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samerickson89 02-17-16 12:32 PM

New to forum, and new home owner!
Hi everyone, I'm Sam. I just bought a house in east central Illinois, and since before I even moved in I already had a million plans to improve the house and property. But my number one priority is getting to a point where I'm able to call up the power company and tell them I'm done with their highway robbery! Fortunately, the seller left what seems to be (to my VERY limited knowledge) a pretty good generator, uninstalled, in the shed out back. The breaker box in the house has an automatic transfer switch next to it, but obviously that isn't hooked up to anything yet. What I'd really like to do is get some solar panels up first, with the generator as a backup, then later on down the road put in geothermal heating/cooling. If anyone has recommendations on where a total newbie can start digging up some good info, I'd love to hear them! And if there are any details I can provide that would help you make recommendations, I'd be happy to give them to you. Thanks in advance!

pletby 02-17-16 02:37 PM

Welcome to the forum and congratulations on your new home! I'm sure the regulars here will chime in with what projects you might consider doing first.

MEMPHIS91 02-17-16 06:47 PM

First things first, details. What's the square footage? Insulation? Windows? Gas? Electric?
The best thing to do is to insulate everything and get the house air tight. Then live there awhile to see what your power bills are going to be. Then you will know about how many panels you will need.
Also is the house angled correctly for roof mount?

natethebrown 02-17-16 07:52 PM

Also, how old is your house?

Daox 02-18-16 09:20 AM

Welcome to the site. I'm looking forward to seeing what you do with the house. :)

stevehull 02-18-16 11:18 AM

you can get an approximation of your energy bills from the existing electric account and gas supplier (assuming natural gas).

They can't give out any information except billing amounts, units (kWhrs or MCF) and dates.

But this can likely give you several year's data.


samerickson89 02-18-16 04:17 PM

Wow, I didn't expect so many replies so soon!

If I recall correctly, the total square footage is 2700 (including the unfinished basement). It's also got a 2 car attached garage, but there's tubing in the concrete that I plan on just hooking up once I get a geothermal system set up. It's all spray foam insulated, has a pretty big living room window, 4 more on the main floor, three skylights and a sliding glass door on the second floor, and a cupola up top with 5 small windows around it. Electric is 200A to the house but for some reason there's only 100A to the breaker box. I do have propane but once that's used up I'd like to switch to natural gas (only as a backup, and possibly for cooking). So far my daily usage has been around 12-18 kWh in the winter, and <10 in the summer. The only time it's gone over that is when my wood pellet stove broke and I had to use space heaters. It's a geodesic dome so the angle of the roof shouldn't be a problem at all. As for the age, it was listed as being built in 2003, but the appraisal said 2005, so I'm just gonna average that and call it 2004.

I think those were all the questions, right?

stevehull 02-18-16 05:43 PM


Sounds very nice. Being a dome, the ratio of surface area to volume is a minimum.

What you need now is to estimate how many BTU's per hour you need to heat your home. There are several ways to do this.

One way is to turn on a known amount of heat, during a cold night and see if the inside temp stays even. For this, you need to circulate air with fans, so there is a uniform temp.

For example, if a propane furnace of 36,000 BTU (36 kBTU) on 100% of the time keeps the house at a constant 65 on the coldest of winter nights, then you know the answer (36 kBTU/hr).

If the cycle time of the same furnace is 50% (1 unit of time on, 1 unit of time off), then you need 18 kBTU/hr. If your cycle time is 25% (1 time unit on, 3 time units off), then you need 9,000 BTU/hr.

You need a COLD night and get up at 4 am to record on and off times of heater when it is coldest. Do this quickly while you still have cold nights!

Very hard to do with a pellet stove as the heat output is not a known (but just estimated).

Then you know the size of any heating system for your local conditions (geothermal system or whatever).

Ask your local electric utility of they do a free energy audit. Get one and let us know. There are, sadly, ALWAYS tiny air leaks that really add up. Hopefully, they will do a blower door test that accurately measures the "tightness" of the envelope.

Our first, and collective advice is to button up, insulate up. Sounds like you have foam insulation (how thick?) , but the air infiltration remains an unknown.

Monies returned by reducing losses are FAR greater than any energy device be it GSHP, solar, whatever.

Welcome to the site.


samerickson89 02-20-16 03:17 PM


Originally Posted by stevehull (Post 49205)
What you need now is to estimate how many BTU's per hour you need to heat your home.

Thanks, Steve! Do I just need this info to make sure my geothermal system is sufficient, or solar too?

stevehull 02-20-16 03:34 PM

Sam - all you need to know is what is the maximum BTU load your heating system must provide on the coldest night for your specific home. A BTU is a BTU - about the heat output of one lit match.

The heat source (BTUs) could be resistance heating, propane, oil fired, air source heat pump, or ground source heat pump (GSHP) - or solar hot air collectors.

Each of these, when run at 100% has a heat output rated in thousands of BTUs (kBTUs). Sometimes the output is rated in tons where 12 kBTU = 1 ton.

The key is to find a cold night, run the heater with the thermostat on 65F, circulate air well and record the cycle time in the early AM when everything has reached a steady state (typically takes 6-8 hours). The resistance to heat flow through your envelope can then be easily figured as kBTU per heating degree day.

Then once you know how many kBTUs you need, we can advise what heat source to use that is best for you. Some like to use wood, and that heats you at least three ways (chopping, carrying and then burning) . . . .

I have gone with GSHPs and also have a small Vermont Castings wood stove when I want to see flames - or feel the need for direct radiant heat.

Record the data . . . . .


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