Plan Review

install_1If you are planning to build or remodel, there are three things to remember: solar orienting, building integrated overhangs, and creating building mass that is isolated from the fluctuating outside temperatures.

By incorporating the influence of the sun into your design choices, you will help lower operating costs of the structure. If the sun’s influence is dismissed, then the building will suffer from higher than necessary cooling bills. For new construction there is rarely any legitimate excuse for not being able to build a structure that has passive solar design characteristics.

Most homes and buildings are oriented toward the street favored view such as the lake or the river, but not the sun.

It is most effective to deal with summer sun shining into a structure before it happens. This can be done with building integrated awnings and/or to planting vegetation, or a combination of the two. If the windows take direct sun in the summer, then you should take whatever means necessary to keep the sun from hitting the glass. If you try and solve this problem from inside the building, it is too late. The solar heat gain is converted to BTU’s and will have already entered the building, and your cooling system will have to try to overcome them!I love brick, rock, and stone, but to get the most benefit from these materials, you should place them on the inside of your structure, not the outside. Building on a concrete slab that is totally isolated from the outside temperatures is a significant step in lowering heating and cooling costs and increasing occupant comfort.

Plan review includes assessing existing buildings to improve efficiency and solar worthiness and consulting on new construction to help make sure the important considerations are addressed early in the process so that the completed project is the best it can be.

In Arkansas, we have net metering. Net metering allows you to feed excess energy not used on site back to the grid for credit against what you will need from the utility grid at night and on cloudy days. The federal government offers tax credits up to 30% against the installed cost of solar electric and solar hot water systems. Hybrid systems can include a fork lift sized battery for backup power situations that provide an uninterruptable power supply to an entire house or selected circuits. Solar arrays are usually located on the south slope of a roof. There will be significant negatives to mounting solar arrays on roofs sloping to the east, west or north. Ground mounted systems can be used if roof top installations are limited and there is available land. Residential systems are usually grid-tied or off-grid if necessary.

There is a no more efficient use of the sun’s energy than that of heating water. If you have a need for hot water, then using a solar thermal system may be the best solution. A domestic solar hot water system should provide you with roughly 70% of your hot water needs. The remaining 30% will need to be made up from traditional sources. Preheating your water with solar, and then running it through a gas fired tankless or continuous heater is the best choice, with all the other remaining conventional systems coming in a distant second. It should be noted, however, that an earth tempered heat pump is another excellent way to heat water or a building. It really depends on the size of the load as to which one makes the most sense. Don’t forget the swimming pool. If you have a money pit, oops, I mean, swimming pool, and you want to heat it, then a solar pool heater could be the best choice.

Any solar electric system must have what is known as unobstructed sun. You never want to have trees or any other structure shading your solar electric array. A little bit of shade hitting an array will have a significant negative impact on the electricity output. A higher percentage of commercial systems are historically better suited than residential systems due to the lowered likelyhood of neighboring houses or vegetation shading the roof. One of the most significant and often overlooked attributes of a roof-applied solar array is the shading effect that is created under the panels. If you have a commercial flat roof, or even a sloped residential roof, and a solar array is applied, you will not only create electricity, but you will lower the cooling load of the structure.

Hospitals, health clubs, restaurants, schools, and multi-family complexes can all benefit significantly from using the sun’s energy to help meet hot water needs. Commercial systems can be shared by all the tenants. Again, commercial flat roofs can be easily retrofitted with solar hot water systems. Unlike solar electric arrays, a solar hot water collector will continue to operate efficiently with intermittent shade because the propylene glycol solution that acts as the heat transfer agent is moving through the system as long as the pump is running. It should be noted that a drain-back system will usually have its own small solar electric panel that powers the 12 volt pump. What that means is that when the sun is shining, the pump is circulating the fluid and transferring the heat to the water. When the sun goes down, the pump ceases to run.

Rain is liquid sunshine. Water is without a doubt our most neglected and yet most valuable resource. Living in Arkansas with such an abundance of good clean water, we tend to overlook the wise management of our water resources. Do you currently use perfectly good clean chlorinated, fluoridated drinking water to water your grass or landscape vegetation? Way too many people do. By installing a building or ground mounted rainwater collection system, you will enjoy the benefits that go with using rainwater instead of municipal water for this purpose. There are a variety of innovative ways to harvest your site produced water, and there are solar powered pumps to move it around to where you need it.

A portable solar power trailer is just what it sounds like. You can take your clean green energy with you. Whether you need a little power pod or three-phase power from a solar trailer, there are systems that can be designed and delivered to do just that. Portable solar is used for emergency situations, special events, and remote power applications. You can pump water or power a concert or build a house using solar power. The next time you need remote or backup power, don’t settle for noisy polluting gas or diesel generators, go solar instead. Some trailers can also be equipped with quiet backup propane generators, too. Just so you will never run out of power regardless of the conditions, a propane generator can be added as a backup-power source to the battery–based back-up-power source. Portable solar power can also be used to provide needed electricity after major natural disasters.

One way to lower your demand for landscape watering needs is to incorporate permeable surfaces. By allowing the water that falls on your site to be absorbed into the soil, you give it a chance to stick around and do some good. Solid concrete or paved surfaces can easily be designed to provide the needed durable surface while at the same time allowing water to efficiently benefit the area. There is a suitable permeable surface solution to any type of situation. You are only limited by your imagination.

Have you seen the Milky Way? Unfortunately, 80% of the world’s population will enter and leave this world without ever having seen the Milky Way! Why? The answer is light pollution. The world could save millions of dollars annually if we would just turn off some lights. If you must have a light outside, make it a low-light polluting fixture. A light that shines down but not out will help preserve yours and your neighbor’s view of the universe. Up-lights can be used when there is significant overhead area to absorb the light.

Curb side recycling. How much easier could it get? Yet, currently only 25% of the population of Little Rock participates in the existing curb side recycling program. Most multi-family units have no recycling program, and very few commercial buildings or restaurants have adopted recycling programs. Managing your waste stream is one of the lowest cost and easily accomplished aspects of sustainable living. All it really takes are small behavioral changes and a commitment to take action. Sometimes the prudent management of the waste stream can turn an operating expense into a positive cash-flow scenario. Bottom line is we must only use recyclable items or reusable items. A society based on single-use products is not a sustainable society.