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Thread: One Massively Crazy Idea

  1. #1

    One Massively Crazy Idea

    I hope you are all sitting down because I had this crazy and wild idea for heating my house. You see research has shown that solar, wind and geothermal systems just don't work very well here in Maine. At least the return on investment is so long that fossil fuels work out better.

    So I got to thinking. If the ground is not warm enough by itself to heat my radiant concrete slab, why not create warmth, but without fossil fuels. Now we all know that compost piles generate heat...lots of heat, so why couldn't I create a compost pile, run PEX tubing through it, and then circulate water throughout the compost pile to warm the water which in turns warms my radiant floor?

    Now this sounds crazy I know, but I don't think I need boiling water to warm my floors, just 80 degree water or so. I think a compost pile would get temps well above that. I also know that on the farm our haylage pile stays hot all winter long. So hot that its all you can do to stick your hand in it. For the cows they love the hot meal, but for me, I am thinking I might be able to tap into that natural heat source.

    This is just a wild and crazy idea, but my thought is to create a small haylage bunker near my house. A little ways off, but not too far. Anyway I would haul in a few truckloads of haylage in the fall, run pex tubing through the pile, pack it down with my tractor, then cover the top of the pile with insulated panels that way the heat is retained. I am thinking maybe once or twice in the winter I would have to mix up the pile to keep it churning, but I am not sure. The good thing is, the cost for this would be rather minimal, and I have the machinery and land to cut all the haylage/sileage I need even if it meant several truckloads.

    A friend at work claims it would not work because "if I thought of it, someone else has too and proved it would not be feesable." I am not sure I agree with that short sighted statement however. Wood splitters did not become mainstream until the oil embargo of the 70's even though tractors, hydraulics and hydraulic rams were around long before then. So anyway at the cost of sounding like a complete moron, I thought I would post this idea here.

    A picture of our haylage operation last year in case some of you don't know what haylage is...

    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  2. #2
    Join Date
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    I heard of this being done years ago around here somewhere. Not sure what was heated with the water,I think it was a barn or shop etc.
    hobby woodworking since 1972

  3. #3
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    that could work travis.....i`m thinking that you`d want to pour a floor and walls and place your pex in the floor, you`d have a large heatsink that you could drive the tractor on so you could turn the pile..... why not build a wood fired boiler to where you could supliment the heat generated by the composting hay? it`d just be a matter of valving to either call it into play or isolate it.....
    being as you have access to equipment a coal fired boiler is much more efficient so long as you`re not paying to have the coal hauled.....
    any way you go you`re going to have a few thousand bucks tied up in a system, so if you do try the compost idea pour the floor-n-walls to a size that would make a good outbuilding if the experiment fails. you`d allready have the floor plumbed for heat......sounds like an idea worth looking deaper into.
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  4. #4
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    Not so crazy an idea

    This may be a great idea. I read some articles about this and it seems you can get water heated close to 145 degrees in a compost pile.
    Be sure and post your progress.

  5. #5
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    You will generate a great deal of heat just maintaining the pile. Body and sweat heat, that is. IMHO, you won't recover enough, if any, heat to make the project worthwhile. BTW, a geothermal, ground source, heating unit will work. Pipes are sunk way down in the earth and the heat is recovered for the home. Mine is great, very low utility bills. Where you live, it might not provide all the warmth you need in the very coldest weather.
    "Folks is funny critters."

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  6. #6
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    Travis, I think that it would work and will be very interested in hearing more about this. If I were you, I would set up a small experimental system and try it this winter. I am sure that you will learn from this and then build the real thing even better next year.
    Cheers, Frank

  7. #7
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    A heat source is a heat source. The only thing I see as being a problem is collecting the heat from the hay, or compost for that matter. I don't fully understand how you store it, if it is in bales, or just piled in a big heep. Tod's response makes me think the latter in a barn, on a concrete floor, thus the pex in the floor so your tractor could ride over it without damage. That doesn't sound like it would be the most effecient collection of the heat, as the heat would want to go away from the floor, but it should capture some of it. It would be best to have the collection tubes in the middle of it for best collection, but that doesn't sound like a workable solution at all. Or imbedded in something that would naturally absorb the heat and transfer it to the lines. Copper lines, or at least metal of some sort, may be better to collect the heat.
    Keep us informed if you proceed or at least do some experimenting with it. Sounds like it has some very workable possibilities if the particulars can be worked out. Good luck with it! Jim.
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  8. #8
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    Travis,

    Yes, it would work... people have been doing something like this for centuries, in other contexts. It's how gardeners used to make hotbeds, as opposed to coldframes. The problem you'd have would be keeping a steady temperature in the pile... it can make 170 in there, easily... but could just as easily be 120 the next day.

    Oh, and did I mention that it *will*, at some point, catch fire? Ever had to put out a compost fire? Trust me, it's tons of fun...

    I still think your best bet is to run your well water continuously through your slab... that would give you a geothermal system for pennies on the dollar...

    Thanks,

    Bill

  9. #9
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    Hi Travis, Whether your idea works or not as you will do it remains to be seen, but for now the most exciting thing is your idea and your excitement. They are both stimulating! Good for you!!!
    Remember, mark my words, some day we will build a boat and prove that the world is not flat!
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  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Jim O'Dell View Post
    The only thing I see as being a problem is collecting the heat from the hay, or compost for that matter. I don't fully understand how you store it, if it is in bales, or just piled in a big heap.
    Haylage is quite different than hay. Hay is cut, allowed to dry out in the field, then baled up when the moisture is out of it. Without moisture that is why it keeps for so long...but also why the cows don't give much milk from hay feedings.

    Where I live, hay is all but a thing of the past. We feed our cows haylage which is grass freshly chopped up. Think of it like lawn clippings that you bag up. Its green and laden with moisture so the cows give more milk. A lot more milk. Its hard on their stomachs so we spread a bit of hay over the feed to settle their stomachs after having haylage, but its not a lot.

    Haylage is stored in silos or bunkers. Bunkers mostly. It is packed down with a tractor to keep it from rotting. If I was to use this type of compost to make heat, I would want it packed, but not packed to much. As is a haylage pile gives off lots of heat. On cold, cold days we would dig it out with a tractor and the steam cloud would be so thick that you could not see a thing. I don't know what temp it was, but it was always hot to the touch. The thing is, it was that hot after being in a pile all winter. No stiring or anything and packed down tight so it would not spoil. To me that's wasted heat.

    As I said, I am not sure it would work, but it would be easy to do some testing. A local farmer has a composting business. I know he can tell me how hot it gets and maybe a bit more information on the subject. He does not use haylage, but does use a lot of fish tailings that come off the local fish plant. I also know he has to water the compost to keep it cool because it will burn off the nutrients if it gets too hot.

    I am thinking the system might work. Sizing the haylage pile to my heating needs may be the biggest challenge. Dealing with the smell may well be another. Of course here in Thorndike Maine the cows outnumber the people by 10 to one so the neighbors won't complain.

    As for the cost, I am thinking I could keep the cost down by doing what the farmers do. Build the bunker in the side of a hill. That means less concrete to purchase. A few thousand feet of PEX tubing and some circulating pumps and that would be all I need. Well maybe a lot of black plastic to cover the top, and plenty of tires. Again that is what the farmers use around her to cover their haylage piles.

    Here is a picture of a silage bunker I pilfered off the internet just so you can see what one is:

    Last edited by Travis Johnson; 09-09-2007 at 03:46 PM.
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

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