Archive for the ‘Solar’ Category

by Margie Schuler

Semmes hosted a local interior design group at a recently completed home remodel project and the event was enjoyed by all.

It’s not often a client is gracious enough to open up their home to 30 local designers and their design and build teams but when this happens we are honored at the opportunity to show off our work. This particular home remodel project took just over one year to complete and encompassed remodeling the main house with a garage addition, conversion of original garage wing into home gym with sauna and bath and a media room, remodeling a horse barn into a guest house with garage and wine cellar, converting the horse dressage arena to an orchard with raised planter beds and storage, and extensive landscaping. The transformation of a “vanilla” house into a spectacular custom home was remarkable. Our clients now have a home they are proud of; a home that fits their personality, their lifestyle as new retirees and showcases their various collections. Semmes and Co. Builders, Inc. appreciated working with the Architectural firm Studio 2-G and Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape Architecture on this impressive project.

New courtyard between new garage and remodeled garage wings

Dressage arena converted to orchard and garden

Converted barn guest room and wine cellar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Before…

Barn exterior after

After.

House exterior before

Before…

House exterior after

After.

Back of house

 

turko with hat

by Turko Semmes

In the past, I have written before about Passive Solar Solutions for buildings. And still they are an important way to reduce energy costs and increase comfort levels. There are four components that must be considered when applying passive solar solutions to a project. They are Orientation, Ventilation, Insulation, and Mass (OVIM). Each part of the solution is used in different ways depending on the climate where the building is being built as well as certain site, budget and human factors. But by applying these applications appropriately, the building’s energy use can be greatly reduced. The comfort levels can be raised even in severe climate zones, sometimes at little extra cost.

Today, I want to talk about Mass, sometimes known as Thermal Mass. In particular, let’s discuss Phase Change Materials (PCM’s). The Thermal Mass role is to act as a battery to moderate the temperature of the home through the daily and seasonal cycle changes.

There are two applications of mass. One is direct gain where the sun strikes the material directly – think Trombe Wall systems.

The other and more common application is indirect gain. This is where the temperature of the mass is affected by the room temperature – think all surfaces in the building. We try to incorporate standard high mass materials into buildings to achieve this, but it is not always practical. Some of these materials are concrete in the floor, walls and counters. Also used are extra layers of drywall, fireplace facings, etc.

But for years, we in the industry have thought it would be super to have a material that can store more heat than its actual weight or volume. Now that material is here and it’s called Phase Change Materials (PCM). PCM’s can store 5 to 14 times more heat per unit volume than conventional storage materials such as water, masonry or rock. They do this by changing from a liquid to a solid (much like Freon does in heat pump/air conditioning systems). The trick has been to find a way to incorporate them into buildings in a format that can be standard for all buildings.

Now, the National Gypsum Company in partnership with BASF has ThermalCORE PCMmanufactured a drywall that has small capsules – beads of phase change material within the board. The drywall is installed and finished in the same ordinary way. The only extra cost is the material itself. But, don’t jump up and run down to Home Depot or Lowes. This material is in the economic and marketing development stages. However, I do have some samples, and they are performing quite well, as specified.

Soon, this material will give your energy analyst another tool to help design your building to be more energy efficient and comfortable. All without adding additional systems, complications or maintenance. Since drywall is used on most buildings, one can place it strategically to achieve the comfort and energy savings desired. This is just one more reason Passive Solar Solutions should be applied to their maximum potential before any active or complicated systems are considered.

Phase Change Materials for
Building Applications

 

 

Jessica by Jessica Steely

Imagine a power outage in your neighborhood, but your lights are on and your refrigerator’s running. Or perhaps you don’t have to buy expensive peak-day electricity? Elon Musk’s new Tesla Powerwall, released in April, promised these luxuries. The sleek and futuristic look of the wall-mounted batteries was designed to be affordable for the average homeowner. It’s available if you have a solar array or not, whether you want to use the battery on a daily basis, or have it available for a backup situation.

So, is the Tesla Powerwall a fiscally responsible choice or an expensive novelty?

Let’s take the case of the daily use model. Say, you’re on a net-metering program with your local electric tesla-powerall - tah-dahutility company. This summer’s peak rate is .32 cents per kWh (May 1 through October 31: Weekdays, 1-7 PM) and the off-peak rate is .13 cents per kWh. The winter partial-peak rate is .15 cents per kWh (November 1- April 30; Weekdays, 5-8 PM.) There’s no peak rate in winter, and the off partial-peak rate is .14 cents per kWh. The Powerwall designed for daily use, holds 7 kWh and costs $3,000. If you use the Powerwall battery during peak-times when electric costs are higher, you will save $1.33 per day during the summer and .07 cents per day through the winter. At this rate, it could take you over 16 years to break even. The unit has a 10-year warranty, so even within the projected product lifespan you can’t expect to break even.[1] But with upcoming new regulations on power production, energy costs are likely to increase and the price recovery period could change significantly.

Now, let’s look at the units designed specifically for backup usage. These models carry 10 kWh of backup Tesla Powerwall -Housepower with an available average draw of 2 kW. Their cost: $3,500. These batteries are compared to a small generator that runs on gas or propane. A generator that produces equivalent output can be bought from your hardware store for $500 to $1,500. With propane at roughly $2.24 per gallon and gas at $4.25 per gallon, the cost to run these backup generators is variable. Again, it is likely to take longer than the 10-year warranty period to break even on the unit.

A couple of additional caveats to consider: If your demand surpasses the needs of a single battery, each of the models of the Powerwall can be installed in a bank of up to nine batteries. They can also be installed in conjunction with a solar electric array. But if the unit is installed outside of a solar electric system, you will have the additional cost of purchasing an inverter to convert the electricity from AC to DC for usage and storage. It is worth acknowledging that the battery, designed to cycle on a daily basis, could provide the added utility of serving as an emergency backup.

From a financial perspective when compared to the alternatives, the Tesla PoTesla Powerwallwerwall is not the most economical response…yet. However, the sense of being part of a progressive movement, having a renewable energy backup and helping to reduce the strain on our utility grid, has attracted more than 38,000[2] reservations for the Tesla Powerwall in the first week of its announced release. It’s projected to be sold-out by mid-2016. I doubt we have seen the last from Tesla’s technology center, but I do look forward to what’s next.

 

[1] Rates are based on PG&E Tier 1 Residential Time-Of-Use Service Electric Schedule E-6 effective March 1 2015  http://www.pge.com/tariffs/tm2/pdf/ELEC_SCHEDS_E-6.pdf

[2] Bloomberg Business Tesla’s Battery Grabbed $800 Million in Its First Week, 5-8-2015 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-08/tesla-s-battery-grabbed-800-million-in-its-first-week

Kevin-HauberSpecial editorial by Kevin Hauber, Green Mortgage Consultant
The Mortgage House – San Luis Obispo

Remember all the claims made by solar companies about the value of rooftop solar systems? Well, it turns out they were right. And a study out from the US Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory backs that up. The study is called “Selling Into the Sun: Price Premium Analysis of a Multi-State Dataset of Solar Homes.”

What they did was look at tens of thousands of sales over eight states from 2002-2013, including properties that had solar systems installed at the time of sale and those that did not. What they found was that both new and existing homes sold for $15,000 more on average with a solar system than those that did not have one.

That is a noticeable number. It’s one of the first times substantial figures have been offered to quantify solar homes for the market. It says that if you can lower the operating costs of a home and provide energy independence, that’s worth something.

Selling into the sun

Selling into the Sun

So, everyone knows this. Right?

No, in fact very few people take this into account. If you are going to buy or sell a property with a solar system, you need to make sure the people involved in the transaction are familiar with how to give the system value. That includes the listing agent, the selling realtor, the lender, and the appraiser. The appraiser will use a form called the energy addendum to help quantify the value of the solar system. As well as any other energy related improvements on the property.

You would be surprised how many appraisers have no idea about this, and how many lenders and realtors don’t even know to ask. Since energy costs are becoming an increasing consideration for owning property, make sure you are working with professionals who know what they are doing in this regard. This includes familiarity with the incentives and financing available for energy-related improvements.

By the way, the figures quoted in the study are only for purchased solar systems that are part of the real estate. Leased systems were not included in the study, so this is an important distinction to make. Leased systems have become popular in the last few years, but there are still many questions to be answered. Such as the assumption of leases by subsequent buyers, and the appraised value of the system at the end of the lease. (The appraiser is usually hired by the leasing company). The effects of these leased systems remain to be seen.

Now this research concludes what we’ve assumed all along: people who have purchased solar systems for their homes and businesses have made a substantial investment that has lasting value.

Available through September 20, 2014

Special thanks to Community Environmental Council and the Economic Vitality Corp. for bringing us this excellent program. Together, they are furthering responsible and affordable energy use. Visit the CEC and the EVC to learn about more of their ongoing programs at Solarize SLO County.

Solarize EVC

We know solar! Contact Semmes and Co. Builders, Inc. for your building or remodeling project.

There is little not to love about the wonderful home Semmes & Co. built for us, but our favorite features are the solar systems – photovoltaic and hot water – and all that relate to them.

We have a 2.4 KW photovoltaic system that was expected to provide most but not all of our electrical needs.  Now that we have been in the house for a full year and have had our “true up” with PG&E, we have an accurate picture of what the system can do.  We have to pay a service fee to PG&E of about $13 per month for the privilege of being hooked into the grid, so that was an outlay of $156 for the year.  We received a small refund for actual power use because we generated more electricity than we used.  Thus, our electrical bills averaged out to under $13 per month.

Our primary heat source, when needed in the cool weather months, is a high output gas fireplace.  We also use gas for cooking and grilling.  Our gas bills averaged approximately $20 per month over the year, so our total monthly gas and electrical bills for the year have averaged out to about $33.  In previous homes it was more like $300 per month.

Other features of the house contribute to our low energy use, the solar hot water system being a major one.  We try to use hot water-using appliances when the sun is heating water, especially on weekends when electric rates are the lowest.  We don’t know how this system is impacting our electrical bills but it must be helping a great deal.  We also have passive solar heating and thick walls with blown-in insulation that lower heating costs.

It will be a great day when all new homes are required to install solar systems!

by Sandi and Lou Pitelka

On Saturday Oct. 10, Semmes and Co. sponsored me to participate in Solarthon, an annual fundraiser for Grid Alternatives. Grid Alternatives is a nonprofit organization that works to install solar panels for low income families that would otherwise never be able to afford them. The goal is to provide enough panels to produce nearly all of the electricity needs for each family.

One woman thanked the effort stating that her disabled son needed an electric bed and an electric wheel chair which results in high utility bills. We completed the solar arrays for a total of eight homes in one neighborhood.

While Solarthon is an annual event, Grid Alternatives works throughout the year training volunteers for in exchange for free labor.  What a great way to promote social and environmental welfare with the added benefit of teaching people an employable skill.

EF= Energy Factor.The method a water heaters energy efficiency is compared; measuring the amount of hot water produced per unit of fuel consumed. The higher the EF, the more efficient the water heater. Gas water heaters have EF that ranges from .5-.7; Electric models range from .75 to .95.

For this new modern home, Semmes & Co has specified an Accelera 300 ELECTRIC HEAT PUMP WATER HEATER with an EF of 2.5! Heat pumps extract the heat out of the surrounding ambient air.  Check out the Stiebel Eltron Accelera 300 as #1 in efficiency on TopTenUSA website, ranking the nations most efficient equipment.

Of course we are excited to discuss the implementation of this technology, so give us a call with questions!

Accelera 300 cutaway drawing

Heat Pump Technology

 

 

 

Though this custom home is stick-built (as opposed to straw bale or rammed earth) it is still considered a green home because it has been engineered with advanced framing in mind. Simple things like increasing stud spacing, three stud corners, properly sized headers and more are combined to reduce the overall amount of resources used to construct this contemporary craftsman style home.

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