Addition Solar Heating Update

Well, it’s been 3 weeks since we got our solar water heating system up and running in our new addition. First off, it definitely works — Yay! But it is also definitely a complicated setup.

I have been testing and tweaking the various controller settings. The system manual, as so many are, is very poorly written. Here is a fine example, as no doubt translated from the original Chinese:

If hot water in tank isn’t used for long time, then the capacity that solar system absorbs solar energy reduces, when tank temperature rises to its preset maximal temperature, solar circuit pump is ceased compulsively even the temperature difference is satisfied. then when more solar irradiation shines in, as a result collector temperature will rise continuously, temperature of collector maybe rise up to the evaporated temperature of heat fluid, this phenomenon names collector – overheat, it should be avoided.

And I have, indeed, and as I suspected, had this “phenomenon” happen. With the recent warm and sunny weather, the heat wasn’t going on. The big 211 gallon tank reached it’s max (145°F) by noontime so the pump “ceased compulsively” and the collectors overheated — I saw it at 303°F; that’s why it uses stainless steel pipe, not pex — and the 50/50 glycol/water mix evaporated into the pressure tank as designed. This is OK once in a while, but having it happen on a regular basis causes the fluid to acidify over time. So, yes, “it should be avoided”.

Bumping the tank max up to 160°F helped a little, but not enough. I could go up 175°F, but that would not likely solve the problem and is also a bit too close to the 180°F rating of the pex piping. After sorting through the various system settings and the creative prose in the manual, I have settled on a solution of using the “BYPR Bypass function (high temperature)” to trigger a solenoid valve to dump hot water when the collectors are near overheating until the system cools down a bit. We are fortunately blessed with an over-abundance of well water, and we put in an extra conduit running down to the spring house during construction so we can use that for the cool-down dump. I ordered the parts I need — the last ones are arriving today — this includes the solenoid valve and another mixing valve (since I really do not want to run 160+°F into my floor). Meanwhile, I have been manually dumping hot water, as well as running the heat on whatever cool nights I can. We have some cool and rainy weather coming in a couple of days, that will be a good time for me to drain the big tank and readjust the plumbing with the new parts. I am using SharkBite push-to-fit connectors, which are a breeze to remove and reposition, so it should go pretty smoothly (he says, inviting the wrath of the easily-irked Gods of Plumbing).

Here is the updated system schematic; not really all that complicated, right? Right?


Click to embiggen [Updated 20 May2017 to reflect final as-built]

Winter’s Last Gasp?

We got 6½ inches of snow last Thursday, followed by an arctic blast, and then, finally some unseasonable warmth. Today is a typical cool and rainy March day. We are certainly ready for Spring.


View from the air Sunday. As you can see, the siding is just about done on the addition. The insulation sub is supposed to be here this week to to finish spraying, batting, and blowing. Then next week, now that the bitter cold has broken, the rest of the wallboard will go up. Then on to chimney cleaning and sealing, and wallboard mudding. In the lower left you can see the trails that the goats have made in the snow going down to the spring run for water. Their shed is in the upper left.


The goat shed compound. From left to right: the Airlock (has gates to/from the Dairy Paddock, the Lower Driveway, and the Southern Portico); the Southern Portico (used variously for goat feeding, penning up new moms with their kids, penning up lactating goats overnight away from their kids for morning milking, and locking up Bersheba when she has dug out until we can fill the latest hole); the Main Shed; and the Northern Portico (The driveway half is for storing square hay bales and dog food, the Paddock side is the dog feeding station.) Behind the shed you can see the top half of the Apothedairy/Barn/Garage.

Goats Kids 2015, Early Edition Rounds One and Two

For unknown reasons.

For unknown reasons, our rutting season started early this year, so our 2015 crop of kids has already begun. Here are the first two, one born this morning (the tawny one in the back) and the other a couple of days ago. Both first-time moms seem to be doing OK — we have them locked ion the southern portico of the loafing shed with their kids to encourage the bonding process.

The kids are under the attentive watch of our sole remaining chicken — the rest were killed in a series of fox attacks in the early fall, and this one decided to move out of the hen house down in the obviously dangerous meadow paddock up to the loafing shed with the the goats and the dogs. She lets the goats kids play with her … well at least she tolerates it much better than when our dog Bersheba “plays” with her.

Freeze-Thaw Damage

freeze_thawAll of the snows we’ve had all winter kept the ground pretty saturated. Combined with the periodic bitter cold snaps, frost heave was inevitable. This portion of our front stone wall will need some TLC after spring mud season ends (before which this relentless winter needs to end!)

View from the Veranda

This post will give you a flavor of what our farm looks like from our upper veranda. All of these pictures embiggen when you click ’em (be sure to click on the resultant picture to really embiggen it if your browser has resized it to fit the screen — you’ll need to scroll left and right to see it all.) All of these panoramas were created with drag-n-drop ease using the free Microsoft ICE photo-stitching software.

This picture is a 250-degree view taken today during the first snow of the season.

This is a similar view from back in October. This one goes a bit farther to the left — note the hammock. This blog’s masthead is a version of this image.

And, finally, here’s a slightly narrower vista from March after some fairly torrential Spring rain. The river is up in its banks to where it is clearly visible from the veranda. This is also the height where Cacapon River Road — a part of which you can see on the left — floods several miles downstream. Note, too, how wet several portions of our pasture are.

Snowmageddon II

Yesterday, Eric slogged down to the billy pen, dragging a bale of hay using a small tarp as a sledge. Here are the anxious billies who were quite grateful for the feed. Amazingly and happily, their shipping-pallet hut with 2×4 rafters is withstanding the snowload.

Rustic Art

This is one of the scenes painted on the wall of my goat shed by various young people in the area. The paint can be obtained at places like ReStore in Winchester, Virginia for as little as a dollar a can, with the proceeds helping Habitat for Humanity. This mural was done by local artist Kelsey Davies.

Meaningful work for rural youth is difficult to come by. Working with recycled materials got my shed interior painted in an interesting and inexpensive way and provided some cash for talented young people in the area.

Hot Cat and a Tin Roof

We had a very hot summer this year. Our cat Sunny spent most of it looking just like this. In the background you can see the tin roof of our springhouse.

Pre-Winter Successes

We have been busy the last few months. Here you see the new goat shed ready for the goats on Dec 8th, just days before our first snow. All of the trim-out is not yet complete, most notably the lack of doors, but we did get several rolls of hay in and the goats have been able to get out of the snow and ice.

Pre-Winter Successes [Continued]

We also got the Apothedairy pretty much done. Refurbished some old windows from our house and added a small hot water heater. It’s ready for the soap making to begin!

Pre-Winter Successes [Continued]

Note, too, the fancy designer lighting.

Goat Shed Progress

Here you can see the progress we have made on the goat shed — it has a 14×26 central shed flanked by two 14×14 loafing areas. We still need more fill dirt and we also still need to trim it out. Oh, and we are also fencing in another half-acre pasture, probably to be used for a pig. Several other prjects around the house as well. Like I said, we’ve been busy.

Apothedairy Progress

We’ve been very busy with infrastructure improvements this summer (and continuing into the fall). We are making progress on converting the barn into our Apothedairy. On the top is from back in June just before we poured the concrete floor; on the bottom is from today — all the wiring and concrete block sealing is done — ready for insulation and plywood.

Apothedairy Foundation

We are in the process of turning the goat-stall portion of our barn into an “Apothedairy” — a place to make cheese, yogurt, and soap. We are putting in a concrete floor, but first we are adding water and drain lines as you can see here.

Billy Goats

You never know what you might see while strolling past Riversdell. Pistol Pete (right) likes to show Puck (left) who’s boss. Puck retaliates by prancing on the roof of their hut; Pete is too large to follow suit.