Reuse it

Although it might not necessarily be a skill, one thing I have learned about at Highland Orchards reuse. Some people might call it hording or being cheap, but one of the interesting cultural practices we have at Highland is reuse. I call it cultural because it is not an official policy, but many of the employees and all of the managers follow the same code. Basically, we seem to find a spot to put anything, from an old board or pipe to a load of blacktop. If you look around the premise, it often seems like we don’t throw anything away- and I think overwhelmingly we really don’t generate that much trash.

Keeping things is only one side of the story. The whole purpose of hanging on to things that have the potential to be reused is to, you guessed it-reuse it. When working on building projects most people think “what can I get at Home Depot?”, but throughout my life, I first think “can I find that at the orchard?”.

One of my favorite “reuse it” projects was the greenhouse I built for my Cantaloupe crop in 2013. Thinking back, I don’t think I had to buy a single thing to make the greenhouse as every single part was reused.

To build it, I first constructed a frame out of scrap 2×4’s. Once my frame was done, I sealed it in using plastic construction drop cloth that we use for covering floors while painting. I found an old storm door and used that to make an access into the house. In order to keep temperatures warm, but not too warm, I built a makeshift heating and ventilation system. To provide the heat, I piped in the waste heat from the dryer at my house using reused aluminum vent pipes. To prevent the greenhouse from overheating on warm spring days, I set up a ventilation system. This system used a thermostat taken out of an old furnace, a box fan, a broken extension cord, and a vent from an air handling system. I wired it together and I had an automatic vent that engaged at a certain peak temperature. The system worked well, as I had practically 100% germination for over 1000 melon seeds using only reclaimed materials.

Without the salvaged materials that were saved at the orchard, my greenhouse would have been much too expensive and impractical. However, keeping so much stuff does come at a cost. Often workspaces are cluttered and it is very difficult to find things. This causes a lot of frustration for workers who need to get a job done quickly. I have recently wondered about the economics of reusing things. Is it cheaper to get rid of scrap and used materials in favor of having a more streamlined operation? I think it would be very interesting study since reusing materials usually saves money in terms of cost of materials, but it takes up space and impedes rate of labor and productivity.


Why do I want to be an Engineer?

I cannot directly answer this question, besides stating the obvious: I have lived a life and have had experiences that makes me interested in the field. Think about why you came to be interested in your intended major.

Currently, American society, especially those attune to feminism, looks closely at the demographics of various academic fields and career paths. Previously, I explored how the culturally defined notion of gender as it relates to the leadership opportunities of women in various societies. For this episode I have decided to explore the role of gender and culture with concern to women obtaining jobs in typically male dominated fields of Science, Math and Technology. Statistically, women are underrepresented in these fields. When exploring this issue there are several things to consider. First of all, one must think with an opened mind about the subject. There could be several reasons for the underrepresentation of women, and none should be discounted for the fact that they more or less support your particular ideological camp. Two such example of reasons why women may be underrepresented include society producing fewer qualified women in the public school system, or alternatively, women are discriminated during the application process. Another consideration is that based on the culture of American society, women are systematically subliminally discouraged to enter STEM fields.

Currently, there is a major push for increasing the representation of women in traditional male careers to improve equality of gender representation. As I researched this topic, I came across an interesting conversation between writers for the Forbes magazine, one in response to the other. There is clearly a lot of contention between the two writers and I think that each help to frame important schools of thought.

The first article titled “The Real Reason Most Women Don’t Go Into Tech” was written by Gene Marks and published by Forbes on March 16th of this year. The author cites the major reason for the underrepresentation of women in tech is simply that women generally not even interested in tech. The author substantiates this by giving examples of how in terms of technological education, both boys and girls in the US receive the same amount of attention. From this, Marks concludes that it is simply the fact that most women choose other career fields that there less women in STEM fields. Another interesting fact he cites is the fact that boys score higher in Science and Math in the US, and gives a similar reasoning as above.

The second article is titled “The Real Reason Most Women Don’t Go Into Tech According to Women” written by Tracey Welson-Rossman and was also published by Forbes, and was put out just three days after the first one. Although the major reason for writing the article was seemingly to personally attack Mr. Marks, she does blend in some material concerning “the real reason”. The justification this author gives is that women don’t find tech fields attractive. She goes on to talk about how she has created an organization that attempts to make technology careers seem more attractive to girls.

If you see the same thing that I do, you notice that both authors agree with the reason that there are less women in STEM fields than men. The first time I read the articles, I though they substantially disagreed. However after sifting out the second author’s animosity, I realized both are arguing the exact same thing! The only slight difference between the two arguments is that second author gives examples of how the trend can be reversed, which in fact is outside the scope of a response to the first article and in fact the article’s own title. I apologize for my digression from the topic at hand; I just think it is essential to note how the articles were written.

To wrap up, I want to discuss the bigger picture of the issue, something that was omitted by both authors. The first thing I would like to mention is that the reason why girls overwhelmingly choose not to go into tech fields is ultimately determined by the culturally defined notion of gender. The authors seem to ignore the fact that very subtle aspects of human upbringing and social influence can have a huge impact on a persons predisposed opinion on joining the tech industry. Whether it be childhood toys or expectations of peers, there is some reason (or reasons) why women prefer not to join the tech field. Another aspect that only the first author touched upon was the decision to call the gender ratio of the tech industry a problem. Of course I want every human being to have the ability to seek out whatever career their heart desires, but I fail to understand why the fact that women largely choose not to join the techie ranks is a problem since it’s not what they want. This brings up my final point. It seems to me that socially constructed social norms help to determine dominant gender interests and consequently make decisions in life based on some mechanism of their human psyche that has been shaped by the social norms. Therefore, why is it important to push against the grain of people’s character when they would be content being someone else? I find that the biggest need for change is not in defining what people’s skill set and personality should be to fit “ideal” ratios, but rather in creating a culture that embraces and protects each individual’s mindset and strives for equality in opportunity and potential for success.


Off road

For this episode of the passion blog, I’d like to talk about some basic off road driving techniques. I am by no means an off roader and I don’t really do it very often, but over the years I think I have acquired some technique for driving off road without getting stuck or breaking anything.

Even if you consider yourself a pavement pounder, practically everyone must drive their vehicle off road every once in a while. Often, larger venues like a stadium or something of that nature will have a grass parking lot, which could become hazardous under certain conditions.

I’d just like to tell a few stories about some interesting experiences I’ve had. When I was around 14 or 15 my dad started letting me drive trucks around the orchard just to practice driving and also to make me more productive. One of the first vehicles I drove was a 2001 Chevy S-10, 2 wheel drive truck. One afternoon after school I was hauling a load of scrap metal to sort into collection bins. It had rained for the past few days and consequently, the grass I had to drive over to get to the pile had become quite slick. Unfortunately, I slid the truck down the hill and got stuck at the bottom. After trying in vain to gain traction I had to make an embarrassing request to my dad to pull me out. He attached a chain to the hitch of his truck and to the front bumper of the S-10 and pulled it out with ease. There were a few teachable moments for me that day. The first thing I learned was that slick hills are very difficult to traverse. Never go down a slick hill if you don’t have to. (Ironically, the other time I had to call my dad to pull me out was at the bottom of a snowy hill.) Although this may be intuitive, it is very easy to go downhill, even if it is slippery, but it is not so easy to climb a slick hill. That being said, always try to stay on the uphill side of any off road situation, be it parking lot or otherwise.

Another off road story of mine happened last summer while I was driving a dump truck towing a chipper. The truck was a 2000 F 550 with a stake body and four wheel drive. Since I was pulling a trailer, I had a much larger turning radius, meaning that I needed a lot of room to make a u turn. I turned the wrong way down the road and so I attempted to make a turn in a grass parking lot at a church. I start my wide turn and quickly begin sliding sideways, chipper and all. I stopped as soon as I could and locked in 4×4. After going forward and backward and working the steering every which way, I finally got out of the mud but of course I completely tore up the parking lot and made huge ruts. The big thing I learned here was that it never hurts to check the ground you are about to drive on because it could be very soft, even if it does not appear to be muddy. Also, I learned that even if you have four wheel drive and don’t get stuck on soft soil, you are liable to leave unsightly ruts.

Although driving off road can be quite the adventure, my best advice is to stay on top of hills and avoid soft ground because both are major contributors to getting stuck.

Draft Issue Brief

A Radical Proposal for the Reworking of the US Taxing system

Eric Hodge



In all modern societies, taxation is required to construct infrastructure, enforce a legal system and provide for people who are struggling, and ensure security among other things. It is often said that the only two things you can be sure of in life are taxes and death. Every country around the world raises funds through taxation in different ways depending on the demands of the economy, the government’s needs and the government’s perception of equality. Even in the US, taxation on the state level is widely varied. For example, Pennsylvania uses a value added sales tax on many goods besides food and clothing, whereas neighboring Delaware does not. To perform the unfavorable task of taxation on the federal level, the US government relies on a complex system that levies mostly individual’s and business’s income.









As one can see from the chart, after the Second World War, the US receives the largest portion of its funding from individual income taxes, followed by payroll taxes, then corporate income taxes. At the most basic level, the tax system requires the each person or entity to record all income throughout the year, submit this information and subsequently pay the correct amount of tax based on how much money they made. Although this may sound simple in theory, different types of income are taxed in different amounts for different individuals, and different rebates and tax deductions are available for different situations. One of the more basic complexities is the progressive nature of the US tax system. This means that the more money you make in a given year, the higher the rate of tax you have to pay. Why are complexities such as this added to the tax code one may ask? In the United States, Congress is responsible for generating the tax code which is enforced by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Congress adds new code to appeal to the current political atmosphere which is driven by social, economic, military, and political stimuli. For example, the US government promotes homeownership by offering tax refunds on mortgage interest on your home. One of the essential tenets of macroeconomics is that people tend to respond to economic choices in a manner that favors their own economic standing. This being said, the government is able to use this principle in order to influence economic and consequently social choices of its citizens by making complexities in tax code. Another driving force that shapes current US tax code is the idea of fairness.

As one can see from the Gallup poll, Americans predominately believe that wealth should be redistributed through heavy taxation of the rich. Consequently, this is reflected by the progressive nature of the tax schedule. This means that the rich pay a greater tax rate than the poor, besides paying more tax per capita. In fact, the richest two percent of Americans pay almost half of all income tax. This is significant because it shows how the US tax system has developed to appeal to certain groups of people and consequently gains complexity and dimension. Although the complexity of current US tax system has some justification, it incurs undue hardship to all involved in the system. To quantify the extent to which changes are made, and subsequently how complex the tax code has become, one can look to the report made by the IRS in September 2010. The report states that there have been 4,400 individual changes to the tax code since the beginning of the millennium. These changes have resulted in the increase of tax code word count from 1.4 million to 3.8 million during the same time frame. This being said, the code has become cumbersome and unwieldy to tax payers, preparers and administrators.

The current federal tax system is ripe for reform. Tax claims a portion of a taxpayers’ wealth and this is inevitable. Besides the inherent inconvenience of taxation, the complication of the current system creates undue costs to taxpayers and impedance on the economy. Besides the actual cost of tax, US tax payers are served economic resistance by the filing process. In fact, between filing time, purchasing of filing software and professional assistance, and IRS administrative costs, the current tax system costs $431 billion on top of the actual tax owed. This money represents taxpayers’ effort to simply comply with tax law. One can imagine this figure as friction induced by the tax system as taxpayers attempt to push their funds towards the government. Although some said friction is inevitable, as tax systems gain complexity from modification through the years, the representative frictions increases. As seen in “Figure 1”, both gross collections and operating costs have increased significantly over the past three decades (the log scale makes the chart look even less steep than reality). This for one shows the growing inefficiencies of collecting taxes. The liability of tax for the populous is steadily increasing past the raw tax burden. Besides the increasing administration cost, the Joint Committee on Taxation cites three other significant drawbacks to the complex tax system of the US: “Decreased levels of voluntary compliance, increased cost to taxpayers, and reduced perception of fairness” (laffer) The latter in actuality is more than just perception as tests have been done to consider the actual equity of the tax system. One such study was completed in the mid 1990’s when the tax system was even simpler than the modern code.










The current system for taxation in the US

How does the current system work?

What is unfair/ inefficient about the current system?

When and why did the last major reform occur? (Reagan)

What was the most recent minor reform?

Why is now the time to change again?

What is the proposed reform?

What are advantages of taxing consumption?

How would this be practically instated?

What are possible negative implications of such a plan?





The most recent major tax reform occurred during the Reagan administration and was titled the Tax Reform Act of 1986.

Sewer Systems

One of the less favorable jobs I’ve had at work over the years is fixing sewer backups. I want to apologize in advanced for anyone who is grossed out by this topic. My reason for writing about it anyway is that sewer systems are in fact essential infrastructure in our lives. They allow for convenience and improved sanitation. Before the advent of the modern sewer system, disease was spread through contaminated drinking and bathing water. Sadly, certain underdeveloped countries still lack adequate systems. I plan to discuss what makes up such a system,and how it works.

Not many people know what actually happens when you flush a toilet. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I have spent a little time working on the systems that manage our waste and want to share how it works. I don’t have experience with the urban setups like they have here at Penn State, so I will just talk about rural/suburban infrastructure.

When you flush a toilet or use a sink, or take a shower, the effluent flows down, through a “trap” and then through a network of downward sloping pipes. The trap is basically a u shaped piece of pipe that is designed to “trap” some of the water flowing through it. The point of this is to block the passage of sewer gasses from backtracking into your bathroom and making it smell bad. The pipes are sloped (as a rule of thumb 1/4 inch drop per foot) so that gravity does all of the work moving the effluent along. Old pipes were made of cast iron and new pipes are PVC. The drain pipes from each toilet shower bath and sink link together and flow downwards until they reach outside of the house. At this point, the main sewer line goes into what is called a septic tank. The septic tank is a large buried concrete box designed separate solids from liquids and allow for bacteria to consume the waste. Over time healthy bacteria will consume much of the solids and dissolve it into liquid form. On the opposite end of the sewer main entrance there is a outlet pipe. All of the liquid from the septic tank flows out of outlet pipe and into the distribution box. The so called “d-box” is pretty much just a fitting that allows for multiple drainpipes in the drain field. The liquid flows from the d box into perforated drain pipe ( pipe with holes). These drain pipes are under ground like the rest of the system and are run in long lengths away from the septic tank. The purpose of these is to allow for the liquid to drain into the ground. Although this may seem odd, bacteria and fungi in the soil work to digest the liquid and any chemicals in it and return it to pure water. One has to pay careful attention to the type of soil the drain field is made from because sandy ones drain too quickly and therefore do not give the bacteria time to clean up the water.


Flat Tires

For today’s passion blog, I would like to talk about fixing flat tires. Although I mastered this skill while on the job at Highland orchards, my first opportunity to fix a flat tire came in my younger years when I popped a bike tire. Consequently, my dad showed me how to go about patching it.

The first thing to mention is that there are two major types of pneumatic (air filled) tires you will run into. The first is the tubeless tire. This is the standard for cars and all down the road vehicles. This just means that the only parts are the tire and the steel/aluminum wheel. The next type is tube tires. These have a tire, inflatable inner tube, and a steel or aluminum wheel. These are found on tractors and bicycles for the most part.

Each type must be fixed differently. Since I learned tube tires first, I’ll talk about them first. The first step to fixing a flat tube tire is to find if there is a nail or screw or something in the tire. If there is, remove it. Next, remove the rubber tire from the rim. This is accomplished with a large flathead screwdriver or a specially made tire iron. Once it is removed, then take off the thin rubber inner tube. If the hole is not obvious, inflate the inner tube and spray it with soapy water. The air leaking will create bubbles at the leak site. If the hole is larger half an inch then the tube should just be replaced. Otherwise, clean the area around the hole, wipe with alcohol, and then apply rubber cement. After that, press on a rubber patch. Then use a roller press down and remove all air from the between the patch and tube. Now the tire is ready to re assemble.

For a tubeless tire, you can jump right to finding the leak. Look for nails/screws sticking out of the tire, and spray on soapy water if it is still not obvious. Once you have found the problem area, remove the nail or screw if applicable. If the hole is anywhere on the sidewall of the tire it should not be fixed but rather replaced. If the hole is on the tread, start by driving the reaming tool in and out of the hole to make it the correct diameter. It may seem counterintuitive to make the hole larger, but it is necessary to fit the plug. Once the hole is reamed, apply glue to the plug (it reminds me of a slim jim) and push it into the hole with the special tool, which works much like a large sewing needle.  Then simply pull the tool out and the plug is set. Trim the excess plug material and then inflate the tire. Once you are sure the leak is stopped, you are good to go!

Patching tires can save a lot of money. I bought a patch kit for $5 or less at Harbor freight (great store for cheap tools/materials) and patched my truck tire, which would have cost $100 or more to replace.

Civic Issues: reflection on another group’s deliberation

For this week’s civic issue blog, I would like to reflect on my experience at another class’s deliberation. The topic of the deliberation was the legalization of marijuana.

The group presenting the issue first started by giving an overview of the topic, and asked the audience general questions about the stance. This was a good way for the audience to begin thinking about the issue. Since attendance was so large, the audience was split into three groups and the leaders for each approach cycled through each group. I really appreciated this structure because it allowed much more intimate discussion and better organization. Additionally, there were still around 12 people in each group so there were still a large number of opinions to be had.

When the first approach leaders came to our group, they went over the basis of their approach and proceeded to ask questions. I thought that this method was very mechanical based off of how they framed the approach. Instead of creating a general concept for the approach, they prescribed specific characteristics for it. I thought that this really seemed to hinder discussion because it almost seemed as though the presenter’s minds were made up. Of course what they had to say was accurate and valuable, it just felt as though there was little room for negotiation, or more critically, deliberation. Despite of this, the group did have lots of worthwhile deliberation. However, it usually happened when we departed from what the presenters framed. I felt as though our deliberation achieved constructive dialogue because we had a more open framing that allowed the audience to input their own opinions and perspectives more easily.

One benefit of the presenter’s method was that they were truly prepared and knowledgeable about their topic. Besides knowing many specific facts, they were able to provide the audience with almost all of the relevant information to understand the approach.  Also, they spoke well and had many question lined up so there was little awkward silence. The only divergence from this was when a moderator asked a question with an obvious answer, or a question that didn’t really ask for any opinion and had little room for interpretation.


There was a man around the age of 50 who participated in discussion in the same group as I. He was an obvious supporter of marijuana because of the opinions he shared. I thought he was particularly interesting because he kind of listened to what the questions were, and then answered something completely different, whatever he wanted to talk about. This presented the leaders a challenge of harnessing his contributions without making him a nuisance to the deliberation. On a personal note, I didn’t like his contributions because he spoke like he was an expert, but he was inaccurate on several important facts.

When it came to the conclusion, the leaders conversed briefly, and then presented their reflections and final thoughts on the discussion. One thing they did was present what they said was the general consensus of the group, and asked if anyone still disagreed. My hand went up, along with one other individual in the room. I found this to be very interesting. I did not find any of the previous dialogue to be persuading by any sense, so I came to think of why so many people agreed in the end. My proposal is that if people were asked the same question in the beginning of the event, the same number of hands would have gone up. I attribute this to the fact that most college aged students are socially liberal, as are many people involved with education. Additionally, many of the people who showed up to the deliberation were probably advocated for the legalization of marijuana. I did not feel slighted because I had a unique opinion among the group, but rather I felt slighted because they almost completely ignored any aspect of a conservative opinion. I think they could have had a much better discussion if they had done this, instead of just agreeing with themselves the entire time.


Fiberglass is a fairly common material in everyday life. It is used to make boats, ladders, tanks, and insulation just to name a few examples. Although it has been replaced by plastic in some applications, it remains relevant because of its strength and ease of patching/forming. Fiberglass is basically a mix of two things: fibers and resin.

The fibers are about the width of floss, and come in the form of a cloth like mesh. In this state, the cloth is very flexible and can be shaped in any way. The beauty of fiberglass is that first you shape the cloth, and then using the resin, it will harden and stay in that shape. The resin can be imagined as glue that dries very hard.

The first time I used fiberglass was actually for one of my own projects. I bought an old sailboat and it happed to have a hole in the hull. Of course, boat don’t work very well if they start to sink, as I figured out when I was testing it for the first time. Since the boat was made of fiberglass, it was fairly simple to patch it with fiberglass. The hole was about the size of a quarter.

The first thing to do when patching with fiberglass is to roughly sand around the perimeter of the hole. This is to get rid of the “gel coat”, which is a glorified paint on top of the fiberglass. It is essential to sand this off so that that the new fiberglass will bond to the old fibers, and it will make the final patch smooth.

Once the area around the hole was prepared, the next step is to cut out a piece of cloth to patch the hole. It should be larger than the hole on all sides so it has material to grab on to when it solidifies. After the cloth is ready, you need to mix the resin. Like many adhesives, it comes in two parts. In this case, there is resin, which reminds me of syrup, and then hardener. It is important to wear rubber gloves and be very careful with the chemicals because they will stick to your hands for days and permanently stain clothes. After you mix the two together you then saturate the cloth with the mixture, and then press it onto the sanded area, covering the hole. To make sure it sticks properly, you must press all of the air pockets out with a stick or a roller.

Fiberglass usually takes a couple of hours to dry completely, depending on the ratio of hardener and resin. Once it is dry, you just sand it down and apply another layer using the same procedure as last time. This process of adding layers makes the patch very strong. Once you are satisfied with the patch, it is very easy to sand it down and paint/gelcoat it to blend with the rest of the object.

I find fiberglass to be a very useful material because it allows you to add thin shells in any shape you want, without needing complex tools. It is waterproof, will not rot, and is reasonably strong.

We Are

While reading the Theory Toolbox by Jeffrey Nealon, Susan Searls Giroux for inspiration for this week’s Civic issues, I asked a very interesting question. The text inquires why people of the Penn State community chant “We are” repeatedly at home football games (and basically every rally type function). We learned from one of the group presentations last semester that this chant tradition originated at Cotton bowl in 1947 when Penn State’s black players were encouraged not to play. The We Are rally cry drops all restrictive characterizations of people of the Penn State community and unites them under a single name. Thus, the phrase We Are implies the inclusion of all people of Penn State regardless of culturally defined differentiations.

In our modern, globalized society, such an attitude as We Are is the only appropriate way to interact with others. Although society acknowledges that people are different, it is taboo to derive meaning or action from these differences. Of course, we do not yet live in a society sensitive to the intricacies of realizing differences yet disenfranchising no one. One sadly common form of such behavior is racism.

CNN recently published a story and video of a group of men chanting “we are racist” and pushing another man of a different race while boarding the train.

The article goes on to say that the group of men are likely part of a subculture called the “Lad” culture. The Lad image, according to Wikipedia is an image that started in the 1990’s when young men portray a traditionally masculine persona, hang out with the bros, and indulge in activities like drinking and watching sports. The CNN article also claims that men of the lad culture often become boisterous and pick on other people for obvious physical traits like race, which materializes as racism.

Although I am not a psychologist, I believe that the reason the “lads” in Paris acted the way they did, besides being inebriated, was because they wanted to feel a sense of inclusion by making their self-perception exclusive. Most people like to feel included in some niche group. We were always taught to include the lonely kid on the playground in our game of tag or invite them to sit with you at lunch to make them feel wanted. The apparent homogeneity of society somehow threatened the lad’s notion of being included; without their imposed exclusion and division of society, they felt as though their identity was not distinguished than therefore lacking the sense of inclusion. Is the feeling of inclusion possible without the potential of exclusion? I am in no way sympathizing or otherwise agreeing with the actions of the lads in Paris, I only seek to understand what possible explanation may exist for their continuation of racism.

It might be interesting to note that on some level, the “We Are Penn State” chant acts in a similar manner to the Lads “We are racist” chant. Although they vary greatly on the subject of cultural appropriateness, both chants aim to generate unity of the speakers at the expense of all excluded from the speakers’ context. Penn state generates unity and inclusion from the populous without a connection to the university, and the lads generate unity and inclusion by differentiation of race. Of course, in our cultural framework, the two chants obviously have very different implications.

A similar phenomena occurs in the novel 1984 by George Orwell. In an effort to unite Oceania, the government led by “Big Brother” stages an ongoing war with supposed neighboring countries. Fictional military campaigns and self-imposed missile strikes, along with Hate week and daily 2 minutes hate, unite the people of Oceania with the collective disenfranchisement of all other societies. Whether or not the war exists is arbitrary; the collective feeling and built competition provides the government the backdrop for control since the government provides the means of inclusion, i.e the government is maintaining security and fighting the war.

The base of many human interactions is the desire of security through inclusion. One must be attune to feelings of inclusion, as some are inherently acidic to those inevitably excluded and should be avoided.

Solar Collector

On this episode of what I learned at Highland Orchards, I want to talk about solar panels. Although some of the workers joke that the business is killing the environment since we burn wood stoves and have a lot of fuel guzzling heavy equipment, we do in fact have a small solar array to heat water.

Most often when you think about or notice solar panels, they are made to produce electricity. However, the ones we have use the suns radiant thermal energy to heat water for the bakery and convenience store. Unfortunately, last summer it stopped working and I was tasked to fix it.

The system has three major parts. The most obvious is the solar array. The solar panels sit on a roof, sloped to the south for maximum sunlight. These panels are simply a snake of black pipes that go through a glass faced box. The pipes go from one end of the box to the other, turn around and come back, repeated until the box is full. The point of this is to provide maximum surface area for the sun to reach the pipes. The next important part of the system is a pump. The pump drives the water through the array and to the final major piece. The heat exchanger transfers heat energy from the water warmed by the array to the supply of domestic water destined for the conventional water heater. The reason for this is the water that goes through the array is treated with nontoxic antifreeze, and is unfavorable for consumption (the antifreeze water is in a closed loop).  The domestic water goes into the heat exchanger at a relatively constant 55 degrees (from a well) and leaves at a higher temperature, say 80 degrees on a reasonably warm day. The water then goes to the conventional domestic water heater, which brings the water up to the desired temperature. Thus, the solar collector makes the water heater’s job easier, saving energy.

Although this may sound simple, there are several complicating factors that make operation less robust. The first time I had to repair the system, I replaced the control panel. This component turns the pump on and off depending on the temperature of the panels. If it is really cold (like right now) the pump won’t run because it would actually cool the water. The next problem I fixed was letting air out of the line. Air is less dense than water and therefore, when water entered the system, it rose to the roof. This air pocket grew in size over time and eventually prevented water from flowing through the panels, as it formed something called an airlock. It wasn’t until after replacing a few sections of pipe and adding a new pump we determined that the airlock was the issue. To solve the problem, we open a valve on the roof and let the air out. This works much like a “spit valve” for any brass instrument players out there