High Mass Solar Heating Retrofits for Existing Homes (NO LONGER VIABLE)


Client Organization: 
AmmEn Design, LLC
Client is confirmed: 


Advisor Confirmed: 
to be determined (not confirmed)


Grand Rapids
State or Country: 
Contact Phone: 
Contact e-mail: 
Contact information: 
I am a staff member of a potential client organization

Project Status

Project Status: 
Current Project Idea

Project Details

Summary of Project Idea: 

We believe that High Mass Solar Heating (HMSH) has a great potential for providing clean, renewable heat at a reasonable cost. It can cut significantly the public’s demand for natural gas, which will reduce carbon pollution and may reduce the pressure to engage in questionable mining techniques like hydraulic fracturing. In rural areas it can cut the demand for heating oil. HMSH is also exciting on a social justice level. It can significantly cut survival costs for the poor and take the danger of freezing out of a utility shut off. But research is needed to turn that potential into a standard part of the building trades industry.

In a typical Michigan household, most of the energy consumed is for heating. Plenty of heat is available in the summer months but it is needed in the winter. Electricity generated using solar arrays can be stored for later use by means of batteries or can be offset by selling it to the utility.  Heat, however, is not commonly stored.  High Mass Solar Heating is a system that is able to store heat, directly, and release it in a controlled way when needed.  Most types of energy storage use electricity for the storage medium in the form of batteries. Some use gravity by pumping water to an elevated tank, and some use the separation of hydrogen as the medium to store the energy which will be used later.  Since a large percentage of energy is needed in the form of heat, especially in residential settings, converting energy into electricity for storage and then into heat when needed, represents a high amount of conversion losses – reducing the efficiency significantly.  With better materials and methods being used in the recent past, production of heat from sunlight is quite efficient and cost effective. Storing that heat for use during the colder months is not a standard practice available to the general public.  Keeping the energy as heat, rather than converting to another form, will reduce or eliminate conversion losses.  The ability to store and release heat in a controlled way can provide benefits to a homeowner including lower utility bills and less dependency on utility companies, a very low environmental impact for heating, and a secure source of heat energy to provide a safe and comfortable home.

The major components of High Mass Solar Heating include a heat collector, heat storage medium, and a heat release system. The heat collector may be a solar panel on the roof of the house heating water or a glycol mixture to 150 degrees or more. The hot water is pumped to the storage area which may be sand or another heat-retaining medium under the slab, or a “sand box” in the basement or outside the house. Over the summer and autumn the sand is heated up. During the winter the heat is gradually released. There may be “pex” tubing for water to carry the heat into the house. Currently installed HMSH systems are reported to produce enough heat to warm the house to 60 degrees F throughout the winter. A conventional furnace adds heat according to the comfort requirements of the residents.

High Mass Solar Heating can be designed into new building construction projects without much difficulty. Retrofitting existing buildings for HMSH presents a more difficult problem. Home improvement contractors and renewable energy installers know how to quickly assess a building so as to determine the best solution and to provide the owner a quote for their work. Determining the best HMSH solution and knowing how much to charge for it, are beyond installers’ expertise.

The goal of this project is to promote the start-up of High Mass Solar Heating products that can be sold and configured by Heating and Air Conditioning companies, Renewable Energy Integrators and others in the home improvement sector.  We want to help develop an industry which can deliver a quality, reasonably priced product while earning a modest profit.

Skills/Expertise Needed: 

Research. The team would begin work by gathering the available public information on existing High Mass Solar Heating systems and their design attributes.

Imagination. The team may then brainstorm a variety of methods of heat storage and release. There may well be promising systems which have not been installed elsewhere which the team can develop, test, and implement.

Engineering. The team would choose cost effective and high performance materials, the most promising method, develop the ideas into a detailed set of instructions, and install in a test house. Over the winter the system’s performance would be monitored and the methods refined.

Business. The team would review the project to answer various business oriented questions. Is there a price point that will cover the installation expense, pay a decent wage for the labor, and provide enough profit for a small business to survive while enabling the project to “pay for itself” in a reasonable time? What is that reasonable time? Ten years? Less? How large of a community is needed to supply enough customers to keep a small HMSH business busy throughout the year? What can a salesperson promise the home owner in terms of annual savings? What kind of advertising or marketing would be effective? Can a company specialize in this kind of installation work or should we focus on encouraging building trades or renewable systems installers to add HMSH to their product offering?

SNRE Program Areas: 
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Sustainable Systems
Professional Career Development Benefits: 

Sustainable building practices, integrated design, cost/benefit analyses, small business development, opportunity to present findings at green-building conferences, opportunity to present findings at social-assistance organizations (such as Habitat for Humanity).

Funding Sources: 

Bob Synk: can provide a few thousand dollars, perhaps enough to cover the material cost of the demonstration installation. Also can offer any of 5 homes he owns in Grand Rapids for the installation.  Also pursuing grant opportunities with two local philanthropic organizations.  
The other resource available includes in-kind engineering and design assistance, wholesale pricing on products, installation expertise and assistance by AmmEn Design, LLC.

Identify expected products/deliverables: 

The team would produce a demonstration house where they have installed a High Mass Solar Heating system. They would provide instructions for continued monitoring of the demonstration house so the projected energy savings could be verified.

The team would author a report examining the experience and what was learned from it. The report would make recommendations on what might be best practices for a HMSH business. Recommendations may include how to evaluate a house to choose among various installation options, how to calculate costs and quote a price, how to estimate homeowner savings.  It may also include variations for different climate regions.

The report would discuss how to develop a business case for starting up a successful HMSH business.

The report would also provide “How-to” information to help motivated individuals create their own Do-It-Yourself demonstration projects.

The report would make recommendations for further research.