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You are here: > News > June 24, 2012

A Tour of David W. Allan's Solar Home that Uses 10 Solar Principles

Located in the cooler central Utah climate at 6,000 foot elevation, the Allan's solar home integrates at least ten different forms of solar, including: trombe wall, solarium convection, photovoltaic cells, propylene-glycol heat exchange, eutectic salt chamber, berm insulation, black chimneys and under-ground intake for passive solar air conditioning, and dehydration of food.

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Here's a photo from about 5 years ago of the David and Edna Allan solar home, which has no furnace, but has stayed adequately warm all winter for two decades now. Note the cross country ski poles in the foreground, which is how David (and Edna sometimes) stays fit when there is too much snow for him to go mountain biking. He typically goes around 7 miles / day, 4-5 times each week on his mountain bike, on a course that involves an 800 foot change in elevation, and that's not counting the intermediate ups and downs along the way. My son and nephew and I joined him yesterday for a short version of his trek, and were impressed both by the view, the rigor of the path, and his stamina.

by Sterling D. Allan
Pure Energy Systems News

Twenty years ago, my parents began construction on one of the most amazing solar homes in the world in Fountain Green, Utah. I count nine solar principles involved, two of which are active, with the remainder being passive.

Located at an elevation of 6,000 feet, in what is commonly thought of as "ski country", with winter temperatures dipping as low as -20 ΊF, the home does not have a furnace, but is heated by a combination of solar concepts compiled and designed by my Dad. He is an atomic clock physicist from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado, where I grew up. My mom is responsible for most of the vegetation, including the planting and knowledge of the use of herbs for health and healing. My dad said he doesn't remember a single time in which the home has gotten cooler than 50 ΊF.

While many of the solar principles are in use widely elsewhere (photovoltaic and solar thermal system), there are some that are much more scarce (the Trombe wall, the passive solarium air cycling, and the berm insulation principle), and some that are nearly completely underappreciated (the eutectic salt chamber, and the solar air conditioner), from which entire industries could spring to provide the tools, resources, and design work for people to implement them. The geodesic dome greenhouse and the wood chip gardening also demonstrate forward thinking in the most ancient of solar technologies: gardening.

After two decades, yesterday, finally, I was given permission to shoot a video tour of the home. 

Here's a photo I took of my dad at the entry of the home, featuring the "TRUTH IS LIGHT" keystone, which came from a granite rock that the builder, Alan Wright, procured from a refurbishment of the Salt Lake temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon).

Since completing the home in 1992, they've had a continual stream of around 100 visitors a year, mostly friends and acquaintances wanting to check out the home. Not only do people enjoy the science, but they love the ambiance of the home and its beautiful surroundings, with mountains on three sides, including Mt. Nebo to the north. (The next town to the south is Jerusalem, consisting of maybe three homes and 5 turkey sheds.)

But until now, they have not agreed to do a video of the home. The reluctance over the years has come from several reasons, including wanting to stay under the radar, and privacy.

Last week, catching them right after they happened to have tidied up the home, my parents let me do a live web cam tour of the home as part of my "This Week in Free Energy" segment on the SmartScarecrow show. Unfortunately, the resolution on that was very poor. So yesterday, while I was visiting, my Dad agreed to do a video tour with me using a better camera. So now, thousands can benefit from their wisdom.

I'm also grateful to be able to let you have this thumbnail view of what wonderful parents I have, to give you a glimpse of the foundation that has enable me to launch into my career in seeking to cover and promote the best extreme free energy technologies that go beyond solar and wind. I'm already a convert to solar, as you will see from this tour of my parents' home. Being a proponent of "greater things," I know there always has to be a better way to do things. And that is the quest that drives me in my career.

As you watch this tour, I think you will agree with me, that many of these principles could easily be incorporated into most homes (mostly in new builds) to give them the added benefit of solar gain, including for solar air conditioning in the summer, on top of whatever exotic power technologies might come in the future. The eutectic salt chamber is something my dad pioneered in Boulder, retrofitting our house there, before they moved to Fountain Green in '92, in five truckloads.

In my opinion, every new home ought to incorporate at least one or two of these solar gain principles, if not all of them, benefitting from the savings in energy to more than offset whatever cost those designs might add to the price of the home.

Here's the tour.

There are a couple of takes that are lost because I thought I was turning on the camera when I was turning it off, and vice versa. In one of those, my dad explained the catalytic converter in the fireplace they have in the living room, which burns the smoke, to get more efficiency. It burns so hot that it actually burns the soot off the tempered glass panes in the front. The fan on it is powered by the photovoltaic system.

Brief Synopsis of Video

(Thanks to Hank Mills, who provided this synopsis, with some editing by myself.)

My parent's solar home utilizes several different principles that allow for efficient heating, and even cooling. Many of the systems are passive and allow the temperature of the Earth, or the suns energy to do the work. 

One of the principles incorporated into the design is a series of windows facing the south with eaves to block the summer sun while allowing the sun in during the winter. Homes at a different latitude would need to utilize a different eave length and roof angle for the system to work optimally. Through the winter, the sun's rays shine through the windows onto a brick wall in the center of the home that can store heat energy and emit it via infrared radiation which is a naturally comfortable heat for the human body. The brick wall is 66 feet long and 22 feet high. 

It turns out that infrared or black body radiation is the best way to heat a house. Convection heating used in many homes is much less efficient. The brick wall is the main element that heats the home. The bricks that compose the wall need to be dark colored to best absorb and emit heat. 

The home contains a fireplace, but it is usually only used when guests come to visit. Small electric heaters are also used occasionally for local comfort.

Another solar principle is that the heat from the solarium is ducted in such a way that the rising heat travels via fairly large rectangular tubes (to not impede passive air flow) to the north side of the home where it cools, lowers, and returns through the floor joists. In the summer, the angle of refraction off the glass, and the blinds or curtains, reduce the solar gain.

A standard photovoltaic system is also part of the design of the house. It is a one kilowatt system. It is not enough power to run the home, but can be used as an emergency power supply. It is used to run the pumps involved with the solar water heating panels, as well as the DC fridge and the fan on the fireplace. The electricity produced by the panels is stored in batteries then converted to AC power for the home by an inverter, which cost about $20,000 in 1992.

Six 4x8-foot solar water heating panels are used to produce hot water for culinary purposes and to heat the bathrooms and one basement bedroom. Propylene-glycol (non-toxic) anti-freeze fluid from the panels runs through a heat exchanger to heat water which is stored in two 125-gallon tanks. If the solar thermal system does not provide adequate hot water for the home, a propane-powered, 50-gallon water heater is available for back-up, but is rarely needed.

Two solar chimneys are built into the home, which pull hot air out of the top of the house. They are lined with tin painted black to absorb solar heat. Currently, only one of them is being used, and is adequate. The incoming cool air is provided by a culvert pipe that runs 15 feet down (due to the contour of the landscape), then 30 feet laterally into a basement room. At the point of inflow there is a bunch of vegetation that cools the air through natural evaporative cooling. The cool temperature of the ground (which stays at around 54ΊF), further cools the incoming air. Combined, this comprises an efficient and inexpensive, passive solar air conditioner.

A eutectic chamber comprises yet another solar gain system in the home. A portion of the south-facing basement area has high-transmissivity glass, offset under the solarium to block much of the sun in the summer. The heat is then collected by a series of black tubes that contain eutectic salt that phase changes from solid to liquid at 90ΊF, and is then used to store heat to warm the home. One of the questions about eutectic salts is how well they hold up over time. My dad first implemented his in Boulder 25 years ago, and he hasn't noticed any degradation. The heat-of-fusion of these Glabber's salts is 80 calories per gram. It would take a 400 degree Celsius temperature change to store that much energy in brick of the same mass. Such designs are used widely in Europe and Canada.

Another aspect of the home is the berm principle in which the foundation is insulated to an optimal depth of about six feet. At this depth at the 40 degree north latitude of this home the temperature is 54ΊF year round, night and day. This allows the home to tie into the more constant temperature of the Earth below it, providing cooling in the summer and heating in the winter.

Multiple gardens are on the property and provide a source of year round food. A geodesic dome is used as a green house to grow tomatoes, kale, and other vegetables. One technique is to put wood chips on the floor of the garden to trap moisture and provide gradual composting.

The reason I include the wood chips as a "solar" modality is because this is a case of blocking against evaporation of water. While the sun is usually your friend, there are some cases where its effects need to be shielded.

P.S. Wildfire

Just as side note of interest: that wind that you see and hear in the video at times helped fan a wildfire just outside of Fountain Green around the time we were shooting this video. Now a few hours later the fire is raging, but gratefully the wind is away from Fountain Green not toward. A day later, it is now a major concern to the neighboring town of Indianola as well as to the cabins situation in its path. (Update: As of June 25, sixty homes had been consumed by this fire.) (June 26, 6:45 pm MDT update. It turns out that the likely cause of the fire was from someone stealing copper wire from the power line, which caused a short. I just returned from voting in Mt. Pleasant, and saw that presently, the fire is headed straight for Fairview, a small town of about 1000 people. They are evacuating the town. Another fire was started today by dry lightning to the east, up along Skyline drive.)

A view of the fire from near my subdivision in Ephraim, UT, ~25 miles to the south.

Check out this photo, and this one from the next day. It's also called the "Wood Hollow" fire. I shot a video here.

Speaking of fires, this is a photo of a fire behind NIST in Boulder, Colorado, from June 26, 2012:

Number 10: Dehydrating Food

Today, as I finish this write-up about yesterday's interview, it occurs to me that I have left out one of the most significant solar principles of all: food dehydration.

Back when I was a kid in Boulder, my mom started dehydrating food; and she's been doing it ever since, at a rate I've not seen anywhere else outside of commercial operations that have arisen in recent years.  Though she now has an electric dehydrator, she used to blend the fruit up and spread it out on a cookie sheet covered with a bread wrapper, and put it in our car, using the solar gain to dry the fruit and make it into fruit roll-ups.  That was long before such things appeared commercially.

She used to (probably still does) combine the fruit with zucchini squash which served as a base.  The mixture might be 20% fruit, which is what you would taste, and 80% squash, which you don't even taste.  Brilliant.  The commercial industry has yet to catch up with her, all these years later.

As you see my tour with my dad, you'll notice various dehydrating tools around the house, both in the kitchen, where the current batch is always under way, and in the solarium.

She dehydrates just about anything you could think of, including vegetables, herbs, and even deserts.

Proven System

For those of you who are regulars to our news, you are used to us covering technologies that have yet to make it to market, and for which evidence is scant.

You would think that if I did an article about a solar home that I would finally be able to get into solid ground of well-adapted technology. Yet as you watch this video, you will see that most of what my Dad has integrated into his home and proven over 20 years of operation has yet to reach commercial, widespread roll-out in the marketplace. It's not because they don't work, but because people haven't yet wrapped a solid commercial model around them to see their adaptation on a wider scale.

Ditto for my mom's dehydration acumen.  She's way ahead of the curve, and commercial variants of what she's been doing for nearly four decades are still behind what she was doing back when she started.

I must say that I feel the same way about the many "exotic" free energy technologies we cover in our news. It's not that they're not valid or proven, but that they just haven't been able to be implemented successfully in the marketplace yet.

I feel as much frustration when people call them "bogus" as I would feel if someone would make such a comment about one of these ten solar principles found in my parent's home, which I know works, from first-hand experience. 

Open your minds. There are much better ways of doing things than what we as a civilization have been doing.

Be a pioneer. It's all I've known my entire life.

# # #

This story is also published at Examiner.


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Page composed by Sterling D. Allan
Last updated July 03, 2015




"It is harder to crack a prejudice than an atom." // "I'd rather be an optimist and a fool than a pessimist and right." -- Albert Einstein

ADVISORY: With any technology, you take a high risk to invest significant time or money unless (1) independent testing has thoroughly corroborated the technology, (2) the group involved has intellectual rights to the technology, and (3) the group has the ability to make a success of the endeavor.
All truth passes through three stages:
   First, it is ridiculed;
   Second, it is violently opposed; and
   Third, it is accepted as self-evident.

-- Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

    "When you're one step ahead
of the crowd you're a genius.
When you're two steps ahead,
you're a crackpot."

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