Friday, July 22 2005
The other day Gretchen and I realized that we were using so little hot water in this weather that we might as well just turn off the boiler, which (no matter how little hot water we use) always maintains a 53 gallon tank of hot water for our needs. Without the boiler on, I've noticed that the basement, which is always somewhat cool, is even cooler. And several days after the boiler went cold Gretchen was still able to get a hot shower out of our hot water supply, which indicates that the hot water tank is nothing if not well-insulated.
This all has me thinking about the possible effectiveness of replacing our conventional fossil-fuel water heating with a solar based system, at least during the warm weather months. I have the skills necessary to monkey around with the plumbing and control systems and time available to experiment.
The plan is to install some valves allowing me to commandeer the hydronic loop that heats the hot water tank and redirect it through a separate solar hydronic heating loop, one that would have its own circulator pump, expansion tank, and control circuitry. A simple flip of a switch would reverse the state of four valves, allowing the water to once again be heated by the boiler.
The main difficulty with this system is finding a place to put a solar collector panel. Due to the proximity of a steep hill forested with evergreens, the south end of the house (with its necessary south-facing walls and rooves) is out of the question. This leaves the north end of the house, whose roof ridge runs north-south, ninety degrees (the largest possible wrong angle) from the ideal direction. But I can always install a structure on that roof to hold the panels in the correct direction. Such a structure would have to be suited to repeated visits, since I'll probably be doing a lot of experimenting and tweaking. So it would probably resemble a smallish deck atop the roof ridge, accessible from the laboratory deck below with a ten foot ladder. It would have great views and be a prime spot for antenna mounts!
Today I went on eBay to buy most of the necessary plumbing supplies, which would cost a small fortune if bought new at Lowes.
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