by DAN VOS Vos Energy Concepts I said earlier that wind was a form of solar energy, and I stand by that. Reread my past column if you need an explanation. The most economical way of capturing the wind for producing electricity is by using large towers with huge blades—as many as possible—called wind farms. They are being used throughout the world as a very dependable source of electricity. They work very well if placed in an area where the wind is pretty much constant. Michigan has areas that will work very well, yet people seem to be afraid of them. It can’t be the size, because no one is afraid of cell towers. It can’t be the looks, because… those cell phone towers again—those things are ugly. So what is it? Maybe it’s change. Northeastern Michigan is embracing this change. The thumb area has many wind farms and the energy is sold as fast as these farms go online. I’m not going to get into the idea of putting them in Lake Michigan. I’m just saying I have mixed feelings. I happen to think wind generators are beautiful—kinetic art even—maybe because I’m so Dutch and windmills are a part of my heritage. They work very well and will help us use less conventional energy.
by DAN VOS Vos Energy Concepts Today we talk about the exotic form of solar energy—the one that techies drool over. The one that gives people that far away look in their eyes, as if they are in the Mars Rover or the space station or at the communication satellites that our phones and iPads bounce off of. Well that last was a bit of a stretch. Solar electric or PV panels make all those things possible. They are also powering our lighted signs on the highways, among many other things. A solar electric installation is what I’m asked about most by homeowners. The cost is dropping dramatically, which is what has kept most of us from purchasing such wonderful technology. New inverter technology has made questionable sites more positive, and bigger panels means less mounting hardware. Inverters, by the way, change the voltage from the panels to that which we can use 120v AC to such a fine quality that we can now grid-tie them. Grid-tie means that we can sell our extra production to the utility company at the same price they charge us, so no batteries are needed. We just buy back at night what we sold them during the day. What a deal. Batteries can still be used for people who need them. The panels can be mounted on a roof, on poles and on trackers which follow the sun’s path through the sky. They work very well, are quiet, will last for many years (I have some that are 25 years old) and are beautiful to behold, at least I think so. Don’t forget: energy efficiency first.
Solar hot water collection by DAN VOS Vos Energy Concepts This week we are writing about solar hot water collection. This is the most cost effective way of using the sun’s energy in our existing homes. Most people don’t realize that about 20 percent of your total annual heating bill is used to heat water. It can be more depending on the fuel you use and the number of teenage girls you have in your house (personal experience, of course—I like an occasional long shower myself, so I can’t blame her too much). Electric energy is the most expensive, with propane close behind and natural gas the cheapest per BTU. Solar hot water panels and controllers have been around a long time and have been improving along the way. I’ve serviced 25-year-old systems and got them back on track by re-insulating and replacing a few worn parts. The new ones will last just as long or longer, I’m sure. Basically, the panels lay flat on a south-facing and unshaded roof. There are insulated pipes that go to a solar storage tank which uses any heat collected to preheat the water going into your existing hot water heater. When you ask for hot water from your faucet, the hot water goes from the solar tank into your existing tank and heats that water so that your conventional energy doesn’t need to. Spring, fall and summer give me gas bills that are mostly fees. In winter, I take what I get and am thankful for it.
by DAN VOS Vos Energy Concepts I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the three ways of using solar energy in our homes. The first way is using it to heat the air in our homes, which heats everything else in there as well. Passive solar is one of my favorite ways to use the heat of the sun. It just means that you use south-facing windows that are not shaded in the winter when the sun is low and are shaded in the summer when the sun is high. Passive means that you don’t need any fans or pumps for it to work. It works best when there is some mass to absorb the heat in the day and release it at night. This system is easiest to implement when building an addition or a new house. Sunspaces (facing south) make a wonderful addition to a home. Even when the sun isn’t blasting, it’s still brighter. It makes us feel better in the dead of winter. It’s healthier that way, and I believe in building healthy houses. We cannot forget the first rule in using renewable energy and that is conservation. The less energy you need, the higher percentage of conventional fuels will be replaced by renewables, and they become more cost effective.
Your home can’t take care of itself. Your monthly budget should include money for routine maintenance and repair for the house and yard. Plan to set money aside for the large, irregular expenses that occur normally as a house ages. Large expenses include interior and exterior painting, repairs or replacement of heating and air conditioning units and appliances, floor coverings, and roof surfaces. Why should you do regular home maintenance? 1. To maintain the value of the property. 2. A well-maintained home usually brings a higher price. 3. A well-maintained house is more comfortable. 4. Regular care minimizes unexpected repair work and expense. 5. Regular small repairs keep costs from becoming larger. 6. A lender’s agreement usually requires the owner to maintain the property to protect the lender’s financial interest. What is involved in home maintenance? Cleaning roof and gutters, cleaning or painting outside wall surfaces, cleaning floors and walls, vacuuming carpet, keeping sink and shower drains running freely, etc. If you are not able to do the work, hire a qualified, experienced repair company such as Brad’s Services. Ask for written estimates, and do not pay in advance for maintenance or repair services. Inspect your house regularly. Develop a system where you inspect one area per month to ensure regular inspection of each area. Start at the foundation of the house and work upward and inward. The following list of areas to check may help. • In most of Michigan, water lines and outside faucets need some freeze protection or winter drainage. In addition, garden hoses should be drained and stored for the winter. • Clean leaves and debris from around an outside heating/air conditioning condenser and trimback shrubs that may block air movement around the house. • Yard care power equipment should be drained of fuel in the late fall or early winter and serviced according to manufacturer’s instructions. • Have heating and cooling systems checked by a qualified serviceperson once a year or according to the manufactures-recommendations. • Clean and replace filters. Check your owner’s manual for recommended procedures. Some filters should be replaced as often as once a month. • Test smoke alarms and heat alarm systems at least monthly. Replace old batteries.