"Portable" ground-mounted solar for an energy beast house?

This is not strictly a Sense shout out but hopefully the community has some thoughts:

Just moved in to a new property with a large house (built in 1940, 6 times the size of our NYC apartment) that has a bad-for-solar roof (wrong orientation and big mature tree shade). Meanwhile there are a number of areas within the 2 acres that lend themselves to ground-mounted solar possibilities. Meanwhile meanwhile, sometime next year we’re going to start building a shed style structure (a studio/workshop) that can be optimally placed and sized for solar. Probably 2023 before that comes online.

We have a 300 gallon oil tank supplying a boiler that provides hydronic heat. No town natural gas possible. A propane tank install is possible. A couple of open fireplaces that could get an insert or efficient stove. Firewood is potentially free so we would avoid pellets.

Power outages are not uncommon.

A propane or dual fuel generator seems like a good idea but a solar solution (with batteries) would make me happier.

I installed a Sense the day we moved in and detection is going smoothly. A key factor is that I will use Dedicated Circuit Monitoring to assess what the boiler circuit (hardwired on it’s own breaker) will need to be kept running in winter to provide heat so that plus the fridge, internet gear and a few lights will establish the minimum wattage for the generator.

The boiler also provides the domestic hot water. There is no existing other source of hot water but my thought is to install an HPWH to run in summer months and as a winter backup before migrating from the oil boiler.

Eventually an air or ground-source heat pump seems like the best heating/cooling solution but ideally it would be air-to-water and not air-to-air so would use the radiators as the distribution system.

So the question is: What would you do?

Hi and welcome to CT (I’m guessing). First thing I would do is to ensure the whole house is insulated up to current standards before deciding on any heat source. Fireplaces are very wasteful for heat; get a propane heating appliance for one of them.
For the generator, I would go with a whole house propane system…completely automatic and transparent, plus no lugging a portable system out from wherever its stored, then hoping it will start after a few pulls, running to the gas station at least once a day to keep it going, etc. Been there, done that, and power interruptions are likely to continue in the future, especially if you live in a wooded area.


Thanks @teach-1. Close enough: Dutchess County, NY.

Interestingly, Generac has an initiative with Central Hudson (local utility) to incentivize whole-house generators that can be controlled by the utility (!) to smooth out their supply peaks. The so-called “Insights+” service seems like a crippled subscription version of Sense! Picking apart all this stuff as a consumer will do your head in.

I had a local oil/propane supplier out here a few days ago and went over propane tank sizes and etc to use for both standby generator and potentially heat. After pondering more I’m leaning toward avoiding altogether propane for direct heating … geothermal + heat pump should be outage-proof because the generator can keep the geothermal and heat pump going. Firewood can be the last resort.

On the insulation front I’m in the middle of cobbling together a semi-permanent blower door to start the calibration. I’m trying to wrap my head around using a Sense’s spare CTs for a blower door motor monitor in addition to pressure sensors. There’s a sizable (inactive) attic fan that apparently used to be in an IBM factory that I’m tempted to test out but a mouse poop dance party in the basement suspended ceiling has to get removed before I can even think about such folly.

I’m a true believer in passive methods (insulation) before active, but I also hold that one or two-time blower door tests and energy audits can be fairly meaningless when you are renovating old and complicated buildings without stripping them to the bones.

I wonder if the wallpaper that I’m stripping from everywhere has more or less R-value than the paint that will replace it? :wink: Solid-as-rock lathe-and-plaster walls throughout.

Hi, sounds like you’re on the right track so good luck!