Sunday, August 3, 2014

serious catchup--Heating System

Before I forget (or block it out of my traumatized mind:)) I really need to continue capturing some of these details of this adventure. I have been terrible throughout this process with taking pictures and keeping a record of all that we have done and been through trying to build our own house. By fall, we were pretty much at lock up. We had the roof on, the windows in, and the doors on. Things were looking good. It was now time to coordinate plumbing and electrical and get some of those trades moving. However, we still had one big glitch looming over our heads…the heating of our home. We had been so busy over the summer in building mode--waking up, putting in long hours working on the house, going to bed and repeating the next day that we really did not have a tonne of time to do our research. As mentioned previously we were really hoping to build as energy efficient as possible…(still trying to aim for passivehaus even if we didn't quite get there on our own we wanted to apply as many of the principles as possible). I had also just recently read a great book called The Leap An excellent and inspiring book, that made me reluctant to even have gas as an energy source for our home. Being inspired/brainwashed, we began to look at other options. Our ideal goal was to be able to set up our house so that perhaps someday, with the help of solar panels we could be self-sustaining or off-grid. Jeremy, found a fellow in Utah that was doing solar thermal heat. He designed a system for us after a few phone calls and we discussed it with our plumber, him and us over a conference call. The gist of it was that we would have a 2000 gallon water tank in our storage room that would be heated by solar panels on the roof and thus heat our home (we had already installed the radiant in floor heating tubes. However as part of the conference call we learned (by accident on their part as the Utah designer put up a cost sheet) that the actual price of this system and the price that we were going to have to pay after it went through the hands of our Canadian supplier was going to be an $8000 increase, just for the switching hands to get this system across the border. That was a substantial markup in my eyes. Well, if there is one thing about both Jeremy and I that has motivated this project is our insistence to save a $dollar. Okay, we are super cheap…hence the reason we decided to build and do so much on our own. Needless to say the extra $8000 "handshake" cost between the american supplier and the Canadian dealer did not sit well with us. Not to mention I did not like the fact that a swimming pool (more or less) was going to take up my entire storage room…so luckily we were out and decided not to go with that system for heating our home. A HUGE blessing as it would have been a big mistake and would not have met all of our needs. In the computer modelling that we did for our house, Overheating was a concern in the summer months. We did so much south-facing glazing to try to maximize the passive solar heat gain to our home, but in the summer we were going to be running the risk of overheating. This being said, we did not want to have to rely on the traditional air-conditioning (more energy consumption) to mitigate this. It was well into the fall, and by this time our Contractor D. as mentioned earlier was annoyed with us (particularly our lack of organization over our heating system) and so he jumped out of our house and started building another. We had discussed Geothermal a few times (as it would handle our heating and cooling of the house) but never gave it too much attention due to the fact that we knew about 4 other people that had had it and did not seem to think that it worked very well. Out of desperation I was in talks with our local gas company again…"How soon could we get our gas hooked up?" He kind of scolded me on the phone because he had come out and talked to us in the summer about hookups and we sent him away confident we wouldn't be needing gas…now he felt like throwing it back in my face and said he was in no rush to get to our site (more or less) and we would just have to wait. I may have cried a little, perhaps overwhelmed, perhaps annoyed at his smugness, perhaps embarrassed that we were crawling back to the "energy enemy" and caving and hooking up our gas anyway. It was super frustrating. It also annoyed us that just to get a gas line 70 feet long to our house was going to cost us over $7000 just to bring gas to our site. Again we are cheap, but when we looked at the other gas companies in the area like Dinosaur gas who were not allowed to service us because we were under ATCOs jurisdiction the cost of the other companies was a mere fraction of what they were charging us. Literally thousands of dollars simply because we were stuck using one gas company and there was no competition…they could charge whatever they wanted. Desperate I called and talked to Energy Smart in Lethbridge. We had been talking to TeraAlta in Medicine hat about other heating options as well and so both companies gave us a geothermal quote. Energy Smarts was cheaper but we were not convinced on geothermal yet--hearing so much negative reaction in our own little circle. So that weekend we piled into the van and headed to lethbridge to actually see what all this Geothermal hype was about. We walked around the Energy Smart building that had been retrofitted for Geothermal…felt the air coming out of the vents, heard the schpeel, but were still not convinced. We wanted to know what an application in the home would look and feel like, particularly what the electrical cost to run the system really looks like. Our Neighbor in Rolling Hills who had geothermal had mentioned that in the winter months he was paying almost $400 between heating and lighting his home…a huge cost he contributed to geothermals inefficient heating. Rudy at Energy Smart drove us to his brother's house who had geothermal heating. We walked through, hung out in the mechanical room looking at the system and then he even showed us his electrical bill…$150/month for heating and lighting his home. That seemed reasonable, particularly if you could offset some of that with solar panels. It was with great pleasure that I went into our local gas company and canceled our application for natural gas to our property…we were doing Geothermal. I was so anxious and nervous about this decision, especially because Jeremy had decided that he wanted to lay the pipes ourselves to save even more money on the geothermal system. This did not sit well with me. I wanted the pros to do it all so that if it didn't work, they would be responsible. I didn't want to take any chances especially since we had already heard so many people that were unhappy with their geothermal systems. Jeremy was not convinced and so by early November him and I were stretching out hundreds of feet of geothermal pipes across our property and into the neighbouring snow-covered field while the boys sat in the van watching a movie on the laptop. We found a local excavator that came and helped us dig the trench for our horizontal geothermal lines and we spent a wet, snowy and very cold weekend digging up our entire back yard and mucking around in a enormous trench that curled around our property placing the lines. The trench was 10 feet deep and the sides had to be scooped a certain way so it would not cave in on us and so it seemed even deeper. Again, being too cheap for even babysitters I guess, our boys were in the van with the laptop watching a movie while we embarked on this latest project of insanity. At one point I decided I needed out of the trench to go and check on the boys…but soon discovered it was too deep and I was unable to get out on my own…It was strange (I had been caving before and wasn't claustrophobic or scared) but suddenly (perhaps just cold, wet and overwhelmed by this project), I started to panic and even cry a little…I told Jeremy that I needed out of the trench and the excavator lowered his bucket for me…which I climbed into and he lifted me out of the hole. Yikes…this was crazy!!!!! The boys were happy in the van, but I was a ball of nerves. Our whole backyard was dug up with a dirt pile in the centre as high as our house. All this mess and craziness and was this even going to work???? I was not convinced at this point.

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