Heating and hot water was the easy part. Gene purchased an outdoor wood-burning furnace from Hardy Manufacturing. The unit provides both heat and hot water to his home and workshop. It works very well, is made of stainless steel, and will burn for 24 hours or more on a single load of logs, which are plentiful around the property. This furnace is extremely efficient and uses an open-loop water heat exchanger that provides ample hot water to two water tanks and also feeds hot water to two water-to-air heaters for the shop.
Gene then designed and installed a drip oil-assist booster that feeds used oil to the heater on a timed basis to boost the heating capacity of the furnace. The unit injects 2 ounces (60 g) of oil at timed intervals, which allows the fire and flame in the firebox to burn hotter and reduces the amount of wood needed by half.
The house is also heated with a large wood-burning fireplace that draws in cool air at the bottom and blows warmed air out at the top. Gene ducted this heated air stream to each room to heat his whole home comfortably. These innovations are simple but very effective.
Cooling the house presented the largest load. The 10-year-old, 3-ton air conditioning unit is not efficient (newer models use about half as much energy), and worked the inverters hard when the compressor kicked in. To rectify this, Gene had his air conditioning service technician install a soft-start kit (capacitor) to reduce the compressor’s start-up surge.
The inverters can now handle the air conditioner with no problem, but to limit its high energy demand and use, Gene designed and installed a fresh water, open-loop cool water booster. By pumping cool water from the bottom of his 80‑foot (24 m) well into an A‑coil installed in the indoor blower unit, the home’s interior air temperature is significantly reduced. The water is then returned to the top of the well and cycled again. The system is simple and effective for short periods of time.
Gene enlisted my company, Harvest Solar & Wind Power, to design and install his independent electricity system. After our first meeting, we realized that he had already taken most of the initial steps toward conservation that we normally recommend. He knew his energy needs, and was perfectly willing to manage them and his energy generation to achieve the goal of energy independence.
Gene wanted multiple charging sources that would allow for some energy production in any weather condition at any time of day. We designed an off-grid hybrid system using solar electricity, a wind generator, and a backup engine generator. Gene has also built a custom microhydroelectric turbine to add to the energy mix.
We chose components carefully to allow for maximum production and flexibility, and to provide for future growth of the system. A 48-volt system was chosen to keep system efficiency high and wiring costs low.