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DayCreek Journal

August 20, 2000

Preparing for the Solar Collector Raising Party

If you recall, the February 12, 2000 journal entry discussed the arrival of the 4 x 10 foot solar panels. These panels were purchased used, so there was quite a bit of clean up work required. I had hoped that this procedure would have gone smoothly and for the most part it did with some exceptions.

There are two sets of five panels, manufactured by two different companies. The first five, were either older or just used longer. The four copper pipes coming out of the collectors had been connected using radiator hose and clamps. This made it easier to clean up the ends for the unions that needed to be sweated onto the ends of the pipes. The glass was also a little fogged on the inside, but I feared that I might break the glass if I tried to clean them. (The amount of heat transferred from these panels should be more than adequate to heat the house even if they are not running at 100 percent of their normal efficiency.) After the unions were installed, the panels were flushed using a 3/'4" hose attached to the well pump. There was a lot of coffee colored gunk (probably old glycol) that came spewing out of these panels, but there were no blockages or leaks. The final test required pressure testing each panel and no leaks were found.

The second set of panels appeared to be newer, but there was one panel that evidently had been lying face down in mud for some time. There was mud on the inside of this panel and this one needed to be taken apart. My brother Jim and his two sons, Mark and J.J. were up for a couple of days and there timing was perfect. There was no way I could have done this myself. We had to take off about 50 screws, some of which were stripped. After the side strips were removed, it was time to remove the glass. The glass is about 1/4" thick and 4' by 10' long. We very gingerly slid the glass off the panel using PVC pipe. Once it was flat, we then lifted it up on it's side. While Jim held the glass, I cleaned the underside as best as I could. The glass had the consistency of a 4' by 10' piece of wet noodle and was not a lot of fun to work with.

The other four panels were much, cleaner than any of the other preceding six panels -- both inside and out, but we were not out of the woods yet. These panels had been connected together using copper sleeves and when they were taken apart, the previous owner decided just to hack saw the sleeves in the middle. Jim and I were successful in getting most of the cut fittings off using a propane torch and a pair of channel locks, but there were a few that just wouldn't budge. To make things worse, the copper had gotten really soft and some of the pipes get quite mangled. The only thing that we could do was to cut off the fitting completely. This left just a small nub on the end which made it quite difficult to sweat on the new unions. This also required that the other pipe on the same side of the panel needed to be cut to the same length so that when the panels were installed, they would mesh up properly with its adjacent panel.

I've probably gone on a bit too far about these panels, but I wanted to make a point about the headaches associated with working with used panels. You can certainly save a lot of cash by using used panels, but there's quite a bit more labor involved in getting them ready for installation and you never know if you might get a panel that leaks.

A very special thanks to my brother Jim, my nephews Mark and J.J., and my friend Tom who lends a hand when he can.

A Visit to Next Step Energy

My yearly visits to the MREA Energy Fair has always been highlighted by the workshops given by Steve Krug of Next Step Energy Systems. Steve's expertise in the area of renewable energy and radiant floor systems is exceptional and I've even begun to like his sense of humor.

After numerous discussions via the phone and e-mail, I decided to take a field trip and visit him at his home near New Auburn, Wisconsin. Steve and his family live off of the grid and are quite self-sufficient in their lifestyle. They get their energy from a wind turbine, PV panels, solar water collectors and a diesel generator when no renewable energy is available.

The purpose of my visit was to see their humble abode, but also to put the finishing touches on the design. After much debate, I decided to go forward with my plans for using DC pumps and solar PV panels to power the sand bed system. This is by far the more expensive approach to powering the system, but it will be self running and require no electronic sensors nor grid power. Steve put together a list of the necessary components that I will need in order to complete the solar collector system that will be used to heat the sand bed under the house. Steve said the order should be ready in a week or so.

Over the coming weeks, there are numerous tasks required to complete the solar heating system. Footings have to be dug and poured for the frames that will support the panels. And then of course, there's the bridge. A bridge? This was going to be one of those after-the-house-is-done projects, but now that the solar panels will be located on the hill in back of the house, it makes sense to build the bridge now. This will allow the piping from the panels to be secured under the bridge instead of under ground. This will allow easy access to the plumbing in case there's ever a need for maintenance or changes to the system.

Surveying, staking and digging for the bridge and frames will begin next week. Stay tuned for phase II of the project.