Technical Information - Howell Canyon Estate

2 Trace 24-volt inverters (I believe the model number is 5440. It is their largest model.). They were sent back to the factory in June 2003 and certified that they were running at the newest factory specifications. They are linked together to provide 220-volt power to the well pumps and the pressurizing pumps. The inverters also control the charging of the batteries, so when the battery charge levels become too low, a 10 KW propane generator is turned on and runs until the systems’ charging requirements are fulfilled.

Trace Power Control Center. This sends power from the solar panels and windmill to the circuit box, or, if no power is needed, through the charging modules of the inverters to the 48-volt battery system.

48-volt battery charger. Brand unknown. This takes all but 4 amps of the generator’s available charge and sends it to the 48-volt battery system. This was selected for two reasons: a) To minimize wear-and-tear on the charging modules in the inverters; and b) since the Trace inverters have a maximum charging power of 35 amps each (70 amps) that they are able to utilize for charging, we use the charger to utilize all of the power created by the generator for the charging of the batteries.

24 2-volt lead-acid mesh batteries. Brand unknown (check with The Solar shop at 509-486-4508) linked together to provide a 48-volt DC power system. These 205 lb. batteries were custom made for us by a company in the Carolinas, and they are intended for use in a solar charging situation. The lead mesh is used instead of lead plates because of increased life expectancy in a low-drain, frequent charge situation. The commonly used marine or golf cart-type batteries are designed for deep-cycling, a drain of approximately 80% before each charge, which does not work well in a system like ours. The batteries’ total charge capacity is approximately 1,660 amps. Their life expectancy is between 6,000 and 7,000 charges of 20% of their total charge capacity. We have the inverters set up to recharge the system whenever there is a drain of not more than 320 amps (about 20% of the capacity of the batteries). The system was brought online in April of 2000 and should have a conservatively-determined life expectancy of another eight to ten years before the batteries need to be replaced.

There is a new (2006) 12.5 KW Kohler air-cooled propane generator in a separate “generator shed” well away from the buildings so that it is not heard in the buildings. There is also a spare 8.5 KW water-cooled Kohler propane generator in storage that was in service since February 2000, and had a valve job in July 2003 by the authorized Kohler dealer in Spokane. It needs servicing and then could replace the current gasoline generator at the log house.

1.5 KW Bergey Windmill mounted on a 105-foot tower. The windmill will produce 48-volt electric power whenever the wind reaches 10 mph. Maximum power is not achieved until the wind reaches 28 mph. Winds beyond 28 mph trigger the windmill engine to “furl”, turning to the side to prevent the over-speed windmill blades from burning out the windmill engine. The Bergey brand is the top-rated windmill in the world today. The windmill is expected to last over 30 years with minimal or no servicing required. The tower can be lowered/raised as desired and can also be disassembled into ten-foot sections. The tower is held up by guy cables that are attached to poured concrete lugs. The same tower could be used for a larger windmill engine. We found that the windmill was less economically viable than solar panels, so an upgrade of the windmill is not recommended.

There are 16 600 watt Astroplex solar panels (I think this is the name). Call The Solar Shop in Tonasket at 509-486-4508 to confirm the brand name. These are mounted on ground poles that link to the Power Control Center by 2 gauge wire. We had intended to place solar trackers on the ground mounts, but realized that we could purchase more solar panels and mount them on the battery room, facing south, for the same amount of money and get more power than the solar trackers would create. Solar panel prices have dropped dramatically, especially through dealers in Southern California. I had a bid to more than double the number of solar panels for $5,000.

System logic for the power system: Electric power is made by the solar panels whenever there is nearly full sunlight. The windmill makes power whenever there are winds more than 10 mph.

All of this power is initially offered by the Power Control Center to the circuit boxes of the house/clinic/boiler room/etc. If there is any power left beyond the calls for electricity, it is sent to the inverters who then charge the battery system.

If there are demands for power that go beyond the power available from the windmill and solar panels, then the inverters are called on to provide 110-volt or 220-volt power that they invert from the 48-volt battery system. The inverters each service distinct circuits in the main buildings in a hodgepodge fashion that was designed to keep power usage reasonably equal between the two inverters. As the power drains from the batteries, the monitoring levels setup in the inverters will trigger the generator to be turned on and produce power. Initially the generator power will go to the electric power calls. Any additional power will be sent to the inverters (4 amps) and the bulk to the charger.

Hydronic Heating System

Many Grundfos circulating pumps.

Many heat exchangers.

There is a 165,000 BTU propane-fired cast-iron boiler that is used for residential heating of hot water and the heating of 12,000 sq. ft. of the main house, clinic/garage/shop and the guest apartment/utility building. The cast iron boiler was chosen because of the retention of heat in the boiler by the cast iron leads to diminished fuel consumption because of the longer periods of heating required for residential heating of the buildings and hot water.

There is a 360,000 BTU propane-fired copper-plated boiler that is used for heating of the hot-tub, future swimming pool and the snow-melt system. Copper was chosen because of the quick heating of the system it provides, with the frequent turning on and off that a snow-melt system features. Swimming pool installers assure me that a boiler of this size would be sufficient for heating of a 20-foot by 40-foot full-depth swimming pool year-around without a cover!

There is a model Classic 5648, 500,000 BTU Central Boiler brand wood-fired Boiler to burn wood for heating the residential hot-water and heating and/or the heating of the snow-melt system/hot tub/future swimming pool. The large door and huge firebox allow burning of logs over a 3-foot length, although we preferred 24- to 30-inch logs because they were easier to handle. The system currently needs work, and it may be possible to upgrade the firebox to be able to burn waste fuel oils. Similar models are EPA approved for ecological destruction of hazardous petroleum-based wastes, and we wished we had initially purchased such a system at the Estate.

There are computerized control chips that keep track of heating demands of the different zones, an outdoor thermostat, a thermostat to determine the temperature of the water returning from the buildings to the heating system, etc. I do not remember the brand name of the controllers or the manifolds of the radiant heating system. Call Moser Inc. to ask.

The heating system was designed, installed and exclusively serviced by Moser Inc. of Cheney, Washington (509-747-0950), a hydronic (radiant) heating specialty contractor. The system is unique because of its ability to use wood or propane to heating either the residential system of hot water and hydronic floor heating or the independent system that is exclusively used for heating of the snow-melt system, the hot tub and the future swimming pool.

System logic for residential heating: The hydronic heating system uses PEX tubing installed through the floors and then covered with concrete or Gyp-Crete. The PEX is filled with a 50%/50% blend of water and propylene glycol (anti-freeze). When an area is colder than the thermostat setting, a call for heat is sent to the central control.

If the wood-fired boiler has heated its water to a temperature above 140 degrees F, then the heat circulating pumps will be triggered to bring the hot water of the wood-fired boiler to a heat exchanger, where the propylene glycol-water mixture is then heated. The circuit boards compare the temperature of the outside air with the temperature of the propylene glycol mixture returning from the heating zone requesting heat. If there is a great difference between the outside air temperature and the building temperature, then the system will heat the propylene glycol-water mixture to a higher temperature than if it is warmer outside. The circulating pumps then cycle this hot liquid to the area calling for heat, heating the floor in this room. Slowly the room heats up. When the heat reaches the thermostats desired temperature, the call for heat ends and the circuit shuts off.

If the wood-fired boiler is not heated, or if the temperature in the boiler is found to be below 140 degree F, then the propane-fired cast-iron boiler is turned on instead. The hot water heated by the boiler is pumped to a heat exchanger to heat the propylene glycol-water mixture that is used by the heating system. Again, the temperature of the heating liquid is determined by the difference in the outside temperature and the temperature in the zone being heated, with hotter heating liquid used when the outside temperature is very cold.

System logic for Residential hot water: If there is a call for residential hot water (for a shower or washing dishes, for example), then the same logic applies as for heat. Initially, hot water is stored in a holding tank found in the boiler room. Hot water is circulated through the buildings by pumps so that all users have rapid hot water availability. This circulation of the hot water causes it to cool. Usage of hot water causes the system to put fresh (cold) water into the holding tank. If the water temperature gets below about 150 degrees F, then there is a call for heating.

Again, as before, if the wood-fired boiler has a temperature of 150 degrees or more, then the pumps will move the boiler’s water to a heat exchanger and hot water will be pumped into the hot water holding tank.

If instead, the wood-fired boiler is not available, then the propane-fired boiler will be turned on and the hot water will be heating directly by the propane and be stored in the hot water holding tank.

I planned to add an active solar hot water unit with a thermocouple to the south-facing roof of the boiler room to heat the water in the hot water holding tank. This would provide as much hot water as desired (during the day, dependant on the size of the system and the amount of sunlight) without as much use of propane or wood heating.

System logic for the Snow-melt/Hot tub/Future swimming pool system: The snow-melt system can be used manually or automatically. In automatic mode, the system monitors the temperature of the outside air thermostat and a humidity sensor as well. If the temperature goes to 32 degrees F or below and there is humidity on the humidity sensor, then the system concludes that there is a need to melt these sidewalks that (presumably) have snow or ice on them.

If the wood-fired boiler has a temperature of 140 degrees or more, then the hot water from the wood-fired boiler is pumped to a heat exchanger that heats the propylene glycol-water mixture that is circulated through the PEX tubes that are laid into the sidewalks, garage slabs and the courtyard area. Again, as before, the temperature of the heating solution is determined by the difference in temperature between the heating liquid returning to the heat sensors and the outside temperature thermostat. If the call for heat outstrips the wood-fired boiler’s ability to deliver its heat, then the propane-fired copper-lined boiler will be used to heat the heating liquid as well. This is the method that produces the fastest results of the snow-melt system.

If the wood-fired boiler is not available, then the propane-fired, copper-lined boiler will be fired up to heat the heating solution that flows to the snow-melt system, hot tub, or future swimming pool.

A six-year-old Vodavi digital phone system links the three main buildings (house, the clinic/garage, and the sauna/guest apartment) as well as the log guest house together. There are three phone lines currently available to the system, although they are currently turned off. The system has a six-line capacity, and Verizon installed a six-line telephone wire to the Estate. As is the case with all digital phone systems, there are innumerable functions available, including hands-off intercom capabilities, restriction of ring zones and times, etc. We additionally have two analog feature cards installed, permitting one controller to operate cordless phones and the other give us the ability to have a fax machine, and we have two operational jacks installed for the fax machine in the clinic.

There is inconsistent cell phone service because a large hill north of the house that blocks direct signal access to the area’s cell phone towers. Moving around will provide cell phone service, variable with the weather. Climbing the hill behind the house, or driving out of the canyon will always provide cell phone coverage. Be careful of roaming fees for cell phone calls in this area!

As is the case anywhere, there is satisfactory satellite Internet in the area. There is already a Starband Model 360 Modem with its satellite dish installed in the clinic. There are also LAN lines installed in most rooms of the buildings, although this network needs some work.

We used DISH satellite for TV. There is a DISH satellite dish mounted on the main house. There are wires to distribute TV signals throughout the main complex, but this system needs some work.

Water supply: The water supply is variable with the season, with the current low supply in the summer around 1,400 gallons daily. Water is currently supplied by two wells

Well one is in the area near the garage/shop and is 600-feet deep. This well was doused by a well-known well douser in the area, and his work was confirmed by two independent dousers. However, the original well driller hit a rock and allowed the well shaft to angle off the normal vertical drilling angle. This well sometimes produces very well (more water than we can possibly use), or it can be as low as 150 gallons a day. The well features a 1.5 horsepower well pump that can lift around 4 gallons of water per minute from the bottom of the well. Of course, the pumping rate is much high when the water is deeper. The well pump requires 220 volt power, and the generator will run whenever this well pump is run. The system is designed to accommodate a holding tank that could be placed in any of three places on the hill behind the house. We had planned to put a 15,000 tank high on the hill, but then we realized that we could have a swimming pool for the same amount of money. So we designed the swimming pool plumbing to serve as a water source for a fire hydrant and the irrigation system, and the pressurizing pump that was installed in the pump house provides pressure for the irrigation system and will provide the water pressure for a fire hose. There is sufficient pipe in the ground that one or two more storage tanks could still be placed on the hill, in addition to the swimming pool, with the storage tanks providing drinking water and the swimming pool providing irrigation water or water for the fire hydrant.

The other well is in a small valley about a quarter-mile from the main house. It is the 254-foot-deep drilled well that replaced a hand-shovel dug well for the original family who lived in the (lower) Log Guest House. The 220-volt, 1.25 gallon per minute well pumps from the well to a 1,200 gallon storage tank situated near the upper house’s driveway. From here it gravity feeds the Log House. We also have a pressuring pump that pumps the water to the pressuring tank located in the basement of the main house. This well has a consistent 1 gallon per minute rate of production.

It is also possible to use the 8-foot-deep “Hand-Dug” well for irrigation, and there are some pipes in the ground in the pump house near the water storage tank reputed to connect to this well. Although we never drank this water, the previous owners drank from this well for more than eight years without incident. Additionally and more sensibly, this well could be used for irrigation.

There’s a fourth well near the driveway’s entrance to the property that has been used in the past for both residential and agricultural purposes. However, we never used this well and know nothing about it.

The Log House:

The Log House was built in approximately 1980 and remodeled extensively three times, with a large new wing being added in 1998 and three new bathrooms added in 2000.

We re-wired and re-plumbed the house in 2000.

The house currently has a 24-volt Trace inverter that produces a modified sine-wave power. Some equipment, such as electric shavers, does not operate there.

There are twelve Trojan batteries that produce the 24-volt power for the inverter.

There’s a small 450 watt maximum power windmill on a 20-foot mast that produces little power.

There is a home-made 24-volt truck alternator run by a 5 hp Honda gasoline engine which makes dependable 30 amp 110 volt power for the inverter.

There are also twelve (I think) small solar panels mounted on two ground-mounted masts. I do not know how much power each panel produces, but, in sunny weather the maximum power output is enough to operate the house if large energy consuming items like the vacuum cleaner, washing machine, and dryer are used conservatively. Lights, TVs and computers draw insignificant power from the system. (The Log House is heated by fanless propane convection heaters in each room, so there is no call for electricity to operate them. Likewise, the range and the new deluxe Servel refrigerator are powered by propane.)

We have used a satellite DISH for TV.

Phone service is part of the main complex, with full digital privileges hard-wired into the Log House’s system.

Well-water is gravity fed from a holding tank below the main house (currently the water supply for the main house as well) and is pressurized further by a pressure pump in the log house. The three bathrooms and the kitchen sink do not have any loss of water pressure with other simultaneous users.

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