I completely understand why folks are slow to adopt solar power. In doing the research for our own “energy renovation”, I found out that heating systems powered only by solar always have periods when there isn’t enough juice. (Of course, that’s bound to happen during the worst ice storm or cold snap, right?). Solar power always needs a backup.

Most of the solar-users I have talked to are still attached to the grid for backup. They figured that they could sell the excess to their power company and use the grid when their own supply runs out. And they can, but they’ll never get their investment back. Go look on your power bill and see what percentage of it is “energy used”. The rest of the bill is administration fee, delivery charge, distribution charge and local access fee. Sigh. I looked at other options.

The traditional heat source in our neck of the woods is, well, wood. Long research story short, I found only one practical, off-grid solution: a super-efficient, wood-fueled stove that not only provides space heat, but also hydronic heat and domestic hot water. The stove costs around $6,000 and heats the main floor, the water storage tank ($4,000) goes in the basement (providing space heat there), and a small hydronic radiator system can easily be fitted to heat the rest of the house. We might skip that and push the warm air around with fans and a $4000 heat recovery ventilator (mandatory anyway for good air quality in a super-insulated home).

This stove uses half the wood of other wood-burning stoves. It can work in tandem with an off-grid solar system, but it can also work all by itself. (The solar system provides electricity and heats water in summer.) No need for a radiant slab in the basement or a huge reno.

We currently spend approximately $2,800 annually for gas and electricity. Ballpark total for the wood stove/solar system/ventilation system, including battery storage, is around $30,000. I estimate stove wood for our super-insulated house at approximately $1200 a year (free if we cut it ourselves). I budget $500 for annual system inspection and maintenance. I will get my investment back in about 12 years, faster if gas prices go up (which they will), and we will be warm no matter what’s happening in the world.

Walltherm, the dealer, is in Nova Scotia and also supplies the combination hydronic heating/potable water tank. Both are CSA approved. We’ll also need a heat recovery ventilator to ensure air quality in our super-insulated home.

UPDATE: Upon further research, we found cheaper, better ideas: a small, high efficiency/low emission stove combined with a heat recovery ventilator seems like what we’re going to do. To ensure circulation, you place your stove in a central location, suck old air out of the edges of the house and push fresh air right next to the stove. The total cost of installing this system is around $7,ooo. Once that is done, we’ll think about the solar panels, etc.

As for hot water, we’re going to get point-of-use electric heaters…they’re cheap.

Nora Abercrombie
CEO, Green Party of Canada for Battle River – Crowfoot
Submitted to local newspapers November 27, 2016