I have been getting a lot of questions about the changes to my house last fall. (I live very close to one of the main roads in the area, so a lot of people drive by on their way to work, school, or their vacation homes.) “Who are those guys, and what are you doing to your house? What are those THINGS on the south side of the house?” Here’s the scoop. I qualify for AEOA‘s Energy Assistance Program (formerly Fuel Assistance) and therefore also their Winterization Program. They have an agreement with the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) to install Solar Powered Furnaces (SPF) on lower-income homes. Free.
How it works: The sun heats up the panels. Air from my basement is then pumped through the panels and a simple thermostat controls the fan. I usually have my furnace thermostat set at 60F, and the SPF will not kick on unless there is warm air in the panels. The SPF thermostat is set to shut off at a certain temperature(85F), and will be turned down in the summer. The “brain box” takes up very little room in my basement, and very little additional ducting was needed.
But why?? Why do they do this?
I was pleasantly surprised to find the answers on the RREAL website. Check out their Return on Investment Page For Solar Assistance here. In short, installing the system pays for itself in ten years or so, and lasts over 30 years. It’s a wise investment that goes well with the Winterization Program. It reduces the amount of fuel oil or propane needed (up to 30%!), while also reducing carbon and other pollutants. Kind of like teaching a man to fish instead of just giving him food. For example, one day last week the high temp outside was right around zero, but the sun was shining. The fuel oil furnace didn’t kick on all day, once the sun started hitting the panels. And it was a very comfortable 70 degrees inside!
Unfortunately, according to RREAL, “[i]n 2009, 591,951 households who applied for fuel assistance and qualified were turned away in Minnesota because of lack of funding”. I was on the list for years before it was “my turn.” I would love to write a best-seller and donate back to this program someday. For now, I will write this article and hope that RREAL gets a bazillion orders as a result. They are doing a wonderful thing.
And what if someone wants to install an SPF on their own? Is it cost-effective?
Yes, RREAL installs SPF systems on homes that are not below the poverty line, and businesses too. I am not an expert, but if I didn’t qualify, I would still recommend investing in this technology– check out their Return on Investment Page to see if it’s worth it for you or your business. I love mine…there is nothing like having free heat from the sun blowing into the house when it’s winter…and it has dramatically helped me hate winter less.
I hope this helped answer your questions. Any others? 🙂