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Old 11-21-2021, 07:43 PM   #21
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The system heats the house without any booster.. There is a electric heater built in the water furnace, it has never been used, except when we return from vacation and are bringing the temp from 50 degrees up to 70 quickly. I think they filled the closed loop with ethanol, I am not concerned with a leak it is very sturdy. It seems a no brainer to us.
Antifreeze is Ethylene Glycol; that's probably what they used. (Note, very different chemical from Ethanol!)

I like all these ideas. My location is challenging (High Peaks region, north facing heavily wooded property at 1800') so most of this would not work for me. But if you can get a valley location, south facing location, and pull out all the stops (geothermal mass, earthen berms, south facing construction, lots of high transmission glass, heat pump, ideally your own pump storage facility, etc.) you might be able to make it work. It's just going to cost an awful lot up front!
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Old 11-21-2021, 07:51 PM   #22
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Antifreeze is Ethylene Glycol; that's probably what they used. (Note, very different chemical from Ethanol!)

I like all these ideas. My location is challenging (High Peaks region, north facing heavily wooded property at 1800') so most of this would not work for me. But if you can get a valley location, south facing location, and pull out all the stops (geothermal mass, earthen berms, south facing construction, lots of high transmission glass, heat pump, ideally your own pump storage facility, etc.) you might be able to make it work. It's just going to cost an awful lot up front!
I hope it's not EG! I think Ethanol would be sufficient and much safer if there was a leak.

North facing is going be an issue especially on a mountainside.

Woods can be worked with - I truly think you could skip AC and use passive cooling with tree shading. The solar panels would be on the roof so that is clear anyway, and in all seasons they absorb most of the thermal energy as well!

Yes, cost is an issue. Updating an existing house... eh... I don't know? I really think passive solar and massive thermal mass and insulation are going to be key for this area.

I think on new houses it could be cost effective within a few years, or at least based on numbers I've seen on how cost is coming down. If you don't have the budget up front, spend it on insulation, design and windows and use the grid connection, then add solar as you can afford it later. Adding solar to existing houses is the less fruitful reality we're going to deal with.
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Old 11-22-2021, 10:23 AM   #23
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The idea of a 'green' house is very interesting for sure. I lived in a passive solar house in Maine till I was 15 and someday if I get the chance to build a house I would want to make it passive solar too. One thing in your writing that made me wonder is a clothes dryer. When I was a kid we had one but used it maybe only 2-3 times a year, and for the last 20 years I haven't had access to one at all. They are energy hogs. We hang laundry outside when the weather is suitable, and in the winter or on rainy days hang it inside. In the winter it dries very fast due to the dry air in the house, but in the summer it can take 2 days to dry jeans inside. We try to do laundry on dry days spring through fall for this reason.
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Old 11-22-2021, 12:59 PM   #24
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[QUOTE=Zach;287792]The idea of a 'green' house is g inside if it is too damp outside, but rarely.
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Old 11-22-2021, 01:48 PM   #25
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The idea of a 'green' house is very interesting for sure. I lived in a passive solar house in Maine till I was 15 and someday if I get the chance to build a house I would want to make it passive solar too. One thing in your writing that made me wonder is a clothes dryer. When I was a kid we had one but used it maybe only 2-3 times a year, and for the last 20 years I haven't had access to one at all. They are energy hogs. We hang laundry outside when the weather is suitable, and in the winter or on rainy days hang it inside. In the winter it dries very fast due to the dry air in the house, but in the summer it can take 2 days to dry jeans inside. We try to do laundry on dry days spring through fall for this reason.
Awesome!

As far as the dryer, I only mention it because I didn't know about heat pump dryers previously. There's no reason you need to have one, but a traditional electric dryer is a HOG, and probably not feasible with solar power. Gas or propane dryers exist, but the idea is to minimize or eliminate that altogether.


Unfortunately I think the majority of people who are lucky enough to have the money to build a new home want a McMansion and not something sensible.

The rest of the NY is either in crumbling slums, or trying to maintain aging houses from the "Boomer" era.
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Old 11-22-2021, 03:55 PM   #26
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I agree to your last paragraph in particular Montcalm, but don't leave out the old houses, pre boomer. It is to bad the overall condition is not great. Around here they build or cover existing with that ZipR - so maybe improving. Just wish they'd put siding on the ZipR as it seems to remain for years.

Great thread!
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Old 11-22-2021, 07:22 PM   #27
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Right Bill LOL - I was including the historic homes in the crumblers unless you happen to own one and be well off enough to keep it in historic condition. Not for everyone.

I grew up in one from the late 1800s. It was probably better off as a memory.


I have a post-WWII "Boomer" house now. No idea what to do with it. Not even close to anything I've been discussing or want it to be, not worth the money to update. Best it can hope for is a few solar panels (I have a nice low-angle south facing roof) and maybe a gas range and dryer. We have NG in abundance here - I don't want to use it, but I don't see much other choice that's affordable. The wiring from this era is terrible and gutting are re-wiring isn't cost effective, unfortunately. I see so many homes from this era, and they probably all have the same issues.

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Old 11-22-2021, 08:03 PM   #28
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Partially restored, partially rehabbed two old houses - 1889 in New Haven and 1904 in Oak Park. Now in a 1994 soulless house but my wife likes it. For first time thinking of very modern modifications, and ones with good resale value. Odds are I won't live here 30 years like last one - I'd be 100.

Good thing about this house - good insulation!
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Old 11-22-2021, 08:05 PM   #29
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Don't get me wrong - I love old houses... but you need a certain character and good bank roll to keep them going. I don't think our old house even had insulation!
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Old 11-22-2021, 08:29 PM   #30
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Back when I was growing up every house had a clothes line. And just about every kid that was tall enough could relate to the phrase "getting clothes-lined". Now, it's rare to see a clothes line, unless it's at an Amish or Mennonite home.
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Old 11-22-2021, 08:32 PM   #31
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They were rare when I was a young kid in the 80s. Some people used them.

My grandparents used them, but only at their camp in ADKs because it didn't have a dryer. I think eventually dryers and electric became cheap/widespread enough that everyone adopted them.

It wouldn't have been a cheap upgrade for most older homes - adding an extra 220 circuit for electric.



Actually I bet the real reason for more people using dryers is more women in the work force...
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Old 12-08-2021, 10:05 AM   #32
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When I was in college I really enjoyed my Solar Engineering class. My term project was an off grid house of about 1000 sq ft. It was 40 years ago so things have changed...

The general conclusion was that passive solar was really, really tough to keep warm with no extra heat source; even using a well insulated construction (1 foot thick walls made from 2 walls of 2x4 with an insulated gap between and 1" rigid insulation outside) and highly regulated infiltration. I situated it in NJ (were I live) and it only needed a little supplemental energy on the coldest days but it required it. Things would be tougher further north.

If you use just passive solar for all heating, you spend (too) much effort considering galzing for heat gain; and energy storage. In the end I concluded it was better to have a super insulated design with supplemental energy. At that time I was thinking wood for extra heat but that is not green as it produces CO2.

I would consider a low tech active solar panel called a heat catcher which is an external solar panel that pumps warm air into a space. If there is no sun, its isolated and the living space has no associated heat losses. This isn't a full solution just a supplemtal free gree heat source.

I think one point is worth mention here. Smaller is more doable. Consider a winter sleeping bag. This small "house" keeps a person warm with just the intrinsic heat of the person. In places where energy costs are very high the tendency is to live in smaller houses. And some tales told by tiny house owners support the low energy consumption. I've done the analysis of super insulated leanto sized cabin for the fun of it one time. I need to dig that out again. More realistically, I would target a house size of 400-600 sq ft or smaller. Keep in mind you can have much more unheated space (greenhouse, porch, barn, etc) that you use when temps are favorable. My college house design include a greenhouse (not part of the 1000 sq ft.)

Another point:
Heat required is dependant upon the delta T between outdoor and indoor temps. From a prepper standpoint, underground where the effective outdoor temp is in the 40s or 50s, are far easier to deal with than the bitter winter temperatures of the adiriondacks. There are many other challenges such as moisture control (airborn, and seepage) and fresh air, but any green house will need strict infiltration control anyway. If I was considering an alternative house design, off the grid, in a climate changed world, .... and I really wanted green (no fossil fuel or CO2 producing meaning no wood heat) than I would consider a bermed house with a south facing wall to allow some natural light. Its too far from traditional for me.

If I wanted a nice green house in the adirondacks I would go small, install solar pe panels and a probably a battery storage unit, and make everything very very efficient and low energy consumption. I would probably connect to the grid if possible.
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Old 12-08-2021, 10:42 AM   #33
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Hi John - I wasn't considering solely passive solar. I think that's far too big an ask for the Adirondacks. I think the idea there is to catch enough "free" solar energy in the winter to reduce the electric draw running a heat pump in the winter. I was assuming, once up to speed on the subject, that a geothermal well with a heat pump would be the ideal main heating solution. While you can heat entirely with the geothermal system, incorporating the passive solar (where applicable) is going to help, I believe. I'd like to see more direct study in this climate due to the number of overcast days, but I think it would be worth the investment.

I'm not sure the systems you are talking about with the heat catchers, but it may be similar to a system I have seen which is quite ingenious. It uses a salt to store thermal energy during the day and release it back into the house at night via a phase change from solid to liquid and vice-versa. Think like a chemical pocket hand warmer that has the ability to change phase again back to liquid and automatically passively cycle on and off day or night. Those seem to be best bang-for-buck in areas where it's cold, but also clear and sunny. High mountain deserts and such.
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Old 12-08-2021, 10:54 AM   #34
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These are called PCM (phase change material) panels.

I'm trying to find some good illustrations of them, but actually less common than I expected.
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Old 12-08-2021, 12:32 PM   #35
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While you can heat entirely with the geothermal system, incorporating the passive solar (where applicable) is going to help, I believe. I'd like to see more direct study in this climate due to the number of overcast days, but I think it would be worth the investment.
.
The problem with passive solar is that the windows loose so much heat at night especially when compared to a well insulated wall. So you find yourself in a position of needing to incorporate insulating shutters to reduce heat loss at night. This is a royal pain in the ass and in the end is still is a major loss of heat. I would reduce window size significantly (read less than 50% of normal), locate 80% of them on the south side (so that side might look like a normal house), and 20% on east and west, and have a nice green house that I enjoy once the sun warms it up in the morning.
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Old 12-08-2021, 12:54 PM   #36
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Yeah, that's one way I was looking at passive solar - earthship mode. So basically you have an insulated break between your greenhouse and your living space and you can open doors (they often have windows up high that can swing open) to help modulate the heat gain during the day and heat loss at night. You can make this automated with servo controlled windows between the green house and the living space but most I've seen are all manually controlled.

I was watching something in Holland where they had built an experimental 3-story greenhouse building which was actually far overglazed. They were burning up their plants and overheating the house. This was a much more moderate climate, probably more like NJ. But it goes to show it can be overdesigned, or rather the house can be designed poorly for the environment.

The idea with any passive solar is to have enough thermal mass though in order to store and offset the heat loss you have at night and hopefully steady the system. But I agree, the proper glazing is crucial to get the best balance between solar input, thermal loss and thermal storage.

Again, for the NE, especially the ADKs, I tend to question how much glazing benefit you get due to the number of overcast or rainy days. Perhaps, like the tracking solar, it's just better to invest in more batteries and solar panels and capture as much electrical energy as you can during the sunny days. I'd need to do some modeling to fully understand this and I'd want to see a few years of data from a home and see what the numbers were. I think in a few years this will be well known.
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Old 12-08-2021, 01:22 PM   #37
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Oh, and regarding the double wall 2x4 construction, that's something I've seen and is a good idea for above ground walls. That's where you're able to get up to like R60, and probably want/need that to get the required efficiency.

The thing with the earthen wall is that they are thermal masses - that's why their temperature stays high and you have a lower delta T. All good things. Not many people want to be underground but there are alternatives such as packed earth walls, which can look more conventional. Although I'm not sure how much you might need to get the proper thermal mass. All depends on the particular climate, and probably how much you can conduct from the earth (being a HUGE thermal reservoir). You still want heat flow between the earth and the "fake earth" walls.
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Old 12-08-2021, 01:37 PM   #38
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There are a number of good landscaping practices that can be done, provided you have a flexible site.

Wind break trees on the west (or whatever your prevailing wind direction is, ours is west). This is usually considered best as a double or triple row of medium sized conifers with dense branching. Spruces and firs seem best suited, maybe Thujas.

Properly spaced deciduous trees on the south side. There are easy to follow charts (or do the trig) to figure out how far away they should be planted (provided you can site this way) based on their size. Medium size, with dense leaves is best. Ideally in a row across the entire south face of the house.

I would continue these concepts with deciduous trees on the eastern face for seasonal solar reasons and a very shade tolerant (possibly) conifer like Hemlocks on the northern aspect.
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Old 12-21-2021, 06:27 AM   #39
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Oh, and regarding the double wall 2x4 construction, that's something I've seen and is a good idea for above ground walls. That's where you're able to get up to like R60, and probably want/need that to get the required efficiency.

The thing with the earthen wall is that they are thermal masses - that's why their temperature stays high and you have a lower delta T. All good things. Not many people want to be underground but there are alternatives such as packed earth walls, which can look more conventional. Although I'm not sure how much you might need to get the proper thermal mass. All depends on the particular climate, and probably how much you can conduct from the earth (being a HUGE thermal reservoir). You still want heat flow between the earth and the "fake earth" walls.
The problem with mass and glass is that the sunny days are not consistant. The planning can be done based on the data for: daily solar gain, 65F degree days, and typical cloud cover. All this data is out there for a pre-climate change world. This gives you an idea if your solar gain will be adequate in normal conditions where your mass and glass are sized for daily fluctuations

One can calculate storage capacity of a meduim easily and a phase change material with a little more effort. Part of the issue for me is that there are benefits and disadvantanges to high thermal mass. The situations all collapses when you get a week of cloudly rainy weather. In that case the large thermal mass gets colder and colder. If a high termal mass home gets cold (read sub 40F) than it takes forever to warm up. think large European castles. A low or normal thermal mass, super insulated, home will warm up quickly with few watts. Before the days with efficient photovoltaics and batteries everyone looked at mass and glass for passive solar for heating. After all the calculations, it seemed so much easier to run a small, on the grid, electric heater. In present day, I'd be looking at photovoltaics and battery but I have not done that calculation; and there is still the issue of long cloudy periods.

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Old 12-21-2021, 06:42 AM   #40
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There are a number of good landscaping practices that can be done, provided you have a flexible site.

Wind break trees on the west (or whatever your prevailing wind direction is, ours is west). This is usually considered best as a double or triple row of medium sized conifers with dense branching. Spruces and firs seem best suited, maybe Thujas.

Properly spaced deciduous trees on the south side. There are easy to follow charts (or do the trig) to figure out how far away they should be planted (provided you can site this way) based on their size. Medium size, with dense leaves is best. Ideally in a row across the entire south face of the house.

I would continue these concepts with deciduous trees on the eastern face for seasonal solar reasons and a very shade tolerant (possibly) conifer like Hemlocks on the northern aspect.
When you considering the seasonal requirements for space heating and cooling than the use of deciduous trees seems like a good fit. Not so much for photovoltaics. I remember someone asking a magazine expert should I cut down the 100 year old oak that shades my house and install photovoltaics panels....asking for purely energy efficiency point of view and the answer was cut down the oak. Made me feel aweful to hear that answer.

I think wind breaks are a great idea and wind has a huge effect.

Side tangent: I once did the heat loss calculation for a summer tent vs and winter tent. (that was before I had kids) In this situation the "insulation" is limited to zero vs one dead air space and the surface coefficents. The conclusion: wind matters.

If I was site selecting I would be looking for a southwest facing low hill side. I get that warm cozy feeling thinking about sitting in the sun on the lea side of a summit.

On the south side of a house one can use properly designed overhanging eaves to shade the (normal sized) windows in summer when the sun is high in the sky while having full sun in winter when the sun is at a low angle. Again summer cooling is easier with a low window area super insulated house.
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