When building a new home with solar photovoltaic panels, we have the opportunity maximize your solar capacity in the design phase. Before we break ground, we can orient the home on the building site for the best solar exposure. Inside, we can specify efficient heating and cooling and other appliances to right-size your solar array, avoiding excess expenditure on the roof array.
The reason for calculating your electrical load is simple: when connected to the electrical grid it’s important to produce slightly less electricity than all your systems require, so you don’t relinquish excess electricity to the utility. Heating and cooling can require as much as 30% of your electricity demands, so it’s essential to select HVAC systems that are super-efficient and powerful to pair with your solar array.
We’ll take a look at three heating and cooling options that work great with solar.
Ductless Heat Pumps or Mini-splits
These efficient heating and cooling systems pair well with solar panels because they operate at very high efficiency within the average temperature ranges experienced in the mid-Atlantic states. The consist of two or more components: the exterior heat pump and the interior air handler. These elements are connected via small diameter tubing in place of traditional duct work, which is why they are called “ductless.” The indoor air handlers are mounted high on an interior wall and are sleek and quiet. Controls are contained in a programmable remote and has functions for heating, cooling, air circulation, and dehumidifying. Because these heat pumps operate on a variable speed blower, they fine tune the amount of heating and cooling using the smallest amount of electricity to maintain temperature. By comparison, a standard furnace or central air may have 1 or 2 settings, operating at full capacity until the thermostat indicates the desired temperature has been reached. Ductless heat pumps are available in several configurations from single room to multi-zone options. Mitsubishi also offers designer indoor units in three different colors: white, silver and black.
Air-to-Air Heat Pumps
If your preference is for a more traditional ducted forced air system, an air-to-air heat pump that heats and cools is a great solution. Look for units that have variable speed fans to increase the efficiency. These heat pumps tap into exterior air to produce warm air that circulates through the home. For cooling, the energy flow is reversed and warm air is extracted from the interior and moved outside creating cool temperatures inside. Look for high efficiency ratings in a heat pump and consider linking your heat pump to a smart thermostat to maximize the efficiency.
Geothermal Heat Pumps
Geothermal heat pump systems tap into the earth’s energy supply to heat and cool using a water-to-air heat pump. These systems rely on using liquid circulated through buried pipes or conduits to warm and then extracting that energy with a water-to-air heat pump to heat and cool the house.
A geothermal system can be configured in two ways, depending on the building site and soils. A closed loop system will be comprised of a series of tubes buried several feet below the ground in a symmetrical grid layout. These tubes are connected to the heat pump, which circulates liquid through the underground tubing where the earth heats it, then extracts that heat to warm or cool air that’s circulated through the house. The tubing is a closed loop that recirculates constantly when the heat pump is activated. An open loop system—which is less commonly used—pumps warm water from a well, circulates it through the heat pump system then discharges it into a second location, either a holding pond or a second well. If limited water is a concern in your area, this may not be a permitted option.
Geothermal heating and cooling often come with higher upfront costs but using the earth as your fuel instead of oil or natural gas offers an endless supply of energy. The heat pumps operate efficiently using electricity from your solar panels, so the upside is that the next twenty years of heating, cooling and power are installed in your home at a single, fixed price. Geothermal systems require certain types and depths of soil and if your site has a lot of ledge, geothermal is likely not an economical solution.
These are just some of the options to maximize your solar array with efficient heating and cooling. We’ll be delighted to explore options that meet your specific requirements when we design your new home!