Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ecohomes visit - Peveril Solar - 3rd March

There is a programme of visits to Ecohouses in the region, from 3rd-10th March.
Peveril Solar is one of the houses on the list and we are open on Sunday 3rd March at 2pm and 330pm. You need to book ahead by emailing or DNC at .

This is the leaflet by Everybody's Talking, who have arranged the event. It includes a succinct explanation of the technology. Peveril Solar is the first house in the UK to be entirely solar heated all year round.Although the official time is 3rd March, you might be reading this after that date, but please be assured, that visitors with a serious interest in Solar Earth Charging are welcome at any reasonable date, by first emailing the DNC address above. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Insulating the foundation (2)

24 Feb 2013: There's one small job required before we sign this off with the building inspector, and that is the thermal insulation alongside the ground floor slab - protecting the ground below from temperature variations. We could have frost heave in a prolonged freeze or settlement in a prolonged drought - totally unlikely in the Nottingham climate by the way.
    There's so much insulation above the slab that no helpful heat from the house would defrost the ground. The slab is alongside the main house-wall, and the undercroft below the house is always a bit warm. So really, this is just a detail for perfection - but it's on the drawings and must be done! Here is me digging out the clay.
   The white stuff is not snow, it's small balls of polystyrene that come from the vertical edge insulation. 
I've dug down to a good flat bottom now and it's time to place the insulation.Insulation is in place and as it gets darker, I backfill and tamp down, making it level with the path. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

February '13 Reports

24 Feb 2013: The weather has been grey, grey grey, cold, cold, cold for the whole week, although without rain. What happened in the world? Richard Briars, much loved comedy and shakespearian actor died. Artist Banksy's mural on a Poundland in London turned up in a Miami salehouse with a tag of $400,000, and no-one quite knows how a large piece of wall got there. The state of Missisippi, one of the losers in the Civil War was finally reminded that it had not actually banned slavery, and a bill was hastily passed!
The Pistorius trial continue to occupy the headlines, and astonishingly, the self-confessed murderer was granted bail on the basis that he would not try to visit any airports or abscond - but his agent wants to get him back on the track, training, as if nothing happened (more like training around the prison exercise yard, I say!). Four grotesquely hideous Islamist militants who wanted to make their own British 911 were rightfully put in jail for a long time - seems that they were frustrated attention-seekers. They had collected money in tins, and then blown it gambling on currency. The trial of Vicky Pryce was declared void because the jury seemed not to understand basic principles, and there will be another very expensive trial with a new judge and jury. What about the Peveril Solar house?
  • House annual 5,475, biennial 5,072 kWh
  • GSHP annual 3,449, biennial 3,068 kWh.
    The cold spell in February likely to stay till the month's end.
  • PV annual 3,013, biennial 3,217 kWh. 
  • Sunbox annual 2,482, biennial 2,774 kWh. 
  • Ground Temperature  10.4ºC . We have had a week of unremitting cold greyness and I am amazed that the temperature has held up. 
17 Feb 2013: (happy birthday daughter!) We have several days of sunshine, following the long rainy times, I wonder how long this will last? the figures for the house have remained almost the same, annually, because last February was rather similar with a cold spell followed by a sunny one.
The world has seen many news stories. Pope 'Ben' Ratzinger announced his resignation, the first such since the 13th century and probably the best thing he has ever done. His problems aren't over, If he leaves the Vatican, he could be arrested for intentional negligence over the sexual abuse cover-up when he was chief of doctrine before before becoming Pope. The Horsemeat scandal continues into a European dimension with the whole phenomenon of container trucks containing animal protein back and forth national borders seemingly designed to evade all standards, inspectors and identification - only DNA reveals the truth! A large Meteorite passed over Russia, landing on a point 55ºNorth, so that if it had flown in only 4 hours later, it would have been landing on the UK. It caused a lot of damage to buildings and injured more than a thousand people (through shrapnel) but it seems nobody died. Suck that, Dinosaurs!

The news doesn't stop! North Korea exploded a nuclear bomb underground, making one wonder if the meteorite had been a N Korean experiment gone wrong - don't worry folks it came from the West, causing some speculation in Russia that it was an over powered American weapon gone wrong. Finally, the famous blade-footed Olympian and Paralympian Oscar Pistorius killed his girlfriend Reeva on Thursday in some sort of dramatic scene - admitting he killed her, but denying it was 'pre-meditated'. That must have special significance in South Africa, because here it would make a minor difference - it is still murder! so many events, I dont know what to put up a picture of! Two days later, she is playing a leading part in a TV Reality show, pre-recorded.
Oh yes, the state government of Missisippi realised that it had never actually abolished Slavery after being on the losing side of the Civil War in 1865. (It hastily passed the law on 7th Feb). How's that for southern redneck governance?
Don't worry about Peveril Solar house figures, too similar to last week's to be worth printing.  Above, a succession of the sunniest days of the year so far.
(Ground Temp was 10.5ºC.)

10 Feb 2013: Well, in the UK, we've had a rainy grey week, but what else happened? D Cameron placed his leadership on the line by allowing a free vote in the Westminster parliament over Gay Marriage, and it passed (despite Tory MPs threatening a leadership challenge). The bones found in the car park in Leicester were confirmed as belonging to King Richard III, reviving all the discussions about whether he was hunchbacked (no, he had scoliosis), or evil (was he demonised by the Tudors and Shakespeare?), and was he actually the King? (yes, they checked the DNA against a descendant in Canada), and what did he look like? (a forensic face restorer rebuilt his face from the skull). In Staffordshire there was a scandal at the main hospital where it was believed that administrations, contracts, targets, cost savings and all took precedent over the Patients - this is a good metaphor for what happens in Education where fear of league tables and Ofsted take precedent over the students. The final big story is the creeping of horse-meat into burgers and lasagne, starting with 'traces of DNA' to the discovery that some were 100% horse-meat. Seems that we buy meat products from the French who buy it from dodgy Romanian abattoirs (where recent laws favouring cars over horses on roads are resulting in a vast number of horses being redundant). What about the Peveril Solar house?
  • House annual 5,424, biennial 5,067 kWh
  • GSHP annual 3,408, biennial 3,045 kWh. The cold spell in February is with us.
  • PV annual 3,014, biennial 3,207 kWh. 
  • Sunbox annual 2,477, biennial 2,757 kWh. Static after the grey weather.
  • Ground Temperature  10.3ºC . We have had a week of unremitting greyness with rain all day Sunday.
3 Feb 2013: The week has been sunnier with an outstanding day on Saturday. England has been having a grand debate about the HS2 rail link, London to Birmingham and beyond. Generally, I am in favour of anything which represents progress. Mostly, increased speed has its advantages on the longer routes. England is a quarter the size of France, so the distance argument is weakened. I am not interested in the 'beautiful landscape' argument because the same arguments were trotted out against rail and trams in the 19th Century. However, I considered the evolution of the aeroplane. There was massive improvement in the technology in the early days, but since the Boeing 707, it has been a slower incremental development. 
    The Concorde flashed briefly for about 30 years, but the extra speed never made it cost effective. The mass market demanded wider, safer more luxurious fuselages with better video and service, with lower prices - better airports, smarter systems, shuttles, booking, navigation + landing, noise emission etc. But they haven't got faster.
    I considered also the Motorcar. They haven't got significantly faster since the 1970s because of road conditions, but there has been a vast degree of improvement in reliability, emission control, climate control, smoothness, corrosion resistance, navigation, road-holding.
   Could this be applied to the Train? Better rolling stock, more comfortable, power sockets and free broadband, better coffee, more competitive pricing? Be contented with minor increases in speed, but demand longer platforms, greater comfort and reliability. I am coming round to the view of the Antis, but driven by a technological-historical viewpoint.
   Meanwhile, how did the house do?
  • House annual 5,468, biennial 5,040 kWh
  • GSHP annual 3,454, biennial 3,028 kWh. House and GSHP falling nicely, but will we have another cold spell in February?
  • PV annual 3,013, biennial 3,206 kWh. 
  • Sunbox annual 2,446, biennial 2,763 kWh. both going up a bit.... 
  • Ground Temperature  10.9ºC . It helped, having a sunny day at the weekend. Unfortunately, the long term forecast is for another period of cold weather weather, perhaps even, snow!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Another solar earth charging scheme in Leicester

20 Feb 2013: I'm always happy to see this idea of Solar Earth Charging being taken up by others, although I am happier if they don't claim to be 'The First'. Unless shown otherwise, the Peveril Solar House is the first single house in the UK to be entirely solar heated all year round (including hot water), using energy storage.
     It takes two summers minimum (collecting heat) and a couple of winters (using the heat) to be sure if it has worked, and we reached that target in mid 2011.
    Caplin Homes (Leicester) have a press launch on Monday 25th Feb (email me for details if you read this before the 25th) - a new house due to start this month which will use the technology of Solar Earth Charging, using Newform's PVT panels. I am delighted to see another house of this type and envy them the chance to do it as New Build project.
Images below by architect  John Cotterill.

It's quite odd that the PVT panels are entirely concealed behind a parapet. I know the Peveril Solar house looks a bit 'crowded' with panels, but this is necessary because it is a retrofit, and we don't have any choice but to use the roof we have - I don't feel ashamed of having this look, even though one of my friends once wrote on Facebook "Is there a house under there, David?"
    The most interesting part of this is that the ground loop is not actually using the large area of site around the house, but using a 2D grid of short vertical pipes below the footprint of the house, using the same idea as Dr Chris Wood and Roger Bullivant's 'Energy Foundations'. If you have a chance to start again with a new-build, this is a very good idea, providing you are aware of the risks of seasonal  thermal expansion or contraction of the ground below (and how this might affect the slab above). I designed houses and flats using Chris's idea about two years ago, but this didn't get further as the developer seemed more keen on selling on the land than actually building the buildings!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Alternative circuit, delivering solar energy direct to GSHP?

14 Feb 2013: Warmed liquid from the solar panels always goes through the ground loop first before being fed to the GSHP.

I am often asked why the solar panel hot liquid cannot just be fed direct to the GSHP, to get the most instant delivery of thermal energy. The plumbing would be easy, but operationally it would be too troublesome and the electrics would be more complex. 
   The prime reason it should not is that in summer, the GSHP is on for only about an hour a day for hot water, so the solar panel circuit can get up into the 40s. The sudden introduction of a liquid in the 20s or higher would be interpreted as a serious malfunction by the GSHP, which would promptly result in a shut-down. Secondly, while this could be overcome by using solenoid valves and a mixer valve to avoid the aforementioned risk, that would make the system too dependent on everything working correctly, and difficult to repair when it did not.

I've experienced failure (early 2012) of a solenoid valve which caused a failure in the pump, which then caused a leakage failure, which then required scaffolding and new pipes and fittings to repair. With the possibility of higher circulating temperatures there is a higher risk of expansion, and leakage through joints.  
         The use of the ground loop as a ‘damper’ is very safe by keeping temperatures low. Solenoid valves can be omitted, with much simpler check-valves employed to make sure that the liquids take the correct route around the circuit.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Painting the Extension

Feb 2013: We have Robin Holland in to finish interior decorating. It's amazing how much brighter the interior becomes after a first undercoat. 
The clock has been moved into the living room and has a large bag over the head. I keep thinking there is a tall man in the front room as I walk past. But he keeps chiming cheerfully under the hat.
The clock's elegant and ancient crown (older than the United States and Jane Austen) is spending time separated from the head.
We have a view of the rockery and a concrete wall outside the window, so for the interior, we're going for maximum reflectivity - mostly white! I've also been testing one of my old aluminium mirrors on the exterior and this is effective as a light shelf. (Photo will follow)

Energy level model Feb'13

11 Feb 2013: the Ground temperature took a hit last week with long sequential days of overcast weather, rain and single digit temperatures, but it is still 10.3ºC, thankfully. The energy level is still low, and we need a sunny spring upturn soon!

The various blips of weather are shown clearly in the curve (grey all of the week just gone and sunnier the week before). Looking at last winter's lowpoint, it came at the end of a long warm 2011. The current 'low' is comparable to the low we had at the end of 2010 which had the cold winter. It hasn't been cold in the last few months, it has just been predominantly overcast - not much being put down. However - the deep ground temperature is still holding out at more than 10 degs C.
   Note, the Orange curve is the combined energy level taking into account the Sunboxes AND the GSHP. The Blue is the GSHP figure only (the solar contribution being set to zero), but this line is not totally true -  the GSHP consumption is not as much as it would be if there was no Sunbox because its COP is improved. Perhaps I should build in another option whereby the solar contribution would be actively deducted.
    I have updated my page on the ACTIVE HOUSE.ORG blog, see it at 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Insulating the edge

Sorry that this is so dark, it seemed like a
workable level of daylight, but the
camera thinks otherwise! It's the only
record I have that it was done!
2 Feb 2013: Sunshine most of Saturday, and it was a PV-maximum day, by far the best of the day - the combination of strong sun and cold air temperatures is always good.
   Although the day was marred by Forest losing 2-1 at Birmingham, I got some maintenance done - insulated pipes within the Sunbox-4. The alternative is to paint them black so that they pick up solar heat.
       I added a 'bonnet-stay' to the sunbox so I can work in there safely.
      Then as it was getting darker, I installed the ground level insulation alongside the concrete slab of the extension. This is to protect against frost heave in a very severe long cold spell.

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