with a solar controller which charges said batteries and provides/supplements grid power, and rides out storms.



    C. Options A,B, with a propane generator to go any length of time off grid only running the generator to charge batteries when solar cannot keep up, which can be done on a time schedule (when needed) or manually when needed.



    I'm so glad to hear when other people in the states are able to build passive/semi-passive because it gives me hope for the project.

    Option C is likely what I am going to be looking for. I travel a lot for work and there will be times where I am gone for weeks in the winter and just want to make sure the house can power itself while I'm gone to the point there is no damage when I return.

    I'd say I absolutely love the idea of generating my own power as I am very for independent living/homesteading as a lifestyle, but I also want to be practical about my own limitations as I know with my current work I can't run on a full-on homesteading lifestyle (maybe like 5~10 years down the line). So I guess it boils down to, I would like the option to sustain myself off-grid long term (if needed), but as a backup. Where if for whatever reason I have no choice but to sustain my power supply long term off-grid, that it will be manageable and supplemented through quality setup/equipment/good insulation etc. So that sounds a lot to me like option C.

    Thank you for your comment it is really helpful.
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 16,552
    An energy efficient passive design would be my first choice also.

    A lot to be said for a basic wood stove somewhere in the home, heat and the ability to cook in any weather condition.

    The rest depends on the budget and how energy independent you want to be.

    Storage is still the holy grail for solar, both thermal and electric. Battery technology continues to improve, costs will drop.
    Buy a Tesla or Prius as your vehicle and battery bank, a two for one.

    Determine how much you need to run and for how long for electric storage.

    You can find wind maps online to see if you are a candidate. Usually 80' of tower to get up into clean air. Wind spinners are maintenance prone.

    PV is probably the least problematic, for electricity, some rebates still available, NY is a good state for RE still. Check at www.dsire.org for incentive and rebate programs for your area.

    Solar thermal for potable hot water is fairly doable.

    If you are hands on, mechanically incline, that will help installation and maintenance costs :)
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    lynnalexander
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,150
    Passive solar houses (and other small buildings) aren't new -- just a bit rare. The first one I was involved with was built over 50 years ago, near Boston, and is still going pretty well -- and there have been a number of others as far north as St. Johnsbury, VT, I've had a hand in since. Some of the very early ones we did had some air quality problems, but we found the most difficult problem was handling overheating at certain seasons. That can be solved...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    lynnalexander