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Old 12-21-2021, 08:38 AM   #41
montcalm
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My thought on the solar panels vs the trees is that if you are working with a cleared site (which you may or may not) that you can choose the size and distance from your south wall to only really shade that wall, and therefore your roof should be open for photon capture. In the summer, when the sun is high it shouldn't be an issue to get good exposure, and during winter the trees will lose their leaves, so if designed properly, the house and the pv's should capture the lower angle sun. I'd guess that you'd also have a thermal benefit in the summer with pv's on the roof as they'd capture most of that thermal energy, or at least buffer it from the the roof. I see there are cells with thermal fluid transfer systems to try to capture waste heat and keep the cells cool, but perhaps those are a bit complex.

So this all uses conventional "western" thinking in terms of clearing a site. Depending on what I was working with, I'd probably consider a more non-traditional approach of designing the house around existing trees, especially those that are old, and capable of living a long time i.e. 100 year old oaks. In the ADKs I probably wouldn't flinch much at clearing some small beech, red maples (only to replant red maples), birch, etc... but large white pines, I'd probably not mess with. Of course they could be an issue for shading, so siting the house around them would be paramount. Anything that is healthy, established and capable of living for a century or more beyond the home build, probably has the right to stay.
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Old 12-21-2021, 09:32 AM   #42
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I should add, my current home has implemented some of these landscape ideas, although my lot is extremely small, only 0.2 acre.

I have a red maple and a silver maple on my south face, which is my predominant. A couple years ago I planted a hedge of about 15 or so Thuja (arborvitae) on the west side of my lot for a screen and wind protection.

On my east side, I had a large spruce and planted two firs closer to the house. There used to be an Ash there. I would have put a hardwood back to replace the ash but there's a busy road on that side of my house and I wanted something that would be more an all season screen, so I chose conifers. If I add solar panels to my south facing roof, I don't think they'll shade them, at least not for many, many years.

Because of my small lot, my tree spacing isn't ideal, but even so, I don't think I'd have my issue with solar panels on my south roof. My house is tall enough that the maples don't shade it in the summer.

Ideally I'd like another maple - two just isn't enough. And the silver maple is looking like it might not make it another 20 years. I have a feeling it is just going to start falling apart soon.

I can definitely notice the benefit of the trees though. The small area that they don't shade gets incredibly hot and dry in the summer, so much so that I can't even leave most other plants there as they'll burn up. During the winter I get a lot of sun, almost too much as it can be in my eyes sitting in the house - I have some large, south facing bay windows. But even so, this house gives me some ideas about what I'd do different if starting from scratch.

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Old 12-26-2021, 10:23 AM   #43
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One thing to keep in mind is that photovoltaic panel orientation to the south might not be ideal. When I was doing my school projects, I chose a southern orientation to maximize the overall potential however many years later I learned that it's more advantangous to try and balance the power output to the load. I think this assumption is based on panels connected to the grid not panels used to charge a battery. In thinking about it, it makes sense that generating max power from 10-2 when no one is home using the power is a waste....unless you're charging a battery. One would need to consider the overall efficiency of battery charging vs. the lost potential of a non-south oriented panel. Of course one can create a hybrid system to focus a set amount of panels facing SE to generate the power for immediate use for the morning demands; and similarly SW facing for the late afternoon needs. And doing high energy use tasks at mid day on sunny days would be ideal. It is assumed that a tracking system would be too costly due to capital, labor, or maintenance. That said I might consider a seasonal sun height (angle) adjustment. The steeper angle would help with snow sloughing. Annoyance would be like cleaning the gutters.
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Old 12-26-2021, 10:31 AM   #44
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I've looked at a few charts that show efficiency vs orientation, and you don't lose a lot of max efficiency with a slight east orientation

In a newer build, it might be advantageous to do you as you say and skew some panels to the east, or perhaps even west, but in my current case, I'd stick with the southern exposure because it would be the easiest to set up on my roof design.

I do tend to get some serious snow loads up there when it does snow, and that's been one of my biggest concerns with ever doing this, at least in this home. I'd probably try tilting them toward a steeper angle than the roof and see how they shed snow in the winter. I'd have to see how it would affect efficiency in the summer with the trees, and if it would be worth messing with an adjustment, but it's surely something I've thought about.
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Old 12-26-2021, 10:49 AM   #45
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I should add, perhaps this whole thread seems like an academic exercise, and maybe it is.

Some people may know I had been thinking about trying to move to or closer to the Adirondacks, but it doesn't seem like that's going to be feasible for me.

Before I had kids, I had wanted to try to buy some land and build a primitive cabin, but also design it to be a completely sustainable or able to be upgraded to a completely self-sustaining home that I could move to, maybe at least seasonally, in the future.

I'm kind of back to this plan, but the property market is crazy now and I want to wait for that to cool off, before I start looking again. I found some really good, affordable stuff just before Covid came along, but again, at that time I was thinking we'd try to move instead of building another home, so it was just window shopping to see how the market was. I'm kind of regretting not buying something 5 years ago, but...

So at this point I'd love to work on a design, but I really think it's a waste of time until I were to buy, and survey a piece of land. So many actual details of the design are going to depend on the exact site.

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Old 12-26-2021, 03:39 PM   #46
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I'm kind of regretting not buying something 5 years ago, but...
The best piece of advice I ever got was to not wait until I was too old to enjoy my dream home, either vacation or full time... Time goes so quickly....
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Old 12-26-2021, 05:29 PM   #47
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Hindsight is 20/20.


I didn't look all that hard into this stuff when I did a while back, but I'm surprised how much things have changed in terms of information and products that are out there. From a theoretical standpoint, I've known about heat pumps for a long while. From a practical product standpoint there's a lot of options out there.
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Old 12-28-2021, 01:49 PM   #48
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Just for fun, here's my current plan view pretty near the summer solstice, near noon.

As you can see, my south facing wall is shaded and roof has full sun. There's a few other sat image captures at other times in the day, and the western trees shade my garage as the sun sets, but they expose the higher roof until the sun really starts to sink.

Be interesting to think about some alternatives, but I think the simplest setup might be best.

As you can see, the spacing between my south trees isn't ideal, and it would be nice to have another in between. But technically they are owned by the town, so I don't know that I can do much. They aren't a hinderance for me, they provide good shade and I don't have to maintain them other than clean up, so I'll enjoy them while they stay. I could probably squeeze a smaller tree in or beg the town to let me plant one south of the sidewalk. Unfortunately when they die or cause problems with the sewers, they don't replace them - I'm lucky to still have these.
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Old 12-28-2021, 02:34 PM   #49
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Another from the near the fall Equinox, past noon.

South roof still gets full sun.
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Old 12-28-2021, 03:04 PM   #50
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Also, sadly you can see the effects of the ash borer as the equinox picture is from 2013 and the tree north of my garage has full foliage. In the solstice pic it’s lost most of it and that’s from 2018. It was falling apart onto my roof after that and last year it was removed.
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Old 12-29-2021, 03:36 PM   #51
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I have 1/2 dz friends in Austria, the one with out kangaroos, who have very small 50hz 240 volt hydro generators. They live in the mountains. They Tend small herds of cows and make one or two wheels of cheese per day, every day when the grass is growing on the mountain sides. By the name plate data I’d say the Hydro units have been in use for at least 30 to 40 years. (Small = 18”x12”x12 inches. The supply pipe was about a inch in diameter with a less than 100 foot drop. The stoves are electric and there was and abundance of florescent tube lighting. Heat was provided by large a “tile stove”. (fire the stove with an arm load of wood once per day)
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Old 12-29-2021, 10:48 PM   #52
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Yeah, we mentioned that earlier in thread. It seems like a cool idea if you have a constant head of water all year round, and if you can keep it from freezing up in the winter.

I'm sure there's spots in the Adirondacks where you could tap a mountain spring a keep a steady flow in the warm months. Probably need to bury it, and hope it doesn't dry up in the winter.
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Old 12-30-2021, 09:21 AM   #53
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Yeah, we mentioned that earlier in thread. It seems like a cool idea if you have a constant head of water all year round, and if you can keep it from freezing up in the winter.

I'm sure there's spots in the Adirondacks where you could tap a mountain spring a keep a steady flow in the warm months. Probably need to bury it, and hope it doesn't dry up in the winter.
There was a man living in the white mtns on the SW side of the Pilot range that installed a hydro system. A penstock bigger than 4" IIRC. It was grid connected and powered many houses in the immediate area. He also had a water jet in winter that was aimed straight up that and crteated a huge ice mound over the winter. The system didn't freeze.
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Old 12-30-2021, 09:36 AM   #54
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There was a man living in the white mtns on the SW side of the Pilot range that installed a hydro system. A penstock bigger than 4" IIRC. It was grid connected and powered many houses in the immediate area. He also had a water jet in winter that was aimed straight up that and crteated a huge ice mound over the winter. The system didn't freeze.
It'd be interesting to see more details on this. Obviously a great solution if you have poor exposure for solar.
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Old 12-30-2021, 09:36 AM   #55
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So at this point I'd love to work on a design, but I really think it's a waste of time until I were to buy, and survey a piece of land. So many actual details of the design are going to depend on the exact site.
I don't think it is a waste of time to start a design before purchasing a lot as supporting details (calculations) would be done using spreadsheets with parameters allowing flexibility to change the variables when the actual site is selected.

One could ball park number of days when suppelmental heat is required vs. construction method (from the home UA value) I'd say compare payback but often green initiatives don't have payback. Tangent: I ran the calculations for payback insulating my crawlspace and told my wife to hit me if I ever suggested doing it unless I get the material for free and I get enjoyment from the exercise. The best think to do is an energy loss treasure hunt with a $10 IR meter. Find the coldest or warmest spot and fix it for less than $10 - this pays.

Also, by tweaking the parameters, most notable, orientation angles, one could get a feel for the importance or flexibility of orientation. So you could hypothetically say something like I'm looking for a south facing lot +/- 10 degrees or +/-40 degrees. I think knowing this alone would be advantageous
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Old 12-30-2021, 09:40 AM   #56
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I agree, you can definitely learn something.

My thought was if I entirely abandoned passive solar altogether, which may be the case if the exposure wasn't right or there were trees I wouldn't remove.

I'd kind of hope I could find a lot that will work, and I'd pass up those that wouldn't. It's always a chicken and egg in design... do I work a "rough" concept I like, and try to find land to fit it, or just get what I can get for land, and engineer the house to best fit it?

I was kind of in the second camp, and this tends to be more of a "Japanese" approach, for lack of a better term. But we'll see... I'm awfully bored right now LOL

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Old 12-30-2021, 10:49 AM   #57
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Also John, while I agree using tax credits to improve your home is wise, financially, I wouldn't want to be entirely constrained by what the government wants me to do. As a homeowner for my primary home, yes, those things are of interest but I'll say what I've done personally the payback was minimal, I mainly was motivated by some other issue.

I do really want to consider how one can get the most bang for the buck out a build though. Someone told me about 10 years ago you'd never return what you put into a "green" build. I tend to think right now, they are wrong. I think in another 10 years, they'll be very wrong...
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Old 12-30-2021, 11:28 AM   #58
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Another from the near the fall Equinox, past noon.

South roof still gets full sun.
I took a look at this further - I measured my red maple's height and distance from the house. I took measurements at different distances a few times because I kept getting 90', and I was thinking no way is that tree that tall... but it seems it is.

Some quick calculation shows me that it will shade parts of my roof in late summer/early autumn. I need to write this down and make some observations then, but I think there is a good portion on the highest parts in the the northwest of the south roof that don't shade except early morning/late afternoon.

If I was designing this I'd keep the trees further back, and use overhangs to shade some of the solstice sun. There's definitely a little bit of a tricky balance here between shading and exposure. I'm almost 100% sure my house was not designed with any real thought to this as there is an exact replica of this house in a mirror image (north facing) that was built about 10 years prior. I think it was designed to fit the weird lot, as was the other, as it looks to be all part of a subdivision of an older property.
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Old 12-30-2021, 04:54 PM   #59
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Not sure how I missed this thread. I guess I have not been scrolling down to the "Current Affairs and Environmental Issues" section. One thing many people do not appreciate is the order(s) of magnitude of difference between net-zero and true-zero energy usage.

Net zero is easy -- just figure out how much energy you use annually and put up that many solar panels. For most homes that use a heat pump that's in the $15-$25k range post Federal/NY rebates. Expensive but not unrealistic, and it's really "no added cost" over time since it's just front-loading eventual energy bills. The issue is, all that energy is created in spring/summer when it's largely of little value, and virtual none is created in December/Jan when energy use is in high-demand -- my wife does not accept "cold" as an answer.

We have a 1980s reasonably insulated house with a bottomless artesian well supplying 53* water to a geothermal heat pump year-round. Additionally 9kw solar and 5'x28' of south facing glass (shaded in "summer" 6-months of year).

Going off-grid is extremely impracticable, even with all of these favorable traits. We use ~3x energy in winter months compared with summer months -- but solar energy is nearly zero in December/January. For example, last December/Jan we pulled in ~100kwh each month compared to ~800kwh during each of the summer 6 months. We regularly use 70kwh PER DAY in the winter. I once estimated we'd have to go from the current 27 panels to roughly 200 winter-optimized panels. Not impossible by any means, but I'm not running out to buy them either.

I've been planning an "off-grid" or grid-agnostic (connected, but not really used) house for awhile now. I've been slowly upgrading things as old HVAC/etc hits end of life. Here are my rules thus far:

Rule #1: Plan all solar for January. Any inefficiency in other months will not matter given that you will be over-producing and batteries will be full by 9am in summer months. The large tilt will also help with snow shedding.

Rule #2: Low temperature geothermal with radiant heat and thermal mass -- think well insulated basement radiant slab and underfloor radiant tubes. Summer AC is easy since the loads are trivial in comparison. The water temperature needs to be in the 80s to get the needed coefficient of performance heat pump (~5x).

Rule #3: Storage, Storage, Storage -- Three levels -- battery for daily use, water via LARGE tank (1000-10k gallons) and thermal mass. We have all three, but not even close to big enough. Still on grid, we have 5kwh battery backup that we charge at night electric tariffs (~4 cents/kwh) and use during the day (~13cents/kwh). We also "charge" both our domestic hot water tank (115g) and 85 radiant heat tank at night tariffs and the domestic hot water lasts until the next night all but days we have numerous guests staying with us. Radiant tank never makes it much into the day, but the goal is to start with a 115* tank and then let it cool during the day down to the normal 90-105* temperature range. Lastly we heat the house starting at 11:30 (65*) until morning (72*) and then coast most of the day. On days colder than 30* the geothermal kicks on now and again, but 60%+ of usage is during the night hours (lower cost). The storage concept with off-grid solar is similar, but flip night and day above.

Rule #4: Windows south facing are nice, but don't get bent out of shape about it. With the 5'x28' of perfectly south glass -- when it's sunny, we can get up to 80* and run no heat all day. But other days when it's 11pm and the house is down to 65*, standing near the cold windows sucks the heat out of you like standing near cold concrete. We do not have enough sun to justify the heat loss. That said, I would not make them smaller -- the view and feeling like you are outside is worth it! So include it, but not as a primary heat source per-se.

Golden Rule: Insulate Insulate Insulate -- There are many "modern" approaches here -- I personally like the 2x6 on 24" construction, with 4-6" of external insulation. We have 2x6 on 24", but you can see the thermal bridging everywhere. With 2x12 ceilings (vaulted ceilings) you can see each joist as the snow melts. Someday I'd like to do the caclulation on an an "optimal" house -- my bet say until you get to R50 or so, it's probably better to keep insulating. That said, on grid that does not work out. On-grid, once reasonably insulated, money is better spent on just producing more solar power to offset the loss (efficiency vs horsepower).

Backup: We have a fireplace and burn a few face cords a year for pleasure and if the power goes out. Power can go out just as often being off-grid -- sometimes more often and in longer duration. I'd personally include a wood burning fireplace for both supplement heat for long-periods of clouds, component failures and pleasure.

Off-grid true-zero energy use in the ADKs is possible -- but probably needs to be done from day one or via a major renovation (insulation). The big thing is go get away from net-zero mindset. Net-zero focuses on "cost". The real solution needs to focus on "value". Something the grid is correctly shifting to -- solar @2pm on June 21st is not valuable. Solar on December 21st is highly valuable.

Some interesting videos from Alaska off-grid living for someone seriously considering electric heat and the needed storage: https://www.youtube.com/user/REINALLC
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Old 12-30-2021, 06:26 PM   #60
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Phenomenal mooregm!

Great feedback and experience.

Re: passive solar glazing: What about using an isolated greenhouse like earthships do that can be regulated based on whether it is sunny or not? Perhaps expensive, but it seems like it could solve some of the problems that the lack of sun creates in the low energy months.

There's also the concept of using solar windows mounted up high in the house that then catch light and energy on a north facing "battery" wall. Perhaps it can alleviate some of the issue of being next to a cold window?

Storage is always an issue, and why I might not let go of a grid life-line until I know. I'm interested in the water tanks - what do you do to keep them from freezing in the winter? I had often thought of integrating them inside the house, but they need to be up high and take up a lot of space. Burying some outside could be cool if you have some elevation change, but probably crazy expensive to implement.

Quote:
Rule #2: Low temperature geothermal with radiant heat and thermal mass -- think well insulated basement radiant slab and underfloor radiant tubes. Summer AC is easy since the loads are trivial in comparison. The water temperature needs to be in the 80s to get the needed coefficient of performance heat pump (~5x).
Can you elaborate on this more? I think I see why you recommend radiant, mainly so you can directly heat the thermal mass, but can you not get the same effect with forced air and thermal mass (north) wall? I can see you might have some temp gradient throughout the house, but I think it could be designed to be minimal.

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