One company captures the power of the sun to heat homes.

Energy from the sun travels 93 million miles through space to reach the earth. Radiant energy is transferred when the infrared waves strike a surface. A thermal solar panel can receive this energy and transfer it to fluid contained in the tubes of the panel. Imagine capturing that perfect, endless, free energy and releasing it inside your home.

Since early Roman times, it has been known that the perfect heating system would take advantage of this concept. The Romans built fires in tunnels under their buildings to warm the floors. Today, we use flexible polyethylene tubing, fastened to the subfloor or embedded in concrete, to circulate warm water -- much easier than building fires under your home.

Safer, too.

So, essentially we can borrow some of the sun's energy and convert it to warm water to bring radiant comfort into our homes. Pretty neat idea! Combine this with some well thought-out passive design, and you are on to something -- solar-powered radiant heat.

With the energy stored in liquid form, we are now free to move it around the building when, and where, it's needed. It's even possible to maintain different rooms at different temperatures. How's that for convenience? Have your in-laws overstayed their welcome? Turn down the heat in their bedroom!

The best part of the solar radiant heat concept is the ability to use solar collectors to warm the water circulating through the tubing. That means you can replace a fossil fuel burning appliance with the abundant power of the sun.

You see, the temperatures needed to warm your floors are often exactly what a thermal solar collector will produce. All you have to do is convince this warmed water, or transfer fluid, to come on in and relax ... warming your home in the process.

Sunny Disposition

Over the years I have tinkered with thermal panels. My experiences mainly have been with DHW preheating. I've managed to salvage systems that had been removed from skeptical homeowners' buildings. Living in sunny, high-mountain areas, the output was almost unbelievable. My son, Max, is approaching the "tinkering age," so I thought a visit to a busy, progressive solar contractor would be a fun way to pass on this wonderful, earth-friendly technology to another generation. Hard to beat a summertime trip through the mountains of Colorado for a lasting father/son adventure, isn't it?

Mike Tierney is the co-owner of Aspen Solar Inc. He is a master at performing this perfect marriage of energy transfer. Mike attended Colorado Mountain College in 1982 for his training in Solar Energy. He was also an original chair member of the Energy 2000 Committee in Aspen, Colo. The outcome of Energy 2000 now stands as CORE, which is the Community Office of Resource Efficiency (the local energy office in Aspen).

Since it's start in 1982, Aspen Solar has won numerous awards, including the 1990 Colorado Solar Company of the Year award and the 1997 President's Award, both from COSEIA, which stands for the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association.

COSEIA is the state solar trade association for Colorado, and Mike has served on the board of directors for numerous years. The Radiant Panel Association has also awarded Mike's projects with Best in Class for 1996, 1999, 2000 and 2001. These awards are a testimony to the quality of work and innovative designs performed by the Aspen Solar team. Mike says the awards are great motivators for the crew. Even in a tight labor market for skilled installers, Mike continues to attract and keep topnotch people.

Mike is a tireless advocate of solar/radiant and off-grid systems. He and Aspen Solar's four employees travel Colorado's western slope installing and servicing solar systems. Mike also teaches solar energy, and is a presenter at numerous solar conferences.

Max and I met Mike at the Beyer Brown residence, one of his current projects. This home uses solar energy for both the heating and electrical systems. Eight 4-ft. by 8-ft. Heliodyne Gobi panels provide heat and domestic hot water via radiant floor distribution using Kitec tubing. A clever mix of hydronic microprocessor and weather-responsive controls keeps the system performing with just the right amount of energy being distributed into the home to meet the load. The garage floor acts as a thermal heat sink to store energy in excess of what the building requires to stay comfortable.

Sixteen 120-watt Astropower PV panels combined with two 1KW Advanced Energy inverters provide electric power for the home in a simple grid tie system. A Btu meter records the energy collected from the thermal panels. A very nice digital display tracks, and records the two inverters' output. It is not unusual to see the electric meter spin in reverse. The local electric utility credits their account on a per KW rate!

A Burnham gas-fired hot water boiler provides a back-up heat source for the heat and domestic water. A very attractive rebate program from CORE pays back $4,000 on the PV side and $1,000 on the thermal installation.

The installation and workmanship is first class on this and the other job I visited installed by Aspen Solar.

Seems to me that with the uncertainty in the energy market these days, solar looks better than ever. Do you have building or remodeling plans in the near future? Perhaps you'd just like to take the chill off your tiled floor. A solar radiant floor system has your name written all over it. On a cold winter day go out and face into the sun and you will see what I mean.

So, put up your collectors! Don't let the sun's energy wash over your house without catching some of it. By the way, while you are up on the roof, why not install some PV panels? Catch some clean electrical energy and invite it inside as well.