Heating News – Autumn 2017

Off grid for under £2,000 – Case study

Fridge, lights, TV, computers? YES.   Kettle, toaster, hairdryer, washing machine, dishwasher NO. These were the parameters for a minimalist off grid PV system for a friend’s pod. Low power but low price. Tempted by an ad for some second hand panels from Canada we were soon knocking on the door of Bimble Solar near Brighton. We fancied 4 PV panels and were shown into a large barn with stacks of panels up against the walls. ‘Which ones are ours then?’ we asked. ‘Any ones you like’ was the answer. They were mostly second hand and we settled on the 300Watt ones from France; defunct solar farm casualties. Apparently there are many solar farms either going bust or upgrading so there will be heaps more cheap panels to come. As panels should last 20 years it makes sense to start off with cheap used ones – who knows what the possible upgrade will be in ten years or so.

20 minutes and £1,740 later we had the kit in the car with batteries to be delivered later. Here’s the kit list:-

4 x 300W PV panels, 4 years old  and £99 each.

So this is the 1.2kWp array

40A 12v/24v MPPT charge Controller – New Model Tracer4215BN

This charges the batteries efficiently and safely.

Optional MT50 MPPT Display meter for New Tracer BN Charge Controllers 10a 20a 30a 40a

Tells you what is going on with every part of the installation.

Victron Phoenix 1200W, 24V inverter

Much favoured by the boating community this turns 24V DC into 240V AC, up to 1.2kW. The output is pure sine wave AC so good for computers and TV.

Sterling 200Ah Sealed Battery 12v

Two of these in series gives 24V. Big and very heavy there is no doubting the quality and 200Amp.hours is at the top end end of the range.

All the connectors and wires were included and the wiring turned out to be very simple.

To keep the wiring neat and safe I like to use two consumer units; one for the low voltage DC side and another for the 240V mains side. The bus bars and the DIN rail in the consumer unit make wiring quick and convenient and when all the units are board mounted, with wires going behind the board, it all looks neat and tidy.

PV Off-grid wiring

Once the fridge was turned on the display showed a draw of just under 5 amps for a few minutes at a time. This was not going to tax the 200Ah batteries at all. Every bulb in the place is an LED so no problems there and there will be enough left over for TV and computer and to fire up a gas water heater.

The proposed Rinnai 16i in-line gas water heater draws 68W, when running, which is easily manageable for short periods. This LPG heater will provide instant showers and hot water with twice the power of many combi boilers. If fed by pre-warmed water the unit dials down the gas consumption to produce the same output temperature. This enables any solar heated water to cut down gas use – a project for the future.

The supply of power is looking very generous for the summer but will hopefully still be close to requirements in the dark winter when the input from the panels will just about halve.

Even this starter kit gives a feeling of independence and empowerment and, of course, freedom from price rises for years to come. To run washing machines etc you’d need a 3kW kit which comes to about £5,000. A full 6kW mains equivalent kit would be nearer to £10,000.

There is a section in my book ‘Dream House – Down to the details’ on Amazon – here – which discusses the idea of using systems like these as large uninterruptible power supplies, in daily use but keeping the mains as more of a back up. There are charge controllers (e.g. Victron) designed to do just this so the UPS concept is really quite simple to implement.

£1,000 heat pumps

The Bimble web site is a delight to browse through. I was particularly taken with the circa £1,000 heat pumps at a fifth of the usual prices and looking good value with Toshiba compressors and modern r410a fluid. A heat pump is just like a large fridge, and usually just as reliable, so one of these might be worth a punt at this price but you might need advice on what to connect them to.

In all probability these are Chinese but they often come with quality European components so they should be mechanically sound.

Have a look here at a system especially suited to integrating heat pumps.

FYI the UK Renewable Heat Incentive pays 7.63p/kW.hr on air source heat pumps.

Solar Immersion Controller SOLiC 200 – free(ish) hot water from your excess solar

Another find on the Bimble site.  If you don’t get much for exporting your PV power to the grid this little box can divert it to your immersion heater. The original kit that could do this disappeared off the market so it looks as though the SOLiC 200 has stepped in to fill the gap. The £200 price will be repaid pretty quickly if you pay a high price for electricity, however if you are defraying gas use in the UK then maybe not. Gas is still really cheap.

 

The Rinnai 16i in-line gas water heater – a solution for guest houses?

This useful boiler heats water just as you use it but without the losses incurred from storing the hot water in a tank. The water is delivered at the set temperature which can be quite low compared to stored water. It is powerful too – like having a couple of combi boilers together. Being much simpler than a combi though, the Rinnai only costs £500 and for larger properties it makes sense have more than one with the added reliability when the outputs are cross linked.

The Rinnai is marketed as a base for a tankless system but its modulating feature makes it even more effective when used in conjunction with a tank. For example if you were running a small guesthouse, needing an unlimited hot water supply, you could use wood and solar to heat the tank and only use the Rinnai to top up the hot water coming from the tank when necessary. The boiler only uses enough gas to raise the water temperature to the set point so when pre-warmed water arrives the gas throttles back. With cheap energy sources pre-heating  the water, gas consumption will plummet but constant supply will be maintained automatically. The Xcel heat banks I supply have been used like this for years so if you want to discuss such a system let me know.

Free air conditioning?

If you were in Italy this summer you might have experienced temperatures of well over 40 degrees. As there is almost a whole year to go before that all starts again perhaps a cool look at some air conditioning might be in order. You’ll know those portable units where water is evaporated and exhausted to the outside through a tube. It takes a lot of heat to evaporate that water. Imagine trying to boil a large saucepan of water dry on your stove – that’s how much heat is needed and how much heat would be removed from the air. So if a lot of water can be evaporated then things will tend to cool down, a lot. The cheapest way to employ this principle is to mop your floors in the early morning and open up the doors and windows to let the moist air out before you have to close up again. Chilly floors will get you comfortably through the rest of the day.

My school in Kenya had a cool room made with wetted charcoal walls; a great example of the power of water evaporation. If you fancy making an evaporative aircon unit I have a design using charcoal, irrigation hose and corrugated pipe …. happy to share.

Nights can be unpleasantly hot though so what about them? Well the outside temperature falls off a good 10 degrees from the highs of the day and if it wasn’t for intruders and mosquitos it would be great to open up the windows again, especially the downstairs ones where natural convection will move the hot air up through the house. Mosquito nets over barred windows make a good start but it takes a lot of air to make much difference so a fan on the window sill will help to pull in that lovely cool air. The air it displaces will need to get out so other netted windows will be needed upstairs.

Liquid pool cover – HeatSavr Ecosavr Fish

Evaporation is the last thing you want on your pool, it not only lowers the temperature, it uses significant amounts of precious water too. A liquid pool cover is the answer. One or two £20 fish shaped sachets of liquid in your strainer slowly dose the pool with a molecularly thin coating that floats on the top and prevents evaporation for 5-6 weeks. Well done Martin Daykin for trialing this product and telling us about it. It works.

Heat bank tweaks

The heat bank specification just got better. No doubt you know this is a stainless steel tank with a complete plumbing solution – pumps, valves, wires, solar coil etc – all fitted to it and ready for a speedy installation. Two new mods are available. To prevent the heating pumps depleting the hot water too much there is a new cut off thermostat; unless extra heat is being supplied to the tank the pumps will cut off to leave a block of hot water at the top of the tank.

Home automation enthusiasts will welcome a couple of extra sensor pockets for temperature monitoring. One use might be to turn on the domestic hot water pump to deliberatly destratify the tank, when it becomes very hot, before the overheat stat turns on the heating. Now the hottest water is sent down to the cooler bottom of the tank and as the whole tank becomes uniformly hot the effective capacity is increased.

There is still time to get your heating organised before winter so do get in touch if you want to discuss your strategy.

 

 

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Small, affordable eco-house

State of the art eco-house is easy and cheap to build.

Check Google images for tiny house, small house, eco-house, green living module or just a modern house. See anything you could imagine building reasonably cheaply and easily then enjoy living in?

Here is something to stir the imagination, a concept sketch of the Original-Twist Eco-house. And this is not just an eco-house by name; it is a thoroughly engineered, practically off grid living module where the technology comes first and the house is made to fit it.

On the first floor a massive structurally open space gives adaptable options.  There is space to the left for a huge kitchen diner (7m x 3.5m) or a smaller kitchen and a bedroom/study. Next comes the massive living room (5m x 5m). The raised bedroom platform (4m x 5m) follows and off that a bathroom and an office or child’s bedroom. These are exceptionally large and impressive spaces and with some expensively extravagant oak frames supporting the roof they are characterful too. Everyone loves heavy rustic looking beams and that ‘barn conversion’ look.

Bye the way; as a protest against flimsy curtain rails there would be heavily mounted industrial Henderson tracks. Even Tarzan could be trusted to draw the heavy curtains across the windows or the bedroom section.

First floor layout

On the ground floor a properly large garage at one end and a full height kitchen conservatory at the other, contain a variable layout of rooms to make a separate living unit. Thus the upper and lower floors combine to make a family house or each make fully independent living spaces. There would be no difficulty making a Granny annex or securing some rental income to pay back some expenses. The foundations for the conservatory should be laid from the start to make it easy to add that on later.

Care has been taken to keep the house very basic and thus avoid unnecessary overspends. We want wonderful living spaces and enough cash left over for something special in the double garage. The simple construction suits ICFs (giant foam Leggo blocks with concrete poured in). It makes more sense to stick to ICFs all through; one contractor, less interference and anyway the clever flooring solution that comes with Quadlock ICFs is worth having. The extra thermal mass is a big plus point and also gives good soundproofing between floors. ICFs are particularly suitable for the wooden cladding shown here although the choices are almost endless.

Another cash preserving strategy will be to delay a whole list of things until after moving in.  The sooner you move in the sooner you stop paying rent somewhere else? The ground floor kitchen/conservatory, home cinema, and all the solar panels can all wait until later and the rent you save will help pay for them. Self builders will appreciate the idea of finishing one floor and living-in to finish the other.

A house designed for the hard times of ex-growth Britain deserves a catchy name – we’ll call it The Brexit.
The side and rear overhangs allow the house to fit into a small plot. It can be built to within a whisker of the boundary and yet you can still walk round the outside. The balcony at the front echoes the overhang to give a pleasing uniformity.

The Brexit is quite small which leaves something in the budget for all the latest mod cons like the home cinema, that car in the integrated garage and of course the eco-kit  and the heat pump pod in the garden. It may look fairly conventional (planners note) but the eco-credentials of this house are exemplary.

The south side has plenty of glass which adds to the feeling of space and allows for enough solar gain to take us into passivehause territory.

Of course the eco-technomologicalness will be state of the art, not just token gestures as in many eco-houses but the highest expression of the art. The 24 Sunerg hybrid solar panels actually dictate the size and shape of the roof and the roof trim panels are fixed directly to the panels (PV and wet solar are both 2m x 1m).  4 of the panels on the steep roof will be wet to give a massive 8sqm to feed the Original Twist twin tank heat bank design. If you are involved in creating anything remotely like an eco-house you should study this system here. The other 20 panels give a nominal 6kWp and a real 2-3kW in the winter to run the little air source heat pump which also does some neat heat recovery from the house and uses some ground heated air too.  Batteries make a huge UPS which largely makes the mains supply more like a backup especially if combined with the batteries in the electric car. The Brexit is designed to be future proof as much as possible. More detail can be found in the e-book ‘Dream House – Down to the Details’ here. Don’t start any project without investing £2.45 on this book.

To convert the living space into a dining room the table comes up from the floor – (see the design here)…… the TV disappears behind a roller cover and the sofa glides back into the recess behind it; fanciful maybe but it makes excellent use of the space and easily accommodates large dinner parties. The sofa mechanism is quite simple with the sofa parking on top of the cover door when it is deployed. The table concept is equally simple but pretty spectacular in action and the small extra cost effectively produces an extra room.
With all the clutter cleared away there is plenty of room for partying with the ‘bar height’ raised platform making a safe place to put food and drinks. This house really is an entertaining machine.

And what a super house to start the day in.  A cuppa in bed on your lofty bedroom, as the heavy curtains automatically retract you watch the morning news on the big screen; time for showers then a sunny breakfast downstairs before nipping through to your dream car. The garage doors rise automatically and you are off on your day.

How much roughly? 188 square metres at £800 is around £150,000. £25,000 for the eco-tech and heating systems, so maybe £180,000. Call it £200,000 plus the plot cost. Looks like a lot of good living for the money, and don’t forget, this versatile house has considerable earning power and almost no running costs. Think clever, think Brexit.

More on this topic in LIST OF POSTS

Eco-house delivered in a day – cheap too.

Root2Eco-house delivered tomorrow morning and ready to live in by tea time? “Yes Sir, no problem, will that be the £130,000 ROOT2 or the ROOT2 MAXI for £170,000?” The smaller Root2 Eco-house comes in 3 towable modules that are parked in a ‘T’ shape with the gap in the middle covered by a hexagonal roof. The hexagonal living room under the roof is a spacious 4.5m wide and the fully glazed front side gives a modern airy feel to it. Each module is constructed in structurally insulated panels (SIPS) with smart double glazed PVC windows and doors. The roof, floor and end panels are wrapped in zinc to give a modern look and water proof durability. Being just 2.25m x 5.25m the modules can easily, and legally, be towed by most family cars. The ‘wet’ module goes in the middle of the ‘T’ and comes pre-fitted with a wood burning stove connected to a 475 litre heat bank which is also heated by wet solar panels (6sqm on the roof), an immersion heater and an lpg Vaillant Eco-plus gas boiler just in case. The wet module also houses a neat galley kitchen, a shower and chemical lavatory which can be exchanged for a normal one when a septic tank and soak-away is installed. Of course the wet modules wouldn’t be wet without water so a 1,000 litre tank is placed over the roof to give adequate supply and pressure. A trailer is available for fetching another 1,000 litres in an IBC if necessary. The other 2 modules together provide 2 small bedrooms, one double bedroom and an office – useful 50msq accommodation for a family of four. Under-floor heating is pre-installed throughout and quickly connected at the setting up stage along with wiring, made simple with Z-Wave wireless lighting and switching which also enables many functions to be controlled remotely on any i-pad or mobile phone. Root2 is a proper Eco-house with 42% of the build cost going into sustainable energy equipment. The other 2 modules at the sides have a total of 18 PV panels on their roofs to give a total of 4.5kW (kpa) and the power, stored in batteries, is handled by a Power-Router unit that also allows connection to the mains when available. While the Eco-kit incorporated might look a bit excessive at first it does allow the house to be placed very quickly on site in a fully working state and provides a most economical off grid user experience after that. The extraordinarily low price also comes without the need for expensive extras such as site preparation and various professional fees; a patch of land with permission for 3 caravans will probably suffice. Being a new house built by a contractor Root2 should qualify for the UK ‘Help to buy’ scheme and will enable many owners to enjoy comfortable living without a huge mortgage burden. No doubt some users might sell existing properties and release cash for holiday villas or ski chalets. Corporate purchasers will value the instant hassle free solution for housing workers on site with all the proper modern comforts of home. The ROOT2 MaxiThe maxi is built to the same concept but each module is 6m x 3m and the central hexagon is 5m wide. While ROOT2 is like a flat in size the Maxi is just like a house. ROOT2 Maxi is not towable and is delivered on a truck with a crane and in that respect can be installed almost as quickly. If you want a well appointed 5 bedroom Eco-house next week then this is the way to go.

Like what you’ve read? Find more essential reading on my e-book

‘Dream House – Down To The Details’ here:-

https://originaltwist.com/2017/02/16/1370/