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This Version 1 design should be able to ENTIRELY heat homes in virtually all climates in the US! Even better, much of the construction of the house is very standard, using common building materials and construction techniques. This makes the overall cost of the house only moderately more than a conventional stick-built house. Considering the savings that will accrue from NEVER having heating bills EVER AGAIN, even that cost differential would soon pay for itself! That effectively makes this Solar heating system FREE! There will also never be any dependence on foreign oil or other uncertain or expensive heating source.
No one has ever questioned the immense ability of the Sun to heat. But we feel that there has been a serious flaw in all previous approaches. If a solar system was actually designed effective enough to substantially heat a house in winter, an unavoidable result was that the room or house was unbearably hot in summer. Impressive examples of this were the Trombe Wall houses built in southern France in the 1960s. The result has invariably been that very small and/or very inefficient solar systems have been made and sold since then. People spend a few thousand dollars to slap a few collector panels onto their house roof and then declare their house to be solar!
Our approach is extremely different! We feel that a TWO-STEP approach is the correct way to go! We use a truly massive and efficient heat storage system! As much as is possible, we collect enormous amounts of solar heat and immediately send it into that heat storage system. Then, NEARLY ALL of the actual heating of the house is FROM THAT STORED heat. The advantage is that the storage is so huge that its temperature is rather constant! So when heat is provided to any or all rooms of the house, it is from a rather CONSTANT SOURCE! This then provides a COMFORT LEVEL that is comparable to and even BETTER THAN heating from current conventional central warm air furnaces!
In fact, our approach and our system is so sophisticated that it also contains significant capabilities for NATURALLY COOLING the house or any rooms of it. In an awareness that on a bright sunny summer day, a truly effective and efficient solar heating system might (unintentionally) transfer excess heat to one or more rooms of the house, the air conditioning capabilities still ensures nearly CONSTANT ROOM TEMPERATURES!
We just made the outrageous statement of BETTER COMFORT than with conventional fossil-fuel based central forced-air furnaces! Anyone who has ever experienced any previous (alleged) solar heated house attempts sees that as ridiculous! There has always been so much variation in temperature that even Abraham Lincoln might have felt uncomfortable, with cold nights and mornings and intensely hot afternoons! Not so with our NorthWarm Solar systems. The advantage is easy to state! In general, conventional forced-air furnaces CYCLE on and off! You get a few minutes of nice heat coming out of the registers, followed by a few minutes of no heat. On the AVERAGE, the room is around the desired temperature. But with our NorthWarm Solar system, warm air can be provided to any room CONSTANTLY, and since that warmth is being obtained from a relatively constant temperature massive storage system, there is not even the very minor room temperature variations due to that standard cycling of the furnace blower! Actually, really old people might talk about cast iron radiators as being more even and comfortable than modern furnaces, and that was due to the rather constant water temperature going through the radiators. In addition, our Version 1 system is generally designed where the house is Zoned into many separate heated areas, and our system is so sophisticated that SOME ROOMS COULD RECEIVE COOLING AT THE SAME TIME THAT OTHER ROOMS ARE RECEIVING HEATING! Let's see any conventional central furnace system claim to be able to do that!
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The advantages of using a massive heat storage as the source for actually heating the parts of a house are wonderful! Where the solar attempts that we are familiar with are all small and inefficient, to avoid overheating problems, we have now shown WHY that is necessary and unavoidable FOR THOSE SYSTEMS. Our approach is actually an entirely different category of solar heating!
It actually even includes capabilities that are never even needed! Our massive heat storage actually does NOT have to rely on exclusively solar heat! It would be possible to use a wood-burning furnace, or our HeatGreen device which allows decomposing organic materials such as cut lawn grass to give off large amounts of heat which could then be sent into the heat storage system. Even a conventional fossil-fuel furnace COULD be used to heat the storage (UGH!). To show the range of heat sources which could be productively used, even an Autumn bonfire could contribute heat that could be sent into the storage!
This concept of truly massive (~10 or ~15 million Btus) heat storage has even spawned off a variant system which has even more storage capability (like 30 or 40 million Btus), which we call the Sub-Basement system. That system CAN collect and store heat from the late Summer and then Autumn, enough to entirely heat the whole house for much of or all of the winter, WITHOUT EVEN NEEDING ANY FURNACE AT ALL!
The full capabilities of our approach seem to have few limits. We are confident that a Version 1 house could be built in Juneau, Alaska or even Anchorage, Alaska, and STILL provide 100% of the needed solar heat for the entire long winter there! No other solar system has ever even dreamt of such an idea!
Our approach is unique in many ways, with many small details which all contribute to the COMFORT of the people in the house, day or night, winter or summer. A newly-built house in nearly any reasonable climate could use the NorthWarm Version 1 solar heating system for 100% heating (and cooling). For existing houses and buildings, we have a Version 2, which has less capability and slightly less comfort assurance, but which can provide much of the needed heating for many existing homes in many climates.
For solar space heating, the early 1980s was a brief boom time. Government tax incentives and rebates created a huge demand for solar devices, and a large number of companies popped up to sell things. Unfortunately, many of those companies didn't really know what they were doing! Manufacturers made a lot of different kinds of products, and some even did some research to advance their craft. Installers appeared everywhere, and suddenly EVERYONE was an expert!
It was astounding to witness the insanity of the time. We also operate a company that makes very high efficiency fireplaces and woodstoves Woodburning Furnace - JUCA. A customer buying one of our woodstoves (in about 1980) was bragging about the solar heating system that he had just had installed, for which he had paid $7,000. When I inquired about details, it turned out that he had received three 4 x 8 solar panels mounted on his garage's roof, that was meant to heat his domestic hot water. During succeeding months, he became disillusioned with the performance of it (and therefore loved the total-house-heating performance of our $500 woodstove he bought even more!) Since he realized we were knowledgeable in the subject, he would occasionally call for possible suggestions from us. (He had earlier given up on the installer and the manufacturer of the solar collectors.) After a number of such conversations, we eventually realized that the garage was not on the south side of his house and that the collectors were facing a little north of west! It's astounding that someone would install them pointing such a weird direction, and then to charge him so much for it, too!
Many of the manufacturers were equally unprepared to sell large numbers of products. Most manufactured liquid (water) based systems, and seemed completely oblivious to the concept of electrolysis. This basic chemistry concept relates to ion transport between dissimilar metals in such a system. Aluminum and copper are particularly susceptible to corrosion due to electrolysis. Many of those companies (including nationally known companies) offered Five- or Seven- or Ten-year warranties on their products, only to find failure in half of their products within a year due to electrolysis!
Narrowing the field down to intelligently designed and intelligently installed solar systems, the better quality solar space-heating products that are still available on the market have always been (and are still) cost-ineffective. That is, they would not pay for themselves in fuel savings during their expected lifetimes.
The government also financed a few totally solar-heated, moderate-sized houses in the 1980s. In one, a $30,000 house had a solar heating system installed that cost about $700,000. It worked pretty well! But, it could never pay for itself.
More commonly, a good quality 4-foot by 8-foot solar collector panel often costs over $1000, with a final, installed operational cost somewhat higher. Assuming it is properly sloped, aiming South, in January, under PERFECT weather conditions, it can intercept all of the Sun's light and heat, about 300 Btu/hr/sq.ft around noon (considerably less at other hours), or a sunny day's total of about 1600 Btu/day/sq.ft. Therefore, the entire collector panel can intercept 1600 x 4 x 8 or about 51 KBtu per DAY. An well-insulated, average sized house near Chicago will lose about 40,000 Btu per HOUR on a very cold day, or 960,000 Btu per DAY. To totally supply this much heat, one would need about 19 of those collectors, at an installed cost of well over $30,000, and it would only be completely effective on a perfectly sunny day. (During the winter, Chicago skies only average about 35% clearness, so it would probably need three times as many collectors for real life circumstances).
With this setup, the realistic conventional heating fuel savings would be about $300-$400 per year (about $60 per month). Sounds impressive, huh? The system would actually have to operate perfectly for about 80 years to re-coup the initial cost, not counting repairs, maintenance and lost interest on money that could have been left in the bank! This argument is basically why solar heating has remained impractical for space heating of houses --- it requires a lot of Nature's cooperation, and even then is not cost effective.
Some attempts at partially supplying solar space heating have been made. In general, these same arguments apply. Installing a few collectors to reduce house space heating might seem like a good idea, but we are not aware of any existing system that could even pay for its own cost, much less accomplish actual heating bill savings.
Staying for a moment more with existing systems, A common "solar home" has three or four of those 4 x 8 collector panels. Better-planned installations have some heat storage provision, which might involve 20 tons of rock heat storage. Let's examine this. If the three collectors were perfectly efficient, they could collect, on a perfectly sunny day in January, at noon, about 300 x 4 x 8 x 3 or 28,800 Btu/hr. If the outdoor temperature was mild, about 15 degrees F, then this COULD be enough to (momentarily) supply the entire (very-well-insulated) house's heat needs. But that's ONLY just at noon, and there is no room for clouds, or temperatures below 15, or even the system inefficiencies that always exist. If any of those circumstances apply, then it cannot entirely do the heating job (even at noon!), and backup heat is therefore necessary. The 20 tons of rock storage could hold up to 200,000 Btu of heat, but even that would only assist the solar heating system for far less than a day (actually, just a few hours) of cloudy weather. (Remember that 960,000 Btu/day house loss (for a decently insulated house) mentioned above?) The result is that you regularly need to use conventional fossil fuel heating to do the bulk of the heating. The approximately $10,000 that people spend to have such a system installed, will never pay for itself. BUMMER!
We designed a demonstration house (illustrations). A main floor of 1600 sq. ft. includes a huge Great Room (20 feet by 40 feet with a 22 foot high cathedral ceiling!) An upper floor of 800 sq. ft. of bedrooms and baths includes a Master Bedroom of 16 feet by 20 feet. A lower floor of 1250 sq. ft. could include office and workshop space and maybe a family room/den. This is a total of about 3,650 sq ft of living space, larger than most houses. We then bought vacant property near South Bend, Indiana, one of the FOUR cloudiest areas in the United States. South Bend is also known for its nasty lake-effect snows, and generally nasty winters!
We chose the idea of building a larger-than-normal house in a nastier-than-normal climate, to show the great performance of this solar heating system. Everyone would be justifiably skeptical (mostly due to the horrible reputation solar received in the 1980s due to companies like those mentioned above!) So, if someone in Kansas, or Virginia, or Wyoming, who planned to build a 2,200 sq. ft. house in their climate, knew that we could heat a bigger house in a worse climate, credibility could be present!
Instead of the 96 sq. ft. collecting area of a traditional solar heating system, this house was designed with nearly 900 sq. ft. of collecting area, around NINE times as much collecting area. Our unique system even improves on this, making its performance equal to better than 14 times the heat-gaining ability of a common so-called "solar house."
Under those perfect conditions referred to above (at noon, when the normal solar heating system could momentarily heat the whole house, OUR system could be heating 14 houses! If there is just 1 1/2 hours of good sunlight around noon on that day, enough heat can be gained to supply heat for the entire house for the 24 hours of a full day in the dead of winter!
Our system has such high performance capabilities, that it makes sense to have substantial heat storage capability. Instead of the 200,000 Btu (mentioned above) of common systems (if they even HAVE storage capacity!), our system has much more! The actual storage capacity will depend on the climate and size of the house. The large South Bend house described above was designed with approximately 10,000,000 Btu of storage (FIFTY times that of other systems!)
That much storage would allow going for WEEKS without any Sun, even in the intensely cold days of January or February, while still maintaining consistent and constant 72 F temperature throughout the house! And, even if this would ever happen (it has not in either South Bend or Chicago in the past 50 years!), a single really sunny day could replenish storage enough (2.5 MBtu) for most of ANOTHER WEEK without any Sun!
Our system's performance is so great that it almost seems pointless to even compare previous solar space heating systems with it!
To confirm all of this, we obtained ALL the US Weather Bureau records from their office at the South Bend Airport since they started keeping records in the 1940s. We then did massive computer simulations to see how our system would have fared in each of the winters. In early 1961, there was a stretch of ten days when the sun never shone, while the outdoor temperatures hovered near zero and often fell below. Our simulations show that the large house described above would have easily gone through that period. Actually, our simulations showed that the heat storage would STILL have had about 5 MBtu of heat available, about half of its total capacity. Our design and storage provisions could have kept the entire house at 72°F for twice as long, under those horrible conditions! NO BACK-UP HEAT was EVER needed during ANY of the nearly 50 years of weather records we did computer simulations for! Actually, it was rare that the simulations showed the storage going below half full! (These simulations and results are available at the end of this page).
ANY method of providing that 60 million Btus would heat your house! You could use the conventional fuels mentioned above, or a woodstove (and several cords of wood). We see solar heating as a realistic possibility. A Chicago winter usually involves around 100 pretty nasty days. And Chicago, in winter, is a really cloudy place, with only around 35% clear days. The chart shown here is for a small town near Chicago, where we can see that there are around 20% of days that are actually clear and another 20% which are partly cloudy, which results in the 35% overall clearness. That means around 35 nice and clear days to do serious collection of solar energy. (Most salespeople would incorrectly be using all 100 days, in a REALLY optimistic sales presentation!) We also provide the Version 1 house with a HUGE heat storage of around 10 million Btu, and at the start of the winter, that storage is full and available. So, we don't quite need to provide all 60 million, but around 50 million Btu collected in an entire winter would do the trick. With 35 available days of sun, that means we need to think in terms of collecting around 1.5 million Btus per sunny day.
Do you see where we are going? Now we know that TO PROVIDE 100% SOLAR HEATING for the WHOLE house for the WHOLE winter we need to capture 1.5 million Btu per sunny day. If we think in terms of five strong hours of sunshine, that means we need to collect around 300,000 Btu/hour of bright sunlight. As it happens, one square foot of surface gets around 340 Btu/hour of sunlight on a completely sunny winter day. This means we need around 900 square feet of collector surface to get the needed 300,000 Btu total per hour. This is a crude version of the mathematical derivation we do the Engineering on in determining the area of collection area. Our system actually has a number of other (proprietary) design features where we are actually able to capture about double that amount! In any case, we see here that IN ORDER TO PROVIDE ALL THE WINTER HEATING FOR THIS VERY LARGE HOUSE IN A TRULY NASTY CLIMATE, we need around 900 square feet of collection area. (The actual math is somewhat more elegant, but the point is essentially the same.) All of this logic is very straightforward and even obvious. Enough solar heat must be present, must then be collected, must then be stored, and must later be distributed as needed. Simple, really!
This should also make it clear why a few "bought panels" with a hundred total square feet of collection area has no chance whatever to seriously offer savings on heating bills. That's why no other company even dreams of their products fully heating any house. It doesn't matter if they would use special glass, or special collector configurations, or special insulation, unless they used many hundreds of square feet of collectors, no possible arrangement could entirely heat a house in a cold climate. ONLY the NorthWarm Version 1 design is EASILY able to completely provide all the SOLAR heat for even a very large house like this one!
The Version 1 house actually has a little lower heat loss than the 60 MBtu used above, mostly due to fairly common modern construction techniques, so the numbers are even a little better. The discussion above is meant to show that a solar heating concept is actually a realistic possibility for existing fairly normal homes, in addition to the specially built houses like the Version 1 house. (We arranged a variation on the Version 1, called the Version 2, for using much of this system for an existing house, and a link to a description of it is at the bottom of this page.)
You may not have realized it, but NO solar heating supplier has ever even mentioned air conditioning! They are so focused on trying to get every available Btu of heat, that they seem to ignore the situations where a room or the house would become TOO hot! Our goal is really not "heating" but "comfort". Because of that, we early included an air conditioning provision for the Version 1 system. If you want the house at 71°F, we intend it to BE 71°F! With the incredible heating performance of our system, we realized that cooling may sometimes be necessary to accomplish that. Of course, in the summer, the air conditioning portion would operate separately, to again keep the house at whatever you set the thermostat at. In response to watching the California energy crisis of 2000, we even chose to offer a version of the air conditioning system to everyone for free. A link is near the bottom of this page.
Very constant, comfortable heat. NO heating bills. Sounds expensive, huh?
Actually, it isn't. Well, at least, not horribly! We have sort of blue-collar attitudes toward such things. Super-rich people do not NEED to save on their heating bills! And, they can afford to pay for extremely expensive systems that might not actually work like their promoters say they will. We're not like that. Our goal is to (1) save people (who actually NEED to save) money on their heating bills and (2) be kinder to the environment than society has been in the past.
We actually have FOUR different versions solar heating systems. Three of them are fairly closely related, with the fourth being rather different.
The version we have been describing here is the BEST of the group. It is the most automatic, with the most even and comfortable and consistent heating for the house. It REQUIRES that the house be designed and built with this system integrally part of it. House size is pretty flexible, although the house needs to be relatively squarish in shape and it must have one sloping wall. That wall does NOT have to all be one surface; it could have set-backs like is popular with many modern condos. Interior floor plans are also quite flexible, with room locations and layouts very adaptable to owners' desires. (It does NOT require a giant Great Room; we just thought that such a huge room would emphasize the tremendous performance of this Solar heating system!)
There are links to the other versions of Solar heating systems below.
Since people who have interest in this are likely to be all over the country, we came to realize that we could not become licensed to be General Contractors in all the possible jurisdictions where our designs might be used. That's just as well, because we would have had trouble having constructions crews agree to travel all over the place, and we also might not have been aware of nuances of local building statutes.
Therefore, we think it generally most appropriate to work with architects while they are designing houses. We should be able to supply them the bulk of the preliminary drawings they would need to work from, so their job should actually become easier! Extensive communication between the architect, the homebuyer and us would be involved, primarily because of all the extensive flexibility that our Version 1 system permits.
The total cost of a Version 1 system will consist of four main expenses:
These considerations suggest that the grand total differential expense of this Solar system could range from a low of around $12K to a high of more than three times that. (Most of the construction of the house is pretty traditional.) If a specific contractor has already built one of our Version 1 houses, it is liable to be around $20K total differential.
Depending on the size of the home and the climate it is in, the annual savings on heating bills may be $1,000 to $2,000. This means that the Version 1 Solar heating system should completely pay for itself in 5 to 20 years. After that, further savings are just gravy! If the climate is such that summer air-conditioning savings also can occur, there may be more savings yet, with even shorter payback period! All this suggests that there are a couple additional values involved. First, the security of KNOWING that the house will be fully heated regardless of political events in the Mid-East or decisions of executives or politicians that might affect fuel supplies or prices. Second, given these things, the house VALUE would probably be increased more than the cost of the system, because MANY people would want a house with such security.
This version is an air-based system, so there is no electrolysis threat to its longevity. Actually, long-term maintenance should be LESS involved than for a conventional gas or oil furnace. We think that air filters and standard air handler maintenance should usually be all the attention this system should ever require, for the lifetime of the house!
Let's see. You'd ALSO likely become the center of the social circle of the town, since EVERYONE would be curious about your very unique house. (That might be a reason for that Great Room, after all!) And, if you like the idea of getting media attention from the local newspapers, radio and TV, you'd probably have the opportunity.
We DO have a little bit of bad news. While our South Bend Demonstration House was being built, some complications occurred (most specifically, a divorce!) Because of these unforeseen circumstances, the Demonstration House has not yet been built. (The photos included here are of a 1/12 scale model.) Even without this having yet been built, we believe that we have proven the performance of the system. The logic explained above should make the general point. In addition, a link below can show the daily results of any year's simulation for our proposed large Demonstration House in the harsh South Bend winters.
The design is specifically NOT based on exotic glass or exotic materials or insulations in collector panels, so there are no mumbo-jumbo arguments about using high-emissivity glass or other advanced subjects. This system is more a meat-and-potatoes approach that uses conventional (soda-lime) glass, normal building insulation, normal construction methods (for the most part) and a special large heat storage facility beneath the concrete floor of the lowest floor. With very large collector area and very substantial heat storage ability, we feel the logic of the system is obvious. If it isn't, please e-mail us, and we can discuss whatever subjects you would like. We have a Physicist available to field your questions, so, hopefully, we can respond to any technical subject you might bring up!
We mentioned that our design will not overheat the house. We actually include SEVERAL defense methods regarding overheating. Depending on whether it is Summer or Winter or Spring, or day or night, or the status of the storage, any or all of the systems may automatically come into play.
We have decided (in November 2001) to present one of the sub-systems of this Solar Version 1 system, as a separate presentation. It only represents about 10% of the complete effectiveness of the Version 1 system, but we realize that it can have separate applications on its own. This portion of the Solar system is normally involved in providing "make-up" air for the house. Our approach to this greatly reduces the heating load of the whole house system, and, as a bonus, also can provide (in nearly all climates) virtually FREE air-conditioning for ANY whole house! As indicated, we realize that this sub-system could have many applications in existing houses, so we created a web-page that Home Air Conditioning - and More! presents this intake system separately. Even if you do not want to use the Version 1 HEATING system, the FREE air-conditioning system should be worth a look!
Eventually, we think that the Solar Version 1 heating system will even be practical for totally heating economy tract homes. At the moment, however, we will concentrate on stick-built, individually designed homes.
Please contact us so that we may discuss the possibilities for your future building needs.
Solar Heating System Info - Our Version E-mail to: Public4@mb-soft.com
Performance and storage will be great, but the necessarily smaller collector area and storage space make it possible that back-up heat will sometimes be necessary for heating the house.
This version has potentially higher installation costs than either of the air-based systems above. Version 3 would certainly involve much more maintenance time and cost. It also has all the advantages and disadvantages of a water-based system.
It has very good performance but has intrinsically less performance ability than any of the above Versions. Version 4 is a low-tech approach to solar heating.
We have no intention in trying to "cut in" to the market for such products! Each of the four Versions (especially Version 1) is intended and designed and engineered for SERIOUS solar space heating; situations where no competitive technology exists that can do the job!
SO, for the multitude of people who read about the Versions, and then ask us to supply them with something that might go on their roof, they're barking up the wrong tree! The only Version that could possibly be applied to an existing roof is Version 4, by far the least sophisticated and efficient of the four! And, even then, the Version 4 system involves far more than just nailing some panels to a roof. So, please realize that the Versions are NOT competitors to those available roof panel systems. We actually have no competition at all, because no one seems to know how to ENTIRELY and COMFORTABLY heat a home exclusively with solar energy. Except us!
I suppose that technically that is not quite a lie. At noon, on a perfectly clear day, it might be capable of creating the number of watts that was promoted during a sales pitch. The problem is, at 2 pm, it is liable to be down to 800 watts, but that is still on a perfectly clear day. As mentioned far above, Chicago in winter only has around 35% of clear skies. So, on the average, that means 330 watts at noon and 270 watts a while later. In an entire perfectly clear day, around 5 kWh might be collected, but that would only average around 1.7 kWh per day near Chicago. Unfortunately, the efficiency of solar panels is very low. The only panels that yet have tolerable prices are based on a Cadmium Sulfide technology, which only has around 7% overall conversion efficiency. So now we are down to (1.7 kWh * 0.07) around 120 watt-hours of electricity At current electric rates of 15 cents per kWh, that would be a savings of around 2 cents per day, or about $7 per year. Now, does it make sense to pay $4,000+ for any device that would save you $7 per year? If it lasted for 600 years, without needing any maintenance, and if you didn't consider the interest you would have earned in the bank with that $4,000, it might eventually pay for itself. After that 600 years, under those conditions, it might start producing actual savings. Do you see why photovoltaic electric systems are nowhere close to yet being cost effective?
In addition, the electricity is created as Direct Current, like a battery. And, without some sort of storage, it would just disappear and be wasted. So, you have to have substantial exotic batteries to save that potential of 5 kWh that could be collected in a day. And, unless you intend to only use appliances that use direct current, you would need an Inverter to convert the electricity to 120 volts AC. These devices have losses, too, so final performance is reduced.
In the links at the bottom of this page, click on the one about Photovoltaic Cells to read far more.
The general point being made, is that salespeople of photovoltaic equipment tend to make very impressive claims for the performance of what they sell, in order to justify the rather high prices. But, since it is NOT sunny 24 hours a day, and any climate has cloudy days, and very little solar energy is collectable early or late in the day, the reality is that benefits are FAR less than the ideal scenario presented during the purchase! If you're seriously considering such equipment, ask to talk about these matters with several owners (who are NOT connected with that company!).
Natural Solar Heating, Air Conditioning
Solar Heated House
Home Air Conditioning