Solar Retrofit to a Mid-1960's Edmonton Bungalow

I've started a home renovation that will include the installation of solar thermal collectors to help provide domestic hot water and help heat my house. I thought there would be other people like myself who would be interested in my experience - both good and bad. Here goes . . .

Like many people, I'm interested in increasing the efficiency of my home and reducing my gas and power expenses and would love to live in something like the Riverdale Net Zero house. Also like many people, I don't have the means to built my own net zero house. Add to this is the fact that I really like the house I'm in now and love the location and we've got a recipe for a renovation.

Before I go any further, let me tell you about my existing house. Built in 1964, my house is a fairly average Edmonton bungalow with just a few high-end (for the time) features. It's just over 1200 square feet, has three bedrooms and is constructed with two-by-four walls. The high-end features? It has a full brick exterior, an ensuite (with a toilet and sink), two furnaces (one for the main floor and one for the basement) and a double car garage. By today's standards, where 2100 square foot houses are considered small by some people, my house is nothing particularly special, however I grew up in a family of five that lived in a 1050 square foot house so, by comparison, my house is more than sufficient for my family of four. Having said that 1200 sq ft is sufficient, it is important that the space be used efficiently and that was the problem with the basement. I won't bore you with a detailed description of the old basement other than to say it had a few issues:

  • The furnaces - one of which was the original dinsosaur from 1964 - were not in their own room and were open to the rest of the basement
  • The bathroom was tiny and had a rusted metal shower
  • There was simply not enough storage space
My wife and I spent months planning and consulting with carpenters and home renovation companies and in the end we came up with a floor plan that required the two furnaces to be replaced with a single unit which would be relocated from the original location in the center of the house into a proper mechanical room. During this period, I was lucky enough to attend the Solar Energy: Practical Opportunities Now course offered by Edmonton Public Schools Metro Continuing Education. My course was taught by Gordon Howell of Howell-Mayhew Engineering - the guy that designed the solar electric system of the Riverdale Net Zero house. I went into this course focused on solar electricity and wondering how many batteries I'd need as I'd never even heard of grid-tied solar electric systems. By the end of the course I'd changed my mind to use solar thermal. I highly recommend taking this course if you have the opportunity.

Having changed my focus from solar electric to solar thermal I exchanged a few e-mails with Morgan McDonald from Taylor Munro Energy Systems. Morgan had done the design of the solar thermal portion on the Riverdale Net Zero. My timing was perfect as Morgan was planning to be in Edmonton for the 2007 Eco Solar Tour. The day after the Eco Solar Tour, I met with Morgan and brought him to my house to to examine the site and discuss options.

In my next post I'll discuss the research I did and the system that Morgan and I came up with.


Update: May 10th, 2008: I was contacted by Taylor Munro Energy Systems yesterday and was told that Morgan is no longer working there.

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