Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"We're Rolling"

Tuesday 1/29/13

Well, today a film crew from the CT Zero Energy Challenge came to video document OCPH. They are actually filming me right now. Camera over my left shoulder showing me diligently working on my Blog. Riveting b-roll footage.

The video cast and crew

Thursday 1/31/13

For the video Paul and I were asked questions about our process of deciding to build an ultra energy efficient house and how we went about making it a reality. Also on hand to answer questions were Jamie Wolf of Wolfworks, the designer of our home, and Peter Harding of Home Energy Technologies, our HERS rater. More about our HERS rating in another post. For a primer on what a HERS rating is, peek at Peter Harding's website. The film will be posted on the CT Zero Energy Challenge website soon.

Icicles on the rain chain

Life in OCPH

Last week we had an arctic weather blast. I awoke to low single digit temps every morning. Along with the arctic air came bright clear skies and our PV and Thermal Solar Systems were cookin'!  When the sun came streaming into the windows at about 10:00am the passive solar gains warmed our house to 72 degrees. With the thermostat set to 68, our small supplemental heat pump got a daytime break even though the outdoor temps remained in the teens and low twenties. Paul's solar hot water system was really cookin'. The panel heated up to 180 degrees and the tank temp rose to a simmering 147 degrees. In this case our anti-scald mix valve was a good thing.

Three weeks ago Paul installed energy usage monitoring software called E-Monitor which gives us an hourly breakdown of the energy consumption of our different systems (heating/cooling, mechanical ventilation, lighting, entertainment systems, kitchen, etc.) We are starting to compile data and recognize usage patterns which help us further minimize our energy consumption. It will take an entire year to get the complete story of our energy usage.

Sunrise through our screen porch

One of the questions we were asked during the video interview was "What motivated you to build this type of home?"  90 minutes of footage will be edited down to a 3-4 minute video. I am going to take advantage of this platform to add to my answer.

Paul and I first learned about Passive House from an article we read in the New York Times in 2008. We thought it made so much sense. The concept of Passive House solved many of the gripes we had about our current domicile which was drafty and dark with uneven temperatures throughout the house. We paid too much for heating fuel and electricity and I have kids with indoor dust allergies. Passive House addressed all of those issues. A couple of years later we started to plan for a move in 2012. There were many beautiful houses on the market. I saw several listings in great communities in move-in condition at a good price. The problem was I knew about Passive House. My home search was steered by the fact that I knew the possibilities that existed in Passive House and I lost my appetite for the gorgeous houses already on the market. It was a strange phenomenon when it occured, like loosing your taste for chocolate. That is when I sought out Jamie and Wolfworks. Turns out my real dream home is ultra energy efficient and environmentally responsible. It also has a condensing dryer and a stainless steel apron front sink.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My first 100% Solar Heated Shower

My Beautiful Master Bathroom
I just took the best shower ever! Please allow me to explain. Paul has been puting the finishing touches on the Solar Domestic Hot Water system he built. The last few details included securing the heat exchange coil inside the tank and insulating the outside of the tank. We have been getting some great numbers with the collector (solar panel) reaching temperatures of up to 156 degrees and the tank reaching 106 degrees uninsulated. We held off on insulating the tank until we saw that all the components worked consistently and there were no leaks. The system has been inline and producing hot water for a couple of weeks but the uninsulated tank was allowing most of the heat to escape, effectively heating our mechanical room. This required us to rely on the hot water on demand backup system to heat the water to the desired 111 degrees. Today Paul put 3 of the 5.5 inches of polyiso insulation onto the outside of the tank. Just that much allowed the tank to retain so much more heat that I was able to for the first time switch off the breaker for the on demand water heater and take a purely solar hot shower.

Copper pipes hold the coil in place in the tank
Paul seals the pipe penetrations in the tank

The well water comes into the house at about 50 degrees and first runs through the drain water heat recovery coil. As I shower, the heat from the water I am using is transferred to the incoming well water. We are solar-heating the water and then recycling the heat through the drain water heat recovery pipe. Then the water makes its way to to the heat exchanger coil inside the tank at about 85 degrees. It takes 5 minutes for the water to run all the way through the 300 feet of PEX tubing of the exchanger, all the while absorbing heat from the tank. Today the tank temperature was at 115.5 degrees. The water was nice and hot for my entire 7.5 minute shower. (It takes a while to rinse and repeat with my long hair)  Mind you today was a 40 degree mid winter day with only about 4 hours of good sun. We anticipate that during the longer days of the year, Paul's DIY DHW system should provide 100% of our hot water needs.

The Insulated Tank
The good news keeps coming at OCPH. Although it is not published on their website yet, we received a heads up phone call a couple of weeks ago from the 2012 CT Zero Energy Challenge.Apparently we are the 2012 Overall Winner as well as winner of 3 of the 4 sub categories. Once again, a huge thank you to Jamie and everyone at Wolfworks for helping us realize our vision of building an amazing energy efficient home that we love to live in. Jamie beat me to the punch and wrote a post in his own blog about this accomplishment.

Building OCPH gave us the opportunity to walk the walk and be responsible energy consumers. We are certainly not the most earthy crunchy people you will ever meet but we care about the environment and are mindful of our personal impact upon it. We chose to build a house that we could live with, as well as live in. It would have felt wrong to do it any other way.