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MARCH 2009

Compliments of OasisHybridHomes.com

November 2008
December 2008
January 2009
February 2009


Ecological Awareness, Social Awareness
and Active Solar Design

     When the brilliance of human innovation is applied with ecological awareness, (which I will call “eco-centered awareness”, as opposed to ego-centric action), it complements nature’s perfectly designed solutions and the absolute best result can be expected from that application.

     Why would I say such a thing?  I concluded this statement to be true after I explored the word “efficient” a little more, and found it to be a word that had a good feeling to it, but might also have some darker sides to its meaning.

     Take a walk in the park for example and compare a dog with a man. Certainly the man has figured his route and the time it will take, where as the dog seems to have no intention to obey any schedules or planning, except for those basic ones we are so familiar with.

     We humans, on the contrary, are creatures of efficiency and without it we would probably still be in the dark ages. None of us would want to be living that simply any more, but all of us would love the undisturbed and pristine environment. In pondering the two extreme situations human kind have seen in the last three centuries, I thought that there must be a middle way that is smart, gives us relative comfort and promotes the clean environment we all so depend on.

     I believe that “efficiency” in the egotistical sense of the word, got the better of us during the industrial revolution. The fundamental thinking, from that time, followed the idea of “making more for less with maximum profits, while dismissing damaging effects on the environment as not our responsibility” which has (and still is) adding to the already huge burden on our environment. This concept was based on economics only as we were convinced that we would NOT personally be affected, by being inconsiderate or plainly ignorant of our environment.

     Now, fortunately, we see more and more people becoming aware of a new and more responsible economic concepts that include our environment and the society at large, presently and into the future.

      But in spite of hopeful signs of change, the same old self (as in myself) still gives importance to economics only. When the oil prices go down, many switch back to the gas guzzlers as their car of choice, throwing their environmental ideals out the door because “it does not pay off!”

     Our dedication to better our chances of surviving on this planet as a human race, cannot depend on mere economic calculations, but will have to include the impact of our decisions on the environment and future generations. When we put a price tag on that -- the “savings” are huge!

Nature Is a Good Teacher

      As the famous saying goes; “We are in this together” and with nature's wisdom, we can fix all of our problems, because all the solutions are already here.

     Why do we need nature as our teacher?? Nature never goes beyond its limits, because it is bound by physical laws and committed to operate within its means to preserve life. Nature finds and creates solutions within the available possibilities, without fooling itself into self-defeating temporary bandages. A life sustaining and self-reinforcing concept!

     I strongly believe that being fully aware of the larger/ longer term effects resulting from our current actions, is the single most important lifestyle change we need to embrace for ourselves and our world.

     Our first priority in real change toward eco-centered awareness can only begin by respecting the importance of our society and the environment along with personal interest, in our own minds and hearts.

     Eco-entered awareness in decision making, finds society and the environment equally important to the individual. As a matter of fact, how did we ever think these elements of our existence are separate from each other? They are connected like limbs to one body! When one get sick the rest of the body does not survive.

     Special interest and individual interest create “tunnel vision” and hurt every one in the long run. When we observe nature we can know where this balance lies. Mother Nature literally has figured out the fairest balance between individual, society and the environment.

Active Solar Heating in Our Eco-Centered Home

    With awareness of the long term effects, we have set out to create the Oasis Hybrid Home. The world’s first environmentally eco-centered (as opposed to ego-centered) home of its kind, putting natural elements with their non-polluting, free benefits in the top spot. And now, let us be more practical.

     Last month we talked about passive solar heat and established its value for the home.  Usable warmth generated from this passive solar heat, is greatly improved by mechanical systems responsible for the distribution of heat into areas, not directly effected by passive solar heat collection. (For instance a north bedroom or bathroom.) An active solar system distributes and circulates heat by using controls and pumps. As with any heating or cooling system, the efficiency of solar heating system depends just as much on efficient distribution as it does on the efficient generation.

     As the sun is able to generate enormous amounts of heat/energy, a well designed and installed distribution system will put the generated heat at the correct temperature in the right places. The system can be as simple as embedding hydronic heat pipes in a concrete floor. Filling these pipes with water and circulating it with a small (solar) pump, will distribute the collected passive solar heat evenly throughout the rooms by mechanical means. The thermal mass’ (concrete) ability to absorb heat, which is constantly being circulated by means of the buried pipe, creates a even temperature throughout the house.

    Variant temperatures for rooms (bedrooms cooler and bathrooms warmer) can be achieved by the installation of separate zone’s and valves, so that flow (and thus heat carried by the water) can be reduced or increased). Control and distribution are the key to a successful solar system, whether it is passive, active or a combination.

     In the Oasis Hybrid Home we chose to pour stained concrete floors to act as heat sinks or “storage” that hold the heat. We also installed three eighty gallon “warm water storage” tanks that are also acting as heat sinks.

      Heat is generated by two “evacuated tube,” warm water making panels on the roof. This technology is fairly new, but has been around long enough to prove especially effective in colder climates.  The absence of air between an outer glass tube and an inner copper tube containing acetone creates conductive isolation between the cold winter air and the boiling acetone inside the copper tubes. (Boiling by the sun’s radiation.)

     This generated heat is being transported to three eighty gallon tanks, when the sun is out and only when the panels are warmer than the tanks. The three tanks hold the heat well because they were installed in the basement and are well insulated.

     The stored heat is used for three different jobs: (1) to provide domestic warm water, (2) to provide additional floor heat and (3) to melt snow and ice in the rainwater collecting gutters when required. When there is not enough “temperature” in the tanks a Buderus evaporating gas boiler will make up the difference. This means that when the sun is able to bring the tanks up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and I want a 120 degree shower, the evaporating boiler makes up the 20 degree difference automatically to bring the water up to the right temperature. Again we have given Mother Nature the chance to provide us with the BTU’s naturally. It did not cost us anything and did not harm the environment.

     In case of the floor heat, the sun transfers heat to the concrete slabs when she is shining on them and the circulating pump distributes the heat. When the slabs cool down too much, a thermostat will call for additional (solar collected) heat stored in the tanks, to be circulated. When the tanks are not warm enough to provide the heat needed, the evaporating boiler will kick on to supplement. All these processes are staged to only use fossil fuel as a last resort.

     We have invited Bi il von Brethorst of "Planetary Systems" to share what he knows about active solar systems.

Utilizing Thermal Solar Energy

     Thermal energy form the sun has been used effectively for thousands of years, with cave dwellers seeking sites with south-facing cave entrances. Even early Native Americans seem to have built adobe structures with south facing mass to absorb energy from the sun. Many early 19th century pioneers have endeavored to take advantage of the sun’s energy, like the 1890’s California rancher who is documented as building the worlds first thermal solar collector by assembling a parabolic mirror over 30’ wide which heated a small boiler, producing steam to operate a 1400 gpm water pump for his ranch.

     What is available currently is quite far advanced from the early attempts to harness energy but still is constrained by the same drawbacks. Collecting the energy and doing something constructive with it are two different things. In order to utilize thermal energy, one must either use it instantaneously or store it somehow for later use. Collection and storage issue is the main issue.

     In modern terms, we classify use as either passive or active solar. Passive solar generally refers to collecting the heat via structural design and using mechanical solar mass such as bricks or concrete and then maybe distributing the heat as warm air, or storing the heat in the floor to radiate out at night. Active solar typically means using a technology to capture the thermal energy (mostly the infra-red wavelength) and then storing and distributing the energy where and when needed. The elements of time and control are what differentiate the two terminologies. If you can collect all energy available and then store and use this energy later, then this is an active mechanism.

     Current technologies include flat plate collectors, evacuated tube collectors and some air-to-air exchange systems. The systems discussed here will all be water based which includes flat plate and evacuated tube collectors. With some variations, flat plate collectors simply flow water (antifreeze-water mix) through a long series of piping in the collector, gaining heat as the fluid flows thru, which then is transferred to a tank storage vessel. Typically this vessel contains potable water for domestic use. Some systems utilize a drain-back system where the collector empties out at night back to a secondary storage vessel, or in some cases, the potable water simply flows thru the collector as needed gaining heat.

     The systems exposure to possible freezing usually determines this feature. We are specifically looking at operating a system above the 35th parallel, where freezing can and does occur regularly in winter. Based on this definition, we will note that flat plate collectors are really not recommended in most northern climates at or above the 40th parallel, and are not part of this discussion. Though these systems work in cold climates, they are not as reliable or as efficient unless you are only looking for a basic domestic hot water pre-heating system with summer-time use.

     Evacuated tube collectors are optimal for use in northern climates where high temperatures are possible in the summer and very low temps in the minus range are possible during winter. In these systems, the transfer medium is always a water/antifreeze mix and the fluid only flows thru the heavily insulated copper header, not thru the tubes. Heat is generated in the tubes by a phase-change method where a small amount of alcohol (usually methanol) is sealed in the central copper tube inside the collector bottle (just like a thermos bottle and in a vacuum) and the suns energy causes the medium to expand and become a gas, rising to the copper header when it then condenses due to the temperature differential and then returns to a liquid. This process is a bit like a piston moving up and back, forcing heat to the header. These systems can generate very high temperatures, thus some controls are needed for the process. The basic benefit is that the evacuated tube is not affected by ambient temperature, and that these systems can produce large amounts of heat during optimal winter conditions without freezing.

     Applications for evacuated tube collectors include water heating, some space heating and air-conditioning. As with all systems, there are limitations. For instance, you probably cannot heat a home in locations like Colorado, Wyoming, or Michigan solely by using this technology, unless you are willing to commit many thousands of dollars to the system, mainly because the storage and collection elements will be enormous. Then there is the problem of control. What works to heat your home in the winter with low sun and reduced energy, will undoubtedly require massive heat dump in the summer to get rid of the extreme excess heat production.

     The best applications for this technology include: As a heat assist where the home has low temperature radiant in-floor heat and a very efficient condensing gas boiler as the backup source. Another application is to simply heat the domestic water with a storage tank coupled to an instantaneous gas water heater as the backup source. A third application may be to help warm a greenhouse with radiant floor heat in the fall and spring. Most nationally known branded systems are approved for nearly all state and federal and state tax incentives for purchasing these systems are available, usually up to about 30% of the system cost. Some states also offer rebates, see www.dsireusa.org for details.

     It is notable that, while there are certain operating installations in the southwest USA and in Spain where the thermal effect is applied to mirrored collectors and then to heat a transfer medium to operate a steam generator system for electrical power, this is not a proven technology and cannot be attempted on a small scale. Just like the rancher in California above in the 1890’s, we are currently at the technological barrier for implementing this solar thermal energy technology in current use.

William von Brethorst, www.planetarysystems.com

     Our newsletter is a free contribution to encourage education and grassroots discussion with the goal to better the earth for us and future generations.

                                                     Warm greetings from the Oasis,
Pouwel Gelderloos

Thank you for taking your time to read this newsletter! I hope you will come back to visit us next month, when we will talk about fresh rainwater collection.

Call for help

     If you are in the market for an existing home or are looking for a lot to build a new one and would like my assistance in evaluating the property for maximum element-gathering capabilities, please contact me at 406-223-1406.  You can also contact me if you would like help with any of the elements explained above, or to build your own oasis hybrid home, which is designed to include all the above considerations and custom-fitted to your site location.

Ask A Question

     Please join me for the tour and fire off your questions for our mid month frequently asked questions and answers portion of our newsletter to pouwel@oasishybridhomes.com


Pouwel Smiling
Pouwel Gelderloos, Designer,
Builder and Founder
of Oasis Hybrid Homes.com
















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