Monday, February 28, 2011

A country kitchen.

After two years of kitchen building, I now understand why most people leave it to the pros and buy all this stuff! I'm finding my 'developing' craftsmanship results in a lot of imperfection, but it blends in well with the country's the finished product:
Open shelving made from pine slabs: An induction cooktop, which so far has been great to cook on: I hid the microwave under the countertop:

As well as the garbage/recycling bins and Asko dishwasher, which have panelized doors:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Running on the sun.

The mega solar array has been active for over a month now and I am pleased to report that the everything has been working very well. I designed the barn foundation as a high mass sand bed storage system, capable of receiving the heat from the solar collectors during the day, storing it in the concrete slab/underslab sand bed, and slowly releasing the built-up heat to the living space. The benefit is higher efficiency from the solar collectors (since they are operating at much lower temperatures than a conventional system with tank storage) and it eliminates the cost and space required for the large water storage tank. The downside, however, is not being able to store the solar heat for more than a day or two. I was only able to find a few resources on this method (like here and here), but it seemed well suited for extreme climate areas like ours here at the north pole, where we pretty much need 100% of the heat capacity during the winter months and thus there is no reason to try to store it in a water tank.
Here are a few pics of the high mass foundation system during construction, showing the underslab insulation, high mass sand bed, hydronic tubing and finally the concrete floor:
Normally, hydronic tubing would be buried in the sand bed as well as the concrete, but here we only have the upper, slab run of hindsight, I should've installed it in both areas. The poured slab. The concrete was polished and stained to be used as the finish flooring.
Unfortunately, I picked the snowiest winter in the last half-century to prove out a solar heating system, so the run time has been less than anticipated! However, when we have sun, the system is producing around 250kBTU per day, which is typically enough energy to heat the guest house this time of year. With multiple sunny days in a row, the high mass of the floor absorbs the heat and slowly releases it back to the living space- so far I have not seen more than a 8 degree change in indoor temperature during sunny periods, and we were able to make it through a cold -30F night without the need for supplemental heat one day last week. Very promising indeed. More later....

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


One of my greatest fears is to have a failure in the heating system's PEX tubing, which is inconveniently entombed within the concrete slab of the barn. Having thought about if for a few years now, it just doesn't seem like a good idea to seal off any electrical, plumbing or HVAC systems behind walls or under floors- while it may be aesthetically pleasing to have the nervous system of the house well hidden from sight, this makes it difficult if not impossible to upgrade or repair things that break...and sooner or later everything needs fixing, right? Alternately, the concept of disentanglement keeps these systems separate and accessible, usually in chases, raceways and conduits, to increase the adaptability and longevity of the building. I like it, and kept the idea in mind when installing the HRV system, as well as plumbing and electrical runs going to the upper floor of the barn. With all the utilities in place, it looked like this:

Then I built removable soffits and a chaseway to cover it all, which looks like this:

Admittedly, the wood soffits wound up being quite heavy, but can be removed if necessary without destroying anything.