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Four 75-watt solar panels were not enough so I bought 4 -85 watt panels

(Continued from Part 1)

Two slanted walls were poured on the East end. They were 22′ wide at the building and 14′ wide at the East end and went from 8′ to nothing at the end. This was for a roof for the patio and security when I was traveling. Then I had the messy job of coating the outside with tar to seal it. Next a layer of 2″ closed cell styrofoam was installed on the outside walls. Then part of the ditch was back filled to hold the foam in place. The temperature was hot and I was soaked with sweat by 9:30 and the steel deck was so hot it burned my feet. So I started the generator in the RV, turned on the AC, and went to bed. About dark I hooked up a quartz light and worked all night. I extended the metal decking to be even with the offset for the fireplace and installed 1” threaded rod to support the hinges for the patio roof. We poured the 12” concrete slab.

Then forms were set up around the outside and around the stairway opening to pour a three foot wall. We poured it with no problems. The next project was to install 12″ half blocks for solar heat ducts and connect the 6″ PVC air ducts to a plenum where the solar heat panels would be on the wall of the steel building above. Looking back at the half blocks, I would use welded steel culvert if I was to do this again. The limestone dust was a real mess for a couple of years. I also stacked blocks above the center walls in several places to provide support for the garage floor.

Next I had 10 loads of 3/4″ limestone hauled in for a heat sink. The truck drivers were nervous and afraid it would collapse, but they didn’t know how thick it was and all the rebar in it. Then I spent several days shoveling limestone and drinking beer. Da*n it was hot!! I laid out 2″ styrofoam on the rock and then the rebar for the garage floor. It was windy, but the rebar held the foam in place. I propped up the rebar with bricks and poured the floor about 7″ thick. I had previously ordered a 40′ x 60′ steel building and put the anchor bolts for the steel columns in the concrete. Used a piece of ½” plywood and drilled the holes to fit the steel columns and used two nuts to hold the bolts in place and left space under them to reach in with a small trowel and finish the concrete.

Cut and welded 45 degree bends in 15″ steel culvert for air ducts and installed it so the ditch could be backfilled part of the way. Installed the top 4 ‘ of styrofoam on the walls after coating them with tar. Then I covered the top exposed styrofoam with a fiberglass mesh and a concrete based gray epoxy. Foam is fragile and sunlight ruins it over time. With the ditch filled it was time to erect the steel building and the contractor got to work.

The Stairs

Meanwhile, the 5′ diameter 12′ high steel spiral stairs arrived. A friend helped me assemble and install it. There was a 15′ x 24′ opening on the East end of the South wall of the steel building for solar heat. The entire building had been laid out 15 degrees to the West of true South because the afternoon sun is hotter than the morning sun for the solar heat. The opening was filled with steel studs on 16 inch centers and the inside was covered with sheet aluminum, leaving a 2 ” space at the top and bottom for the hot air to circulate. I had a brother that worked for Alcoa and got me scratched 4’x12′ sheets at re-melt prices. I scuffed one side and cleaned them off with solvent. Then the aluminum and the steel studs were sprayed with a black Encore solar coating that soaked up the heat. The outside was covered with sunlight 2 that comes in rolls 49 1/2 inches wide and 50 feet long. I installed it with stainless steel screws and sealed the edges with clear silicone. First I drilled the holes in the steel studs and then drilled larger holes in the sunlight 2 so it wouldn’t split when it was screwed tight. The sunlight 2 must be kept below about 200 degrees F or it will turn yellow and the light can’t get through.

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On my lake home I had blowers to circulate air through the solar heat ducts in the summer with automatic dampers and thermostats. The system circulated the return air in the house when the solar panels were warmer than the return air in the winter. This off grid system doesn’t have unlimited electric power to run a blower system all the time.

I designed a sliding door with a unistrut frame and a barn door track and rollers on top and a barn door track inverted on the bottom to keep the wind from blowing the door off. It is covered in the same white sheet metal as the rest of the building. I used 1/2 ” threaded rod installed in the bottom unistrut and in the track. I had to build a few fancy brackets to hold up the bottom track. On the inside of the building I built a wall with 2x4s and insulated with fiberglass. It was covered on both sides with drywall. The wall was set up with a 2×6 above the lower space on the aluminum at an angle.

The return air comes in at the East end and goes below the 2×6 and up the outdoor side of the panel, then through the space in the top, and down the inside of the panel and goes into the heat plenum. There is an opening in the side of the plenum at about a 20 degree angle with a top hinged sheet of aluminum door about 12″ square. When the blowers are on it is open to let hot air pass into the plenum. When it is cooler in the panels and the thermostat turns the blowers off the aluminum door drops shut to keep cold air out of the air ducts. This happens every night and some days during the winter when sunshine is scarce. I built plywood boxes above the air ducts for the blowers. I started using 24 volt DC blowers. Big mistake!! The blower on the hot air end would burn out and melt the motor insulation. After I went with 120 volt AC blower motors the problem was solved.

Doors, Windows & Wiring

After the steel building was up and the overhead doors were installed, I removed the support walls in the house and installed the glass doors and windows. The next project was the electrical wiring, a diesel generator, and the Trace SW4024 Inverter and batteries. I bought 4 – 75 watt solar panels and mounted them on the south wall of the building and installed 8 golf cart batteries wired at 24 volts. I had a Trace 40 amp solar controller to start, but upgraded later. If I would do it again I would get a larger capacity unit that will take higher voltage from the solar panels. My grandfather used to say, “Too soon old and too late smart.” The next project was to get the wiring and lights installed. I worked for a week on it and everything worked. Pulling wire through conduit alone can be frustrating.

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I bought a 15 Kw diesel generator from China Diesel because I couldn’t find a US made diesel generator anywhere. They said it was called a Shan Dong and was an old design and used Mercedes injectors. It was 1999 and some people were worried about Y2K. I set up the generator and it worked at first, but a year later it was trouble. That was when I realized they stuck the dong to me. It dropped a valve into a cylinder and I tore it down and replaced a piston and sleeve in the cylinder. Replacing a sleeve is real fun under primitive conditions so I moved most of my tools into the shop. Wiring came loose and burned. Then a bolt on the air cleaner vibrated loose and fell into an intake valve and jammed in the cylinder. Next, the bearing in the bull gear wore out and the cam shaft slipped a few teeth on the gear and the valves hit the pistons and broke rocker arms and a lot of other things. (A bull gear is between the end of the crank shaft, the cam shaft, the oil pump, and the injector pump for you folks that haven’t built race cars.) I removed the Chinese junk and purchased a new Perkins diesel engine. The Italian Mech Alta generator is still working fine with the new engine. If I would do it again, I would get a 25 KW generator instead of 15 KW, but it wasn’t available at that time. Running the washer and dryer and the microwave at the same time didn’t work, but they say humans are trainable!!

More Power!

The four 75-watt solar panels were not enough so I bought 4 -85 watt panels and mounted them below the others. Then I had to replace the batteries because my “cook” didn’t understand you can’t use power until the lights go out. (She was very human, but not very trainable.) I bought 16 new batteries. (That cut into my Miller Lite fund) All batteries take care and the lead acid batteries have a short life span if discharged below half. I decided to install a computer controlled solar tracker to follow the sun and put 12 solar panels on it. It gave me more power. Then I replaced the panels with 12- 190 watt panels and 2 -160 watt panels crossways on top and built a tilting rack for the original 8 panels that is now 18 panels. I now have 4200 watts of power. I’m using 48 volts from the panels and 24 volts on the batteries. Remember it is DC power from the panels so you need to use wire that carries about three times the load of an AC circuit. (All you math experts can calculate the area under an AC sine wave and compare it with the straight line of a DC wave.)

Remember that Underwriters Laboratories amperage ratings are for fire protection, not efficiency. (Just use small wire and buy more solar panels if you can’t understand it.) A couple of years ago the batteries needed replacing again so I bought 20 Iron Edison batteries that use potassium hydroxide instead of sulphuric acid electrolyte. They claim a 30 year life span. (I hope to live long enough to replace them.) I had to upgrade the solar controllers to Outback MX 80s.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 3.)

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