Monday, February 2, 2009

Warm worms

I must make a confession...I am heating the ground and keeping the worms warm this winter. Without my Hardy H2, all the worms deep in my yard would have pneumonia and would be wearing little scarves to keep themselves warm this winter. Despite my best intentions, my superior planning and executing the perfect plan, my attempt to save $1000 in making my own underground-super insulated water lines hasn't payed off like I had calculated.
For those of you still learning about OWB's, these smokers are nothing but a big hot-water tank that pumps hot water into a heat exchanger in your house. The water lines in my case are four 3/4 inch Pex lines that carry water to and from the furnace, heat exchanger and domestic hot water tank. When you buy your OWB the salesperson will ask if you want to buy the pre-made, super insulated water lines that are all encased in insulation and wrapped by a hard plastic outer shell...very convenient but very expensive. This purchase is something you should consider and do your homework on. Buying the pre-made stuff is a huge investment and can raise the price of your OWB to where your return on investment will be negatively affected. When I bought my Hardy H2 the pre-made stuff was going for $11 a foot...and needing about 60 foot, I quickly figured I could do better by making my own. I bought a spool of the 4 inch corrugated black pipe and sections of 4 inch pipe insulation and assembled my own underground "system." I first laid out my Pex (you can see these pipes in some of the pictures to the left of this article) and slid the insulation sections over the pipes. I duct taped the insulation sections together. Then I duct taped the grey #14 electrical wire and thermostat wire to the outside of the insulation. Finally I, along with about three other helpers, slid this assembly into the black corrugated pipe. I buried this assembly in a three foot trench and back filled first with sand...for more insulation...and then topped it off with soil. So far so good.
Here is what I did wrong and what I recommend to you. If I had to do this all over again...I would reconsider the extra money for the pre-made stuff but I still don't know if I would really buy is too expensive for what you are my opinion. DO NOT...however...use the black corrugated pipe. Instead use the solid white or green 4 inch pipe and glue the joints together. By the second year my black corrugated stuff started leaking in ground water...probably because it was crushed under the weight of three foot of fill. What a bummer. I have to keep a bucket under the opening of the pipe as it comes into my basement to catch the water that is forced out when outside conditions are soggy. What a bummer. To fix this I will have to re-dig, and small task. Now the $1000 doesn't seem so bad.
As for the heat loss that my worms love so much, I end up melting the snow over the trench because of the heat loss thru my assembly. In fairness to my buried pipes, I have seen installations with the pre-made stuff that also melts snow so I am not too sure how much better the pre-made stuff is. One way to be sure is to measure the temperature drop in your lines from the furnace to what is inside the house. I can't help but think the pre-made stuff is'nt that much better in keeping the heat in because there isn't that much more insulation as compared to what I made. Regardless, I am faced with a big repair. I don't want to do it either. In the summer all I want to do is cut wood...and that is enough for me to mess with my Hardy.
Here are some pictures demonstrating my heat loss. Let me know your feelings about my situation or some of your experiences. I would love to post them on the blog.

This is my wood shed and Hardy as seen from the house. Note the nice warm grass.

This picture was taken with the woodshed to my back showing the trench going into the house.


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