Solar at Last

After literally years (I bought the major components in May of 2015!), we finally have an operational solar hot water heating system. Let’s start in the basement utility room.

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The collection part of the system

Here is the 800L (211 gallons) solar hot water storage tank. I choose this size on the highly scientific principle that it was the largest one that would fit under the 7½’ ceiling. The grey box on the wall is solar pump/controller. When the rooftop panel temp is higher than the storage tank temp (and the tank is less than 145 degrees) it starts pumping. The insulated pipe coming out the top of the box goes to the rooftop panels where the heat is collected and comes down though the right-hand pipe, through a heat exchange coil in the tank, then back up to the box. The red thing is an expansion tank. This system is a closed loop that has a 50/50 water/propylene-glycol mix (good down to minus 39 degrees).

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The heat distribution part of the system

On the opposite wall we have the underfloor heating pump and controls. The green box on the right is the control module. When a thermostat calls for heat in any of the 3 zones, it sends a signal to the appropriate thermal actuator (the small white cylinders atop the manifold in the center of the picture. Once the actuators are open (visually you can see a blue ring at the top) the controller starts the circulator pump (on the left — it is a delta-T variable speed pump that reacts to individual zones opening and closing to maintain a constant temperature differential between the inlet and outlet). This part of the system is a open loop — it uses the water directly from the big storage tank (which also provides pre-heated water into our small electric DHW heater.

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The collector frames

Last week I completed the assembly of the three rooftop solar panel frames. Each of the three frames will hold 30 evacuated/vacuum collector tubes. Together the three frames are about 23 feet long. At the top of each frame is a manifold — this is the only part that has water running in it, to capture the heat from the tubes.

Installation begins

Monday, the contractors arrived, two guys with two ladders. The frames are unwieldy but fairly light. After some discussion we decided to take off the relative heavy manifolds and take them up separately. Here is the first frame getting fastened to the roof; rather than put any holes in our shiny new standing roof I choose specialized clamps.[/caption]

Here is the second frame being carried up the two ladders. I am working the safety rope from underneath.

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Day one done

By the close of the first day’s installation, the contractors had completed the plumbing hookup to the frames; meanwhile I got the hookups done in the utility room. I pressurized the system with 30 psi of air and left it overnight to test for leaks. It failed the test. When the contractors got here at 8am on the day two, I put them to installing the column and posts for the ramp railing (see a few pictures down), while I hooked up the submersible pump to flush the solar system and pinpoint leaks. I had two in the utility room — both cheap-ass fittings I got at the Capon Valley Market yesterday since I ended up short. I managed to crank one down enough to stop it, and for then other I had found the proper fitting and got that in. Meanwhile, since water was dripping off of the roof the contractors went up and tightened the leaking compression fittings up there.

Leaks fixed, they started in on putting aluminum tape over the rooftop foam pipe insulation to protect it from the sun, while I drained the flush water from the system and re-pressurized it with a 50% polypropylene glycol mixture. I turned on the pump controller, and we started installing the 90 heat tubes. I was on the upper veranda unpacking the tubes from the shipping boxes, smearing thermal paste on the copper condenser tips, handing each tube up to guy one who was on the ladder, who then handed them to guy two to insert in the frames. Six of the tubes were broken, but the manufacturer was pretty generous by sending 30 spare tubes (but just the tubes, I had to remove the sealed copper tube inserts and aluminum heat-collection fins from the broken tubes).

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The finished product from the front (south side)

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And from the back (north side). To the right you can see the newly-installed posts; the shorter two are original to the house, they were part of a handrail on the front porch. I’ve been saving them for lo these 18 years — glad to have finally found a use for them!

The system seems to be working fine, the 211-gallon solar water storage tank went from 59 degrees 96 by the end of the day. Was still at 93 this morning. (I ultimately want to get the tank to 145 degrees.) This morning I turned on the underfloor heat in the addition, we’ll see how it does getting the room from 65 to 68. Also interested in whether the rooftop unit can glean heat on a cloudy day.

It feels very good to have this project done! (Well, except for some more pipe insulation in the utility room.)

And, as a bonus, I discovered that my Moto phone had made a highlight reel (complete with cheesy music!) of the photos and videos I took yesterday late afternoon. It was a gorgeous day to review the completed project from the vantage point of the pasture and spring run. And our livestock guardian dog Satie enjoyed it as well.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Every year in the spring we have our collie Roy shaved.
It makes him more comfortable and our house less dog-hairy.
But everybody who meets him in his shaved state asks “What kind of dog is that?”
RoyShave

Late Gasp of Winter [Video]

This winter has been virtually snow-free so far. Temps have been up and down — in fact, a couple of weeks ago we had several days in the mid-70s!

But Ole Man Winter isn’t quite ready to leave just yet. An old-fashioned Nor’Easter passed over us last night dumping about 8″ of snow.

Here is what the morning chores (feeding the dogs — two indoor, one outdoor livestock guardian dog) in the lingering flurries was like:

“Sheba, shotgun!”

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That’s a new command that our dog Bersheba loves to hear. To give her a break from the rambunctious puppy Satie that we have saddled her with, we let her ride shotgun when we drive to town to go shopping. On this day, even though it was only 35° out, she still had her head out the window for much of the trip.

Snowzilla Aftermath

It took me another 3 days to dig us out to the point where we could get a vehicle on the road. My back-of-the-envelope calculations are that I moved at least 10,000 cubic feet of snow — around 640 feet of driveway by 8 feet wide by 2 feet deep, more or less, give or take.

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My main goal Monday was to clear the lower drive all the way to the dirt road (which the road crews had just plowed.) This includes getting to the gate to let the dogs out to run around a bit. Satie agrees with this goal!


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By 11:30 I had the dogs out and had gotten most of the way to the road. The F150, I am hoping, will clear itself once things warm up next week. Another 2 hours and I got out to the road. I then loaned the tractor to a neighbor who lives down the dirt road so he could plow out his driveway so 3 people could get to work the next day. (Have I mentioned lately how wonderful it is to work from home?)


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I started Tuesday clearing out a parking space at the upper end of the lower drive. I then started on clearing the main road in front of the mailbox. Note in the picture near the mail box that the Post Office was back on the road, in this case delivering an Amazon package handed off to it from UPS.


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For the upper driveway I had two choices: start at the level-ish end, which, though, is not really level and is *very* close to the steep stone wall drop-off, so I went with starting by going down the steep drive entrance. I fully expected to get stuck. I did. Note in the picture that most of the snow has blown off the house roof. This happened in thunderous whooshes during the storm. Our new metal roof apparently is much slipperier than our old roof, with its (dozens?) of coats of paint and caulked repairs, which would hold snow for days/weeks.


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To get unstuck, it took some hand digging but I had gravity on my side. It was slow going, only got 1/3 of the way to the garage by day’s end. Lots of slipping and sliding on the icy surfaces created by the tires compressing the increasingly-wetter snow in the just-above-freezing temperatures.


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On dig-out day 3 I continued pressig towards the garage. By lunch time, including hand digging, I had reached the car in the garage. Note the snow looming on the roof — it slides off in big sheets, which is one reason we wanted the car out now, before more snow piles up in front of the door.


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In the afternoon I tackled the remaining upper drive. It was quite close quarters with tress and bushes on both sides. (I was glad the snow had already blown off the branches, no snow down the back of my neck!) As expected, it was a challenge finding space to dump all the snow.


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3:30pm Wednesday, all done!

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Today was cleanup day 1 from the monster East Coast winter storm that ended last night around 8 p.m., after pummeling us with snow for 32 hours.

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Today was a gorgeous sunny day. Never got above freezing, though.


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Having the tractor on the addition ramp was good in that it was most definitely nice to be able to just hop on the tractor and get started without any hand digging. This was too much snow to use my usual push-and-veer technique. I had to scoop-and-dump, which involved a lot of 3-, 4-, and 5-point turns to get the loads to a place where I could dump them.


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I measured 34″ of snow in the drifts near the house, and 24″ in a more open place. This was after a pretty windy night and several hours of sunshine, so who knows how much actually fell. (Other than, of course a lot).


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My lunch break was triggered by my getting stuck. This light snow compacted down to a hard slush in the intense sunshine. All it took was me venturing just a little too far onto the 10° slope at the side of lower drive to start slipping sideways. After lunch I hand-dug around the tractor and dumped some wood-ash for traction. It took 10 minutes of judicious use of the loader bucket to lever myself back-and-forth, but I got unstuck.


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I had two major goals today: (1) get out to goat shed to check on the dogs — check! …


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… and (2) clear a path to the woodshed — check! — since we burned through most of the wood we brought in on Thursday.


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By the way, the dogs were fine. The covered portion of the southern portico was dry and warm with its deep bedding. Bersheba, though, was clearly tired of the company of puppy Satie, but I did not get the tractor as far as the gate so she will have to wait until tomorrow for an outing.


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Speaking of the gate, it opens inward, so I was not looking forward to trying to open it. It looks like the dogs have helped me out in that regard. (“Shovels? We don’t need no stinkin’ shovels!”)


This all took me a total of 6½ hours, including breaks. Tomorrow, I want to clear the lower driveway out to the dirt road (a challenge in that it is uphill and sloped to the side), and then get around to the upper driveway and start getting that cleared out so we can get the Mini out of the garage at some point.

New Puppy!

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Meet Satie [sah-tee] our new 9-week-old Black Lab mix. Mixed with what we do not know.

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We got her as a companion Livestock Guardian Dog with Bersheba (left) because we are going to retire the aging Roy (top) from LDG duties to become an indoor dog starting this winter. Satie has LOTS of puppy energy — she is blurry in almost every picture I took.

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She is already keenly interested in the chickens — if you look carefully you can see a chicken on the right, kinda hard to spot amongst the similarly-colored leaves. Unfortunately, she is still small enough that she can wriggle through the fence in some places, so supervision in the pastures is a must.

Peeps ‘n’ Pups

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Ok, so they are not really pups any more (but, hey, alliteration!), nevertheless our two dogs Roy and Bersheba both like to participate in the barn chores.

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.

Escape Artist

[Optional musical accompaniment to this post]

There is no construction news, things have been on a hiatus as the footers cure and we await engineering of the ICF concrete floor. I have used the time to refine and adjust my design drawings.

bershebaMeanwhile, our dog Bersheba is a sweet dog, always eager to help us around the farm. Her very favorite way to help keep us busy is to show us weaknesses in our fencing. Every. Single. Weakness.
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She loves to dig under the fence. Anywhere the ground is a little soft or a little low, and she is off to the races. The tractor comes in handy — I keep blocking her escape routes with rocks and shale.

Major Snowstorm Barn Chores

Like most of the US East Coast we are in the midst of a major winter storm. This has been a very cold, snowy winter so far from the first arctic blast in early December through this current storm-in-progress. 16″ on the ground with more on the way.

Here is a 10-minute video of our barn chores this morning. Once they plow our road I can get the tractor out to plow the upper driveway followed by the lower driveway we are trudging on in this video.

Goat Kids 2014

We’re still alive here at Riversdell. I know we haven’t blogged for 3 years, but sometimes life just gets in the way. The goat-raising has taken a back seat to other priorities, but we are getting back to it this year.

So, with no further ado, the first round of 2014 goat kids.

Hecate [HECK-uh-tee]  (in front), b. 1/30, Miyumkin [me-YUM-kin] b. 2/2, both girls

Hecate [HECK-uh-tee] (in front), b. 1/30, Miyumkin [me-YUM-kin] b. 2/2, both girls

Boy Per [PEAR] b. 2/4

Boy Per [PEAR] b. 2/4:

Adelle (daughter of Anette), b. 2/8, with Bersheba always ready to help

Adelle (daughter of Anette), b. 2/8, with Bersheba always ready to help

Snowmageddon II [Continued]

Snow PathWell, true to our suspicions, a few minutes after the post below went up, our power went out, and stayed out for 3 days. As for snow totals, it is hard to get a precise measurement, but we have 26+” in the clear areas with drifting up to 3 feet or so against fences and rises. I amused myself by hand-shoveling 230 feet of trails to the woodshed, to the chickens, to the goats/dog/barn-cat, and to the driveway. Unfortunately, they are now partially re-filled with snow from the six additional inches we got since yesterday and the 30 mph winds we are now experiencing.

Barn Life

I hae me hay, I hae me dog, life is good.

The tree is dead. Long live the tree.

Around noon ago I heard a noise out back and then Roy the Collie stared barking furiously. It turned out that a limb on the left hand side of our ancient, dead hickory tree had broken off. Then, about 20 minutes later, I heard a short burst of furious barking then a grand thump and crunch. It’s been stormy today, but mostly rain not a lot of wind — guess it just got too waterlogged and heavy. The tree is dead. Long live the tree. No animals were harmed in the making of the death of this tree. We have for awhile been concerned about goats getting hurt when that tree came down. But upon reflection, it was highly likely that it would come down in a storm, and goats are *never* outside in a storm! The tree is hollow so we cannot count the rings, but it seems likely that this tree was over 100 years old.