Thursday, October 30, 2008

Feeling Blue

Paul, I have to ask; why didn't you paint the barrels flat black? Is that color blue more retentive?

Like Michael, I was wondering about the color of the barrels. Also, do you have a way to close things up on a cold night to minimize heat loss back through the glass? Can you monitor the actual temperature of the barrels?
Good questions!

In summer of 2007 I painted the south side of one barrel flat black. The barrel was positioned with similar barrels at the same initial temperature and in the same relative position to the sun. At the end of the day the black barrel was two degrees warmer than the blue barrels.

Let's approximate the physics and . . . on second thought, let's skip the details. A black barrel would absorb a few hundred BTUs above what a blue barrel would absorb. In my situation, it's not significant. I did one test on one day and at the end of the day decided I didn't like looking at black. Rationally black is better but emotionally blue is my choice.

Here's a quote from the Whole Building Design Guide website. The color of the mass surface is less important than originally thought; "natural" colors (e.g. colors in the 0.5 to 0.7 absorption range) are quite effective. (

I don't have a way to reduce heat loss at night. I researched options and couldn't find a good solution that balanced initial cost, installation labor, function, aesthetics and daily operation.

On the web I've seen photos of external shutters that are hinged on the bottom. In the morning they are opened and lay flat on the ground. They have a reflective surface and increase the sunlight entering the glazing. At night the insulated shutters are closed to reduce heat loss. This would work but seems like an excessive solution for my situation.

In the end I decided to do nothing and accept heat loss. If this becomes a problem then I'll find a solution in the future.

I have an infrared thermometer and do measure the temperatures of the surfaces of the barrels. The thermometer enables me to measure the temperatures at the top and bottom of the barrels and determine the stratification. Also, I can measure surfaces around the room. On a cold morning before the sun enters the room the warmest spot is near the barrels. The ceiling above the windows is the coolest spot.

Here's a prior post about the infrared thermometer and colors.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Storing Heat

A comment on my previous post contained this request: "Would you be interested in recapitulating what you did to maximize your south facing windows to make the most of your solar capture." Interested? Definitely!

There are four aspects to solar heat.
  • Orientation - Windows must face solar south to maximize solar heat gain.
  • Glazing - Based on the size of the building a sufficient amount of glass with a high solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) must be installed.
  • Insulation - Sufficient insulation must be quality installed to minimize heat loss.
  • Mass - Sufficient quality mass must be present to capture and retain heat.
A book could be written on each of the above items but the request in the comment focuses on the subject of mass.

Heat can be stored in several types of mass -- concrete, stone, steel, adobe, water, etc. I chose to store heat in water which holds about three times more heat by volume than concrete. The installation of water-filled barrels was less expensive and took less labor than any other option I considered.

Water-filled barrels to store heat.
Water-filled barrels to store heat. The barrels are exposed to direct sunlight. (Larger version)

The challenge was to do something functional that would be somewhat attractive. When I decided to build an "attached greenhouse" I conceived of a functional structure with a stone floor and as much salvaged material as possible. I always plan projects with Julie. As the discussion evolved she wanted more living space with a relaxed atmosphere. In the end we decided to lay barrels on their sides to create a lower shelf that would not block as much view out the windows. This reduced the volume of water from 14 vertical barrels containing 770 gallons to 8 horizontal barrels containing 440 gallons. This is a significant reduction but the extra mass is needed only for a short period in the coldest part of the winter.

Picket fence to hide barrels.
Picket fence to hide barrels. (Larger version)

The south sides of the barrels are exposed to direct sunlight. The north sides are hidden by a picket fence (Julie's idea) that allows air circulation. The shelf above the barrels is plywood. We have concrete board on hand and we are searching for tile to finish the shelf. The addition of concrete board, thinset and tile will provide more heat storage.

Sunlight on tile over concrete.
Sunlight on tile over concrete. (Larger version)

We installed a tile floor above concrete mixed on site with cement and crushed glass. This provides additional heat storage but the amount is minimal compared to the water. The sun hits the north part of floor that isn't shaded by the shelf. As winter progresses the sun will move deeper into the room and more floor will receive direct sun but more floor will be shaded. It will be interesting to see the sun and shade patterns as the solar year progresses.

This is a portion of what we've done to store heat. I haven't addressed the solar closet which is an additional heat store that I'll discuss sometime in the future. Also, I found a section of used hot water baseboard heater ($20 from Habitat for Humanity Store) that I'll adapt to collect heat and pipe into additional water store in another room. I plan on a thermosiphon loop rather than using a pump.

Here are three previous posts that deal with passive solar heat:

Free Heat
Construction Update
A Heated Response

These external links have good ideas and background knowledge.

Passive Solar Architecture - Heating
Solar DIY Space Heating Projects

(In my next post I'll respond to questions related to wind and solar electric generation. In a future post I'll address minimizing heat in the sun room in the hottest part of the year.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Six Degrees

As our supper guests left last night I noticed it felt much cooler than usual for 8 PM. A check of the thermometer showed 33 degrees. It hasn't been that cold this fall even in the early morning hours. It was definitely time to bring in the last two flowers from the deck.

This morning I got up about six. The house was comfortable. We have no heat other than the passive solar from the sun room. The temperature in the sun room was 65 degrees. The outside temperature was 6 degrees.

Snow on the mountain.
The first snow of the season fell on the mountain last weekend. (Larger version)

Just after we finished breakfast this coyote came through the yard. (Larger version)

National Forest.
This is a forest service road on the edge of the national forest near where we have been cutting firewood. (Larger version)

Rabbit eating a mum.
We had a large potted mum sitting on a low retaining wall for about a week and assumed it was safe. This rabbit proved us wrong. Evidently he has an appetite for blossoms, leaves and stalks.. (Larger version)

Sun room.
The eastern half of the sun room. There are five additional windows and about 15 feel to the left of this view. (Larger version)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I Don't Know Why

Socialism is bad! As Americans we know this to be true.

I wasn't taught about the horrors of socialism in high school or college. I guess it wasn't necessary to teach what is obvious, what is common knowledge. However, I am confused as to why we have some socialism.

We have socialized education aka 'public schools'. Is socialized education to blame for the United States falling behind some other countries in areas like science? Do the countries that excel in education have socialized education also?

We have socialized libraries. This is one of my favorite forms of socialism! Some free market, free enterprise capitalists may not share my pleasure but I thoroughly enjoy the act of selecting a book, placing my card on the check-out machine, scanning the book and borrowing the book without paying.

We have socialized military and socialized police protection. That's not the end of the list. Socialized highways! There must be others I could identify with a little thought.

In spite of the above exceptions, we know socialism is bad and that must include socialized health care. I can't explain how we are ranked 34th in health care behind so many countries with socialized care. That's a mystery. I don't know why.

It's personally painful but I need to plug my ears to the moans of the elderly and shut my eyes to the suffering of children and oppose all national health care plans. It's my duty as an American.

I don't know why socialism in all its forms is bad but, as an American, I know it's bad.

A Good Day

Today: A 30 percent chance of showers, mainly before 11am. Partly cloudy, with a high near 61. Windy, with a southwest wind between 36 and 43 mph, with gusts as high as 65 mph.
There are those who advocate solar only and shun wind. Their arguments are valid -- moving parts, periodic maintenance, low sustained wind speeds. One extra solar panel can offset the electricity generated by a 400 watts generator on a 45 feet tower. Technically, they are right.

However, I chose to install a wind generator and am pleased with it. The winds began yesterday morning and my batteries were full before noon. This morning they are near full from the reduced overnight winds. Today I'll listen to the occasional shriek of the generator as wind gusts of 30 to 35 mph flex the blades before the electronic brake engages. Rather than an alarm it has become a pleasant musical sound. It's a sound that warms my self-sufficient heart.

I installed the system four years ago and powered it up on October 6. The following week a windy period began and the shriek wasn't as comforting since I was listening and watching to make sure my workmanship was equal to the challenge. On the first windy night Julie found it impossible to sleep and asked that I flip the switch to engage the brake. Now, we sleep through the music.

I live in a low area on the southwest side of a cinder cone that protects us from the worst of the wind so we'll not get sustained speeds as predicted but we'll enough wind to make it a good day for generating electricity.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Two Near Fatalities

September 30: I vaguely saw something in the head lights as I drove slowly up the rutted drive to our house. It looked like a small branch from a tree lying across the left tire rut. I was towing a trailer full of water, talking with Julie and the image registered slowly in my consciousness so I didn't hit the brakes. As I passed the spot I wondered where the branch would have come from since it hadn't been windy that day. Could it have been a snake?

I stopped and walked back to find the rut empty. It must have been a snake. I was concerned that the snake was injured so I began looking underneath the closest Juniper. In the dark I couldn't see anything but I heard a distinctive rattle. That was encouraging. I drove to the house, got a flashlight and walked back to the tree. The snake began rattling again and didn't have a sign of an injury.

How did I miss him? Rather how did he avoid me? I've never seen a rattlesnake move fast enough to avoid the tires given my speed. Regardless, I'm glad he wasn't injured. He's only the third snake that I've seen this year.

October 8: We were driving home after staying late in town for a meeting of the Men's Group. I was driving and, once again, Julie and I were talking. The road was dark; there were neither head lights nor tail lights as far as I could see. I was doing the speed limit of 50 when I saw a shape crossing the center line into my lane. A porcupine! There wasn't time to stop so I let off the gas and pulled left into the westbound lane.

I knew it was going to be close but then I heard a noise. Damn! I didn't quite make it and must have caught his tail. We stopped, turned around and went back to the spot. Nothing! I checked the side of the road. Nothing.

Hopefully I caught just the end of his hind most quills and didn't injure him seriously.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

From Another Perspective

"You Americans pay taxes and want the government to leave you alone. In the UK we pay taxes and expect service."

I listened to her statement and thought "She's right! We do want to be left alone."

This summer we had a surprise visit from a young couple who are former neighbors. The wife is from England but has lived in South America, Mexico and Arizona. Currently the couple live in Missouri. During their visit she made the above eye-opening statement.

Today I was reading a BBC news article when I found this statement. "One of the big problems he sees is that Americans have been taught to believe that government is the problem, not the solution." (

The BBC article was an introduction to a four-part broadcast about the United States. The episodes will look at the subjects of US history, war, faith, and immigration. The listing for tomorrow night's first episode: "Simon Schama travels through America to dig deep into the conflicts of its history as a way to understand the country's contemporary political situation."

I'd like to see this BBC series and listen to more people from other countries talk openly about the US. It's always enlightening and refreshing to see myself and my world from another perspective.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Religious Crisis

I believe in the natural world and evolution. In a sense, they are my religion. I define religion as that which gives us a point of reference, that which anchors us in an environment of diverse and conflicting claims and opinions.

Plants and animals compete with one another to acquire what they need for the immediate moment and the cyclical seasons of drought and winter. Our ancestors lived this way. Hay was gathered, root cellars were filled, meat was smoked, dried or salted for the winter months. In the spring the cycle began again as gardens were laid out and sown.

Saving, preparing, storing for the future. This makes sense to me. The current economic system does not. It violates my religion.

As I read news articles the underlying assumption is that much the world, and the United States in particular, lives on credit. Sometimes credit is necessary but not as a way of life. A student graduating from school may need to buy the first auto on credit in order to commute to work. Makes sense. But, credit as a way of life does not.

I was surprised a few years ago when we decided to buy an auto. The salesman's first question was "how much can you afford per month." Credit? Buy on time? A person my age should be able to pay cash.

We have been trained to be consumers, to be citizens in a disposable society. Our ancestors lived in the cycles of the season, our fathers lived in the cycles of the automobile as new models were unveiled each year. We no longer lives in cycles as new products are continually being promoted and advertised and credit plans are being offered.

About forty years ago I purchased an item on time from Sears. When I got the first payment notice the minimum payment was only six dollars. I did the calculations and discovered two things. First, it would take years and an enormous amount of interest to pay off a balance of $200. Second, I realized Sears is not a retail business. Retail items are only a front to a financial services business that actually seeks wealth by charging interest. It was a valuable realization and lesson.

The model I discovered in Sears has become the dominant model that is supported by Congress and our elected leaders.

I have yet to read that either presidential candidate has addressed the real problem behind the current economic crisis -- a failure to save, a failure to prepare for an uncertain future, a failure to exercise restraint when targeted by advertising, a failure to conserve, a failure to seek contentment and happiness in family, friends, community, fulfilling work and within one's self rather than in goods and items.

The world religions with which I'm somewhat familiar advocate wisdom and the non-material. I know of none that advocate gluttony, greed, hoarding and amassing things.

Jesus said "you cannot serve God and mammon" (mammon: material wealth or possessions especially as having a debasing influence) but the Christians in this country are determined to prove him wrong. It's not just the Christians but all religions that have become servants to the economic system. Perhaps you might exclude some groups like the Amish; their mistakes are elsewhere.

In my opinion, we don't have an economic crisis. We have a religious crisis -- a crisis among Christians, Jews, Muslims, Humanitarians and others. We have a crisis among evolutionists and naturists like myself. We are not free of responsibility.

We have a crisis and we have no leadership. Nor does it appear we we will have any leadership regardless of the outcome of the election.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Backpacking, Cats and Nurturing Plants

We should be in the Grand Canyon. We have a permit and our packs are ready but..... I tried to finish too much work this morning and caused us to get a late start. We stopped in town and when Julie got out her foot began hurting with a sharp pain. We had planned two nights so we decided to cancel tonight and leave early in the morning.

The temperatures have dropped and there's a 50% prediction of rain in the canyon with some healthy winds. Many years ago I learned bad weather is the best time to hike and backpack. Fewer people are out, streams and waterfalls are flowing and the world takes on a different look. Personally, I hope it rains. I have some good memories of camping in the rain. In fact, I asked Julie to marry me in a tent during a downpour. Good memories!

Last week I got curious and started counting plants. In the house and on the deck we have 107 potted plants -- peppers, tomatoes, chinese evergreen, philodendron, african violet and several other species.

Research indicates people who have pets live longer. Recently I read that research revealed that people who care for house plants live longer also. It appears caring for plants can have the same health and longevity benefits as caring for a pet. That's a surprise -- a welcome surprise.

Julie is fostering two cats, a black one and a white one. Well, technically they are both black but one does have a small white patch on it's belly. It's the only way to tell them apart. Whenever one cat did something one of us would ask, "which one was that? the black one or the white one?" In the first two weeks it was almost impossible to catch them since they had been born as feral kittens. "Which one? Beats me."

Curious Cats.
Curious Cats. (Larger version)

We bought two identical collars and put a black ring on one collar. The black cat has the pink collar. The white cat has the pink collar with a black ring. There was no logic to which cat received which collar.

I had one flower pot of which I was fond. I bought it at Habitant for Humanity for one dollar. It was hand painted with an scene from Africa, a large tree, a rising sun and an elephant. One of the cats toppled it to the floor. Darned cats!

Flower pot broken by a cat.
Flower pot broken by a cat. (Larger version)

It's an old joke. "Do you like cats? I like cats too. Want to swap recipes?" I told Julie but she failed to see the humor and replied, "That's terrible!"

Each week the cats are put on display in town and are listed on a website as available for adoption. No takers yet.

Truthfully, every week I'm relieved when they come back home. In spite of their destructive curiosity and playfulness I've grown attached to them.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


We met tonight for the first time this semester. The Men's Group has started a third year with some new members. The organizer is a psychologist and equal member of the group. He always leads the first session and volunteers lead the other sessions.

We don't have a true agenda. Normally a topic is tossed out and discussion begins. We let the conversation move with the group's interest and don't always stay on the initial topic.

Tonight we were presented with a list of stereotypes. As I read the list I was reminded how little I know about men. It's not surprising because we men generally don't open up and talk.

Here's the list.
  • Most men think mainly about _____________.
  • Most men deal with conflict by ___________.
  • Most men value ____________ above all else.
  • Most men express their feelings by _____________.
  • Most men expect women to _____________.
  • Most men try to demonstrate their worth by ___________.
  • Most men define power in terms of ____________.
  • When men start to feel close to other men, most _________.
  • When men start to feel close to women, most ___________.
  • When men start to feel vulnerable, most _____________.
  • When men start to feel a lack of control, most _________.

Each item was paired with a personalized item like this:
  • Most men think mainly about _____________.
  • I think mainly about ______________.

Tough issues. I don't know about most men and I have trouble completing the personalize items about myself. However, I have a plan. I'm going to ask Julie to complete the items. I think she probably knows men and knows me better than I know myself.

Hmmm? Is it a gender stereotype to say that about her because she's a female?

One of the new guys volunteered to bring a topic for next week. It's going to be a good semester.