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Amazing to witness the evolution of photo voltaic technology. As China flooded the market with cheap panels over the past few years, putting many American manufacturers out of business, First Solar employed robotics and new technology to undercut even the cheapest imports.

My take is that a heavy targeted investment in R&D to stay on trend with development in technology combined with targeted tax incentives and training of a new work force would be far more effective and better for the economy than the imposition of tariffs that only serve to raise the prices of soon to be obsolete panels.

But then, those measures would take money, political will, and leadership.

I’m not holding my breath.


The Solar Goes Live

This week, the local public utility company inspected the solar panel installation and installed the necessary equipment for net metering, which includes a meter that is capable of running backwards. The power for all of the electrical equipment needed to complete construction of the house will now be supplied by our nearest star.



The Cistern Begins to Fill

On February 12 and 13 the local rainfall was 1.67″. That was enough harvested rainwater to move the cistern gauge as shown below. We started with maybe a couple thousand gallons and now it looks to be more than twelve thousand, or about 40 percent full. More rain is expected Monday and Tuesday. That roof really captures a lot of rain.



The Kiva and the Rock Wall Garden

The outside of the house nears completion with the rock going up on the stone wall garden and the stucco covering the kiva. The final rainwater harvest downspout was attached and collection is now live for the entire roof. The picture below shows the gauge at just above the cistern floor. Nowhere to go but up from here.

Tighten it Up!

After the insulation installation the builder ran an infrared scan throughout the house to test for “leaks”. The two images below show the same area in normal view and with an infrared scan. After doing this exercise throughout the entire house, the insulation company returned to address any problem areas and repair those “leaks”. It caused a few days delay for drywall but it was well worth the time.

In these photos, two leaky areas can be seen to the upper right and upper left of the window.

Rainwater Harvest Goes Live – and it Rains!

On Friday I received a call from the project manager that about 85% of the rainwater collection system was complete and ready for action. And action we got on Sunday night. A line of severe thunderstorms blew through the area dropping about three quarters of an inch of rain. Fortunately, the large hail associated with the event stayed to the south of us. Today I will check the gauge to see how much water flowed to the cistern.

Update: A valve near the cistern was accidentally left open and all of the rainwater from the roof was diverted down the hill instead of to the cistern. Sad face.

Insulation, Drywall, Gutters and Rainwater Plumbing

A busy week is on tap. With the roof and the spray foam insulation complete, drywall work can begin inside. All the material is delivered and work is scheduled to start in two days. Gutters go on today and the outside plumbing work for diversion to the cistern begins tomorrow. It may be asking too much but if the water work can be completed by Friday there is a good chance of capturing some of the big rain event predicted for this coming weekend.


And the Sun Comes Shining Through

The solar proposal arrived over the weekend and the situation is better than I had expected. As a result of the house being built to such high energy efficiency standards, we only needed 30 panels to get to net zero energy use. This 8.4kW system will cover only the south facing roof over the great room and the all black panels and trim should hide pretty well on the dark bronze metal roof.

With rebates and tax credits the decision turned out to be a no-brainer. I can also eliminate about $6700 worth of foam board insulation from the roof as it will be redundant. Now, as long as the utility companies in Texas continue to purchase power from people like me, all will be well on the accounting side. Otherwise, it’s on to the Tesla Powerwall 2 or some other emerging new whiz bang battery technology.

Cistern Installation

This is how a 30,000 gallon Pioneer steel rainwater tank is assembled. As you can see from the final picture of the process we were fortunate to have a very good location down slope from the house. The next step is for the site guy to trench from the house to the tank and install the 6″ PVC pipe that will transport all of the rainwater from the roof of the house to the tank. Gathering points have already been set into the foundation. Special guttering will feed into them when it rains.

Here are some details on the tank.


If one is going through all of the effort to build a house in southwest central Texas where water is scarce and the sun shines brightly most of the time, then it makes a good deal of sense of build that house as energy efficient as possible. And to capture as much rainwater for household use as possible during the infrequent but often heavy rainstorms.

Throughout the planning and head-scratching phase I always assumed that I would insist my builder use very good insulation methods and high efficiency windows and doors. Then there are the passive methods that cost little or nothing that one might take advantage of, like the orientation of the house and overhangs. With the plan I am working, there are overhangs aplenty via the porches and by a brilliant stroke of luck, the very best location orients the house along an east-west axis with the front porch facing south.

During a central Texas home tour in the autumn of 2013 I happened to encounter a builder showing a recently constructed home with a feature that immediately grabbed my attention and fired my imagination. The home had a comprehensive rainwater harvesting system, collecting all rainfall from the roof and channeling it into a 30 thousand gallon cistern located a short walk away and tucked into a cluster of cedar trees. And while the homeowners did have a water well, it was for auxiliary purposes. The rainwater system serviced the entire water needs of the home. The builder was kind enough to show me the entire system in detail and was obviously very dedicated to promoting not only rainwater harvesting but green building overall. Our conversation gave me a lot to think about and led to many, many hours of online research and reading of forums.

At that time, Texas was in the midst of one of the most horrendous droughts in its modern history. Wells were running dry in the area as the aquifer continued a steady drop. So how, you ask, does that make rainwater harvesting a good option? Because even in drought it does rain sometimes, albeit briefly. And heavily. If one has a large expanse of roof dedicated to capturing this rain, the storage adds up quickly. The calculation usually used is 600 gallons per 1000 square foot of roof per inch of rain. One big downpour can add a lot to that cistern.

I went back to the property, on the way, crossing a river that was barely flowing. If I am going to live here, I thought, I need to respect the land and be very mindful what I ask of it. I had begun to gain a better perspective on the larger situation.