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Scott Davis

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Reply with quote  #1 

Every home is different, as are the goals of each solar enthusiast, but generally speaking, the average person's progression through solar projects over time, considering ease, cost, effort and complexity might be something like this:

1. Build a hot air collector for winter space heating. You can start small and heat a single room, or build a larger panel to heat more of your home. It will take care of your space heating needs during the sunlight portion of every sunny day. It's very easy and inexpensive to build - just an inexpensive collector array, fan, snap switch and ducting. Freeze protection is not a concern. Simply vent the heat into the daytime living space where you spend the most time, or optionally vent it to multiple rooms. You could stop right here at step 1 or 1A and enjoy very meaningful benefits from solar for decades.

1A. For those who don't want or need thermal storage but want to distribute their heat via under floor radiant, instead of building a hot air collector, build a hydronic (water) collector, circulate the heated water through an under floor radiant system and then back out to the collector. No thermal storage tank needed.

2. Solar domestic hot water. You'll need a thermal storage tank, so this requires more space and there is more complexity to the system. Not that it is hard - it's not, but there is more involved. While most of us spend more on space heating than domestic hot water heating, the payback for domestic hot water heating is still very good since hot water is used year round. The thermal storage tank for solar domestic hot water should be kept small enough to easily maintain a high temperature (ideally in the neighborhood of 120F) - probably 200 gallons or less.

3. Space heating with thermal storage. This is a big project. You'll need a collector larger than 15% of the square footage of your home before thermal storage even becomes a consideration - 255 square feet of collector for a 1,700 foot square foot home. The tank has to be large, but it can be kept at a lower temperature and still be effective for under floor radiant heat (90F). That will increase the efficiency of your collector array. You'll also need a heat distribution system such as under floor radiant, Again, this isn't hard, doesn't have to be expensive and is certainly within the ability of most of us, but compared to the simplicity of Steps 1 or 1A, there is a lot more to it.


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Scott Davis

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Reply with quote  #2 

The biggest challenge to getting started with solar is simply choosing!  Each of us have individual solar goals, we each have our own aesthetic tastes, every home is different and we all live in different climates. There are lots of great, easily built "cookie cutter" design options to choose from for solar panels, but the biggest challenge can be making the choice. You'll also have to decide on the size of your panel(s) and how you are going to use the collected heat. It is really easy to get caught up in trying to build the ultimate collector / system and never build anything.

This was so very true for me. There were many times I almost gave in to analysis paralysis in trying to decide what I wanted to do. That, in combination with my misplaced fear that any of this was somehow hard, nearly kept me from some really fun and very worthwhile solar projects.

As you plan your project, when you reach points of indecision that refuse to become clear, flip a coin, ask for opinions or do whatever you do to make your decision and resolve to keep moving forward, even if things still seem a little unclear. It is amazing how everything seems to come into focus when you actually start building your project.

Building solar hot air or hot water systems can be very easy if you choose an easily constructed design option. My hot air collector is simply aluminum downspouts painted black under glazing. My hot water collector is just pex tubing under aluminum fins under glazing.

The sun makes stuff hot. It makes stuff REALLY hot when painted black under glazing. All we are doing is retrieving that heat. If you keep the simplicity of what we are doing in mind, the whole process loses its intimidation.

Keep in mind:

- Anything you build will work infinitely better than nothing!

- Many of these designs are very easy to build.

- What you are doing isn't cast in stone. You can always modify your project later (which is part of the fun)

- Keep in mind that a large percentage of your cost and effort will be the frame and glazing, which will remain the same whatever you put inside it. If something doesn't work out, you will just be modifying the internals of the collector, not starting from scratch.

- Don't look at the money you are spending as just an expense. Look at it as purchasing a ticket to have fun with a new hobby. This really is fun!

- This isn't an expensive hobby. Most of us aren't breaking the bank building solar collectors and once they are up and running they will pay us back many times over!

- Relax and enjoy this!


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Scott Davis

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Here are the basic steps for installing your solar system:

1. Decide your objective

   A. Winter Space Heating

   B. Domestic Hot Water Heating

   C. Both winter space heating and domestic hot water heating

2. Choose the location and size of your panel array (the bigger the better)

    A. On your roof

    B. Vertically against a wall

    C. Ground mounted out in your yard


3. Decide whether you want to build an air or water (hydronic) system


4. Decide on the collector design you would like to build. There are too many to list here, but there are tons of options at http://www.builditsolar.com. There are collector design options that are very easy to build, require no soldering of copper, etc.


5. If you are building a water based system, decide if you are going to build a thermal storage tank (usually needed for domestic hot water) or simply run the heated water directly from your collector through your under floor radiant or baseboard system and then back out to your collector.


6. Decide how you are going to distribute your heat. With an air system, simply vent it into the rooms you wish to heat. With a water system, under floor radiant systems (which are very easy and inexpensive to install) are most common. Baseboard heating is also an option.


7. Make a list of the materials you will need for your system


8. Order your materials


9. Build your system!


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hhampster

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Reply with quote  #4 
Thank you very much! For me solar is became more clear.
gbwillson

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Reply with quote  #5 
Hi hhampster, and welcome-

What are your goals for using solar? Where are you located?

Greg in MN[wave]
hhampster

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Reply with quote  #6 
Mostly in NJ. My main goal is as alternative hot water source. and maybe as main source of electricity in future. But I understand I need 400 sq feet panels for cover all my home needs for electricity power. Now is little pricey for me. Someday in future [smile]
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