Blog

Living Off the Grid, A Brief Introduction

by Caroline DiDomenico

In 2003, the idea of solar power and renewable energy had not been a new concept, but resources in Vermont to build your own off grid home required a lot of research, exploration, and getting to know the local grassroots experts.

It had been our intent to lessen our impact on the environment on land which was in a private wooded setting. Running power lines through our neighbor’s meadow was not an ideal situation for building friendships either. Alternative energy sources were explored and solar was selected after a local organization held green building tours at other Vermont homes.

The initial items purchased were a portable generator and gel batteries. This allowed for some small generation of power, that could be stored and run a few items at night, as well as provide power for tools necessary to continue to build.  We then added a small photovoltaic array, 3 150-watt panels, which powered the 6 12-volt batteries and kept them charged. Later, an additional 6 235-watt panels were added, and a new deep lead acid cycle battery storage system consisting of 12 2-volt batteries replaced the gel batteries. At this time another charge controller and new set of inverters were added as well.

The house was built in phases, and until 2017, the power system was designed only for weekend use and was shut down prior to leaving. 

Some quick basics on what components are needed for an off grid solar power system:

Photovoltaic Solar Panels – your source of power

Charge Controller – used to safely charge and protect the batteries from overcharging

Inverter – Your inverter converts DC to AC

Solar panels deliver, and batteries operate with Direct Current (DC)

Standard outlets provide power in Alternating Current (AC)

Batteries – Your energy storage bank—use it carefully!

Generator - Your back up power source (usually a necessity)

The current upgrade to the system, operational in 2018, was designed with the intent of making the house suitable for full time occupancy. In order to do this, we determined we wanted to have 4-5 days of autonomy (no sun at all to recharge the batteries, and no use of generator). Think worst case scenario of winter storms in Vermont; we sized the battery bank for this. The bank consists of 24 2-volt 1000 amp-hour batteries, to make a 48-volt, 48,000 amp-hour battery system. From this, we determined we’d need a13.5 kW PV array. Now we need to manage all that power coming into the batteries; this is where the charge controllers come in. We chose charge controllers that could all communicate to one another. 6 of the original PV panels are wired to one controller, then the new ground array was wired in 3 separate sections to 3 other controllers, with a 5th controller for 3 new panels on the south wall of the house. The system allows for one controller to take charge if another isn’t producing as much power, and continuously provide maximum energy to the batteries.

When we designed the system for full time use, we accounted for all the present day and future power loads we would like to have in place; the result was a 6.8 kW 240-volt inverter (that also communicates with the PV controllers).  The entire system performance and status is continuously available via an Android phone app.

The ground array today has room to expand, and we currently have more power than we need right now.

As we explore future plans for the house, we would like to consider a small turbine as an option, but this would be done only when the house is occupied full time. Wind power can produce an excess of power at any given time and you need to be able to have a place to dump the extra load or be able to shut the system down completely to protect the turbine from damage.

One day, our hope is to be able to have the entire house power needs, including heat, be produced via 100% renewable power!


System Block Diagram (Simplified)

Controllers and Inverter, Battery Box below, normally left open




New ground array with room for expansion                             

New array and original array on pole barn

Panels are mounted on side of house to allow for continuous “trickle charge”. There is little opportunity for snow and ice to remain on these, ensuring the batteries are always receiving a charge even in the worst weather.

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Inspiration and Understanding of Equity of Place - NESSBE 2019

By Antonia Ciaverella, Tecton Architects

March 19th, 2019

The power of the NESSBE conference is its ability to unite individuals around a common purpose.  This year, one theme immediately emerged: “The people closest to the pain should be closest to the power.”  This message from Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, quoted during one of the workshops, echoed a call to action given by Dr. Julian Ageyman during the keynote address.  He challenged each of us to do everything we can to invite true belonging in our cities and buildings.  From spatial justice and livable streets, to food justice and heritage narratives, the opportunities for equity of place are vast, and yet often discouraged or unexplored.  We have to work together to solve the world’s greatest challenges, and in that spirit of thoughtful ingenuity, the rest of the day unfolded.

In one of the morning breakout sessions, Linda Powers Tomasso, a PhD student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health described a new way to think about health impacts.  In addition to measuring our exposure to toxins, can we measure the positive health benefits of nature?  In other words, can we treat nature as an exposure factor, and measure levels of phytoncides, for example?  Something to consider on your next walk!  Ashley Gripper, also a PhD student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a RWJF Health Policy Research Scholar, described a recent project that illustrated not only the powerful relationship between the built environment and food equity, but also the importance of forming a partnership early-on between policy makers dedicated to resiliency in their jurisdictions, public health professionals, and the design team.  In this particular project, public health professionals were not engaged until after the design phase.  The well-intentioned neighborhood reconstruction project provided healthy food options, but unfortunately did not engage a portion of the community living just a quarter-mile away, who were without the physical or financial means to access these new amenities.

As the day continued, Marcus Smith, Senior Manager at Connecticut Children’s Healthy Homes Program, Karraine Moody, Executive Director at Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity, and Jacquelyn Rose, Program Manager for the Advancing Kids Innovation Program at Connecticut Children’s, encouraged us with these words: Innovation is a million step process.  Through a group activity and an insightful workshop, they shared how to use a social design framework as a tool for community engagement: Identify, Ideate, Design, Pilot, Implement and Scale.  The key to success is to spend enough time in ideation to ensure that the needs of the stakeholders are fully understood.

The inspirational capstone to this year’s summit, centered on social justice in the built environment, was a workshop hosted by Common Ground.  With educators and students present, the team began their session with a gallery walk of artifacts, giving participants a glimpse into the projects and process of this exceptional community organization.  Joel Tolman, Director of Impact & Engagement at Common Ground described the importance of physical co-creation and of making the road by walking.  Located on a farm, in the forest, near a city, Common Ground’s unique setting goes hand-in-hand with a sustainable approach to learning.  Tolman emphasized the importance of engaging students in the construction of buildings and curriculum, to create environments that not only elevate our physical experience but also connect us culturally and strengthen the community.

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January is Radon Awareness Month

Radon in Schools: What You Need to Know to Properly Manage Radon in Your School

Recorded on March 22, 2018

Click this link to view the webinar.

Moderator:

  • Tracy Enger, Facilitator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, US EPA, Indoor Environments Division, Washington, DC

 

Speakers:

  • Bruce Snead, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 
  • David Murdock, Henrico County Public Schools, VA
  • Gary Hodgden, AARST Consortium on National Radon Standards

 

What you will learn:

  • The facts about radon in schools – risk of radon, characteristics and prevalence – and why it’s necessary to test every school for radon.  
  • Effective and practical strategies for radon testing and control, including continuous radon monitoring (CRM). 
  • Standards of Practice that address all aspects of radon measurement and mitigation and provide key references for these techniques.
  • Methods to increase your understanding of how radon management fits into an integrated school environmental health program.
  • Best practices of a school district mentor that has identified radon problems and successfully managed them.

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Home Energy-Saving Tips from Eversource

The average homeowner has a lot to juggle, from bills and maintenance to daily chores and family activities. This time of year can be even more stressful as we prepare for gift-giving, hosting family during the holiday season and keeping our homes warm and cozy as the temperatures drop. 

 

Connecticut residents shouldn’t have to worry about keeping their homes comfortable throughout the changing seasons. Save money this winter - without sacrificing comfort – by following these energy efficiency steps at home:

 

  1. LED string lights: LED string lights are a perfect alternative for holiday lighting since they use 75% less energy than traditional incandescent models. LEDs are also cooler to the touch, which reduces the risk of combustion or burnt fingers, and made from epoxy lenses instead of glass. This makes them sturdier and longer-lasting. In fact, a string of LED lights can still be used 40 holiday seasons from now!

 

  1. Heating system check-up: In order to make sure your system is ready for Winter 2019, schedule a service appointment to check filters, vents and ductwork. Regular HVAC check-ups ensure that your equipment is running as efficiently as possible and ready for the change in season.

 

  1. Weatherization: Once your heating system is prepped and ready to go, be careful of losing heat through cracks and gaps between joists and around pipes, windows, attics or door frames. Air sealing these problem areas or adding insulation will keep the warm air from escaping and the dropping temps at bay. Not a Do-It-Yourselfer? Sign up for Home Energy Solutions, where an Eversource-authorized contractor can make air sealing fixes on the spot and connect you to other solutions for home energy savings.

                

  1. ENERGY STAR® products: Are you replacing a dishwasher, refrigerator, washer or dryer? Before you hit the stores on Black Friday, look for the ENERGY STAR® logo. Energy-efficient appliances can help you save money and energy throughout the winter and beyond.

 

To learn more energy efficient ways to save at home, go to Eversource.com and the Energy Savings Plan page. This interactive planning tool is free and provides a detailed analysis of your energy usage, a customized savings plan for your home, and available incentives to help you better manage your energy consumption.

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NESSBE 2019: Equity of Place Social Justice in the Built Environment

NESSBE (Northeast Summit for a Sustainable Built Environment) is a biennial northeast regional summit meant to include a larger community of building professionals, owners, academics, policymakers and advocates in a conversation about sustainability in the built environment. The theme of the second NESSBE is Equity of Place: Social Justice in the Built Environment. The focus areas are material health and social justice, climate justice and conservation, resilience, community engagement, and affordable housing. For more information please visit www.nessbe.net
Join us in a conversation about the intersection of social justice and sustainability.
There's an open call for presentations until December 17th. 

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