Solar is Up! Day One

Yesterday the Xcel technician stopped by about 4 PM to install the solar meter. That completed the setup for our solar system.

Xcel technician installing meter

Xcel technician installing meter

She gave me a hang tag that said the system was ready to bring online!

Xcel ready hangtag

Xcel ready hangtag

After she left I called Tesla support to get directions to turn on the system. It was so windy outside that my phone lost connection! But after calling back I just went out and did the checks with the phone left inside. Basically I had to be sure the system circuit breakers were on and then turn on the Eaton shut off box and then the inverter. It takes about 10 minutes for the inverter to come online. Then I reported the production numbers to the support rep. Next the Powerwall switch was turned on and we were in business.
The system showed the Powerwall was down to 0%. So the power initially went towards charging that back up.

Powerwall at 0%

Powerwall at 0%

The power diagram shows the house being powered by the grid as the batteries are charged by the panels.

Initial power flow

Initial power flow

In the last hours of daylight the Powerwall charged up to 2%. I was hoping for a nice sunny day to see what the system could do and we got it. By mid morning the panels were producing enough to charge the batteries and power the house.

Excess power to battery

Excess power to battery

By afternoon the Powerwall was completely charged. Then excess power from the panels began to feed grid.

Power to the grid

Power to the grid

As the sun began to wane the Powerwall began to supplement the panels.

Then at night, the panels shut down and the Powerwall batteries take over.

The Powerwall will not go below the set reserve which is about 50% for our system. Then the grid will provide power until the sun charges the panels in the morning!
This is a great day in the life of a LEED hopeful home.

Posted in Electrical, Energy Efficiency, Solar | Comments Off on Solar is Up! Day One

If It’s On A List, Then It Must Get Done

Sooner or later the list must get done. It is past time to come up with a Spring list and I’m looking at the items that I have paid no attention to for a season and feeling like I had better get them done.

These two items have been hanging out on the list for a few seasons. Since we had the drywall started last April and painted in May, cleaning up should have happened by now right? I guess since it is overhead it was not right in front of my face it didn’t happen.

  • Vacuum ERV vent shaft (replace vacuum bag)
  • Clean beam

I stuck a bucket under the kitchen sink drain because it was leaking and over time it just stopped.

  • Fix kitchen sink drain

I suppose it got gunked up? Otherwise I actually did these items.

  • Grout tile over tub
  • Install bench in family bathroom shower
  • Schluter in family room bathroom shower
  • Replace filters on house water system
  • Install airlock entry door

I suppose these were half done since one shower is completed and the second one started. One door is hung. I used extra mortar to prep the perimeter of the concrete floor with Kerdi.

  • Level shower floors
  • Get showers tiled
  • Hang doors in the master bathroom and bedroom closet
  • Install tile on perimeter of house floor

Although it has to be done again, the inspector came over for a final which was great.

  • Get final inspection

And now on to the items that didn’t get done at all.

  • Install corian on top of vent shaft
  • Make corian tub tray for master bathroom
  • Wire thermostat and dimmer switch to ERV
  • Install new calcium filter on boiler supply
  • Install new TDS monitor on water supply
  • Foam gap at floor in storage closet

My son gave me a circuit design that might fix the issues I’m having with the ERV analog control and I’m working on that.
I have resolved to not add any new items to the list. Today I rewired the light in the kitchen and that was not on a list. I notice that I didn’t post anything about this project when I did it.

Kitchen Hanging Light

Kitchen Hanging Light

The decorative top piece was missing at the time and I found it a few months ago. I decided since I had the ladder out vacuuming the vent shaft I might as well fix the light. Of course the top piece had to have the wire threaded through it and I had to take the whole light down to do that. But now it has the “mountain” theme.

I bought this bronzed copper light in Arizona for $20 because it was missing a lamp shade. I looked and looked but could not find the exact shade so I replaced them with galvanized animal feed bowls for about $6. It was pretty hard to drill the holes in the center of the metal for the wiring to the light bulbs. So they are a little off center but I like the result.

Kitchen light with trim

Kitchen light with trim


Now back to the list…

Posted in Kitchen, Maintenance and Repair, Planning | Comments Off on If It’s On A List, Then It Must Get Done

Painted Garage Door

I  was surprised that our garage door was so shy. I had to look long and hard for any photos of the door before it was painted. This is how it looked when we bought the house. There was always a patch where perhaps a lock was moved.

Garage Door in 2011

Garage Door in 2011

By 2016 the door paint had deteriorated and in 2017 I bought some paint on craigslist that was about the same color.

Garage Door in 2016

Garage Door in 2016

When Spencer and Dave used the door for a baseball backstop this year though, Dave ended up patching several indentations and then painted it.

The paint has a bit more red in it than the original but it is very good paint (low VOC) and looks pretty good.

Newly painted garage door

Newly painted garage door

Next I have to change the weather stripping at the bottom and spray foam some of the large cracks at the sides.

Posted in Maintenance and Repair, Reduce Reuse Recycle | Comments Off on Painted Garage Door

Rustic Bathroom Door

We are having guests at the end of the week. I thought it would be great to have a real door on the master bathroom now that the shower is also completed. I even used the shower before our trip to try it out. I hung a piece of heavy duty vinyl material that I bought at auction from repurposed materials for a shower curtain. Today I hung one half of the rustic bifold doors that I bought on craigslist.

Rustic bifold doors

Rustic bifold doors

These doors are part of a vision that I have been working on for years now. They were purchased about the time I bought the vanity for this bathroom more than two years ago now. I guess time goes fast when you are having fun, or slowly when you are working on such a large project.
I used new pine door jamb pieces and stops for this door. It was a bit tricky because it is an angled doorway. I leveled the side jamb pieces both vertically and horizontally and squared them to one another. The door was fit exactly into the opening with the jamb shimmed to fit the door. The door is not shutting level though. It may be warped from two years of being moved around in various storage areas. Or it may have been a bit warped when I bought them. Who know?
I used gate hinges to hang the doors, leaving the original bifold hinges in between the panels. These doors are meant to run in a track but I was hoping to use them free form. I thought I might hang one on each side of the door, but I didn’t want to have the door open in front of the light switches, so I hung them together.

Gate hinge on angled door

Gate hinge on angled door

Without the track it is difficult to get the door placed exactly in the jambs to close it. Plus the top of the open side leans out a bit. So my solution was to place stops at the top and bottom of the door and use a sliding bolt to hold the closed door in place. It worked reasonably well but will need some tweaking.
The outside of the door needs a finish applied. But Dave particularly likes the look of this z bracing on doors.

Rustic doors with z bracing

Rustic doors with z bracing

It is not too difficult to open the door and fold it beside the entry wall that holds the plumbing access for the tub. I will use the second set of doors for the walk in closet, eventually.

Open bifold bathroom doors

Open bifold bathroom doors

Posted in Bathrooms, Trim | Comments Off on Rustic Bathroom Door

Winter Tent Worked

I was distracted from building projects by preparing for our spring trip to the Grand Canyon with the family. We have a small RV that fits us and the grandkids just fine but the rest of the family did not have a good tent to stay warm overnight. So I put together a winter tent system and I’m pleased to report that it worked fine.

I set up the tent at home just before we left without staking it completely and we had to disassemble it in a big windstorm that gusted up to 20 mph. The blocky style definitely doesn’t do well in high winds but nothing broke which was good. I packed the large tent in the RV closet and we had to store coats and clothes in the shower.

Tent set up at home

Tent set up at home

The Grand Canyon was a perfect meet up place for spring break. It was magnificent and amazing to share with our kids and grandkids. One son lives in the Phoenix area so he was able to drive up in a few hours, another lives in California but visited his in-laws in Irvine first so their drive was about 8 hours and we took three days to arrive with the older grandkids. Their parents came a day later and only stopped for one night. We all arrived happy and safely.

Monument Valley camp

Monument Valley camp

The Grand Canyon was beautiful and awesome as always. The weather during the day was perfect. Clear and in the high 40’s and 50’s. But the nights were cold. The first night was coldest at only 22 degrees.

Grand Canyon view

Grand Canyon view

We stopped to show off the Watchtower to the grandkids and then went to the campsite. I started unpacking the tent and could not find the inner tent pieces in the RV closet. I thought I had forgotten the major part of the tent but started putting together the outer walls and roof of the canopy. Luckily I had that and the groundcloth laid before it started to snow! It was beautiful and it didn’t stick, but it was chilly.
While I was working on the outer tent, I remembered that the main duffle was in the loft bed area. It was too big for the closet! So I was glad that I had the whole tent after all. I hung the tent inside the canopy walls and put up the nylon ceiling. Then I moved in the double cot and the roll up metal table to hold the Mr. Buddy propane heater and I warmed up the tent for the family. I brought a CO2 monitor just to be safe.

Tent at the campsite

Tent at the campsite


The grandkids and their parents filled the winterized tent. But we didn’t fill the RV the first night and the guys who took the other family tent were freezing in their summer tent! So the next couple of nights we slept another person in the RV but still didn’t fit a couple of the guys. They put up a smaller tent and used two sleeping bags together and wore long underwear to bed. But the nights were still pretty cold for them.
The heated tent was quite comfortable though and most of the family was warm and cozy. Unfortunately despite these luxuries, I had a bad cold and was not able to sit around the campfire making s’mores or do much hiking. But I could babysit my youngest grandson in the RV which was wonderful!
The return trip was great too. The parents left a day early and took much of the winter tent back in their car and we stopped with the grandkids at Four Corners National Monument which is a cool geographical location with lots of lovely Native American art for sale.
Four Corners, four states

Four Corners, four states


We were home in time for the Easter Dinner that the parents cooked for us. Yum.

Posted in Distractions | Comments Off on Winter Tent Worked

Passed the Final Inspection

April Fools!  But we did have the inspector come out at the end of February and we are very close. We had three things that needed to be done to pass: first, finish the showers; second, caulk around the bathroom toilet; and third, fix the bathroom GFCI outlets.

Inspection Report for Building Permit

Inspection Report for Building Permit

Fortunately the solar installers found that it was just a circuit breaker for the GFCI outlets and turned them back on. Unfortunately they didn’t know which circuit did the trick.

We also didn’t pass the solar system electrical inspection. The plans called for a 150 amp breaker to the whole house panel. But the installers did not replace the original 100 amp breaker. The next day the installer returned to replace the breaker and the wire to the house panel and the work was approved.

Solar Install Inspection Report

Solar Install Inspection Report

 

 

 

 

Posted in Electrical, Inspections, Plumbing | Comments Off on Passed the Final Inspection

Solar System Commissioned

Commissioning was basically a test of functions. I had the Tesla app open on my phone so I could follow along with the tests. The commissioning was early in the morning so the system was not yet producing full power.
With the grid turned off, solar was powering the house.

Solar to the house

Solar to the house

When house usage was lower than production, solar powered both the house and charged the battery.
Solar to battery and house

Turning off solar and grid powered the house from the battery.

Battery to the house

Battery to the house

And when the grid was turned back on, the house was powered by the grid while solar charged the battery.

Solar to battery Grid to house

Solar to battery Grid to house

Before the installer left he set the battery charge to 50% which meant the battery would take all the solar power until it is 50% charged and then solar will feed power to the house and excess to the battery. He said that is typical.
The inverter displays the amount of power it is converting to AC. So I took a photo of it too.

Inverter power status

Inverter power status

The saddest part was turning off the solar system to await inspection and the power company thay has to come out and install the grid feed meter before the system can be used.

Posted in Electrical, Monitoring, Solar | Comments Off on Solar System Commissioned

Tesla Solar!

The solar photovoltaics were installed yesterday and “commissioned” today. I’m thrilled. This seems like another major step in the process of putting together a truly energy efficient home. And it is another case of purchasing a complete system with installation included.
The electrical connections happened first. Two installers came in a Solar City, doing business as Tesla truck. They had the power wall onboard and the outside electrical boxes including the inverter. First to go in was the Powerwall battery backup. It was unpacked, a bracket installed on the wall and then it was hung on the bracket.

Powerwall box

Powerwall box

Powerwall in truck

Powerwall in truck

Installing bracket

Installing bracket

Battery powerwall in place

Battery powerwall in place

The Powerwall needed side ventilation because the shelving unit was a bit too narrow so I cut an opening on the side of the cabinet. I also had to move an electrical outlet that was in the middle of the mounting area.
The installers then moved outside to install the several electrical boxes and the inverter that came with the system. They also made the connections between the outside panel and the solar equipment and connected the main sub panel to the backup system.

Installing electrical boxes

Installing electrical boxes

Late in the afternoon the truck with the panels and another install team arrived.

Solar panels arrive

Solar panels arrive

Solar panel specs

There were five men on the panel install part of the job. The mounting brackets went in very quickly and in a couple of hours the panels were connected to the brackets on the roof.

Installing mounting braces

Installing mounting braces

Panels go up and connections made

A special boot was used under a panel to run wiring through the roof into the garage attic. Then a penetration was made above the equipment behind the garage into the wall just below the attic ceiling and the wires were brought to the breaker boxes. After the wiring between the panels and the electrical controls were made the job was finished for the day.
The lineup of control boxes behind the garage is impressive.

Inverter and power boxes

Inverter and power boxes


I’m also impressed with the amazing usable 13.5 Kwh storage battery that is the Tesla Powerwall. There is a battery disconnect installed above the power wall.
Powerwall and interior disconnect

Powerwall and interior disconnect

Posted in Electrical, Energy Efficiency, Solar | Comments Off on Tesla Solar!

We Get a Shed

Here is something new. A shed purchased as a kit and put together by a store contractor. Our kids ordered it for us and had it built, although they will use it for a couple of years. And it certainly takes less time to order and have it delivered and built. No wonder the Sears houses were so popular!

Delivery by the builder

Delivery by the builder

The kids bought the Rainier shed from Lowes. It is about 10′ x 10′ with a 4′ loft inside. That is a pretty big storage shed. I chose to put it near the hot tub thinking that I can use its sides for solar thermal panels or for the tank enclosure.

Site layout

Site layout


Extra costs for the kit included leveling blocks for the floor joists. The joists are treated 2 x 4’s and a couple of 4 x 4 beams. The blocks were just plain concrete pavers. The floor framework was covered with 1/2″ chipboard plywood. They called it plywood but typically we wouldn’t confuse it with smooth faced plywood. This floor kit was also an add-on to the shed kit. I suppose it could be built over dirt or gravel instead of wood.
Floor first

Floor first


After the floor was together, the carpenter put together the walls which are made from 2 x 3’s and exterior wood panelling. Each wall was built and then lifted into place.
Then the walls

Then the walls


After lunch the roof panels went on. I didn’t notice the loft being put together but I would guess than happened sometime during the roof raising.
Now it needs shingles

Now it needs shingles


The shingle bundle also did not come with the kit. But it took less than one bundle to cover the roof. The shingles were stapled on.
Finishing touches

Finishing touches


A vent was cut on each side of the building and covered with a screened basement type vent cover. With a padlock on the double doors, the shed was finished. Except for paint. Dave and I will paint it.
Finished shed

Finished shed

Posted in Construction, Landscape | Comments Off on We Get a Shed

More Tile in the Master Bath

The master bath floor is finished. I just have to decide if I will use tile or baseboard in that room. I only have eleven trim tiles left. I could use them in the master but then I would not have enough for the family room shower edges.

I fixed the saw switch and was able to cut and fit most of the tiles for the remaining floor area.

Tiles cut and fitted

Tiles cut and fitted

Unfortunately before I was completely finished the saw switch started acting up. I cut the last few cuts with just the grinder, by wetting the blade regularly and applying it to the tile. Luckily I didn’t have to make any long cuts. When all the tiles were cut I mixed mortar and installed them.

Tile Mortared

Tile Mortared

I had to mix two batches of mortar because the first was not quite enough, so I used the extra in the second batch to mortar down more Kerdi for the tile edging in the kitchen.

Then I looked at the saw switch and found the bottom of the switch was not attached correctly and it had fallen apart in the housing. So I took it out and re-connected the parts and added a small strip of gorilla tape for good measure. Then I thought the switch wasn’t firmly in the housing because of the parts I left off. So I replaced the switch with the top rubber gasket and its holder. That made the switch feel firmer and this time the switch could be turned on and off. Essentially I fixed the switch again. Now it may stay fixed for awhile.
The next day I was able to mix more epoxy grout and grout the rest of the shower tile and floor. I had extra grout and I used it in the entry to grout the edging tiles. Then I returned and did the two thorough cleanings and in the afternoon I had time to apply caulk to the shower edges.

Painter's tape for straight caulk line

Painter’s tape for straight caulk line


As I was grouting the insert tile for the shower drain, I realized I cut the wrong type of tile for the tray. The drain was not that expensive and I’m just ordering a new one because this “feature” tile looks odd to me.
Caulked floor with mismatched tile insert

Caulked floor with mismatched tile insert


I’m looking forward to trying out the new shower! The minimum grout cure time is 2-3 days. Seven days are recommended. The first half of the shower floor was grouted a week ago. In another week it should be fully cured and resistant to staining.
Finished floor

Finished floor

Posted in Bathrooms, Tile | Comments Off on More Tile in the Master Bath

New Switch for Tile Saw

I bought a Husky bridge style wet tile saw for a bathroom remodel tile project in our Tempe house in 2007.

Tempe Bath Vanity Area Tile

Tempe Bath Vanity Area Tile

That was the first really creative tile layout that I designed and it turned out pretty well I thought.

Tempe Bath Vanity

Tempe Bath Vanity

It helped to have a wet saw to make the cuts and I did several tile projects in Tempe. We also used the saw on my son’s condo and my daughter and son-in-law’s tile projects and of course in this house.
After over ten years of use though the saw is beginning to wear out.

Tile Saw Label

Tile Saw Label

Last year we replaced the hose between the pump and the blade. The splash guard completely rotted and I tore it off. A pin broke on the cord cover and it needs to be taped to hold it together. The pump connector cracked off during the tiling of the master bath shower and I had to order a part and replace the hose connection with a brass fitting. It is frustrating to be delayed when the tool is broken.
Last week while finishing the shower floor tile I noticed that the switch sometimes had to be turned on more than once for the saw to start and it wasn’t long before the switch stopped operating completely. This is a common problem with these switches, especially with an older tool. I found a replacement that was rated the same 120/20A and 240/12A and ordered it.

Safety Rocker Switch

Safety Rocker Switch

But when it arrived I took the switch out of the frame it came in and I ended up taking it apart. Then the tabs inside fell out and I had to reassemble the switch.

It was a difficult job to disassemble the power box. It is accessible but the wires inside are tight and I had to remove several clamps to get enough slack in the box to reach the connections and remove the old switch.

Wet Saw Power Box

Wet Saw Power Box Opened and Unclamped

Unfortunately after the switch was installed and when I started to put the box back together I tested the switch first and it didn’t work! The switch was not engaging and I thought it could be due to a broken circuit breaker that was attached to the switch. So I ordered a new circuit breaker but when it came today and I installed it the switch still didn’t work. So I had to take the switch out of the housing and figure out why not.

I opened the switch and one of the rocker plates that makes the contact was skewed. I placed it correctly and closed the switch and then checked for continuity with a multimeter and it seemed OK. So I tested it outside the power box enclosure and it turned on the saw. Then I had to disconnect it and insert it into the housing again and fiddle around getting all the wire clamps back in place and the the housing cover didn’t want to line up with the screw towers and a screw to reassemble was missing so I just used a trusty drywall screw.
When it was back together I tried to reinstall the rubber boot and holder for over the switch but they didn’t have enough clearance for this new switch so I had to leave them off.
Finally the saw is back together and working, just in time for a bathroom redo at my daughter and son-in-law’s house and to finish the master bath floor. Whew, I hope it doesn’t break again for awhile.

Posted in Maintenance and Repair, Tile, Tools | Comments Off on New Switch for Tile Saw

Master Bath Shower Grout

The work on the shower in the master bath has been slow but steady. Bill recommended sealing the rough tile before grouting so the epoxy would not stick to the tile faces. I couldn’t find our concrete floor sealer to use on the shower tile and Bill said some sealers will leave a white residue which I knew the soy based stuff would if put on too thick. So an easy solution was to buy a bottle of spray on sealer from Home Depot. Bill recommended TileLab Grout and Tile Sealer.

Tile and grout sealer

Tile and grout sealer

This just sprays on and wipes off. The instructions recommend two coats and not letting the sealer dry on the tile without wiping it. The sealer worked great at keeping the grout from working its way into the rough surface of the feature tile.
I had one more batch of the SpectraLock epoxy grout that I divided last summer. I used it to start grouting the shower. The mixing went well with the yellow part A and white part B mixed first.

Clipping corner of solution bag

Clipping corner of solution bag

The edge of the baggie is clipped and the whole bag squeezed out.

Squeezing white part B into yellow part A

Squeezing white part B into yellow part A

When thoroughly mixed it is time to pour in the sand. The portion is weighed at 2.25 lbs. About 75% to 90% is added all at once and mixed in.

Mixing in colored fine sand

Mixing in colored fine sand

Then slightly more is added until the grout is the right consistency. Sometimes the whole bag is used and sometimes not.

Peanut butter grout consistency

Peanut butter grout consistency

Starting at the top of the shower, each batch of grout completed about three rows of tile all the way around the shower. I only did one batch of grout a day to keep from wearing myself out and getting sloppy.

Grout on tile feature

Grout on tile feature

I used a narrow plastic scraper to spread the grout in the shower which worked well. It was flexible but firm enough to press the grout into the joints. I left enough on to spread with the rubber trowel to pack it firmly into the crevices. Then I rinsed the wall with a special solution and a microfiber cloth, next another rinse with another solution and a white 3M scrubby. The third rinse is with clear vinegar water and a large grout sponge.

Shower walls and floor grouted

Shower walls and floor grouted

I had to divide another pro package of grout into four mini sections. I used two more to get from the top to the bottom of the shower and part of the floor. Each mini mix takes about an hour to spread. That is the recommended time for a batch before it needs to be rinsed. Rinsing takes about another hour of work.
I have another two pro packages to divide. I’m hoping I was pretty close in estimating the total amount of epoxy grout the tiling will need. There is a bit more tile in front of the shower that needs to be installed and grouted. Then the master bath will just need doors to be complete.

Posted in Bathrooms, Tile | Comments Off on Master Bath Shower Grout

Gleaning More Materials

I’ve used most of the building materials that have been stockpiled in the past; although there is more finish work in the house that needs to be completed. I hope to use the log railings for door and window trim inside. I have some baseboards for the house and rubber patio blocks that need to be installed outside. But I’m also thinking ahead to other projects.

This week I visited Repurposed Materials twice. Thursday to pick up a large galvanized window well that I bought when I was there on Monday for my auction items. I bought 4 drums of rubber infill, which seems to be tires finely ground that I will use instead of sand to lay a base for the rubber patio tile

Four barrels of rubber infill

Four barrels of rubber infill

I also won the bid for a set of metal rollers from a conveyer system that I will use for lumber rollers to support cut timbers too long for the table saw.

The galvanized metal window well is big. About 72″ long and 69 inches wide and about 23″ deep. I’m uncertain whether to use it as the base or the lid for the tank enclosure. I  bought two hydraulic bed lifts to allow access to the enclosure.

Selby Bed Lift Installed

Selby Bed Lift Installed

I have to insulate the enclosure well and there will be holes in the material used on the side for pipe access. I want it below the deck wall so that it does not interfere with the view.

Window Well

Window Well

I still had two of the barrels of rubber granules in the truck because they were too heavy to dump. The loaders pulled them to the back for me and loaded the window well on top. The metal originally sat directly over the bed rails but it fell down almost immediately when I left the yard even though it was tied and tightened with bungee cords. At least it didn’t fall off completely. I got out of the truck on the highway ramp to retighten the ropes and bungees keeping it on the truck for the trip home.

Window well in truck

Window well in truck

I also picked up just two of these plastic lattice edges because they seemed like they would work for holding the glass in the trombe wall. They might work but they cost $3 each. I don’t have a plan yet to help decide whether they are worth it or how many I would need.

Lattice fence edges

Lattice fence edges

I also bought one of these roof pavers just to see if it would work as a foundation for the tank enclosure. They are $135 for 20 or $6.75 a piece.

Extruded polystyrene and concrete roof pavers

Extruded polystyrene and concrete roof pavers

I was dreaming about putting these on our flat roof and building up a green roof on top of them for better insulation up there. But they are not in the best shape and I’m not sure the roof can take the extra weight. The rafters are 2 x 12’s and it is a short span of about 12 ft. so the roof is pretty sturdy. The green roofs I’m researching are shallow systems that use sedum and grasses instead of deep soil. These cement pavers are held on just by perimeter edging and are tongue and groove so the wind won’t lift them. They would add about R15 to the roof.

When I was on the east side of town I also drove to Aurora and bought a small electric water heater to use for a drain back tank for the hot tub solar water system. I had been looking out for a reasonably priced or free non-working small water heater. A 10 gallon one costs about $250 new and I bought this 115 volt model for $50.

19 Gallon Electric Water Heater

19 Gallon Electric Water Heater

I need the tank for the liquid in the thermal heating system. The panels each hold a little over a gallon of liquid and the tank has to hold all the liquid in the panels and piping including the heat exchanger. It is supposed to be about 50% larger than all the liquid so 10 gallons may not have been enough but 19 gallons should be plenty.

This project will take awhile but it will be great to have more solar and save on the electricity used to heat the hot tub.

Posted in Reduce Reuse Recycle, Solar, Spa, Trombe Wall | Comments Off on Gleaning More Materials

Tank Troubles

I found an ad on craigslist for six solar panels and two storage tanks. It was another Novan system with a heat exchanger. They had a photo of the panels installed on the roof.

Original panel install

Original panel install

There were also photos of the panels on the driveway and the tanks in the basement.

Solar thermal panels

Solar thermal panels

Large solar storage tanks

Large solar storage tanks

We picked up the panels in December and went back in January to disassemble the tanks and the heat exchanger and start the move of the tanks. That was when we realized they were too large and too heavy to move like the smaller system I purchased a few years ago.
The storage tanks on this system were big. I looked up the specs on the AO Smith STD 120 gallon solar boost tanks and learned they weigh 300 lbs.

AOSmith Solar Boost Tank Specs

AOSmith Solar Boost Tank Specs

We strapped a tank onto an appliance dolly and tried to get it up the basement stairs and it was too difficult. The seller had plans to be out of town for a few weeks and we planned a week in Arizona. In the meantime I started thinking the whole deal was going to be too difficult for us oldsters. The seller was older too although he and his friend who was helping with the sale were both in great shape as hikers and mountain bikers and mountain climbers. Very impressive backgrounds climbing in Katmandu and Australia!
In early February I arranged for some movers to bring the tanks up from the basement. I also planned to use plywood on the staircase to make a smooth surface to raise the tanks and even brought a winch that was attached to a 2 x 4 that could span the doorway. Unfortunately the movers stood us up at our 10:00 a.m. appointment. They claimed they had a tire blow on the way from Colorado Springs which is two hours away. I can’t imagine what they were doing there but they 100% guaranteed that they would be available at 3:30. At 4:00 I was unable to get ahold of anyone in the company and ended up just going home. After another few weeks of other projects and obligations and attempted arrangement for other movers, I decided we would try to slide them up ourselves or take them apart.
Today when we arrived we tried to take a tank up the stairs without the plywood or winch and couldn’t do it again. So we laid it down and started taking it apart. I left my phone in the truck so I didn’t get any photos of the process.
I had researched the tanks and they were glass lined steels tanks inside a casing of steel and insulation. I watched some youtube videos on scrapping and learned how to take one apart by slicing the outer casing off. So this morning I brought several tools to the worksite. All our pipe wrenches and socket sets, several screwdrivers including our battery powered drills and a grinder to slice off the casing. So when we couldn’t handle the full weight, the disassembly began.

The grinder did a good job of slicing the tank. There were a lot of sparks and it was rather loud. Roger was kind enough to find us all ear plugs to save what little hearing we have left. We pried off the top and bottom and had to cut around bolts that we could not get a grip on to get off on the bottom. We sliced away a good portion of the insulation around the tank but then decided to try loading it again on the dolly and taking it up the stairs.

It was still too heavy for me to be at the top, then Dave tried it and it was too heavy for him so we put down the plywood and he arranged the winch at the garage door and it was rolled up the plywood. At one point we were not sure how to stand it up at the top of the stairs but then decided to hook the winch onto the bottom of the dolly instead of the handle while Dave winched the two other men stood up the tank.

With a little finagling the tank went around the corner through the garage door and down the step to the trailer and we strapped it on. The scrap metal went in the back of the truck.

Scrap metal in truck

Scrap metal in truck

Roger had to leave so we stripped the second tank of its metal shell and will return on Monday to get it up the stairs and onto the trailer.

Stripped tank on trailer

Stripped tank on trailer

The tanks are pretty rusted at the top and bottom and I hope I can clean them up enough to lay on their sides in an insulated enclosure to store the water from the panels. It was a big job and we were exhausted and hungry when we were finished.

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Pine Log Haul

I have a habit of checking craigslist for log items. I want to use pine logs for the trim in the house. I’m hoping to create a Colorado rustic lodge look.
I missed out on some log siding from Evergreen because it was too snowy and I offered less than asking. So when I saw this ad I decided to try for it. I was the first responder and the seller honored that even though it took me a few days to get there to pick it up.

Ad for pine logs

Ad for pine logs

The home it was from was purchased last year for 1.8 million. The new owner was not removing all the trim, just a few extra posts and railings. He replaced the log railings with metal rods and turnbuckles. A more modern and industrial look that was also attractive. It was a huge house. In fact I kidded the owner about whether he thought it was big enough. He said it was too big when it came to doing renovations. Here are some photos from the real estate site. These are the rooms that he pulled logs from.

Log Home Entry

Log Home Entry

Log Home Living Room Mantel

Log Home Living Room Mantel

The ad showed all the log sections for sale. This is what tempted me.

Tall Pine Post

Stair railing sections

Stair railing sections

Stair railing

Stair railing

Mantel

Mantel

The weather was in the single digits but clear when I picked up these logs. The roads were still snow covered and so were the pine trees. It was a beautiful morning in the mountains. The owner and a couple of workmen helped load them and even drove my truck out of the steep slippery driveway for me.

Log railings in truck

Log railings in truck

Log Haul

Log Haul


I’m planning to use the tall posts to build a front porch roof and the smaller stuff for interior door and window trim. I’ll have to figure out where to store the logs.

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Shower Floor

On the last day of Bill’s visit the tile saw pump connection broke. It could have frozen as the temperature dropped from the 60’s to below freezing overnight. We couldn’t keep the water line connected so we stopped cutting tiles for the master bath shower and Bill started the layout for the family room bathroom shower.

I worked on the shower floor after the part for the saw arrived. I had to order a 1/2″ MPT to 1/4″ barb fitting online as I could not find one at the box store or at the hardware stores. I visited several! In fact I could hardly believe that I couldn’t find the fitting or even a combination of fittings that would work.

Once I was able to cut tile with the saw again we were blessed with several warm days. I was able to lay out the cuts around the drain and then finish the edges. We started with a square line drawn to the front of the shower. Since the shower was uneven front to back Bill brought the tile line a bit outside the shower entry to trick the eye. The original squared line would have left the side of the drain with a gap because of the wavy tile, so I moved the line over just half an inch to get easier cuts surrounding the drain.

Lined up and cuts

Lined up square to front and drain cuts

Bill advised me to do the floor in two days, first the alignment with the squared line and the drain, and then the perimeter, letting the first tiles dry and be set before installing the rest of them.

Partial installation

Partial installation

I’m using the levels as straight edges to push the tiles into square. Some of the tiles were a bit larger or smaller than ideal so pushing them into place could expand or contract the grout joint. That required a series of adjustments to get the grout joints as level and aligned as possible.
The next day the outlying tiles had to be cut to fit. I cut them all before I started laying them but a few still had to be trimmed. I back buttered all the tiles as I laid them on the 3/8″ notch troweled unmodified mortar. It seemed to be the easiest to then pull them up as Bill had taught me so the top edges aligned. If the mortar was too thick and squished up between the tiles, I cleaned the grout line out with an extra spacer. I didn’t get them all completely aligned but I’m not an expert and I hope the grout makes up for mismatched edges.

Tile laid

Tile laid

The next step is sealing the rough faced tile so that the grout is easier to spread between the tiles and doesn’t stick to them.

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Shower Tile Design

This was a big week. Two shower designs were laid out and one shower was almost completed. Bill Boyd is our tile guy and also our nephew in law. Unfortunately he lives in California. But he agreed to come out for a week to help us out. We had such a fun week hanging out and talking tile. This guy is amazing and has a solution for every problem. He also loves tile work.

Bill buttering tile

Bill buttering tile

The granite pieces I wanted to use were the end cuts from the vanity in the family room bathroom. It is a very pretty granite but the pieces I had left were too small. I was trying to use two narrow pieces at the back wall. The ledges there were formed by the foundation insulation and a chase for the hot tub wiring. I thought the bump out would make a nice shaving “leg ledge”. But the two levels were awkward and Bill suggested I just look for another piece of granite or granite backsplash for the ledge.

I was able to find a piece of free granite through craigslist in the same dark brown as the tile to use for the ledge and the family room bathroom seat. Since I was getting new granite, Bill filled in the two layer ledge with deck mud for one smooth surface for the ledge. I would not have thought to make that one level but it looks much better than two smaller levels.

I bought lots of dark brown porcelain tile (about 500 square feet) to match the stained concrete floor so there is plenty to use as the field tile. The artistry is in figuring out the cuts and the “feature” tile layout. The feature tile has wood rounds on the ceramic. I liked the idea of a strip of this tile along the plumbing wall. The design is called a waterfall feature.

Shower with feature "waterfall"

Shower with feature “waterfall”

Opposite the waterfall, the niches have the same background tile with nicely matched travertine ledges that overhang a little bit so that any water running off them does not leave marks on the tile below.

Niches

Niches with feature tile

I tried to study Bill’s technique. He is a master with thin set mortar of course but it is helpful to watch a master work. He applied the mortar to the Kerdi with a 3/8″ notched trowel. For some tiles that needed to be set initially he also back buttered with mortar. But when he had it all lined up and was working on the whole wall, he just mortared the wall. He does two rows at a time and tips the tiles into place from the bottom to the top.

Placing a tile

Placing a tile

Using the wedges and his hands he moves the tiles slightly so that they line up and are even across. Then he takes a level and makes sure the tiles are straight and evenly attached to the wall. He said if a tile needs to be pulled out a bit because of unevenness on the wall, he tips it out just a little with his flat trowel or his fingers and the mortar is thick enough to eliminate the indentation without breaking the hold of the mortar.

Finishing the back wall

Finishing the back wall

Bill is used to his own tools but they were too bulky for air travel and he couldn’t risk losing them so we purchased a couple of items and he made the rest. This is a darby float made with a 1 x 4 attached to the handle of an older, smaller notched trowel. It is a special tool for smoothing out the shower pan.

Handmade darby float

Handmade Darby float

He built the shower pan from deck mud (floor mix) instead of the Schluter foam because he is expert at creating the proper slope for the pan. The handmade shower pan is a better fit for the shower than the foam and Bill is hesitant to tile on foam anyway. Will it hold up for the long haul like traditional shower pans?

Mud bed shower pan slope

Mud bed shower pan slope

Unfortunately the hose connection to the pump on the tile saw cracked off and we could not find a replacement that fit in time to finish cutting and placing the floor tile. The floor is the same feature tile as the waterfall. It has a rough texture and helps wet feet grip the shower floor. The imprint of wood slices on this tile matches the handmade bed in the master bedroom and the log vanity and trim in the family room bathroom. The tile is laid out evenly from side to side and front to back and to maintain simple cuts for the rectangular drain. The full tiles were quartered to make them small enough to follow the slope on the shower pan floor.

Floor tile layout

Floor tile layout

In order to finish the shower, I have to fix the tile saw pump connection to cut a few more matching tiles. I will mortar the floor tiles into place then use the epoxy grout to finish the shower.

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Solar Thermal Plans

I have been wanting to install solar thermal panels to help heat the hot tub water since the hot tub is the major draw on our electrical power. We have prime sunshine and solar hot water heaters were very popular here in Colorado in the 1980’s. I already have two solar panels that I started renovating but have not completed. But I happened to see six more available and thought I could use them. So I arranged to pick them up but they are big, 4 x 8 instead of the 3 x 7 size that I already have. Unfortunately one of the glass panels broke in the truck from the weight of the panels on top! I can recycle the copper in the panel or use it instead of one that has a tear in the casing and switch the glass to the broken one.

Buying used panels is a gamble but an enjoyable one. Nothing like a new project when several others are pending. I now have five Novan 4 x 8 panels, another Novan heat exchanger although a larger size than the first and two 125 gallon tanks that are still to be removed from the basement.

I would like to have a drainback system to prevent both overheating and freezing in the panels. And I want to use the tanks on their sides so as to not block our view from the terrace. I’m planning to mount the panels on the terrace roof and run the hot water down to the storage tanks in front of the patio wall.

The system design is a standard drainback type.

Solar Drainback with Heat Exchanger

Solar drainback with heat exchanger schematic

I am planning to build an insulated shed for the equipment. It will need doors on top and in front for access since it won’t be tall enough to walk in. I’m thinking it should be about 4′ tall, 8′ wide and 6′ deep. I have lots of Roxul insulation left to use inside. And I have several 4 x 4’s that could be used, but I’m not sure yet about the shed design.

The plan above requires a drawback tank and I have not found a promising commercial source. The best tanks are stainless steel but many people use a small electric water heater. It has to be large enough for double the total amount of fluid in the panels and pipes.

Here are some other stats I found for planning purposes.

  • Panel array size: determine the optimal percentage of a building’s heating or domestic hot water load based on available unshaded panel area and an economic analysis. Too many panels result in over-capacity during low loads in summer and a longer payback. Typically, solar thermal systems are most cost-e ective when sized to provide approximately 50 percent of peak demand
  • Storage versus panel square footage: Provide from 1.5 to 2 gallons of storage per square foot (3.75 kL/m3 to 5 kL/ m3) of collector and insulate the storage systems
  • Pumping flow rate per collector: Provide 1 gpm to 1.25 gpm (0.06 to 0.08 L/s) per panel – based on a typical array of six to eight panels, resulting in flows of 6 gpm (0.38L/s) to 10 gpm (0.63L/s) for each array
  • Drain-back tank size: Provide approximately 1.35 gallons (5.1 L) per panel – based on calculating water capacity according to roof panel and tubing
  • Heat exchanger size: Calculate to derive the maximum energy available from panel arrays. Typically, the flow rate into and out of the heat exchanger equals the flow into the panel arrays.

There is a lot more engineering to do but I have a record of heat use in the hot tub from the Efergy electricity monitor. The spa is heating approximately 12% of the time. It runs 24/7 or 8760 hours a year, so it is heating about 1051 hours a year. There are two 7.5 watt heaters in the spa. The highest use of electricity recorded is 12.38 KW. On that day it appears that the spa used about 56KW of electricity to heat water for about 10 hours. That is about 190,000 Btu’s.

Each panel is capable of about 12,000 Btu’s/hour in moderate sunshine to raise the heated liquid temperature 90 degrees. 22,000 Btu’s are possible if the temperature only needs to be raised 30 degrees.

Novan Panel Specs

Novan Panel Specs

Five panels on a reasonably sunny day would produce about 60,000 Btu’s of heat per hour or about 17.5 KW. But some would be lost in transfer and storage. The pump for the panels would be capable of about 6 gpm. I am hoping to use a DC pump powered by a solar panel. The pump for the storage water is a Taco 06 on the heat exchanger system.  There would be a total of 240 gallons of storage in two tanks. That water would circulate through the heat exchanger to transfer the panels heat to storage.

The pump in the spa is 5 HP. That is a very strong pump. On high it uses 14 amps at 230 volts or about 3 KW. High is only used for the jets while in the tub. Low uses 1.2 amps or 276 watts. That is the speed that pushes the water through the heaters and filter. It is likely the system uses about 15 psi although it does not have a pressure gauge. My first thought was to connect the storage water to the spa piping in between the return and the heater. It may work best to have a separate pump and a heat exchanger on the spa too though.

So the system is just in the planning stages and there will be many design changes and issues to resolve before it is installed. I still have to get the solar tanks out of the sellers basement and it does not look like an easy job.

 

 

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Shower Schluter

I applied the Kerdi membrane to the large family room bathroom shower. Getting these showers tiled is a big job that will be done quickly due to having my nephew-in-law visit to do the job. Then we will be able to call for our final inspection this February. If we pass, the remodeling permit will be finalized just about five years from the date of issue.

In 2012, our first year, we had permits for the slab demolition and for the under slab drain plumbing that were already approved. We were able to keep the remodeling permit for so long because we steadily worked on the project being sure to have an inspection every six months.

We have to really thank the inspectors who were so helpful and caring. Arvada’s building department is very busy because there is a building boom in Colorado but the inspectors were never too busy to help us reach our goal. We have a safe, operational, and comfortable home due to their help and intervention.

By the end of the Kerdi application I was getting pretty good at mixing the mortar to the right consistency to apply it to the wall. I always applied half way up the wall first then held the membrane with boards while applying the upper half.

I used a 7 inch rubber putty knife (from Amazon) to smooth out the membrane and drive air pockets to the edges. It worked better than a metal roller.

Rubber putty knife

Rubber putty knife

The membrane overlaps by about 4″ and the tile is applied over the top of the membrane. This is a waterproof layer that prevents moisture from seeping into the DensShield behind the membrane.

Scluter Kerdi applied to rear shower wall

Schluter Kerdi applied to rear shower wall

DensShield uses fiberglass instead of paper to manufacture the gypsum boards. That makes it very resistant to water damage.  Paperless backer board is required by LEED as a durability factor for bath and shower areas. This requirement is a bit annoying because the shower in the unremodeled bathroom is tile on drywall assuming it is the same as the other bathrooms that we demoed and it has held up fine these thirty years or so. I don’t mind using paperless in the remodeled bathrooms but I would sure like to qualify for LEED without having to remodel another bathroom!

I seemed to have the most trouble this time with accurately cutting the membrane to fit the spots. I had a few mistakes where I had to patch the membrane to fill in where I had measured or cut incorrectly.

Patching the membrane

Patching the membrane

I patched quite a bit around the shower head wall. Some places had three layers of membrane in order to overlap and to wrap the membrane around the edges.

Shower head wall

Shower head wall

The pipe seals were next. I had to take off the end cap on the hand shower pipe to slip on the pipe seal. Then to fit the valve seal over the valve box, I had to cut part of the extended protective rubber to get the membrane seal to fit agains the wall. I was not going to use the valve seal in the master bedroom shower but just caulk around the valve itself, until I remembered the valves have stops (they turn off water at the valve) and the opening has to be big enough to slip in a screwdriver to operate them. The valve seal finally fit after I cut most of the rear protrusion away.

Shower valve seal

Shower valve seal

Despite all the patching around the shower head wall I was able to finish on the third day of mixing mortar and putting up membrane. I was lucky to take advantage of a warm spell in January, we’ve had a few days of 60 degree sunny weather, but it is supposed to snow tomorrow.

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It’s a Shower Bench

The shower in the family room bathroom is large. It takes up the whole side of the room about seven feet. There is plenty of room for a shower bench on one side. I want to use a leftover piece of granite for the bench top that is only 11 inches wide. It is also a bit shorter than the full width of the shower.

I considered buying a Schluter bench which is made of foam. Another idea was to build a concrete block bench. But I had several pieces of steel studs and track left over from building the ventilation duct. So I built the bench from galvanized steel studs. The Schluter membrane will water proof all of it.

Bench from steel studs

Bench from steel studs

The recessed area for the shower floor was made with an old door so it is only 80 inches long. The bench had to step down from the floor level  to be against the shower wall. I bent the track to fit the two levels and cut the corners to put in screws to keep it square.

Bending track to fit the floor

Bending track to fit the floor

The front edge of the bench is 1/4″ lower than the rear edge so that water will run off into the shower. When the bench was installed I used the Ramjet again to drive nails into the floor. I used 3/4″ nails and didn’t even think about the pex tubing in the floor. Luckily either the nails were too short or the pex was not in the area I nailed.

Bench for two level floor

Bench power nailed to the two level floor

The rest of the bench was screwed into the 2 x 4’s in the rear wall. The metal was easier to fit in the space than other materials like wood or blocks especially since the walls are not exactly square.

Bench fits edge of shower

Bench fits edge of shower

I had some leftover Denshield cut from the wall for the niches so I used a piece for the bench top. For the side and front I used 1/4″ cement board because I had some on hand for the living room post. (Which will be covered with manufactured stone.) I didn’t plan for the added width of the sheathing to the full measurement of the bench so 1/4″ is a good backer without adding too much width.

Bench top with tools

Bench top with tools

I was able to quickly cut the sheathing boards with the great PacTool cement board shears that I bought for cutting the siding. I had to shape the pieces a bit to get them to fit correctly. I used 1 inch drywall nails to screw the boards onto the metal frame. It feels quite sturdy and ready for the Schluter membrane. The granite is a bit too small for the seat, but with a bit of clever piecing it will probably work out OK.

Finished bench with granite pieces

Finished bench with granite pieces

I have to get the membrane on this shower this week because my nephew-in-law, a fantastic tile guy, is coming out to tile the showers! We are so lucky that he is finding time in his busy schedule to do the work for us. He is a true artist with tile. Bill Boyd Tile: Work you will recommend!

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