Getting to Net-Zero (SOLAR)

It’s a long story getting to finally installing the solar system.

When the house was first modeled in 2014 the estimate was that it would take a 7-8kW PV solar system to cover the houses electric usage.  So like most people thinking of a Net-Zero house I proceed to get estimates from a number of Solar Installation companies.  Most wanted me to lease the system. It didn’t take much research to realize that was a BAD deal for me.  The first three estimates came in around $30K to $38K. Well I’m not spending that much until I fully understand what I’m paying for.

So I went to my favorite store, Amazon, and bought a couple of books, one   Solar Electricity Handbook.  And did a lot of internet research.  It was very clear the Solar Systems weren’t Rocket Science.  I used to maintain and install IBM mainframes in the beginning of the computer explosion. They were the most complicated electronics equipment ever made, real rocket science.  From what I read the solar systems just plugged together. And the prices I was seeing was unbelievable low compared to the quotes I was getting.

I met with one more sales rep, he quoted my a $40K price. So I said to him I’ve been reading up on the hardware and I think I can do it myself.  He said “yep, your right you can”. I said I saw my only problem was the getting past the bureaucracy.  I figured the Power Co and the Township wasn’t ready for a DIY guy to show up on their doorstep to install his own system.  He gave me the name of a solar engineering firm that could help me. Roger Anderson owner of    of Elmer NJ.  I met with Roger and said Yep, I was right and they could help me, but I might be the first person in NJ to do a system by myself..  The benefit with working with Roger  and his people, they design systems from 4kW to 2megW from Texas to Maine. And they didn’t sell hardware so had no product bias other than what worked the best.

I also found GoGreenSolar an company that would package a complete  Kit that matched Roger’s teams design and for a very good price. Being my first time I thought buying from a singles source was a great idea. at that point there hardware price was around $18K.  A hole better then $30K to $40K.

As time went on and with more modeling and more of my research I believed the house would out preform the modeling.  Every house I saw that had owners living in it had amazing performance.  So with some help from my rater we came up with a 5.5kW system the would produce about 7kWh per year.  Which is what my estimate of my usage would be. NJ is not an Net-Meter state so there is no incentive of putting is a system that will over produce. All I can do is cover my yearly usage.

I thought of waiting a year to see what the usage was, to more accurately size the system, but at my age why wait a year. So this fall I ordered the system. A SolarEedge SE5000-US inverter with Solaredge Power Optimizers , 18 LG320N2C-G4 panels and an IronRidge XR100 racking system. GoGreenSolar packaged everything in to a kit, put it all on a pallet (850 lbs) and over the road trucked it from CA.  Some assembly  required.

By now I was a frequent visitor to the township building dept., so getting a building permit was not issue. Before I could get electric service the El Co. approved my plans to self install my solar system. their rep. was very helpful.

The installation went much easier than I thought.  I got my son-in-law to help. He’s just much more agile on the roof than I am.  Thus far we have about 21 man-hours of labor into the project and about 4 left to mount the panels.  One hour of local day labor to dig the trench. and my electrician and his guys have done the wiring from the Inverter out. I’m guessing less than a $1,000.  The Kit from GoGreenSolar was $12,990, and $650 to Roger for design and advice.  The total costs of the  system will be around $14,650.  I did go back to one of the solar companies to see if they’d make it worth my time to let them do it. The owner called me and came in at a flat $20K.  When I contacted the sales rep . to say no thank you, his reply he hope his other customers didn’t figure this out.

SRECs are the key to the payback.  NJ is a great state for renewable energy.  This June an SRECs was selling for $290 each. I should get 7 SRECs a year. The price varies but I should get around $2,000 a year. I’ve self singed up for the program, again not tailored for a DIY guy. They wanted to see that the installer would warrant his work for 5 years. I said I would.

The Fed still has the 30% tax credit, or $4,200 and the NJ Clean Energy Program will give me an extra $5,000 to get to Net-Zero. So with $9,200 in incentives the system will cost to me $4,800.  With SRECs at $250 plus my electric bill sayings the pay back is 2 years.

Now if I’m wrong on the usage the way we have designed the panel layout I can add up to 4 more panels with ease.

I really want to thank Roger Anderson and his people and the people at GoGreenSolar, and my Electrician Tony Gonsalves and his guys.  They all have been so helpful with everything, answering my many questions and guiding me through the process.      We will install the rest of the panels this Saturday and I’ll update the photos then.

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Over Night Performance

Just an quickie on the house’s performance.

Last night the house was 69 degrees.  I use a laser thermometer gun to check temperatures. The temps varied between 69.0 to 69.5.  at 11:00 before I went to bed. We left two windows in vent mode, one in the Kitchen and one in the bedroom.

At 7:30 in the morning the house lost about 2 degrees overnight to 67.0 to 67.5.  The outside air temperature was 43, but more interesting the hard services, the deck, and siding were at 32 degrees.

At this point there is no sense of a draft.  Again waiting for winter.

Second month update (living in a high performance house)

I’m over due for a performance update. been busy doing the things that make a house live able, shelves; hanging clocks and pictures; setting up the garage;………… I just got the basement work shop functional but lots of work still do down there.

Now after living in the house for two and a half months, all I can say is wow. This concept, and it is still only a concept, it amazes me on how well it works.   The second month’s electrical usage was 628kWh which is 42% of the last house’s usage for the same period last year, and the old house had a gas hot water heater.  I’m guessing my big ticket item for usage is my 52″ plasma TV which is on about 4 hours or less a day.

My number 1 goal was a comfortable house. At this point that goal has been achieved. In the heat wave of mid August, 90 to 95 highs for a week, with the index above 110. Testing all the combination I could, it turns out the mini-split in the great room can cool the whole first floor.  I turn it on between 8 to 9AM and off between 9 to 10PM.  Over night the house will hold it temperature or  if I vent the windows lower to the outside temp.  The is 1 9,000 btu, 30.5 SEER is cooling the 1640 sqft area of the first floor.  The early modeling didn’t project that that would happen. I’m guessing that in heat mode it will do the same.

The basement:  many said I was NUTS with my salutation to insulate the basement, but it just made sense to my limited knowledge of physics. A technician working on the hot water heater said “This basement is amazingly warm, and dry”.  When I walk down the cellar steps the basement is noticeably warmer the first floor.  Because of the thermal mas of the interior wall it changes the temperature  very slowly. One worry was the heat exchanger  hot water heater would  pull the basement’s temp down. So far it doesn’t.  Again wanting to see what winter brings.

In September it finally cooled down, 70s during the day & 55-65 at nights.  We find leaving the windows in vent mode over night and closing it up from around 8 AM to 10 PM the house’s temperature would very from 68 to 72 degrees.  If the house was around 70 at 5:00 it would go up a degree or two by just living in the house.  It feels just our bodies in the bedroom will push the temperature up over night.  Both my wife and I feel the house wants to heat it’s self.  Today, 10/6, I was out all morning. Out side air temp was 55 to a nice 68, when I went in the house felt warm, so I opened some windows.

The second goal was spaceial comfort. That was achieved too.  My wife and I drew up the floor plan to meet what we thought our space needs were, then gave our drawings to our architect Jim Wentling, to make it work as a house. To make the pieces work we added space as needed.  We eventually turned the kitchen around and opened the wall to the great room.  And it all works as we wanted it to.  We wouldn’t change a thing.

Third goal is energy efficiency. We  won’t know for sure until we are in for a year but it looks like we will use between 6,000 to 7,000 kWh for a full year.  I was waiting for a year so I could be sure to size the solar system to match our usage, since NJ is not a Net Meter state, and I won’t get paid for over production.  But I’m comfortable we will be under that 7,000 kWh, and why waist a year so I’m installing a solar system starting this weekend.  See up and coming blog entries.

 

Living in the woods is

LED’s will give you a Brain Freeze

LEDs will Give you Brain Freeze.

 

First LED really are a good thing,  a great thing.  If I were to have put in incandescent light bulbs in the house (over 60 bulbs) I would have over 4,000 watts in light bulbs.  But with LEDs I have less than 400 watts of light bulbs.       For you electronic guys    P = I X E     or  to get current      I = P/E     That’s  33.3 Amps vs  3.3 Amps of current to run the lights. A 90% reduction in El usage.

That’s the first part of the Brain Freeze.  You can send your kid out to replace an incandescent bulb. “Hay Kid go get me a 60W bulb”.      Done.       So you think you just have to buy a LED that is listed as a 60W equitant.  Not really.  Just go to Lowe’s or Home Depot light row and take a look, Brain Freeze.

LED’s have many options:

First the old friendly Watts, but there isn’t really a direct match even though the manufactures puts on the label some numbers. Most 60W replacements are around 8Ws but I’ve gotten equivalent light (lumens) out of 4.5W LEDs.

Second: Lumens, which is a measurement of the amount of light a bulb puts out.  But I haven’t found that a 60W putting out 800 lumens.  A 6-8W LED puts out about 800 lumens but I find them brighter than incandescent.  In a fixture that I’d put two 40W bulbs I only pit one LED equivalent.  A 4.5W LED.

Third is the color:  or kelvin (K).  The K measurement of an LED is between 2500K to 6500K.    This is a pure personal choice. 5,000K is considered “Daylight”, the sun at high noon. But I find this light way to bright indoors.   An incandescent bulb is around 2,800 and a florescent bulb around 4,500K   .

Fourth is projection: Yea Projection options. That is how the LED transmits it light.  An incandescent projects its light evenly around the bulb, but with LEDs there are many different ways a bulb will projection the light.

Fifth the some LED shouldn’t be in contained covers.   It’s written on the box.  I have heard they may burn out fasted or my (mini) explode.

Sixth is a replaceable bulb or fixed.  Some fixtures have non replaceable bulbs. At first thought with a 20-25 year projected life who cares.  But if you have 4 like fixtures and in five plus years one goes out can you get parts or will you have to replace all 4 fixtures to keep them matching.  Also with a replaceable bulb in 5 years a 6w bulb might be replaced with a 0.5W. If you bulbs are replaceable you can easy upgrade.

Socket: I never had thought about the size of a bulbs socked.  Edison 27 or T10 or  ???????

My Experience:

The watt comparison is really of  little help, but I’ve found a 60W equivalent LED produces more light that a 60W incandescent bulb.  I don’t care want the Lumens are.  I’d say about (unscientific)  20% more light. Example the second floor hall lights.  Two bulbs in each fixture, I would had put two 40W incandescent bulbs, but with 2 40W equivalent it was way too much light, so I cut down to one bulb in each fixture.

Color is personal.  We have 10 high hat fixtures in the kitchen, so I went to Lowe’s and bought 6 different bulbs and put them in the high hats and had an onsite test.   We like 2,700K bulbs, 3,000K are OK, but nothing higher. A couple of the closets have higher, the electrician installed them, I can tolerate them in a closet. I think the 2,700K just has a nice warm effect. Now for a shop light a 4,500K or higher, the light is bluer but I think it better for working with. 

 Projection just depends on the fixture, and what kind of effect you want.

 Fixed vs replaceable.  We went with 95% replaceable for the reasons I point out above.  It one set of fixtures I wanted a certain effect and could only find it in a fixed bulb fixture

Prices are dropping like crazy.  I bought a big bunch on 40W Philips  equivalent  from Lowe’s on sale for under a dollar.  

As for lasting 20 to 25 years w can only wait. I had one Halogen type replacement o the range hood go bad in 3 weeks.  But the others are all working.

 

 

More on performance

Been in for three weeks today.  The past week plus it’s been over 90 everyday with heat index getting above 110 some days and staying above 70 at nights and some nights 75 plus.  A good test for the A/C.

The past week I’ve only been running the great room mini-split from 8 AM to about 10 PM.  set of 72.  The hole first floor is at temperature and a very comfortable, low humidity.  That mini-split is only a 9,000 btu unit.  Looking forward to getting a full month electrical bill.

Update:  your first month’s meter reading was from July 22 to August 22 was 827 kWh which in 48% of the old house’s usage from 2015. I didn’t figure out that the first floor only needed one mini-split to cool it, so the 827kWh my guess is 50 to 100 kWh higher that it could have been with only one mini-split running.  

I will be adding a usage tracking system, and a tempeture monitor,too. In the next month or two.

 

Also I’m pushing forward with the solar PV arrays.  I’ve changed strategy and am putting the PV arrays on the garage roof, the ground mounted system just wasn’t cost effective.. The trick is sizing the system. NJ doesn’t pay for over producing. The current NJ Zero Energy Ready program has a big incentive to adding renewables.  Between the NJ incentive and the Fed tax rebate the system will only cost a couple thousand dollars.  And with the NJ SREC program it will be paid back in one year.

 

 

 

A Performance Report

Been working in the house the past few weeks doing all the little things that makes a house a home and livable.   And of course very busy, I think I’ve only taken a day off in the past 5 or 6 week, and haven’t taken the time to read “The How Too”  to finely operate the mini-splits and the ERV.  But have been playing around with them anyway.

The past couple of days we’ve gotten many small and large tasks off the todo list, one was painting the basement floor. Yesterday morning the house had a chemical smell which I attributed to the  floor paint.  So I upped the ERV to high , but for a test only turned on the mini-split in the family room. Once, and quickly the house got to 72 degrees and it stayed there all day..  That one mini- split (9,000 BTUs) maintained 72 degrees on the hole (1640 sqft) first floor all day with the outside temperature around 94 degrees.  The chemical smell was gone by lunchtime, even though I painted another section of the basement.. OH, Yea the little mini-split took the humidity out on a very humid day.

We prefer open windows with the smell of fresh air to A/C normally.  Joan noted at the end of the day how comfortable the house was and how fresh the air was.  As some one very famous once said   “Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together”

This morning with the A/C off all night and the ERV on high, the house was at 76 degrees outside air temps over 85 and the incoming air from the ERV was at 74 degrees.

Secondly: that basement. I’ve been working in it a number of days and have been think how warm and dry it felt. So this morning I shot temps on all walls and many services.  My readings were between 71 & 72 degrees F.  I’ve no way to test the humidity but it just feels very dry. When you walk down the steps it just doesn’t feel like you are walking into a basement.  Also the GE GeoSpring hot water heater has been running taking heat out of the basement.  Maybe I should get a wet bulb and test the humidity.

There is a lot more research to do once we get in, and I get time to read the manuals. And figure how to fine tune the system.