We built our first energy efficient house in the early 1980’s on 40 acres in the countryside outside of Spencer, Indiana. We have owned the property for over 40 years. But we recently decided that we should sell. This photo is dated 2012. The corner of the front porch is beginning to settle.
In 2017 we visited and the porch had settled more.
I went to work on the house for a couple of weeks this summer and the porch was in sad shape. The deck boards were beginning to rot and the post had sunk even more. Friends gave me some planed oak boards that they had hoped to use for the last 40 years themselves. But I had a more urgent need so they generously gave them to me. I knew there was a reason I needed to rent a truck. I brought them home in two loads.
Not only did they give me the boards for the decks, they also came and helped tear the old decking off. We put it in the truck and took it up to a friend’s burn pile.
We thought jacking up the floor would allow the deck to get leveled out. I drilled a new hole to attach the leveled framing.
But just a little digging around the post revealed that it was completely rotted at the bottom. Another friend stopped by to help and cut off the worst of the rot. We jacked up the post to the original bolt placement. Then the dirt underneath the post was removed enough to cut off most of the rotten area of the post.
Then the hole was dug deeper and wider to insert concrete blocks to hold up the post. The new boards were cut to length and using a couple of borrowed drills. I bored holes for the deck screws and installed them with a hammer drill that made short work of the process.
After the boards were installed I treated the wood with water barrier and filled a few areas on the leader board that were starting to rot. The porch was fixed making the house look much less worn.
The story of the new spa equipment is a sad one. I unfortunately wired the first shipment of a new controller box incorrectly and blew out all the 110 volt connections by sending 220 to them. I sent everything back to the manufacturer and it languished for some time. I believe that the owner was reluctant to tell me that I had ruined it all. I said fix it and I’ll pay for it. So he put in a new control board and sent it back to me.
I did not get the peripherals back though. So I called and asked and he said sorry they are completely broken too. So I ordered another water purifier system but a larger on because I noticed the first one I bought was limited to treating spas of 500 gallons or less. Mine is 1000 gallons.
The new water purifier arrived while I was out of town so I just started to put the system back together. I called the dealer because the new one came with many pieces that the other one did not. Turned out they allowed multiple ways to attach the instrument. I had some of the items from the first install and support told me I could use the original ones that are already installed.
First I connected the water pipes on the spa to the heater connections on the control box. These are 3″ connections and I had a lot of trouble aligning them with the old pipes. It turned out I had to remove the former boards that held the box and install new lower ones. Then I was able to make the connections.
I used some of the included brackets to attach the ozone purifier to the spa piping which was convenient but it was unclear how they were supposed to attach. So I drilled some holes into the brackets and screwed short pieces of board on to hang the instrument from.
Notice the purifier label reads right side up but unfortunately the connection for the ozone was on the left side the unit. I did not think about the issue with the old installation but I called about the proper position for the venturi piece and it should be in the water line before the purifier, I had to hang the unit upside down which apparently does not matter to the operation of the purifier.
The error that I made in the wiring the first time was a lack of observation. Instead of noticing how the system was wired, I followed an installation diagram. In the erroneous wiring I connected White to Red, Black to White and Red to Black. Couldn’t have been more wrong. By observing the actual wiring the second time around the wire colors match.
I closed up the bottom of the control box but I can’t complete the installation. Unfortunately I realized I had sent in the electronic control panel too and since it was also destroyed I had to order a new panel as well and now wait for that to arrive. One step at a time apparently.
The Tesla solar roof is made from tempered glass. Advertising mentions quartz glass which is a form of tempered glass, the other form is silica although the terms are used interchangeably. The product is called Solarglass and is textured. Last October in 2019, version 3 of the roof was released and the Tesla factory in Buffalo, NY had increased production to 1000 solar tiles per week. The plain glass tiles are apparently being sourced from China. The old tiles came in sets of three and each tile was about 14 x 8 inches.
The new tiles are much longer and wider at 15“ x 45″.
The larger tiles are more efficient to install and have fewer wiring connections. But the warranty has been reduced to 25 years for both the tile itself and power production. The former warranty was “infinity” on the roof tile and 30 years on solar production.
The tiles are hooked onto raised modules and overlap with metal flashing on the edges and rooftop
Each V3 solar tile outputs 58 watts of direct current. The connections are typical M4 solar wiring connections into a harness that runs under the tiles.
The harness provides shade control instead of micro-controllers so that power differences from shady areas do not detract from sunny areas.
Many of the roof tiles do not have photo electronics but are just plain tempered glass. The solar and the plain glass tiles are priced separately. Our house qualifies for 10.9 kw of solar power so I calculated that there are approximately 189 solar tiles and 490 plain tiles in our order.
The new version of the roof has a class 3 hail rating and I think the original roof was class 4. A Class 3 roof is earned if the sample does not crack when hit twice in the same spot by a 1.75 inch diameter steel ball. A Class 4 rating, the material should not get damaged when hit twice in the same spot by 2 inch diameter steel ball. It is interesting that the test is for the same spot hit twice since hail tends to distribute over a plane.
The Class F wind rating is the highest that is tested. Asphalt shingle test specimens passing the two-hour test duration at 60 mph are classified as Class A; those passing at 90 mph are classified as Class D; and those passing at 110 mph are classified as Class F.
The tiles are also very tough. Firefighters were given special instructions regarding breaking into the roof to fight a fire. Notice the ladder placed on the roof to steady the firefighter on the slippery glass roof and the use of a chainsaw to cut through the tile.
There are several opinions about the wisdom of an investment decision to purchase such a new roof product because of the long payback and lack of years of data. When we bought our first hybrid car there were similar arguments. Is it worth it? I believe that new and sleek technology is always expensive. People don’t question whether a fancy car is “worth it”. It is acceptable to buy a car that is very expensive and loses value over time for the technology and performance. Solar technology has the same attraction to us as homeowners and it costs less than a new Mercedes Benz or the new Tesla Model X.
When the new glass roof tiles from Tesla were in the media, I was intrigued because we eventually needed a new roof and we live in the Hail Alley of Colorado which means hail is frequent and often damages roofs. Our house had a particularly strong roof shingle that has held up well, but the roof has begun to lose granules from age.
On June 1, 2017 President Trump thought to put America First by pulling out of the Paris climate change agreement from 2015. That seemed like an ill-advised move to us so to counteract this act I sent Tesla $1000 and signed up for their solar roof program. This was about one year before our 3.9 kw panel system was installed by Tesla. We went ahead with the panel system because it was difficult to know when the glass roofs would be ready. There were several delays as production and installations issues were worked out.
When the solar roofs were first installed the distribution area was in California but over time more states were added and in April of this year I was contacted about our roof project here in Colorado.
The first active step was sending additional information regarding our power company and usage data. We also had to prove we had home insurance and liability up to $1,000,000. The next step was approving the roof design based on the Xcel allowable kilowatt production for our usage.
A couple of installers came out to measure the roof and inspect the project. They were happy to see that the roof is practically at ground level on the north side of the house. A building permit was submitted to the town of Arvada and approved in May. Then Tesla began the Xcel application process. So that is where we are now.
We fully own the 3.9 kw roof panel system and already have the Powerwall battery set up. The inverter will be replaced for the larger system so we will have an extra twelve 325 watt panels that we hope can later be installed on a garage.
I’m waiting for Tesla to install solar roof tiles. The project is at the Xcel power company application stage. The permit from the city was granted. We decided to upgrade the roof to solar tiles the day the president announced pulling out of the Paris climate accords. We needed to do our part and figured for twice the price we can get over 3 times the solar that we have now and get a new roof. But the solar roof does not cover the flat roof at the front of the house. It needs at least a 2/12 roof slope.
I investigated installing a green roof on the front that would help nudge the house toward net zero. That means the house creates as much energy as it uses. The growing medium on the roof has insulating value. A green roof also manages rooftop water by absorbing it and releasing filtered water to catch in rain barrels. Since we are in Colorado we can only collect 110 gallons of rain water at a time and that is a recent change in the law. When we first moved here rain barrels were illegal.
I learned about green roofs when we toured one in Denver during a USGBC conference in 2013. So I’ve been considering this idea for a long time. The roof we toured was built from shallow trays of sedums. That is an extensive style roof and the lightest type. An intensive style has a deeper soil bed.
Extensive roofs are lighter than intensive but they can still weigh 30 lbs per square ft. fully saturated. That in addition to snow load can be too heavy for a typical roof. Fortunately we don’t have a typical roof.
But the first step is getting the official calculations from a structural engineer. I contacted Andy Creath from Green Roofs of Colorado and the person who presented at that conference years ago. He discussed the green roof options with me and arranged for a structural engineer to run the calculations on our roof. Andy’s green roofs are not in trays. He creates a monolithic growing medium above waterproof membrane roofing material like TPO. A parapet rises above the roof edge to hold the plantings. All the typical green roof layers are installed and a patio and walkways would be incorporated into the design.
The layers of a green roof are made from differing materials depending on the vendor but the design is the same. It is a layered system that creates a barrier rooftop but provides drainage for plant material and a growing medium. It is referred to as growing medium because rooftop soils are specially formulated to be lightweight and well-drained.
The roofs feature a variety of plants from wildflowers to succulents and cactus or grasses. Of course the Midwest and East require different plants than more arid areas of the country. Colorado rooftop gardens also require an irrigation system. The research conducted for the EPA determined that a green roof cannot survive in this climate without periodic irrigation.
In Colorado the plants are often varieties of sedum a low growing succulent with low water and nutrient needs.
This sedum roof is similar to the roof on the Denver EPA building. It is planted with sedum and the plants are in trays that sit on top of the other layers. This is the lightest green roof.
We had the structural report created and as I suspected our roof is built solidly enough to hold a green roof. The engineer’s conclusion was for a medium weight green roof.
For the calculations of this residence roof, the green roof system dead load of 42 psf was utilized. Based on the revised loading and the existing spans of the wood joists, the existing 2×12 joists spaced at both 16-inches on center and 24-inches on center do provide adequate capacity to carry the additional proposed superimposed green roof loading.
Donald E. (Leo) Whiteley, P.E., Assoc. AIA, LEED AP
The next step is to decide whether to engage Andy’s company to create the green roof or investigate a tray system. He told me that the best time of year to install the green roof would be fall. That would give the structure time to settle before the growing season. I’m waiting for the Tesla solar roof to be installed before we make a decision.
When I applied for a permit for the pool the requirement was to have a separate 20 amp GFCI line for it. The electricians installed that back in 2016. I have been using a long extension cord for the pool pump but wanted to install an outside box for the system. I tapped into the line that feeds an outside electric outlet on this breaker.
The box that I tapped into was an exterior power connection box. I turned off the breaker and clipped the wires. One set of wires continues to the outlet and the other is routed to an outdoor switch.
But before this wiring step I had to pull 100 ft of wire through the conduit.
I used the wire puller to start the wire through the pipe doing one section at a time. There is a 90 degree corner from the junction to the pool and that had to be threaded through in the right order with that first pipe cut to the correct length.
Each section got progressively easier since there was less wire to pull. But my hands got sore tugging on the wire and the leader metal. For the last pipe I was able to cut the wire to fit the rest of the way and that took off about 20 ft. of wire so it was even easier to pull the last piece of conduit and the elbows.
I used water tight connectors at the junction box and the switch box. These screw on the pipe to tighten them. I drilled a hole in the cover of the junction box for the fitting. But the conduit first had to be glued together at the joints.
Each piece of conduit was cleaned and pipe cement was applied. The wire had to be pulled taut to get the pipes close enough together to pull the joint tight. It was really hot while I was working on glueing the joints. I took a break and came back to it later in the afternoon when most of the line was shaded.
At the end of the line I used a piece of 3/4″ rebar to hold the waterproof outlet box. Inside the box I wired two outlets. I wired them so that if one failed the other would still be hot. I used this example from the internet.
Once the wiring was completed and screwed together I tested turning on the switch and getting power. But the first time I tested the outlet had no power. I took it apart and found a loose white connection and reassembled the box. It took quite a bit of delicate holding of the outlets and the box to line up the outlet screws and the box face plate. The outlets were used and I could not locate the bag of electrical screws that I have saved so the middle screws are missing.
I finally got the box connected and power at the switch in the waterproof case. I meant to install the box higher on the rebar but when I was glueing I didn’t have that last piece and I forgot to add it. So the box is a bit lower than I planned which should not make much difference since it won’t be live in the winter. The pump was plugged in and automatically turned on to boost mode. I turned off the solar so that the pump can run all night to make up for not running today.
Looking pretty good so it was time to clean up my tools and call it a day.
I’ve been spending a lot of time on the pool plumbing. I’ve had a couple of pipe blow offs including one that moved a lot of water out of the pool. Each one of these threaded pipes blew apart when pressured by the pump start.
My solution was to switch the new pipes for older ones. Apparently the older piping had deeper threads and connect more securely. I also had issues with the opposite end of the hot water input pipe. I had connected the metric and the international pipe threads and although they didn’t leak the first time, it leaked and I could not re-tighten it after I switched out for the older hose.
I had an extra adapter with the correct thread on the backflush hose. So I took that out and moved it to the check valve. In order to attach it to the check valve I had to have a series of pipe fittings and clamps that show just how jerry rigged these connections are. I had to really get the clamps tight before these joins stopped leaking.
I also took advantage of having the system apart to install a new salt cell pipe. I bought it for $9 plus shipping from Intex because the old one leaked in two places. I thought replacing it would provide new threads that would help seal the connections.
The replacement worked! But I also replaced or turned around the rubber gaskets so that the seals were new too. This stopped the constant dripping from the salt cell connections when the pump was on.
Unfortunately having these leaks fixed turned up a new one. You may notice that for some reason this connection has an extra screw in the middle of the threaded area. I can’t imagine how that fixed the problem in the past. But I was able to use the threaded part from the old salt cell to replace it. Along with another gasket the newest leak was fixed.
The entire system has been fixed and is leak free for now. I’m still trying to keep the water warm and algae free though so I have been running the pump twice a day instead of once. The automatic timer is set for just once a day. I have been turning it on manually for its 3 hour run twice each day.
Some time ago I picked up a pile of vinyl lattice edging at the Repurposed Materials auction. I had in mind to use the single edge caps to frame the glass for the trombe wall. I’m still hoping they can be used for that.
At the same time I purchased a pile of marine plywood that had been used as home development advertising. They have a thin layer of plastic sign material attached to them. We have used this plywood for various projects around the place and it has come in very handy.
We went camping as a family to a local lake and because of Covid virus we didn’t know if the beach would be open. But the lake was open to boating and fishing. So I purchased an inflatable Intex 3 person boat. I also upgraded to a rechargeable Intex air pump. We found that the pump worked best if plugged into a 12 volt power source.
The Amazon reviews recommended installing a solid floor to make it easier to move around in the boat while in the water. The boat arrived very late the evening before the day we were leaving for the campground and that morning it was raining! My plan had been to cut a piece of plywood for the floor of the boat. But with the rain that seemed too difficult.The more expensive inflatable boats came with a slatted floor and right next to the plywood is the pile of vinyl lattice dividers and edges so I got the idea to build the floor with them.
I inflated the bottom of the boat and measured the pieces that would fit the width of the bottom. They varied slightly in a few places as the boat bottom got a bit wider in the center and much narrower at the front. I cut the pieces with a circular saw. I used about ten 8 foot pieces of trim.
I cut 10″ pieces of the edging to link the slats together to form two layers, a wider top layer and a narrow bottom layer in the middle.
I used woven vinyl hanger strap left over from the ERV project and stainless steel staples to connect the slats. I planned to also put the tape on each side of the top slats but it turned out they held together without the extra tape. The boat bottom rolls together enough that I could fit it in the RV shower for transport.
In order to keep the edges of the slats from damaging the PVC of the boat I wrapped the edges with pool noodles slit down one side. Luckily Dave was at the store when I texted him to bring me four noodles. I tried to staple them on but they easily popped off. I finally wrapped them on with more of the vinyl strapping.
When we put the floor in the inflated boat it was a little too long so two slats and spacers were removed from the bottom. The remaining floor worked well although it made the boat much heavier to haul to the water. The wrapped pool noodle edging did not hold so I have to think of another way to keep the pool noodles attached to the floor.
We had a great time with the boat. It took my son’s strength to get us across the open lake though. Maybe a little trolling motor is called for?
Now that I had this idea, I’m thinking of other projects for the edging. There might be enough double slatted edges to build a walkway for the green roof or to make some kind of deck tiles for around the pool. What a great discovery!
I have had to seek some unusual solutions to some unique spaces in our house. The opening in the partial “attic loft” in the family room bathroom was a difficult one to cover. Originally I thought it could use sliding barn doors but the sides both have vents in them that the doors would have to clear and the ceiling above the opening is very shallow so a track would not fit across the door.
I thought of several other solutions, but they all were restricted by the steep ceiling that kept any type of opening shutter from working in the opening. Then I was thinking some kind of panel in the opening would work. and it occurred to me that it would have to be held in by some type of latch. At one point I was just looking for panels about the right size and I came across metal peg boards that seemed to have just the right measurements for the space.
I could have ordered many different colors but the galvanized was the least expensive and most rustic in my opinion.
The opening was supposed to use 3/4″ trim boards and I used one on top and the bottom but the sides were too lopsided to use even 1/2 inch boards.
I measured for 3/8″ boards and thought I would need to use plywood until I remembered that I have several boxes of 3/8″ laminate flooring that I was saving to replace the carpet in the RV. The flooring was the exact size needed for the side boards in the opening.
Once the trim was installed it was a simple matter of screwing in the magnetic tool bars I used to hold the pegboard in place.
I spaced two on the sides and one at the bottom to hold the metal panels. But then I remembered that the sides were out of square. I had to take out the top screws and put shims behind the sides to straighten out the opening
I also used some of the ceramic knobs I got from a craigslist ad to help put the panels in place and remove them. The job was soon finished. I’m thinking of hanging some tin signs or a wreath on the pegboard as decoration. Trim for the frame will be done later.
The master bedroom also had a curtain instead of a door since we had guests who needed privacy.
Due to my brother’s help and because I completed the family bath door, it was time to try to install barn doors instead. I ordered a 6′ bypass track because it was an Amazon warehouse deal and cost less than $100. Most of the bypass tracks are closer to $200 full price. I thought the track might work if I mounted it above the light sconces. But we found that it needed to be closer to the floor. So my brother helped cut about a foot off of the tracks and repaint them black.
For the family room I hung one door on each side of the opening because the doors with the cross pieces were too wide to slide toward each other. But I got the brilliant idea to remove one side of the cross pieces to allow for both doors on the same side of the room. The master does not have enough ceiling room to hang a barn door on the inside. I had new bolts for all the doors that were more decorative than the bolts that came with them but removing one side of the cross pieces meant that they were too long. My brother cut each bolt to the correct length for a single cross piece.
He also spent quite a bit of time trying to sand out the doors where they were faded from the cross pieces and he sanded out all the water marks. I told him that I had intended to mar the wood and stain them to look antiqued but he is a perfectionist beyond my skills. While he was working on the doors I installed the track.
All of the boards for the frame and the track were reused from the trim work on the original house. The track was installed on a wide board as in the family room. This allowed for the bolts to be inserted anywhere along the top and not have to hit a 2×4. I had to use the bracket for the second track in a U shape instead of an L shape because I didn’t have enough room to attach it above the board. The track needed several adjustments to get the hangers on the door so that it hung below the opening. The bolts for the U shaped bracket interfered with the sliding J hook so they had to be turned around. The track has to be level so there were several adjustments to level it.
Testing the door for height and the cross piece side, I decided to use the cross pieces facing the living area instead of the bedroom. That copied the look of the family room doors. One idea was to install small casters below the doors so that they would not swing because installing a guide on the concrete floor would be difficult. However the wheels made the doors too tall for the hanging brackets so I had to remove them.
Another issue was that the floor is off level by at least 3/8″. So the bottom of the doors scrapes the floor on the shallow side.
Although the first door was hung high enough to slide across, the second door pulls on the track down enough to eliminate the same space below allowing it to scrape. I tried installing the J brackets just a bit lower and adjusting the bolts of the track to push it as high as I could but the door still scrapes. So I will have to cut off the bottom to fix it.
These doors are extremely heavy even without one set of cross pieces. So I need help carrying them outside to cut. My back got sore just maneuvering them around.
One tip I used for drilling straighter holes than I did on the first set of doors was to use a piece of 1/2 pex pipe to keep the drill bit straight on the door. Although the article recommended metal I just used what I had and the holes stayed straight and true.
I also dented the center of each hole with a dart that was laying around to give the bit a start in the correct position.
It turned out that the doors did not have to be trimmed. The weight of hanging the doors pulled the header board away from the wall. My brother noticed and helped install some long lag bolts into the 2×6 over the door frame. That held the board against the wall and the doors cleared the floor.
We have been using a curtain in the doorway of the family bathroom since the interior was completed.
It provided enough privacy and it was adequate coverage for the building inspection. The plan was to install a rustic door in the opening. That was the project the day before we were expecting a short visit from my brother. There was a chance we would have guests using the bathroom and it seemed that having a door would be a good idea.
As usual though it took far longer for the project and I made several mistakes before the project was finished. I re-used a door frame from the original house. These frames are real wood and I found that the newer “wood” frames from the Home Depot are veneer instead. Since the original had cutouts for the hinges, I planed the hinge cutouts off the door and recut them.
I bought two hinge templates to make this job easier but I broke the Porter Cable almost immediately because the router bit I tried did not have a hub. And the Ryobi didn’t fit on the door because it is meant to hug the door about 2″ deep and the cross pieces didn’t allow for that.
I clamped the Porter Cable template together to hold it while I got the hinge outline routed and then discovered I had turned the template in the wrong direction. Therefore I had to cut the hinge section completely through the door edge.
Even worse I misplaced the lowest cutout. I cut it below the bottom mark. Which I found when I was attempting to hang the door.
I chopped the door to pieces putting in the new hinge cutout above the routed one. What a mess.
The door hit the top of the frame when I tried to close it. When I cut it down to fit the opening, my saw cut was crooked so I planed it with the new hand planer while the door was in place in the doorway.
I still have to fix an electrical switch that stopped working. And I’m working on a cover for the attic opening. So the ladder is still in the bathroom. Eventually it will get put away.
I will have to remove the whole door and redo the cutouts at some point and trim out the doorway but for now there is a bathroom door that closes.
The extra parts arrived and all of the piping was finally connected with minimal leaks. Not without several issues however. I had the bypass valve assembly ready to install.
Unfortunately the plastic that the reducers were made from did not hold using pvc glue. The union blew apart when I turned on the pump. I also had left the piping overnight without noticing a bad leak at the return pipe.
The pool leaked several inches of water as a result.
I was not sure what to use the connect the two pieces of tube from the filter to the bypass valves. It turned out that the discharge hose was the right diameter so I clamped a short piece between these pipes. There is no strength in pvc discharge hose. So I had to prop the valves on a piece of plywood.
While shoving the filter and pump into a new position I didn’t notice that I had kinked the supply inlet hose. That kink caused flow issues.
Once the piping was together and water flowing I set the Hayward valve to send the water through the solar panel. I can feel the water in the panel moving through the piping by thermosiphon as planned but the heat is immediately taken from the exchanger so the pipes stay hot but the exchanger is cool. I also have a dripping leak at the pool water union that no amount of tightening seems to help.
Although in sunny weather the system seems to be helping to warm the pool, we have had several cool cloudy days and cold rain that is competing with the sun for heat.
The solar pool circulation is set up for now and I hope I can fix the few dripping leaks eventually.
The house is coming along enough that when I cleaned up the mud room for spring, I started decorating it. I have been collecting logs for trim for a few years. I purchased old log beds and railings to repurpose as trim. And I’ve been saving photos of log trim ideas.
I have enough logs of the right size to cap off the doors and windows in the house. I will recycle the original pine trim for the sides. First I used a wood splitting wedge and a five pound sledge to split the logs from the railing along a crack. Then I decided to get out the table saw to get a better flat edge on the back side to meet the wall.
I recently added sawdust collection and wheels to the table saw. I bought a chute for under the table saw that connects to a 4″ flexible pipe and a 4″ to 2.5″ reducer at the end.
I have a cyclone canister for the whole house vacuum that is required for picking up sawdust and ashes and it can pick up liquids. It is a 5 gallon stainless steel canister with connecting hoses.
Of course the hose to this is much narrower than 2.5″ so I had to jerry rig some connections to hook up the sawdust hose to the vacuum. But once it was hooked up and running it seemed to really reduce the amount of sawdust created by the saw.
I cut the solid side from several of the railings to create the over the door header logs. To run them through the table saw I tacked a board to the side. Sliding along the fence that board kept the log straight.
I’ll use the side that was drilled for the spindles as firewood. I got all four doors in the mudroom covered with a log header.
Then it was evening and I had to roll the saw back out of the center of the garage again. But it’s so much easier to take it out use it and clean up afterwards now that it is on wheels and attached to the vacuum.
Everything takes time and money. The solar pool heat project is no different. I have put together a system based on the old copper collector and a new stainless steel heat exchanger.
This is the system design.
I purchased a solar control system way back in Arizona when I thought I would add it to the black plastic solar heat that I installed for our pool there. I never did that but still had the controls.
A new purchase from Amazon was a 155000 btu heat exchanger in stainless steel so that the salt water would not corrode the copper. I had no idea the item would be shipping from China. I wish that Amazon made that more obvious in their listings.
These heat exchangers are specifically for pools or other water warming or chilling functions. There is a series of tubes that run inside the shell. The tubes transfer heat from the collector system to the water that runs through the shell. The exchanger should work in a thermosiphon system installed above the top of the collector.
In the basic plumbing diagram above there are two three way valves. I purchased a heavier duty Hayward valve for the controller and valve mechanism. The second valve could have just been a tee but I liked the idea of another shutoff if needed. The larger Hayward valve is usually set to have the cold to the collector off but it would open automatically when sensors read a warm panel temperature and cold pool temperature.
The cold pool water input uses pool hoses and the hot water output is mostly PVC pipe. At the bottom I used pool hose because the water should just be warm when it reaches the pool hose. Just before the pool hose there is a Fernco sump pump check valve that will prevent water from reverse siphon.
The big problem with the install is the constant leak where the valves for the solar system attach to the pump. It turns out that the Intex pump has a metric connection while the PVC plumbing is NPT. So I am waiting for a conversion piece that I will be able to attach instead.
I am hoping one of these edges will accept a slip PVC connection to hold the dual valves even though they are set up for a hose connection. Then I should be able to reinstall the valves without a leak.
I also ordered a new salt cell holder from Intex and a new O-ring for the salt cell. I’m hoping these new parts will stop the current leaks at the salt cell.
The used pool filter had a big crack in the valve that I tried to repair with silicone goop and tape. It was good enough to run for awhile while the new valve was ordered from Intex. Because of COVID-19 the valve took almost three weeks to arrive but the cost was really minimal. I also ordered a gasket but the valve came with a new one.
Replacing the valve was a headache though because to get the old valve off the system the middle post came with it. The filter media is not supposed to get into this central post so I had to empty all the media and replace the center post.
I backlashed the system and tried the filter and got a low flow alarm. That was it for the evening. I just decided to tackle it the next day.
The next day I ran the pump on recirculate for several minutes and it ran fine. Then I switched to filter mode and it continued to run without an error. It may have been that the media needed to just sit and settle. The filter still drips from the salt cell connections though.
I was finally able to get back to setting up the solar system.
One of the reasons the repair I tried for the 3′ x 7’ solar panels was a disaster is that the glass broke when I was moving it. The glass in the solar panels seems to be extremely fragile. I decided to revisit the smaller panel that I had not broken yet just because it would be easier to carry. While I was doing that I looked more closely at the collector plate in the broken panel. I cut it out of the panel by slicing the bent copper with my multi tool and a metal blade. Now I had just the copper collector plate from the solar panel.
The panel is copper on the back side and has a black finish on the sun side.
The collector gets very hot in the sun. But I can’t run the salt water from the pool through it because it will corrode. So I bought the stainless steel heat exchanger to separate the heating fluid (plain water in this case) from the pool water being heated.
In most designs with a shell and tube heat exchanger the solar fluid is run by a pump. But it would be nice if I could use just a thermosiphon system for this function. The simplified example below uses liquid without a pump. The tank must be above the collector and the circulation of the fluid occurs naturally when the hot liquid rises and cooler liquid sinks back into the collector. A more complete thermosiphon system would be connected like the diagram on the right.
What if instead of a water tank, I placed the shell and tube exchanger above the collector? Would that create a natural thermosiphon? Imagine the lower tank is the pool. The pool pump would drive the water through the tank at the top to pick up the warmth from the solar heated water. Then it would return to the pool. Would the water in the solar panel and heat exchange tube circulate naturally? What would happen when the pool water is not being heated by the system?
I began to set up the system using a garden cart that has a slanting lid. I bought a few of these from a craigslist ad and they have been very useful as outside work tables.
I used the hose to fill the lower panel hose with water and had the upper hose running into a bucket of water. I was able to fill the system with water by eliminating bubbles while filling the hose attached to the bottom of the panel. I laid the hose vertically when it was full and there were no more bubbles in the bucket and eventually all the water emptied into the bucket. So it had to be siphoning.
The question is whether the circulation would continue if the loop was closed. I’ll have to experiment. When I get all the connections for the shell and tube heater, I’ll install it at the top of the panel and figure out how to get the natural convection started. That is the plan anyway.
Posted inPool, Solar|Comments Off on Stripped Down Solar
Seems like nothing I do lately is without issues. The pool was leveled but not very well, so that when the water delivery happened it was about 3″ out of level. Not too bad, water guy said he had seen worse. The water was delivered on a beautiful day.
It just looks so inviting going into the pool. I’m not going to worry that it is a bit uneven.
I had dumped the old sand from the filter tank thinking pool sand would be available at several local stores. But I was wrong. Home Depot and Walmart and Lowes did not have pool sand in stock.
I did some research and ordered a filter medium that is supposed to last longer than sand and filter out smaller particles.It is a zeolite mineral found in volcanic rock called ZeoSand which is an alternative to pool sand. It replaces pool sand by a 1 to 2 ratio so I only needed 50 lbs. Some reviewers were unsuccessful with this product saying it leaked into the pool water making it cloudy. But so far I have not noticed that issue.
I backflushed the filter twice and each time had to work on pipes that were not fully tight. The water ran clear quickly though and I did let the media settle for a day before I started the filter.
The problem was that the multi valve on the filter was cracked.
There are actually two cracks, one around the pressure dial and one in the body. I was able to use plumbing Goop to seal up the pressure dial leak but could not get the long crack to stop leaking completely. I even tried a pool patch but with no more luck that Goop. Finally I wrapped silicone tape around the top and reduced the leak to a trickle. In the meantime I ordered a new multivalve from Intex and a few gaskets. Their shipping is delayed due to the Coronavirus so it will be a few weeks before they arrive.
I was able to run the hose into the pool while filtering to prevent too much loss of water. So I added the salt to the pool. I put in three of four 40 pound sacks because although the manual called for four, I was leery of putting in too much salt as the only fix is partially draining the pool and putting in fresh water.
The filter ran with the low salt warning before I put in the salt but afterwards the low salt warning was off. So 120 lbs of salt seem to be enough for now. I distributed the salt around the edge of the pool and then brushed it towards the center so that no thick piles of salt remained on the bottom.
Once the filter was set up I put in a thermometer to read the water temperature. It is about 65 degrees. But the nights are cold at around 40 degrees so I washed the solar cover that came with the pool in the driveway. This time I just used a hose with a spray handle and got most of the worst dirt off. I didn’t want to pop any more of the air bubbles. It was not difficult to fold it up and carry it to the pool. I spread it out over the water myself using some clips I bought for the heavy pool cover.
The first plastic clip popped off immediately. These are not very sturdy, but I was able to fit four on one side and hold the cover enough to spread it out. I’m hoping the stainless clips that I also bought will hold better.
With the cover on the pool water maybe it will warm enough to swim in a week or two.
A little more awareness would have gone a long way towards my installation of the new spa pack. I usually read directions but this came without specific directions just diagrams and pictures. I followed the diagram to wire the equipment. However the internal wires did not.
In the diagram the wires are from the top, Ground, White, Black, Red. But on the new device it is obviously wired Red, White, Black and the Ground is separate. I found the ground connection but did not see that the wiring was different from the diagram. That meant that I sent 256 volts to the GFCI frying it and to the board also frying parts on it. What a huge mistake that was! I have to send the entire system back for repairs.
Another mistake was during the installation of the UV/Ozone Sanitizer. It requires a small plastic check valve that only works one way. That is the definition of a check valve. It was unclear to me which way the valve was installed. It did not have an arrow marking on the valve itself. I tried to deduce from the diagram by looking at the slightly domed side. Of course I judged incorrectly and the water leaked back into the sanitizer. I took it apart and did not see that it would have been damaged as the light was above the trickle of water that came through the case.
Before the support person, Joe at Acura Spas, spotted the bad wiring when we tested the system. Unfortunately the tests on the main board yielded the correct voltage even though I had them wired incorrectly. He told me that the GFCI seemed to be broken so I tested the plug voltage going to the transformer and it showed 256 volts! That is when he double checked the photo I had sent him and realized the wiring had probably damaged more than the GFCI.
Even after I rewired correctly and removed the GFCI, the top panel did not light. That showed damage to the transformer and probably other parts.
The solution to this fiasco was to box everything up and send it back to the manufacturer for repairs. He said he would go easy on the cost of labor but the shipping both ways will be expensive. I’m sending back all the equipment from the UV sanitizer to the spa pack to the top panel control so that they can be sure it all works together and I can reinstall it correctly.
I’m very sad about this error. Not that it affects the overall spa that much but I feel embarrassed that I didn’t wire it according to the wires in the box instead of a diagram that was outdated. No decent electrician would have made that error. It is humbling.
This summer will be a staycation due to the Covid-19 virus. So to get ready I want to set up a 4′ x 18′ round pool that I acquired a few years ago but never utilized. I was able to get it for free for helping to remove it. The home had renters and the owners were going to sell so they had to move. They were glad to get it off their hands.
It is an Intex soft side pool so it consists of just metal poles and legs that the vinyl liner hangs from.
The liner suffered a few mouse holes from being stored outside. But I bought a patch kit and have patched the holes I found.
I was excited that the pool came with a salt water treatment system and a sand filter. It is an all in one unit from Intex.
This system is sized to work with an even larger pool so it is quite a good addition to the setup. I had to do a thorough cleaning including soaking the titanium plates in vinegar to get the system ready for hook up. I will also put clean sand in the tank. I plugged it in and it came on although I didn’t prime the system so it didn’t pump water.
To get the worst of the dirt off the pool liner I sprayed it with my new replacement pressure sprayer. I had purchased one last May and by September some internal part had broken and I had to have it replaced. Fortunately Amazon replaced it even though it was a Warehouse model and had no warranty. But then I am a very good customer of theirs!
I was worried about the new one because the connector that came with it leaked pretty badly. I ended up just replacing it with a connector that I had on hand from an old unit. I also had to change the hose because it would not tighten enough. But once I got a leak free connection I was able to spray the worst dirt off the pool liner and frame.
The pool was so heavy that I used the riding lawnmower and wagon to carry it to the tarp on the lawn. There is already a trampoline set up there and a pool will be a great addition.
My son and I set up the pool on a lovely calm Sunday. I read that if the ground slopes and it’s too difficult to even it that instead the top rim of the pool can be leveled.
We used some of the rubber tiles to lift the legs on the low end. Once the pool was in place I took a large sponge and a white 3M scrubby and thoroughly cleaned the sides and bottom of the pool with Simple Green in warm water. But just as I finished the wind began to pick up gusting over 20 mph. The pool was at risk for being blown over and twisting or breaking the metal posts. I decided to stake the poles like a tent in a strong wind.
I had to run around looking for tent stakes and cord which for some reason was hard to find despite the fact that I have several tents. Every few minutes I needed to go back and straighten the poles so they would not blow in. After staking the tops of the poles the bottoms were sliding underneath the liner so I staked the bottoms too. I had to use old cloth lanyards to stake them as I could not find more cord.
I started running water into the pool using a hose attached to the freeze proof well pump. Unfortunately I found that the spigot was leaking badly so much of the water ended up at the well pipe. What did begin to fill the pool led me to discover there was a leak causing a puddle of water outside the low side of the pool. I finally turned the water off over night.
So the wind didn’t destroy the pool. The next morning I smoothed out the bottom of the pool where the water was holding the vinyl down. Eventually I found a hole on the floor of the pool and patched it with the vinyl patch that luckily works underwater.
I turned on the hose to fill the high side of the pool and the water was not flowing from the spigot. It was leaking pretty badly by this time so I tried to add a gasket and a pipe clamp over the leak. Unfortunately that stopped the leak but when I checked later the water was still running very slowly. I realized the vacuum breaker was probably broken. I had another one but it took me awhile to find it. By evening I went back out and removed the broken one and installed the new one and the hose started running again with no leaks at the spigot. So I left the hose on even though it was getting late.
Fortunately when I checked the puddles outside the pool they were drying up and it did not look like the pool was still leaking.
I ordered water for the pool and the spa and it should be here tomorrow. It looks like the pool is going to be fun this summer.