Showing posts with label Project Hot Water. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Project Hot Water. Show all posts

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fantastic Future Friday: Alternative Energy



This post is the third post of my planned three part series that started With Temper-Tantrum Tuesday: Energy Conservation and Solar Energy and What We Know Wednesday: Peak Oil.

Alternative Energy is simply any energy source that isn’t derived from what we think of as the conventional fuels we have used throughout the 20th century (fossil fuels and nuclear).

As I explained in Peak Oil if the world doesn’t wean itself off oil at a rate of 2% or more per year we are doomed. We can’t replace it with Natural Gas as the same Peak effect will hit Natural Gas only the spike will be much more dramatic. Coal releases so much Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere that even the Climate Change Deniers (at least the ones that don’t just put their fingers in their ears and say, “LA-LA-LA-LA, I can’t hear you”) can’t deny increasing our coal usage fourfold over the next twenty years will hurt the planet. Without getting into the debate over Nuclear Power it takes roughly 15 years to get a Nuclear Power Plant up and running, so it is out as a practical option.

The great news is we already have the means to offset our use of Conventional Energy sources available now.

Small Scale Solar:

Solar Heating:
It’s possible for a small family in a conventional house to most of their hot water from a 10 square foot (3’2” x 3’2”) solar panel mounted on their roof. Replacing a typical 80,000 Btu furnace with solar heat would take solar panel would take a solar panel roughly 250 square feet (16’ x 16’) and would only heat the house during the day.

However, even in the coldest areas a furnace doesn’t run continuously, I should know I grew up in the coldest place in the continental United States, so except for the coldest parts of the winter a household can use solar power to heat their homes during the day and only use a conventional furnace at night and in the coolest winter months.

Using the sun to replace conventional heating sources can go a long way towards reducing our energy needs and anyone with a little carpentry skill can do it.

Small Scale Solar Electricity (Photovoltaic):


There are two types of Photovoltaic systems available, AC and DC. The DC (Direct Current) systems are fairly cheap and easy to install. Their drawbacks are they use DC and most electrical appliances are designed for AC.

A small 250-watt solar panel with battery back-up can power roughly 5 halogen lights, so it would easy to set up a house that was completely lit by the sun.

The AC (Alternating Current) systems are a lot more complex but offer huge advantages. An AC system converts the electricity coming off the solar panels from DC to AC, not only does this mean you can plug it into your house’s conventional power grid but in most places you can sell the excess power back to the electric utility.

The Advantage of Small Scale Solar to Utilities:

Using small scale solar not only saves the consumer money by reducing their electric consumption, it helps the utilities especially in rural areas.

Electric Companies have to built their power plants based on peak rates, the maximum power usage they can expect at one time, even if most of the time usage isn’t anywhere near that.

They also have to make sub-stations to boost the power when it starts to dip in areas that are far away from the main power station.

Some activities like Aluminum production and Steel Recycling can be moved to off peak hours, some like farming can’t. For rural areas utilities have to build their plants figuring the farmers and residential customers will be using their peak energy usage at the same time.

By having residential customers use solar for their heating and some of their electricity needs it lowers the peak amount of energy used and they can build smaller power plants to serve the same needs. When some of their customers switch to Solar AC systems they can have the residential customers supplying electricity to the grid at the same time as the farmers need it most decreasing the amount of sub-stations they need to build.

The final advantage of small scale solar to the utilities is during power outages. When a storm takes out the power grid, the electric companies have to scramble to get it back up again. Obviously, if people are getting their own heat and some of their electricity from the sun it lessens the urgency, but it they have some people generating AC it lets them rebuild the system in a more organized fashion.

If you’ve ever gone through a major blackout (who hasn’t) that lasts a few days, then you know turning on you TV or Computer in the days afterwards is a scary thing. As they try to rebuild the grid they end up constantly switching the routes that electricity takes from the main station to your house.

With several small sources of power feeding into the grid from more localized sources it is easier for them to balance the amount of power in the areas of the grid that they get up and running.

With more people switching to solar power not only will it reduce our dependency on fossil fuels but also the existing electric grid will be able to offer more reliable power and that will lead to a fantastic future.

(I had intended to look at more sources of Alternative Energy in this post, but it got a little long, so next week I’ll look at Geothermal Energy in the fourth installment of my three part series.)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Catspiracy and Solar Power



Another horror I found out about the Catspiracy, Tigger’s evil plan to take over the world, is that cats are Solar Power advocates.

Whenever the sun is out you can find cats soaking in the Solar Rays. It’s clear that part of the cat’s evil plan is to have us convert a large portion of our energy use to Solar Power.



These evil cats would have us spend a fraction of what we use to kill people in the Middle East to secure a continued supply of oil, and have us spend it on Solar Power instead.



Other Solar Power advocates are pointing that for the cost of just one of the supplemental spending bills (the oops we need more money than we expected requests) in the war in Iraq, we could power the cities of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago by solar power.

Imagine the evil of having our three biggest cities run by clean renewable power instead of using that money to kill and bomb people.

In order to squash this evil plan I hide from the cats in the shower, knowing they hate hot water. Unfortunately it is too expensive for me to use the hot water heater to escape, so I had to build and Solar Hot Water heater to get free hot water.



With my homebuilt Solar Hot Water Heater I can foil Tigger’s evil plan of making us use Solar power to have our nation be energy independent.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Fun with the Sun

I’m busy building the Powerful Mark V (Speed Racer Reference) Solar Water Heater. It’s finished but I need to wait until next weekend to tie it into the houses water.

As I quick side project I thought I would solve the worlds water problems.

There are lots of places in the world that have limited or no access to clean drinking water. Whether it’s due to geography, pollution or because the small town they live in tried to cut corners and rebuild the city water system on the cheap, messed it up and had to wait to rebuild again until Obama handed out stimulus checks for “Shovel Ready” projects, people need clean water.

So I built a quick solar powered still.

I took one of the bottles I had in the Solar Heater Mark I and attached a hose I had from the Washing Machine, these screw right on. One the other end I attached an empty bottle.

I dug a hole about ½ inch deep behind the Solar Heater Mark I. I put the empty bottle in that hole and put the full bottle back in the heater.

As the sun warms up the water in the heater it will evaporate, filling the empty bottle with warm water vapor. As this warm water vapor comes in contact with the cool plastic that is touching the ground it will condense.

The droplets of distilled water will collect in the empty bottle giving me pure clean drinkable water.

This set-up is just a test model. I figure I can build a bigger system using two 10-gallon cans and tie it to the main house water with a valve and use an aquarium pump to supply my house with clean distilled drinking water on tap.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Getting Into Hot Water 3

Thanks to a generous anonymous donation, at least I think it was supposed to be an anonymous donation it might just be that I have trouble figuring out my paypal account, I can start building my solar hot water heater.

The $10 in my paypal was enough to buy a key part to my solar panel.


With this key part I had to take apart the Mark III and get it down to just the frame.

I added some dowels to hold the hose.

Then I built the back out of particleboard. Not my first choice for building material, but I had some laying around from when I built my home office a few years ago and messed up the order.
As you can see I cut some holes for the hose to go into.

I took some foam insulation that I had left over from when I first moved into my house and was using it as room dividers (long story).

I painted it butterscotch chocolate brown. Purists are going to tell me I should have painted it flat black. My response is if someone donates enough for me to buy a gallon of flat black paint I will take my solar panel apart and paint it that color, until then I need to go with the stuff I have.

I carefully measured out the legs for it to sit on. This seemed like a good idea at the time.

After that it was a simple matter of wrapping the hose back and forth around the dowels I put in the solar panel.

I say simple in a satirical way as wrapping hose around anything is like herding cats. No matter how straight you get the hose in the beginning, it gets a mind of its own and tries to get kinky. Kinky is a great quality in a mate, not so much in a hose.

After finally getting the hose installed, I just had to move it to the roof.

The move to the roof had two casualties, The legs that I carefully measured.

I ended up propping it up on the old water heater chimney, that actually gave it almost the perfect angle.

After installing it on the roof I connected it to the house water supply to check for leaks.

When I repaired the damage from the old hot water heater exploding I set it up so that it was simple to connect a new source of hot water.

After seeing that there were no leaks, I re-installed the storm window.

I can’t wait until tomorrow when I get to see if my hard work paid off.

Like always no kittens were harmed in the making of this solar panel.

5/24/09 Update: My first day to try out my solar hot water heater and it was overcast all day.
I was hoping it would clear up so I could give it a real test but mother nature can sometimes be a mother.
At around 3 pm I stopped waiting for the clouds to clear and grabbed a couple of bottles from my Mark I solar heater (the foam insulation box with a window over it).
I washed my hair with the lukewarm water from the Mark I and got in the shower ready to use the other bottles if necessary.
To my pleasant surprise the water was cold, but not painfully cold. A little colder than what I would call a "cold shower" but not painfully cold.
Taking a sailor shower, rinsing turning off the water lathering up then rinsing again, I had enough heated water (can't really say hot) to shower better than I have for the last week.
If that's the coldest it gets I could probably tolerate not having a hot water heater until September.
Just in case I'm planning on adding another 4 square foot heater next weekend.
I can't wait to try it out under sunny conditions.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Getting into Hot Water Part 2

As I explained in Part 1 of this series, my Hot Water heater exploded recently and my mortgage company is asking for my next two paychecks. As we are going into summer I don’t see the need for paying $30 a month to heat water when I am paying to cool my house at the same time.


In the end of September I will break down and buy a tankless hot water heater but in the meantime I am determined to build a solar hot water heater using only the materials I have laying around (Luckily I’m a bit of a pack rat) and the money I make off this blog.


When I am finished I hope to have something that looks like this:


Artist’s conception actual result may differ.



For the last 3 days I have been showering using the water heated with my Solar Hot Water heater Mark II.



It gives me 6 liters of warm water that I can use to clean myself off with fairly well, but it is not terribly convenient, as I have to go out and carry the bottles into the shower, use them, fill them back up and carry them out again.


To make something a little more convenient, I’m going to actually do some physical labor.


Pricing out what I need for a solar hot water heater, I’ve learned the tank (to hold the water after the sun has heated it is the most expensive part of a solar heating system. The plans I’ve seen say the easiest way to get one is to buy an electric hot water heated and don’t plug it in.


That defeats the purpose of what I am trying to do, so I have come up with a cheaper solution. The same water storage system I used in the Mark I and II. Two-liter soda bottles.


It turns out the tops to the Two-liter bottles screw perfectly into 3/4” plumbing connectors. These are fairly inexpensive and I hope to raise the $10 or so to pick up the connectors by this weekend.


Thanks to a government grant, aka: Food Stamps. I should be able to get enough two-liter bottles to hold over 4 gallons of water. By taking sailor showers I should be able to get by with that.


While I am waiting on the $10 to build the plumbing part I decided to build the container.


I had an old 10 foot 2” X 6” and a old storm window laying around and I thought they would be perfect for my experiment.



I cut the 2” X 6” into 2 55” pieces and 2 25” pieces (the dimensions of the storm window) I nailed them together to form a box and screwed the storm window on to it.



As a test I used an old door as a back, I plan on making the real back this weekend. This is just the first piece to my project but I think it looks pretty decent.


As always no kittens were harmed in making this solar heater.


I have heard that cats get very hungry watching humans work, so that could be considered harming the mother of the kittens. So I remedied that.
Quick Update 5/19/09: It was a sunny day with temperatures in the low 70s and I found a major problem with my Mark III solar heater. It gets the water too hot!

I came home at 5pm and grabbed three bottles to wash with. I unscrewed the top of the first one and noticed it produced small bubbles, I thought I just didn't clean out the soda well enough. As I started pouring it over my head to rinse my hair I found out it was scolding.

I dumped 1/3 of the bottle out and filled it with cold tap water and it was cool enough to wash my hair with.

I grabbed the second bottle to wash my body with and realized I hadn't cooled it off. I had to run the cold shower while pouring the scalding hot water over myself.

If you've ever used those old sinks that had the hot and cold at opposite sides you've got an idea of what I had to do.

Taking a shower that is both 50 degrees and 150 degrees is not pleasant.

This weekend when I tie the system into the main water I will have to keep in mind that the system can potentially boil water. (Using soda bottles to store the hot water is out of the question as they will explode.)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Trying to get into Hot Water

Last week my hot water heater exploded. It literally sent hot water shooting throughout my bathroom that took a week to dry out.

I had to shut off the water for the night, the next day I managed to get the parts to cap off the cold water going into it only to remember (after the water still on the floor reminded me) I had to cap off the hot water as well since it would still flow into the heater every time I ran the water.

I’ve finally gotten the busted hot water heater out and on to my back yard and sealed off the water so we can resume normal living (without hot water).

While the hot water heater is gone I repaired the floor it was sitting on and put vinyl tile around the area where the hot water heater was.

This disaster coupled with the fact that I need to send my mortgage company my next 2 paychecks made me wonder if I in fact need a hot water heater during the summer months when the temperatures are between 80 to 90 degrees.

A quick hop into the shower and attempting to wash in 50-degree water told me. “Yes I do need to have some hot water.”

I quickly devised a solar hot water heater, it will heat up to four liters of water to a temperature that does not cause me pain and I don’t have to run around the house naked doing jumping-jacks after a shower trying to get my body temperature back up to normal.

I chose a green material to make the solar hot water heater out of, to gather more solar heat, symbolize the fact that it is very good for the environment with zero carbon emissions, and it was the only thing I had laying around.

As you can see from the picture it is cheap but it does have its limitations. This I noticed when the temperature only reached 64 degrees and it was overcast all day.

On a pleasant day with a partially sunny sky, I can get the water up to what I used to consider just a little too cold for showering.

I have since added a few ideas to improve upon this technology. I put the bottles into a box made of foam insulation and put an old window over it.

I of course, had the strictest supervision while making this elaborate devise.


The box you see is the box I that I made this winter to cover my air conditioning unit. I had forgotten about a strange property of that box. It controls the weather.

This winter I put it over my air conditioning unit when the temperatures were below zero, and the next day temperatures jumped into the 60s. With the house buttoned up so no air could get in temperatures inside shot up to the upper 70s and I had to take it down to use the air conditioning to cool off the house.

The next day temperatures plummeted. The rest of the winter followed that pattern I would put the box on, temperatures would get close to record highs. I’d take the box off and we’d get near record lows.

Meteorologists said we were on the edge of a high pressure front that moved back and forth all winter, but I know it was that box controlling the weather.

When I stepped outside this sunny warm morning to build my solar water heater Mark II I had forgotten about the weather controlling effects of that box and used it as the main part of my heater.

Naturally as soon as I had the heater put together the sky immediately became overcast.

After letting the bottles sit out in the heater under mostly overcast skies for 4 hours I was astonished when I grabbed them to bring my contraption in before it rained that they were heated to a pleasant temperature.

I was able to take a nice shower with water heated by the sun on a mostly overcast day.

I had the idea to run a garden hose up to roof to let it sit there full of water and warm up that way, only to find four small problems with this plan as this picture shows.

To make a system that will give me even more hot water next weekend I plan on scrounging around under the house and take apart some of the old iron pipes (I had replaced a few of them with PVC) paint them black and send water up through the old hot water heaters chimney to get some hot water that way.

I expect this will give me just enough hot water to wash my hands. Which is actually a huge plus as my current solar powered hot water system becomes unusable when my hands are soapy.

For a solution that might (big emphasis on the word might) get me through the hottest of the summer months and then save me money when I get a real hot water heater in the fall, I will have to spend some money.

On the back of my house I have a steel roof. The roof faces SSW, not ideal but workable. It is a 14’ by 30’ exposure that gets hot enough in the summer to burn flesh.

My plan is to cover it with iron pipes (copper would be better but I am a horrible solderer) painted black spaced 1’ apart. This will give me a 420 square foot solar receiver. If I did my calculations right, that will require 420 feet of pipe and give me an 11 gallon hot water heater.

Now all I have to do is come up with the money to buy 420 feet pipe.

So I am asking anyone who likes this blog to help me out. I will be setting up a donation button where you can donate to my homemade hot water system. All the proceeds from both donations and what I make from my advertisers on this blog will go towards building a homemade hot water heater and I will keep my readers informed of the progress.