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DayCreek Journal

November 11, 2002

Record Warm Temperatures Predicted
for Southeast Minnesota

Here's a view of the house from County Road 21.

After many weeks of wondering if I would ever get the house ready for winter, I can now say that goal has been met. And since Murphy's Law runs rampant at Day Creek, it will probably be a warm winter. It's just like washing a car will make it rain or putting away the snow blower will make it snow. Building a warm house will make it a warm winter. (I guess this is a pretty smug statement to make, thinking I have control over the weather. I'm sure I will pay for it.)

On Monday, the electricians installed the service panel in the house and installed the additional wiring necessary to be connected to the utility's dual fuel program. They did a professional job and it was nice to finally reel in the 100' long extension cord that has been driven over by car, truck and tractor over the last two plus years. Amazingly, the extension cords are still in good shape!

The 9kw boiler is quite small and easily mounts to a 4' x 4' piece of plywood.

On Tuesday morning I charged the backup radiant floor heating system and gave it a test run. Everything worked perfectly. There are four zones to the radiant floor heating system and each zone was tested for about an hour each. It took about 45 minutes for each of the zones to produce noticeable heat, but then kept the house warm for the remainder of the day. (It was snowy and cloudy on Tuesday.)

Tuesday afternoon, an engineer from Tri-County Electric came out and tested the remote control and secondary meter. I've been very pleased with the cooperation that I have received from the utility company. This is new ground for both the utility company and myself. Since it is their plan, they have the right to approve the installation and they were quite open minded to allow a solar heating system as part of the duel-fuel program.

The fact that the house has a substantial amount of thermal mass located under the floor and (eventually) in the walls helped seal the deal. Before I ever mentioned that I had an insulated sand bed under the floor, it was strongly suggested that a sand bed be installed to help store the heat generated during off-peak hours. When they learned that I already had a sand bed, it was music to their ears.

"A Joke"
Besides talking about their dual fuel program, I brought up the subject of grid-intertie using renewable energy. (My approach to this conversation was strictly for information only. I had no desire to express my opinions knowing this would lead to a rather nonproductive discussion.) It was quite an enlightening conversation, although not a surprise. The engineer summed up his opinion on residential renewable energy by calling it "a joke."

At that point, evil thoughts began to enter my mind, but I suppressed my caveman instincts and let him continue telling his point of view. He said that residential renewable energy was a joke because a homeowner will never be able to recoup their investment. And he's probably right. At today's prices, renewable energy costs more than what you pay from the utility companies.

But if your sole purpose is price, then your are not seeing the whole picture. I have yet to meet anyone who uses renewable energy just because of price. It's usually because they feel obligated to do something for the environment and/or because of the remoteness of the location.

He went on to say that the other problem with renewable energy is the unpredictability of it. In other words, the surplus of electricity generated by renewable energy is not predictable. It can occur at times when the utility doesn't need more power and the utility is forced (by law) to buy it back at the same rate as it is sold, not at wholesale prices.

I then asked what it would require for me to tie in a renewable energy system. He stated that it would require a second meter. He said this was required in order to effectively monitor "positive" and "negative" energy flow. I asked why a meter could not be allowed to run backwards, and I never got a clear reason other than he mentioned that their meters were ratcheted and could only move in a forward direction. (He did not know how much a second meter would cost, but I'm sure they're not giving out discounts on their meters.)

He suggested that maybe my first approach to this was to install a RE system and not install a second meter, but rather monitor my own usage. Of course, my surplus would go out onto the grid giving it away for free. I think it was after that statement, that I changed the subject.

Summing up the heating systems
There are three heating systems available to supply heat:

  1. Solar Heat. There are two ways that the sun heats the house in the winter: passive and active. Passive heat is supplied by the sun as it streams through the south and southwest facing windows. These make up the majority of the windows in the house and I can now say from experience that passive solar gives a good 5°F to 10°F bump in the indoor temperature throughout the day.

    Active solar is provided by the (10) hydronic solar collectors and solar powered pumps that pump heat into the insulated 2' deep sand bed under the slab of the house. It's still too soon to give any real statistics, but it appears that it takes a good 2 to 3 days for the heat to travel up through the sand and into the house. So far, the house has stayed in the 60's to low 70's without any additional heat other than the heat radiating up through the floor. (Outdoor temperatures have been anywhere from the mid 20's to upper 40's during the last week.)

  2. Of course the sun doesn't always shine, so for those cloudy spells a small wood soapstone stove is used to keep things warm. The soapstone stove puts out more than enough Btus to solely heat the house. As long as I am at the house, this will be the preferred method for a secondary heat source.

  3. As a last resort for extended periods of time that I may be away from the house, an electric boiler using Tri-County's dual fuel program will provide backup heat. The current rate for this program is 3.5 cents per kilowatt, making it competitive with the price of LP gas in our area. Hours of operation for this unit are 8 continuous hours during the night and a 2 hour period during the day. Of course, the boiler only comes on when there is a need. The thermostat is set at ~ 55 °.

Now that the heating systems are installed, it's on to other projects. Stay tuned...

Say "Hi" to Rupert, our neighbor's goat.