Thoughts on Solar Energy Design and Construction

Mike Frerking shares his thoughts on solar energy design and construction for homes.
July/August 1975
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The installation of a solar-heating system still demands for most people a significant investment in time and material.

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As an outgrowth of our work on the Grieve solar heated home, a few of us here in Prescott, Arizona have formed a company called Arizona Sun works. One of our main objectives is to demonstrate that solar heating is possible now, and can be achieved without an accompanying 30-year mortgage. Members of Arizona Sunworks are presently building a house that will utilize the Thomason water/rock solar-heating system and a solar heated adobe shop. The shop will be the base from which we'll construct our own solar-heated adobe homes.

Solar Energy Design and Construction

Our ground rules for design and construction are:

  • Build small.
  • Do your own work.
  • Allow available local materials to determine the type of construction and heating system you use.
  • Build in stages. Building small-in phases-allows us to experiment, live with, and perfect alternative systems and skills while minimizing our capital requirements.

The installation of a solar-heating system still demands for most people a significant investment in time and material. It's important, then, for anyone planning such an installation to evaluate his or her particular situation so that he or she may choose the right system for the application at hand.

Before starting construction of a solar heater, a person should be familiar with every design that's available, should understand the climatic conditions of the area in which he or she lives, and should know the heat load requirements of the building being fitted.

When an existing structure is retrofitted, it must first be evaluated for thermal efficiency and, if necessary, reinsulated. (Anyone who attempts to use "free" solar energy to warm a house that's a thermal sieve will be very disappointed.) Walls and roof should have a total thermal resistance of not less than 15 (one-fifteenth of a Btu passing through one square foot of wall every hour for every one degree Fahrenheit temperature difference between inside and outside). The building should be as tight as possible to minimize air changes. Perimeter foundations should be insulated, and windows double glazed or covered with heavy fiberglass drapes or movable insulated shutters.

If you're building a house from the ground up, don't make the mistake of considering solar systems as an afterthought To be most effective, solar-heating and cooling systems must be so thoroughly integrated into a structure that its designer is required to develop a new awareness of the natural forces that determine the building's form.

Although solar heaters currently cost more than the "conventional" systems they replace, over 40% of the new units' cost goes into labor. Once the new systems are mass-produced and become conventional in their own right, this cost difference should narrow. Even at today's prices, however, a good solar heater which should last at least two decades will pay for itself in eight to twelve years.

The federal government — with the Solar Demonstration Act of 1974 — has allotted sixty million dollars over the next five years for the development and demonstration of solar hardware and systems. Although this will be just the beginning of a large government monetary infusion to the field, indications are that such funds will go mainly to big industry and universities.

This is unfortunate since, to date, it has been individuals — such as Harry Thomason and Steve Bear — who have developed the present state of the art. Free exchanges of information — exchanges which include individual experimenters working "without portfolio" — will be critical in the future development of solar hardware and related skills and should be suitably supported by any available funds.

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7/1/2014 4:10:58 PM
Great article. Thanks for posting this up.

6/25/2014 3:53:49 AM
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8/25/2008 11:11:16 AM
continued- 1. Will my roof system be damaged and leak water into my house? 2. What happens when something damages your “Solar Electrical” system and it quits? 3. When the sun doesn’t shine on your “Panel’s”, will it heat your house or operate some electrical item? 4. Does it operate at night and produce power OR HEAT? 5. Will the voltage be stable and meet “ALL STATE” elec. Rules & Regulation’s? I know these problems “will never occur” and your system will operate for the next “Ten years and you will recover your investment of an indeterminate amount” (BUT did you save any money?} Now your “Panel System” might have to be replaced, “as it is possible” that it could fail to function, COULD be damaged with “SOME” object simply hitting the glass panels or some other problem? Who buy’s “Used” solar panel systems? Now the operational costs of your “Passive Solar System” has required no repairs, or changes and it simply “HELP’S” to heat your home? Look at the 25-year track record of our (4) Passive Solar heating projects and the 20-year operations of our “dual unit” creating “Passive Solar Cooling & Heating “ with NO Maintenance Required in any of these systems. UPDATE-Supplies from LOWES-Dated 08/19/08 to “Purchase” enough supplies to install a stand alone “Passive Solar Heating Unit” to pull heated attic air into your residence Living space! (Decide which rooms you want to add your solar heat into!) You can install more then one duct and motor from the same attic space. You will also need to cover, from the inside, the current attic vent used to “ALLOW” the attic heat to simply leave the attic space. Using an “active” venting system your are “Usually” allowed to cover those “HOT ATTIC EXHAUST OPENING’S” USE THIS SET-UP WHEN YOU HAVE A BASEBOARD ELECTRICAL HEATING SYSTEM! Quantity ITEM SKU PRICE 1 8” Duct Fan Motor #185010 29.93 1 8” Black Ducting (flex) #36441 38.69 (You will ha

8/25/2008 11:08:24 AM
“Decisions? Decisions?” Lets ask a, “simple question” and “YOU” fill in the math. Herein is a means to HEAT your home for free and forever. I have created and used this “EXACT” method to heat my first project in 1984 using this method. The building size was 95’ long x 55’ wide and 27’ tall. The cubic feet of space 141,075 AND the same as 8 homes of approximately 2,000 sq. feet. THE COST TO PASSIVELY SOLAR HEAT MY STORAGE BUILDING WAS $1.00 PER DAY, FOR THE LAST 25 YEARS. The step by step instructions are as follows: A. You live in a typical 1500 sq. ft. home and your heating bill per month to maintain a comfortable level of “72 degree’s” costs you $250 (Kelso Wash) August 25, 2008, per month? B. You COULD spend $3000 per year. (The cost shown of $250 per month is from an actual 1000 sq. ft house using “electrical Baseboard heater’s? (Smaller then typical) C. NOW let’s leap ten years forward and you have spent $30,000 to heat your home? D. Now, today you spend $125 and install an individual Attic Solar Heating system, which “COULD” save you $100 a month. In ten years time, you might save $12,000 or decide to simply sit in your chair and know that your “Heating Bills will never increase” AND spend your $30,000 and simply continue heating your home? This simple effort doesn’t require you to install “Solar Panels” and figure out how to “Borrow” enough money to purchase product’s, install on your roof, “tap into your Electrical System” and purchase the specific “Electrical Connections required by State Rules”. State laws also require a certified Electrical Contractor to “TAP” into your system and they usually charge $150 per hour. (How Many?) NOW you have created a system to produce electrical power to operate “SOME” equipment, system, light’s, baseboard panel or hope you can sell any “Excess” power to your local UTILITY Company? Now you have a group of simple decisions? 1. Will my ro

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