May 11, 2018: DIY Retrofit Double-Glazing

A bit over a year ago I made a trip down to Sydney to do an Energy Assessment on an existing house in Epping. Probably built around 1950 on a west-facing site, this house had a tendency to get unbearable hot in the summer time and uncomfortably cold in the winter. Among a long list of recommendations on how to improve the comfort and energy efficiency of the house I suggested that adding double-glazing to some or all of the windows would be beneficial.

There are a few ways to retrofit double-glazing into an existing house. The best (and most expensive) way is to completely remove and replace the existing windows, frame and all. This is what we chose to do on the cottage next to the Greeny Flat as documented in the following video.

This is pretty big job which made sense for us because we had completely removed the old fibro cladding and wanted to ensure that there was no painted timber exposed on the outside of the cottage (because low-maintenance and durability were priorities for us). So we replaced the single-glazed timber windows with double-glazed aluminium ones.

Another (somewhat less expensive and disruptive) option is to just replace the glass in the existing window frames. There are a number of companies that offer this service and one that looks very promising to me is called ‘Twin-glaze‘. They have a very clever system which allows them to remove the glass from an aluminium window frame and replace it with double-glazing without removing the existing frame. I haven’t used this system so I don’t know how well it works or how much it costs and I’d love to hear from any readers who have used it.

A third option is to add a second pane of  ‘glass’ (usually it’s actually perspex) to the inside of the existing window frame. The most well-known company that offers this service is called ‘Magnetite‘ because they use a magnetic strip around the edge of the perspex to hold the double-glazing tight to the existing window frame. On my sister’s house in Canberra she used a combination of total replacement of some of the larger windows (and sliding doors) plus adding ‘Magnetite’ panes to the rest of the smaller windows and to the skylights. She’s very happy with the result but it certainly wasn’t cheap.

For the house in Epping, the owners, Margaret and Brendan, took a similar approach. They replaced some of the windows completely but decided to add double-glazing to an existing pair of french doors that open out to a west-facing deck. They got a quote from Magnetite but thought it was more than they were prepared to spend. So they figured out a way to do it themselves.

Here’s what they have to say about their DIY double-glazing.

You may recall when you came to our house the French doors in our lounge room. We got a quote from Magnetite to retrofit double glazing and total cost was $1529. We decided that we would have a crack at doing this ourselves. After a couple of hours work the job was completed for a total cost of $352. A local plastic company supplied 3mm clear acrylic cut to size and the magnetic tape and steel tape for secondary glazing was supplied by a UK company (couldn’t source it locally). I will note that the Magnetite product uses 4.5mm acrylic but I’m happy with the end result and the significant cost saving.

DIY ‘double glazing’ retrofit photos are attached. We attached the magnetic tape to the acrylic then stuck the metal strip onto the tape. Then we just removed the backing to attach to the French doors, as this made it much easier to manage positioning.

Margaret and Brendan's French Doors with their DIY Double-glazing installed.

Margaret and Brendan’s French Doors with their DIY Double-glazing installed.

If any of your readers are interested the supplier of the tape is Direct Products UK (I purchased via ebay). The item was magnetic tape & steel tape secondary glazing 30m kit for white window frames.

We are also very happy with our solar installation and are pleased to see that after charging the PHEV during the day we are still exporting to the grid.

With the Enphase monitoring we get the power usage and net energy figure.

A screenshot of their 'Enphase' solar power system monitoring.

A screenshot of their ‘Enphase’ solar power system monitoring.

Also we finally received our Flir thermal camera (a very long process to get one into Australia, and I had to sign my life away to say that it wasn’t going to be used in US etc). So we have been looking at the outcome of our on-going renovations (have started recladding with insulation & sarking & have also installed 6 new double glazed UPVC windows).

Congratulations Margaret and Brendan! Upgrading the energy performance and comfort in an old house can be a real labour of love (not to mention quite costly). They’ve got plenty more to do but they’ve already achieved a fantastic amount (even buying their own infrared camera to help them identify areas of heat loss or gain) and, in the process, figuring out how to install DIY retrofit double-glazing for a VERY reasonable cost.

Thanks very much for sharing this information with the rest of us.

A Nice Bit of Good News

South Georgia Island sits just above the Antarctic Circle in the Southern Atlantic Ocean (Image Source:

South Georgia Island sits just above the Antarctic Circle in the Southern Atlantic Ocean (Image Source: BobMetzler.com)

To finish up this week I’d like to give a shout out to my brother George who has been deeply involved over the last five years with an ambitious and challenging effort to eradicate rodents from South Georgia Island. This was the largest rodent eradication project ever attempted and has just been declared a success.

As you can read in this New Atlas article

The task of the project was to cover 1,087 km² (419 mi²) – an area eight times larger than any previous rodent eradication effort that included some of the harshest, most mountainous terrain imaginable….

South Georgia Heritage Trust is delighted to declare that its Habitat Restoration Project is complete and that invasive rodents have been successfully eradicated from the island.

Congratulations George (and the rest of the team), we’re very proud of you.

May 4th, 2018: Greeny Flat Available to Rent – Jun/Jul/Aug

Hello again. This week we have some exciting news… we’re making the Greeny Flat available to rent from the 9th of June until the end of August.

Cintia and I will be away working on an affordable housing project in Queensland so we’ve listed the Greeny Flat with the wonderful team at Highlands Property in Bowral.

Here is a link to the listing for anyone who might be interested.

https://highlandsproperty.com.au/listing-detail?listing_id=19070

The listing shows the location and some photos of the place (click on the image in the top right to view a little slide show.

Please share this link with anyone who might like to spend the winter in the beautiful Southern Highlands and/or experience life in an energy-positive eco-cabin or just needs a place to live for a few months.

Thanks for your help… we really appreciate it.

Another Example of a ‘Sustainable’ Subdivision

In our Newletter back on March 16th I wrote a bit more about how most subdivisions are typically designed and built with little or no thought to sustainable concepts like energy and water conservation, natural habitats or bringing communities together. I also described how the ‘Design Guidelines’, covenants and controls can actually make it difficult or impossible to build a good passive solar home in one of these developments. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With careful thought and planning a subdivision could actively encourage energy efficiency, water conservation, preservation of natural habitats and a healthy community.

In that Newsletter I mentioned one such development called Khancoban Alpine Estate and this week I’ve discovered another one called The Cape which is currently under construction at Cape Patterson on the Victorian coast.

Artist's Impression of The Cape development.

Artist’s Impression of The Cape development.

Here is a bit of an excerpt from their website…

All homes will feature proper orientation, shading, glazing, insulation and more, to ensure year round comfort and reduce living costs. Your home will retain warmth in winter and stay cool in summer, minimising the need for cooling or heating.

The use of rainwater will increase the availability of clean, fresh water in our community. In addition to mains water, all houses will feature at least 10,000 litres of rainwater storage for use in gardens and toilets, helping to create year-round water security. Excess stormwater will be redirected to collection ponds and filtered back through vegetation into groundwater and natural wetlands.

Each house at The Cape will have a minimum of 2.5 kilowatts of solar energy. Powered by the sun, the community will be capable of creating an annual surplus of clean energy. Electric vehicle charge points are also available for residents who want them.

As a resident at The Cape, you will have the opportunity to grow your own produce in our specially designed gardens if you choose. The café at The Cape’s Community Centre will also offer our residents delicious meals made from the freshest, locally grown produce.

Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?… Don’t you wish every subdivision was designed and built this way? Perhaps, one day, they will be.

Here’s hoping and thanks for reading.

April 20, 2018: Why you MUST monitor your solar system.

Lots to get through this week so I’ll try to be brief.

Firstly just a quick reminder that we’re having our 4th Earth Day Party at the Greeny Flat on Sunday from 4-7pm. Everyone’s welcome… more info in last week’s Newsletter here.

Should you monitor the output from your solar panels?

The answer is an emphatic YES! In fact I would go so far as to say you MUST monitor your solar power system and here’s why…

Our solar power monitor at noon on a good sunny day last week.

Our solar power monitor at noon on a good sunny day last week.

We’ve been monitoring our solar power system since it was installed four years ago. It’s rated as a 3kW solar system but you’ll never get the full rated production from your solar panels. When it was first installed we found that it could produce 2.7kW on a good, cool, sunny day. (Cool is important because solar panels produce less when they get hot). But lately I had been noticing that our power production seemed to have dropped off a bit. So earlier this week I took a closer look and, sure enough, the photo above shows that we were only getting less that 2kW out of the panels on a cool, sunny day at noon.

So I went out and had a look at the panels and this is what I saw…

The culprit... or so I thought.

The culprit… or so I thought.

Yep, there was a gorgeous big bird turd right in the middle of one of the panels and I thought, ‘Ah Ha! That must be shading one of the cells and taking down the production of the whole string’. (FYI – our solar panels are attached to what’s called a ‘string’ inverter which means that, if one of the cells of one of the panels is shaded, it reduces the production of the whole string – the way to avoid that is with ‘optimisers’ or microinverters but that’s a whole other discussion). Anyway, I jumped up a ladder, carefully removed the offending excrement and ran back inside to find…

Not the culprit apparently.

Not the culprit apparently.

… it made bugger all difference. So I jumped back up the ladder and had another look.

These solar panels look clean to me.

These solar panels look clean to me.

The panels looked pretty clean and it took me a while to spot the problem…

The new culprit!

The new culprit!

Along the bottom of each panel (this photo was taken from the top of the roof) was a little row of lichen growing. The aluminium frame around the edge of the panel creates a little lip that catches enough dirt to provide a place for lichen to take hold. And, as you can see, these little bits of lichen are starting to cover a little bit of the edge of the solar cells. A little bit of lichen shading a little bit of a few cells of each panels… could this be enough to reduce our total production so dramatically? There was only one way to find out…. clean the panels!

Pressure washing to worst of the dirt and lichen off the panels.

Pressure washing to worst of the dirt and lichen off the panels.

The important thing when cleaning solar panels is not to scratch the surface of the glass because that would also reduce the production. A pressure washer is a good tool to get most of the dirt and lichen off the panels without risking any scratches (although this article from Solar Choice says not to use a pressure washer because you risk cracking the glass). I definitely do not recommend that you do this yourself unless you have a lot of experience working on roofs and some good safety equipment. The water from the pressure washing gets everywhere, including the roof that you’re standing on, and makes everything very slippery. Anyway, I managed to get it done but I noticed that there were still some spots and bits of lichen root clinging to the glass.

Gently scrubbing with a very soft broom so as not to scratch the glass.

Gently scrubbing the solar panels with a very soft broom so as not to scratch the glass.

So I found a very soft, clean broom (so as not to scratch the glass) and gently scrubbed the remaining spots off with a mixture of sugar soap and bleach. This was even more dangerous because the soap made the roof I was standing on even more slippery. Once again, I do not recommend doing this yourself.

After a thorough rinsing to remove any soap residue I was eager to see what the monitor had to say…

That's more like it!

That’s more like it!

…and lo and behold, our solar production had shot back up to 2.6kW. So, by cleaning the panels we were able to get about 700 more watts out of the panels. At a guess that will add up to about an extra 2.8kWh per day or 1000kWh per year. That’s worth at least $100 (up to $250 depending on how we use our solar power). So cleaning the panels was definitely worth the effort.

But the main point I’m trying to make is that, if we hadn’t been monitoring the production of electricity from our solar power system we would not have known that we had a problem. The panels looked fine from the ground but, because the monitor told us they were not producing properly, we were motivated to look more closely and to find the lichen problem and fix it.

So, getting back to the original question… should you monitor the output of your solar panels… the answer is ABSOLUTELY!

14% of Solar System may not be working at all

According to this article from Solar Analytics,  ‘more than half of Australia’s residential solar systems perform below the standard they’re supposed to. And even worse, about 14% of the country’s solar systems develop a major fault every year and stop working altogether.’

Unless you have a monitoring device, how would you know if your solar system is working at all? One way is to look closely at your electricity bills. Another is to look at the digital display screen on your inverter or at the reading on your electricity export meter. But the best way is to install a monitoring device. I have a Wattson meter but they have gone out of business. Friends of mine have various different monitoring systems including ‘Efergy‘, ‘Smappee‘ and ‘Solar Analytics‘. There are plenty of others but my advice is, it doesn’t matter which system you choose, just get one and pay attention to it. You’ll be glad you did.

Solar for Pensioners

In our Newsletter on March 30th we talked about how it’s a great time to install solar due to the excellent financial returns. One of our readers (and neighbours), Phil, sent the following response outlining how solar can be even more beneficial for pensioners…

‘…people on part pensions currently have their pensions increased (or decreased) with every $1000 movement in their deemable assets. What this means is that if a pensioner spends, say $6000 on a system, their assets go down by $6000 which increases their pension by $468 per year (6 x $78), so after about 13 years the Govt has paid them $6000+ ie paid for the solar. Plus they have an asset which increases the value of their home. They will of course lose the earning capacity of the $6000 but even if it could have returned 4%, they are still ahead by 3.8%.’
So there’s another hidden benefit of rooftop solar… thanks Phil.

Exhibition Success

Finally, thanks to everyone who came along to our ‘Celebrating Clay’ exhibition. The exhibition as a whole was beautifully presented and Cintia’s ceramics and my photos were very warmly received. We really appreciate the support.

Some of the exhibitors at the 'Celebrating Clay' exhibition last week.

Some of the 10 exhibitors at the ‘Celebrating Clay’ exhibition last week.

April 6, 2018: 4th Earth Day Party – April 22

Friends helping us celebrate Earth Day 2016 at the Greeny Flat

Friends helping us celebrate Earth Day 2016 at the Greeny Flat

Sunday April 22nd marks the end of our fourth year of energy-positive-living in the Greeny Flat. It also happens to be the 48th annual, international celebration of Earth Day which, this year, is focused on ending plastic pollution.

So, in what has quickly become our tradition, we will be holding our 4th annual Earth Day Party on Sunday April 22nd from 4 to 7pm at the Greeny Flat, 16a Queen St, Mittagong.

More good friends celebrating Earth Day 2016

More good friends celebrating Earth Day 2016

Everyone is welcome… as usual we will be cooking pizzas so feel free to bring your favourite pizza ingredient, something to drink and perhaps a little finger food to share (but not any plastic please). Cintia and I hope to see you here to help us celebrate our wonderful house and fine community of friends.

Our famous Earth Day Pizzas!

Our famous Earth Day Pizzas!

Shameless Self Promotion

180406 Celebrating Clay front

Speaking of Cintia and I… we would also like to invite you to an art exhibition which will include some of our work. As you may know, Cintia is a ceramicist who works at the Sturt Pottery Centre. She and nine of her fellow potters will be having their regular Celebrating Clay exhibition next week at the BDAS Gallery in Bowral (not at Sturt) and they’ve invited me to include some photographs. Here’s a bit from their promotional email.

10 ceramic artists, 10 different expressions of this versatile material called clay: from functional ware to sculptures and everything in between.

Come and join us in Celebrating Clay 2018, an exhibition by Sturt Pottery Group.

Also on the walls see a beautiful photograph exhibition of Southern Highlands local life by Andy Lemann.

From 12th -17th April 2018 at Bowral Art Gallery (BDAS – 1 Short St, Bowral). 10am-4pm.

Official opening: Saturday 14th April at 2pm.

180406 Celebrating Clay back

 

FREE! Smart Energy Expo –  Sydney, April 10-11

This looks like it’s going to be a wonderful conference and exhibition of solar and smart energy solutions to be held next week at the International Conference Centre in Darling Harbour. I plan to go on Wednesday… perhaps I’ll see you there. Here’s some information from their website.

Welcome to the home of Australia’s biggest solar, storage and smart energy conference and exhibition.

Powered by the Smart Energy Council – incorporating the Australian Solar Council and Energy Storage Council, this is our 56th annual FREE-TO-ATTEND conference and exhibition.

The show is the complete smart energy package whereby both industry delegates can expect valuable insights, leading innovation, best practice and information from over 100 exhibitors and 90 presenters.

In 2018, we have introduced the Energy Revolution area catering to consumers who want to slash their power bill – click here for more information.

TOP REASONS TO ATTEND

  • Over 6,000 delegates, 100 exhibitors and 90 presenters

  • A showcase of the latest technology, demonstration of new business models and innovation

  • Outstanding knowledge sharing and networking

  • Conference and information sessions

  • New “Energy Revolution Pavilion” for consumers

  • Up to 120 CPD points for installers

Smart Energy Conference & Exhibition 2018 Opening Times:

Tuesday 10 April from 8:30am – 5.30pm,  followed by networking drinks
Wednesday 11 April from 8:30am – 5.30pm

 

March 30, 2018: It’s a Great Time For Solar

Earlier this week I was asked to write a brief (300 word) article about solar for today’s local paper. If you’re interested you can access the article here… But I can save you the trouble…. because this is what I wrote.

When I look around the Southern Highlands I see a lot of buildings that still don’t have solar panels on their roof. The question I want to ask the owners is, “What are you waiting for?” With recent increases in both electricity rates and Feed-in Tariffs (FIT is the amount you get paid for any excess solar power you send out to the grid) the financial benefit of going solar has never been better.

I buy my electricity from a small, ethical retailer called Energy Locals and I pay 22c/kWh for the power I import and I get 13c/kWh for the excess solar I export. At those prices, if you were to install a 5kW solar system costing $7500 you would get a return on your investment of between 12% and 21%. The more of your own solar power you can use during the day, the better your return on investment will be. But even if you export every bit of your solar power to the grid you will still make 12% on your investment, plus you’ll be adding to the market value of your property and doing something positive for the environment. You won’t get that from a bank!

If you’re the owner of a small to medium-sized business, the returns can be even better. If you’re a landlord, there are systems you can access through organisations like Matter or SunTenants that allow both you and your tenants to share the benefits of solar power.

So, if you’ve own a roof, it’s time to think about putting it to work for you by installing solar panels. And if you already have a solar system, it’s a good time to look at adding more.

Honestly, you’re crazy if you don’t have a solar system on your roof when you can get such a good return on your investment (ROI). And, since writing that piece earlier in the week, I’ve received another quote for a solar system for the house next to the Greeny Flat. Initially they told me $7,500 for a 5kW system but it turns out that was for the most expensive, top-of-the-line equipment. The price for good quality gear (i.e. Trina panels and an SMA inverter like we have on the Greeny Flat) is only $5,500 for a 5kW system.

At that price the ROI is even better than I quoted in the article. In our area a solar system will produce about 4kWh per day for each 1kW of installed solar. So a 5kW system should produce an average of 20kWh per day. That makes 7,300kWh/year. If you were to export every bit of that power to the grid and get 12c/kWh for it, you would receive a total of $867 per year which equates to a 16% return on a $5,500 investment. On the other hand, if you were able to use every kWh yourself (which many small businesses can do because they use power during the day) you would be avoiding paying 22c/kWh so you would be saving $1,606/yr which equals a 29% ROI.

With banks paying about 2% interest on a savings account and even the best companies on the ASX only paying dividends in the 5-7% range, you just can’t get the sort of ROI you can get from solar from anything but the most risky financial investment. And solar is not risky at all. It’s securely fastened to your own roof where you can keep an eye on it and it’s covered by long warranties plus your building insurance (as long as you inform your insurer that you have installed it).

Recent Happy Solar Customers

Jim and Jess beside their

Jim and Jess beside their new solar inverter

Jess and Jim of Bundanoon have recently had a 10kW solar PV system installed on their Western roof, and are happy to report that at most times of the day, the system is generating plenty of power to cover their household consumption needs and surplus export to the grid (earning them a feed-in tariff of 12.8c per kW/h via Energy Locals). Due to export limiting, some of this surplus will be wasted, especially during the warmer months, and so Jim plans to monitor their usage patterns over the next 12 months and decide whether battery storage might be required. Jess and Jim were very happy with the professionalism of the Nowra and Bowral-based installers, Simmark, and they reported that Matt Simms, in particular, was a great source of technical and practical advice.

Jim and Jess's solar panels.

Jim and Jess’s solar panels.

March 23, 2018: Beware of Tradies In Your Attic

I need to get something off my chest… it’s been bothering me for YEARS and I’ve finally had enough. I’m talking about tradesmen who go up into an attic, move the insulation out of the way to get to what they need to work on, do their work and then leave.

Can you spot the tell-tale signs that there's been a tradie in this attic?

Can you spot the tell-tale signs that there’s been a tradie in this attic?

I took the above photo last year when I was doing an energy assessment on a house in Bundanoon and this is absolutely typical. Obviously an electrician has been up there to install the light (on the right-hand -side) and the bathroom exhaust fan (on the left-hand-side). As usual they’ve moved the insulation out of the way to get to the locations they needed and to access the wiring. They’ve done their thing and then they haven’t put the insulation back. (While I’m at it I might also point out that they’ve installed the bathroom fan in such a way that the outlet is pointing directly into the insulation. This means that all the warm humid air from the shower is blowing straight into one fibreglass batt… how long do you think it will be before that batt is saturated and mould starts to grow?… but that’s another rant.)

I wouldn’t mind so much if this was an unusual occurrence but this is an epidemic!

I’ve been in the building game for thirty years and for the last twenty I’ve been focused primarily on energy efficiency. I’ve done energy audits and assessments on hundreds of houses both in Australia and the US. And I can honestly say that I have seen this sort of thing in EVERY attic I’ve ever been in (except for the ones that had no insulation at all… and there are a surprising lot of those too!).

I’m perfectly serious… in every attic I’ve inspected I’ve found evidence that some tradesman (could be an electrician, a heating and cooling installer, a plumber, a cable TV guy, a solar installer, a roofer, a pest inspector… pretty much anyone who goes into attics) has moved the insulation and not put it back.

I’ve had enough! This has got to stop! Australian insulation jobs are generally not very good in the first place with gaps, cracks, folds and voids appearing all over the place (see our Newsletter from back in March 2016 for a whole other rant on that subject). The last thing we need is tradesmen (who really should know better) stuffing things up even more.

This attic in Epping

This attic in Epping was typically poorly insulated BEFORE the electrician got to it… now look at it!

Why do tradesmen not care about insulation?

I think it’s a symptom of poor training and a fragmented industry. Each tradesman is taught to know and care (if you’re lucky) about their own little link in the building chain and nothing else. Electricians know all about electrical codes and fire safety and circuit loads but they don’t know anything (and aren’t taught to care about) any other aspect of the building process. Likewise a plumber cares about plumbing, a roofer cares about roofing, and none of them give a hoot about what the other guy is doing. Insulation and energy efficiency are never seen as important. In fact they’re seen as unnecessary impediments to a quick and profitable turnaround. On most Australian building sites the job of installing the fibreglass batts (which, by the way, are not a very good way to insulate a building in the first place) is given to the least knowledgeable and most inexperienced person on the site. They’re given very little instruction on how to do it and told to get it done as quickly as possible. It’s seen as brainless and simple work to stuff a few batts into a few cavities and beside… no-one inspects it so WHO CARES!.

The truth is that doing a good job of insulating a wall or a ceiling (or particularly a floor… I ought to know because that’s what I’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks) requires experience, thought and care. Each piece has to be cut precisely to fit its space and installed so that it completely fills the cavity from front to back. It shouldn’t be folded or stuffed or squashed and there shouldn’t be any gaps, cracks or voids around the edges or between the batts. And most importantly it shouldn’t have some bozo tradie rip it out, toss it across the attic and not put it back when he’s finished.

This photo shows what a good insulation job should look like (ignore the gaps beside the old window because we're about to take it out and replace it with a new, double-glazed one).

This photo shows what a good insulation job should look like (ignore the gaps beside the old window because we’re about to take it out and replace it with a new, double-glazed one).

So how can you prevent tradies from stuffing up your attic insulation?

I suggest that any time you are considering hiring a tradesman to do ANY kind of work in your attic you send them an email (so you have it in writing) that says, ‘The insulation in my attic is very important to me and I need it to be kept in good condition. If your work requires you to move any insulation for any reason, I expect it to be put back the way you found it. After your job is finished (and before I pay you) I will be inspecting the attic to make sure the insulation is in perfect condition. If it isn’t I will expect you to come back and fix it or I will hire a specialist to do it and deduct the cost from your final payment. Thanks for being careful’. That should keep the bastards honest.

Here endeth the lesson.

On a Happier Note – Cheap, 3D Printed EV

The 3D printed LSEV from China

The 3D printed LSEV from China

I’ve been saying for quite a while that we need small, simple, affordable electric vehicles and they’ll probably be coming from China or India. Western car manufacturers seem irrevocably obsessed with making cars bigger, fancier, faster and more complex. I think they’re going to miss out on the lions share of the future car market because what people really need is something like this.

It’s the LSEV and it’s the love child of a Chinese 3D printing company and an Italian EV designer. As reported in this New Atlas article

According to Polymaker, all visible parts of the car except the chassis, seats and glass are 3D-printed. Taking this approach reportedly allowed the total number of separate parts to be reduced from a typical 2,000 to only 57 – that presumably doesn’t include things like the drivetrain. It also made possible a claimed complete vehicle weight of just 450 kg (992 lb)…

We’ve reached out to Polymaker for more details on the vehicle, and are still waiting to hear back. In a recent report from CNBC, however, it was stated that the car will be priced at approximately US$7,500, have a top speed of about 43 mph (69 km/h), and a battery range of 93 miles (150 km) per charge.

Cintia and I are pretty happy with our PHEV as a work vehicle and for longer trips, camping, etc. but this little beauty would be perfect for us as a second car for running around town. Of course it probably won’t be offered for sale in Australia but we live in hope.

Thanks for reading.

March 16, 2018: More Sustainable Subdivisions

A while ago I was asked by a friend who had just bought a block of land in the prestigious ‘Retford Park’ subdivision in Bowral, to help him design an energy efficient home to build on the property. I was dismayed and disgusted to discover that the ‘Design Guidelines’ for this subdivision actually made it impossible to build a good Passive Solar house or even to have an effective solar power system in many cases. One of the guidelines stated that ‘solar panels could not be visible from the street’. So, if you bought a block with the street to the north you would have to put the solar panels on the south side of the roof which really doesn’t work too well. Another ‘guideline’ stated that there had to be a verandah at least 2.7m wide along at least 50% of the street side of the house. This means that, if the street is to the north, the verandah would block at least half of your winter sun. Yet another one stated that the living area of the house had to ‘address the street’. In other words, if the street was to the south, you would have to put the living area on the south side of the house which goes against one of the basic principles of Passive Solar Design which is to have the rooms that you use during the day on the sunny side of the house where they can take advantage of the natural light and the warmth in winter from the sun streaming in. There were lots more of these ‘guidelines’ that, put together, made it impossible to build an effective Passive Solar and energy efficient house. After I explained all this to my friend he ended up selling his block and buying somewhere else.

Personally, I was outraged that the developer was allowed to impose these kinds of restrictions on the property owners. It seems to me that our local and state regulations should be preventing this from happening and should, in fact, be requiring people to build more energy efficient and sustainable homes. I mean, isn’t that what BASIX is for???

For those readers not from NSW, BASIX stands for ‘Building Sustainability Index’. It is compulsory for any new residential building in NSW to achieve a minimum score in order to pass BASIX before building approval will be granted. But, as I adamantly pointed out in our Newsletter way back in March 2014… BASIX IS A JOKE! You only have to look at the thousands of new homes springing up in awful subdivisions all up and down the east coast of NSW to find proof that BASIX is completely failing to make our homes more sustainable.

A typical new subdivision in NSW with massive houses built inches apart and covered with dark tile roofs. No open space, no thought given to solar access, or ventilation or orientation or energy efficiency. (Image source: 7News)

A typical new subdivision in NSW with massive houses built inches apart and covered with dark tile roofs. No open space, no thought given to solar access, or ventilation or orientation or energy efficiency. (Image source: 7News)

The most depressing thing for me about the photo above is that every home in that subdivision has passed BASIX and yet there isn’t a ‘sustainable’ thing about any of them. For the last couple of years I’ve been thinking that maybe I should try to get together with a developer to do a subdivision where all of the ‘Design Guidelines’ are aimed at requiring the owners to build Passive Solar and energy efficient homes.

Fast forward to today…. Cintia and I just got home from a very pleasant evening out which included a delicious desert at the Bowral Brasserie. We met and got to chatting with the owner, John Durst, and I was delighted to hear that he has actually developed his own subdivision called Khancoban Alpine Estate and written a set of Design Guidelines aimed at requiring all homes in the development to utilise Passive Solar Design principles and to preserve good solar access, not just to their own property but to their neighbour’s homes as well. John has even gone so far as to show charts towards the end of these Design Guidelines that demonstrate how the energy savings gained from building an energy efficient house can reduce the time required to pay off a mortgage by as much as 9 years!

I would like to congratulate John for taking the initiative to encourage more sustainable development in his estate. Khancoban is high up in the Alpine region of NSW so, by Australian standards, it has a pretty harsh climate where building an energy efficient home has the potential to make a huge difference to the comfort and costs associated with living there.

The tagline of the Khancoban Alpine Estate website is ‘Affordable Paradise’ and I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with the prices of the lots as well as the commitment to energy efficiency. As you can see from their pricelist, the available lots range from $39,500 up to $60,000 for between 555 and 1002 sqm. Considering that an equivalent sized property in our area would be priced anywhere from $400,000 to $800,000 their prices look very reasonable to me. I’m also impressed with the unwritten idea that ‘affordability’ means more than just the price of the property… it also means that the house on it should be built in such a way that it is energy efficient and cost effective to heat, cool, keep comfortable and to operate.

I would like to add that I have no affiliation with John or with Khancoban Alpine Estate. I just met him tonight and I’m impressed with what he’s trying to do. As far as I’m concerned every subdivision should be built to this sort of standard.

Well done John.

(p.s. the Creme Brulee was sensational!)

Photo from the Khancoban Alpine Estate website.

Photo from the Khancoban Alpine Estate website.

March 2, 2018: More Solar For Landlords and Renters

No More Tile Roof

Putting the finishing touches on the new roof on the cottage next to the Greeny Flat.

Putting the finishing touches on the new roof for the cottage next to the Greeny Flat (click here to see how it looked with the tiles)

This week we completed the job of replacing the tile roof on the cottage next to the Greeny Flat with a light-coloured Colorbond roof. This will help to keep the house much cooler in the summer because:

  1. The light colour will reflect heat much more effectively than the dark tiles;
  2. The light weight of the metal will not hold heat like the heavy tiles did;
  3. We added ‘Anti-con’ blanket (50mm fibreglass insulation over reflective foil sarking) directly under the corrugated metal so it will transfer very little heat into the attic;
  4. We added plenty of eave vents plus a ‘whirly bird’ ventilator near the peak of the roof which will help to keep the attic cool in summer plus help to control moisture and condensation in the winter, and;
  5. We were also able to put insulation into large areas of the ceiling that did not get insulated properly when the ceiling was done years ago. It is very difficult in most attics to install insulation right out to the edges where the roof meets the exterior walls so often (as in our case) this just gets left uninsulated (see photo below). In total there was probably 25sqm of uninsulated ceiling that has now been insulated to a very good standard. This will greatly help to keep the house cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

While we were at it we also added steel ‘triple grips’ to tie the roof rafters down to the top plates and steel strapping to tie the top-plates down to the wall framing. Without the enormous weight of the tiles to hold the roof down, these details will ensure that the whole roof doesn’t lift off in a big wind.

Some of the things we were able to fix while the roof was off.

Some of the things we were able to do while the roof was off.

Time to Put Solar on the Roof???

As I have mentioned in our last two Newsletters (here and here), we are looking into the costs and benefits of putting solar on the roof of this rented house. This is a dilemma that affects every landlord and tenant due to what is known as the ‘split incentive’. The tenant could benefit from having solar on their roof but they have no incentive to install it when they don’t own the building. Meanwhile, the landlord owns the building but has no incentive to install solar because the tenant would get all the benefit in the form of lower electricity bills. See our previous Newsletters for more about this Australia-wide problem and some of the possible solutions.

There are organisations like SunTenants, Matter and PrePaid Solar that have been set up to try to resolve this issue but I don’t think any of them offer the perfect solution. For one thing, I’m not keen on paying a fourth party a lot of money to administer what should be a very simple transaction. Ideally I think every electricity retailer should be required to offer a service for landlords and tenants in order to simplify the arrangement. This would mean that there are just three parties involved, the landlord, the tenant and the retailer.

However, since that is not currently available (although I am planning to talk to my retailer (Energy Locals) about offering it) I’m thinking that the next best option will be for Mum to keep the electricity bill in her name and simply charge the tenant for the daily supply charges plus the grid power and solar power they use. She can set her own price for her solar power (although I understand that she cannot legally charge more than the retail price) and she can even offer the tenant a percentage of the FIT if she’s feeling generous. In order to try to understand the financial returns for her I have put together the following spreadsheet and I would greatly appreciate any feedback on it, especially if you happen to be an expert on solar and/or an accountant. (Please note that I am neither and I make no guarantees about the accuracy of the numbers presented below).

The idea is that the fields shaded green can be changed to test different scenarios and I have shown six such options below (scroll right to see more).

In this example I have used the approximate rates that I currently enjoy with Energy Locals along with estimates for things like the cost of the system, the amount of energy the tenants use, the percentage of solar they might self-consume, Mum’s tax rate, etc.

In the six different options shown I have simply tweaked one of the variables each time, e.g. Option 1 is for a 4kW system, Option 2 is for 5kw, Option 3 I changed the percentage of self consumption from 20% to 30%, then 4, 5 and 6 I just adjusted the amount Mum could charge or refund the tenant.

In all six cases that I tested, the simple Return On Investment (ROI) and Payback Periods seem very acceptable with paybacks ranging from 6 to 8 years (when you factor in depreciation). I recently realised that a landlord has the additional benefit (compared to a home owner) of being able to deduct the depreciation of the solar system from their taxable income. So I have attempted to factor that in at the end.

Setting this up would require agreement between the tenant and the landlord. It might also require a monitor to determine the amount of solar power the tenant has used (although I’m pretty sure this can be calculated from the total solar production (read from the inverter) minus the solar power exported (read from the export meter). If so, it would simply be a matter of reading the meters and inverter each quarter and calculating what the tenant owes. It might involve paying the Property Manager a small additional fee to do this and to request payment from the tenant.

The beauty of a system like this is that it can benefit both the landlord (by providing a good return on their investment) and the tenant (by lowering their electricity bills) plus it provides an incentive for the tenant to use more solar power and less grid power which is good for the planet.

Any comments about this idea will be more than welcome and can be made by filling out the ‘Leave a Reply’ field below.

Investment Opportunity 1 – Crowd-funded Solar Electricity Retailer

I have also just registered my interest in possibly investing in Australia’s first crowd-funded, solar-focused energy retailer. Called DC Power Co this is a startup venture that promises to…

‘…reward solar owners with cheaper bills, better feed-in tariffs, transparency around how your investment is actually working, genuine guidance on how to get more out of your solar and wholesale top-up prices for when you need a little extra from the grid.

And best of all … we’re inviting all Australian Solar Owners to join us in building the company by becoming shareholders.

A $50 investment will see you own a piece of DC Power Co., allow you to have a say in how the business is run, and offer a share in future profits.’

I have no affiliation with DC Power Co, I just think this sounds like a good idea and possibly a good investment opportunity but I don’t offer financial advice so please, do your own research.

Investment Opportunity 2 – Repower 6 Now Open for Investors

Some of the Repower CREW in front of the community-funded solar system on the Milkwood Bakery in Berry.

Some of the Repower crew in front of the community-funded solar system on the Milkwood Bakery in Berry.

If you’re not familiar with Repower you can read more about their system of using local investors to fund solar power systems for local businesses in this previous Newsletter. If you are familiar with them you might be interested to know that their sixth investment round is now open… but hurry, their previous five rounds got filled very quickly.

Feb 23, 2018: The Reroofing Begins

Putting Mum’s Money Where My Mouth Is

Yesterday we began the job of replacing the tile roof on the old cottage next to the Greeny Flat

Yesterday we began the job of replacing the tile roof on the old cottage next to the Greeny Flat

For the last month I’ve been banging on about how inappropriate tile roofs are for Australia’s climate. So we’ve bitten the bullet and begun the process of replacing ours with a light-coloured Colorbond. As many of our readers will already know, the land the Greeny Flat is built on is owned by my mother as part of an investment property along with an old cottage built in about 1945. Over the last year we’ve been gradually doing a complete energy retrofit on the place. (You can click here if you want to read more about that process and watch a series of short videos we’ve made about the project).

To summarise… so far we’ve: removed all the fibro from the outside of the walls; insulated the exterior walls; replaced all the windows with double-glazing; upgraded the plumbing and electrical systems; reclad the outside with galvanised iron; installed a  mini Trombe wall, a solar air heater, a high-efficiency reverse-cycle air-conditioner and a slow-combustion wood stove; replaced the sewer lines; added a covered deck and awning along the west side to provide summer shading, improved the access and ventilation to the sub-floor area; and insulated under all of the floor we can get to. It’s a good, solidly-built old place but, after seventy years, it needed an upgrade and we reckon it will be good for the next seventy by the time we’re finished. It will also be much more comfortable, better ventilated, healthier, easier to keep warm in winter and cool in summer plus more energy and water efficient.

For those of you who are following our series of little videos about the project, I apologise, I’ve been a bit preoccupied lately and I’m behind on posting to YouTube. However I intend to make three or four more videos to complete the Energy Retrofit story and I’ll let you know when they’re ready to view.

At some point in the future we also plan to remodel the kitchen and living room but those are not energy related modifications. All that we have left to do from the energy point of view after the new roof is on will be to add solar panels, which brings me back to the discussion I started last week about Solar For Landlords. The research I’ve done so far suggests that this is a major issue which is preventing about one in four Australian homes from having solar panels installed on their roof (because the home is rented, the landlord has to pay for the system and the tenant gets all the benefit… this is known as the ‘split incentive’). It’s also preventing most of Australia’s renters from having access to affordable and renewable energy from rooftop solar.

Given the size of the problem, it is not surprising that various enterprises have sprung up to try to offer a solution. So far the three main ones I’ve discovered are:

If any readers know of any other programs please let me know. The cottage next to the Greeny Flat is a perfect case study and I plan to contact each of the organisations that offer this type of service to find out what’s involved and how the numbers stack up.

For anyone interested, here are links to a few good articles I’ve uncovered on the subject:

http://renew.org.au/articles/raising-the-roof-solar-for-renters-and-apartment-dwellers/

http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2018-02-18/how-can-renters-get-solar-panels/9409098

Solar For Renters? Landlords & Tenants Share The Benefits with ‘Matter’

The last of the three articles above points out that the return for a landlord investing in a solar system can be significantly higher than for a homeowner because the landlord can depreciate the expense. I’m wondering if the entire cost could be depreciated under the current $20,000 instant deduction for small businesses. If there are any accountants reading this, perhaps you could let me know…

It seems to me that the perfect solution would be for energy retailers (Powershop and Energy Locals) to offer this service. That way there would only be three parties involved in the energy agreement; the retailer, the landlord and the tenant. Unfortunately I’m not aware of any electricity retailers that offer this option but I intend to contact some to find out and, if they don’t, to suggest that they consider it.

There has to be a simple way for both the landlord and the tenant to share the benefits of rooftop solar. I’ll let you know when I find it.

Feb 16, 2018: Record Year for Rooftop Solar

Rooftop solar goes gangbusters in 2017. (Source: Domain)

Rooftop solar goes gangbusters in 2017. (Source: Domain)

It’s official, 2017 was a record-breaking year for rooftop solar installations in Australia in spite of our government’s desire to slow renewable energy development and prop up fossil fuel industries as long as possible. It’s no surprise really, given the fact that electricity prices across the nation went up dramatically last year AND solar feed-in-tarrifs (FIT’s) doubled. This means that the financial return on a rooftop solar investment is much better than having money in the bank or even paying down a mortgage. Depending on how much you pay for power, how much you get as a FIT and how much electricity you are able to use during the day directly from your solar system, the basic ROI for most solar home owners is somewhere between 10% and 20%. With banks paying about 2% interest on savings account it’s little wonder that record numbers of Australian homes are putting solar on their roofs.

In fact we recommend that people put as much solar as they can on their home (see our Sept 22 Newsletter for more on this). In most cases this is limited to about 6kW of solar on a 5kW inverter but if you have 3-phase power and lots of roof space it could be as much as three times the size. Even if you end up exporting most of the solar power directly to the grid, with a FIT of 12-13c/kWh you can still get a return in the range of 10-15%.

For small business owners who primarily use electricity during the day the ROI from rooftop solar can be as high as 25-30% meaning that the system will pay for itself in as little as 3-4 years. After that you’ve got many, many more years of free electricity to enjoy. Here’s a case study from Solar Quotes blog to back me up on this.

When you see those sorts of numbers you start to wonder why ANY home or business in Australia DOESN’T have solar on their roof. I think a lot of people have hesitated because they’re waiting for the ‘perfect time’ but meanwhile they’ve missed out on years of financial savings. Another one of the big reasons is that many people don’t own their own home or business premises.

Solar For Landlords

So what about rental properties? How can a landlord and/or a tenant get a financial benefit from putting solar on the roof of an investment property?

The fundamental problem for most landlords is that they own the property but the electricity bill is usually in the name of the tenant. This means that any financial benefit from rooftop solar in the form of reduced daytime electricity use or credit for electricity exported to the grid accrues to the tenant and not the landlord.

A perfect example of this is the house next to the Greeny Flat which we are currently upgrading for improved energy performance. (Click here for more information and videos on that whole process). This is an investment property owned by my mother. She plans to put solar on the roof but she’s not sure when to do it or how to achieve a financial return on that investment.

The simplest way for Mum to recoup the cost of installing a solar system would be to put the rent up. But it’s a competitive market and her tenants may not be prepared to pay extra for a house with solar, even though they will benefit from reduced electricity bills.

Another way to do it would be for Mum to put the electricity bill in her name and for the renters to pay for the power they use plus the daily supply charges. That way Mum would directly get the financial reward for the solar power produced. But it would also complicate the rental agreement because every three months Mum’s property manager would have to figure out how much electricity the renters had used and how much extra they owe. And then what happens if they disagree or refuse to pay? It could create a very sticky situation between Mum and her tenants.

One option that I have just thought of would be for Mum to install the solar on a completely separate meter and simply export all of the electricity to the grid. That way she would get a financial return from the roof space she owns which is currently doing nothing (apart from keeping her tenants dry). But it wouldn’t benefit the tenants at all and the ROI would be less because she’d have to pay a second lot of daily supply charges. Still, I think this is worth looking into along with various programs that have been set up specifically to manage the financial arrangements between tenants and landlords who have rooftop solar systems.

We are currently at the point with our Home Energy Retrofit where we are ready to replace the old tile roof with a new, light-coloured Colorbond roof. In fact that is due to happen next week (no doubt we will manage to break the drought in the process). Once the new roof is on we’ll be ready to seriously consider the Triple-Bottom-Line benefits of putting solar on the roof. I’ll be looking carefully into our options and reporting on the findings over the next few weeks. So stay tuned, especially if you are a landlord or tenant yourself.

Heat-Reflective Paint

Following our recent discussions about the benefits of using light-coloured roofs in a warm climate like Australia a reader sent me a link to the following YouTube video which briefly demonstrates the benefits of heat-reflective paint. Thanks Doug!

Other Things That Caught Our Eye Last Week

This NewAtlas article talks about how sea-level rise appears to be accelerating and may happen much faster than previously predicted. Not a happy thought but a good reminder of why it’s important to reduce our energy use as much, and as quickly, as possible

Pot Power

I won’t presume to know where any of our readers stand on the issue of legalising marijuana but the fact is this is happening at a rapid rate around the world. 10 out of the 50 US states could potentially legalise recreational use in 2018. Personally I don’t have a problem with people smoking dope but I’m starting to get a bit concerned about the climate change implications of increased growing of Cannabis. According to this article from The Guardian

A study by scientist Evan Mills, with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, revealed that legalized indoor marijuana-growing operations account for 1% of total electricity use in the US…In 2012, Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. Two years later, Denver’s 362 marijuana grow facilities consumed more than 2% of the city’s electricity usage. Statewide facilities are behind roughly half of Colorado’s new power demands.

With a whole lot more states set to follow Colorado’s lead in legalising the growing and smoking of pot this could turn into an energy consumption nightmare second only to the processing of Bitcoin transactions.