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Larson Renovation 3 – Installing a Solar Water Heater System

April 18, 2009 3 comments

Solar Water Heater InstallationA theme has emerged around Sandra and Justin Larson’s renovation project, and that theme is “RE“.  Part 1 showcased their REsourceful REuse of REclaimed building materials.  Then, in Part 2, we documented their use of spray foam insulation containing REnewable soy to create an extremely energy efficient envelope.  Now, we’ll take a look at their installation of a solar water heater system which will make use of a very abundant REnewable REsource…Colorado sunshine.

The Larson’s turned to Darren Hein (pictured above) and his team at Heinsight Solutions to source and install a Velux solar hot water system.  Heinsight is a Velux 5-Star Solar Specialist installer.  Darren brings many years of specialized roofing and skylight installation experience to bear.  He’s the kind of expert you’ll want to seek out if you decide on a solar water heater for your home to ensure that upgrading your water heater system doesn’t downgrade your roof.

Heinsight installed a two-panel, indirect circulation, pre-heat system at the Larson’s home.  The panels themselves are of the flat-plate collector variety.  Indirect circulation means that an antifreeze liquid is pumped through the panels and down to a heat exchanger in a newly installed tank in the home, where the antifreeze then transfers heat to the water in the tank.  It is considered a pre-heat system because the new tank is tied into the existing hot water heater, providing back-up hot water should a portion of the system go down.  You can see the components and get lots of great information from Darren about system details, costs and rebates by watching the two video segments below.

There are quite a few different types of solar water heating systems.  The U.S. Department of Energy website on energy efficiency and renewable energy provides excellent information about them, including this page on types and how they work.

These systems are extremely eco-friendly because they substitute energy from the sun for energy from natural gas or power plant generated electricity, using the latter only infrequently as back-up.  According to Solar Energy International, more than 50 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from your local utility can be avoided over a 20 year period when a solar water heater replaces an electric one. 

The economics of solar hot water are also quite compelling, and may even offer immediate payback if you are building a new home or refinancing for home renovation.  The Department of Energy indicates that your monthly water heating bill will drop by 50% to 80% if you install a solar water heater.  And, depending upon where and how you live, and which source you believe, heating water accounts for 9% to 30% of your monthly energy bill.  Up-front costs and payback time for a solar water heating system are reduced by a 30% federal tax credit and additional regional credits.  Follow this DOE link to get further guidance on determining solar water heater system costs, energy savings and payback time for your situation.

Well, that’s it from the Larson project for now, but we’ll be REvisiting them soon for more eco-friendly home project education.

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Larson Renovation – Part 2 – Soy Based Spray Foam Insulation

April 10, 2009 4 comments

Soy Based InsulationIn the first part of our series covering Sandra and Justin Larson’s major home renovation project, we gave you a sense for the unusual extent to which they are using salvaged and reclaimed building materials.  This week, we stopped by to observe the unique approach they are taking to insulating their renovated home.

The Larsons decided to go with soy based spray foam insulation and are working with Chris Lehmann, owner of SoySolution Sustainable Spray Foam Insulation, to get the job done.  In fact, Chris got into this line of business after discussing the cutting-edge green insulation technology with Justin. 

Spray foam insulation has been around for years.  It is particularly attractive because of its excellent thermal and acoustical properties.  Properly applied, it expands to completely fill every space, creating a comfortable, quiet and very energy efficient barrier between the home interior and outside world.  For more information about spray foam insulation, check out SprayFoam.com

Chris sprays insulation manufactured by Green Insulation Technologies, which takes spray foam insulation to a healthier, more sustainable level.  It is water-blown, and uses polyols derived from renewable soybeans to replace a portion of petroleum based polyols.  As a result, soy based spray foam insulation is an inert VOC-free substance that improves indoor air quality, has no food value for rodents and insects and will not promote growth of mold and mildew.  For more on product content and benefits, visit Green Insulation Technologies’ website.  If you’ve never seen spray foam insulation being applied, take a look at this quick video of Chris working at the Larson’s place

Got your own insulation project coming up soon?  Here are a few links that will help you get more informed about options and costs:

Well, there are obviously lots of eco-friendly home projects embedded in the Larson’s home renovation.  Look for upcoming posts on installing a solar hot water heater, beetle kill pine flooring and more.

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Ready…Reclaim…Renovate! (Part 1)

March 20, 2009 3 comments

Larson House @ 6 WeeksWe are fortunate to be able to follow Justin Larson, founder of JCL Architecture Inc., and his wife Sandra as they undertake a very eco-friendly home renovation and expansion project here in Old Town Fort Collins.  Over the next several weeks, we’ll be doing a series of posts as we track their progress updating this 100-year-old home.  We hope you’ll follow along.

Sandra and Justin are sustainability-minded folks, so there will be lots of green building elements to their project.  One of the most unique is the extensive use of reclaimed building materials, which they have sourced from careful deconstruction of existing walls in their own home, from salvaged construction materials specialists in the region like Uncle Benny’s and The Lumber Guy, from mis-ordered materials at various construction sites, and yes, even from Craig’s List (actually, quite a bit of their reclaimed building supplies were found via Craig’s List).  You can get an initial sense for the scope of their project and the use of salvaged materials in the video below. 

Using reclaimed building materials to this extent requires a great deal of energy, creativity and commitment.  Being an architect doesn’t hurt either.  Perhaps Sandra sums it up best in commenting about the time and effort she put into removing nails from deconstructed studs, verses the alternative of throwing them away and purchasing new pieces for $2 each…

It’s not about the $2 per piece.  What saving the pieces does is let us know that the original roots of the house remain the “bones” of our renovation.  I think it’s extraordinary to realize that “sticks” from 1906 will help our house for another 100 years…

Plus, I am a methodical task junkie.  Justin knows me all too well, and he’s wise to put me on the not-so-skilled part of the labor that nonetheless requires “doing and drive”.  Put my hands to work on repetitive, pretty simple stuff, and it lets my mind wander to how it will all look when it’s finished, or, the project quandary I haven’t been able to solve in my office at work.

So yes, we recover far more than $2 a board!

While most of us don’t have Justin’s expertise, certainly we can take a que from these two to engage more deeply in our own green home projects.  They are bound to be even greener if  we do.

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