Faced with ever-rising home heating costs, William Graff has taken to the bottle.
Graff, a partner in the Washington architecture firm of Holle and Graff, is building a solar-heated home of his own design on Arizona Terrace NW. Rather than collecting heat in large water tanks, as in most solar heating systems now in use, Graff is using 3,000 discarded liquor, soda and ginger ale bottles to store heat.
The quart-sized bottles, filled with water and a little bleach, are to be placed in a basement storage room.
"The advantage of using bottles (rather than storage tanks) is that they allow us more surface area to transfer heat, making the system more efficient," Graff said.
Graff said his $100,000 house will be the only one he knows of using quart bottles to store heat. However, he said he has designed one other house here that uses baby food jars for the same purpose.
Though the angular, 4,700-square-foot home looks alien beside its more conservative neighbors, Graff said the four-story structure is an example of the energy-conscious design that will have to be stressed in the future.
"As our conventional sources of energy are depleted, design will have to recognize the function of our buildings as well as their aesthetics," he said.
"We know that all energy originates in some way with the sun. It gives us wind, tides, hydroelectric power, fossil fuels. . . . What could be better than drawing out needs straight from the sun?"
Born and educated in Hungary, Garff has long been interested in developing solar energy systems. His work on solar and conventional projects has taken him all over the world. He helped design the Watergate complex, the Plaza Victoria in Montreal and Bagdad University while working for Italian, Canadian and American architecture firms.
Two years ago, he designed and built his own solar-heated home on Upton Street in Northwest Washington.
In this system, liquid freon runs through pipes set below a roof-top solar collector. The freon, heated to a gaseous state by the sun's rays, is piped down to a mechanical room where the heat is transferred to a 4,000-gallon hot water tank. From there, the water is used to heat a coil which, in turn, heats either water for taps or air for space heating.
Graff, said the freon system provided 50 percent to 60 percent of his energy needs.
"Having learned a few things from the Upton Street house, I decided to try an air system," he said. "It's history goes back to Professor Lof of Denver in the 1930s. I was fascinated by its simplicity."
Using Lof's basic ideas - and developing new ones, including a roof-top collector for which a patent is pending - Graff started building on Arizona Terrace.
Central in Graff's new system is the roof-top collector. The 700-square-foot collector comprises half the roof and is pitched northward at a 30 degree angle. The top two layers are made of Kalwal, a translucent fiber glass material. Below these is a layer of expanded metal mesh painted black and placed at an angle to the Kalwal in strips for maximum heat absorption.
The roof structure is framed in a plywood box with eight inches of insulation between it and the interior of the house. "The temperature of the air between the mesh and the fiber glass gets up to 210 degrees," said Graff, who plans to move into the house in about a year.
From the roof, the hot air is carried through a conventional duct system and down to the storage room, which holds the bottles.
An electric fan sends the heat along metal air ducts from the storage room througout the five-bedroom house. A thermostat regulates temperature.
Another unique feature of Graff's design is the use of the fireplace. When a fire is built, the space inside the double wall around the fireplace heats up, and air is transfered to the storage bottles.
This way, "We get double use out of the fireplace," Graff said. "I can light a fire for 15 minutes or a half hour each day to burn trash and, at the same time, store heat to keep the house at a comfortable temperature in intermediate seasons" (when the tempature outside is in the 50s.)
Graff admitted that the air system is 5 to 10 percent less efficient than the freon one in the Upton Street house, but said it is easier to maintain. "Whenever we had problems with the freon, we needed a plumber to straighten them out," he said. "By using conventional duct work, we made the (air) system practically trouble free."
The house is also equipped with a gas-fired furnace to augment the solar heating. It is also air conditioned, though Graff said that with all the insulation in the house, air conditioning is seldom necessary.
In all, he said, the solar heating system should take care of 50 percent of the house's heating needs.
And at a cost of approximately $10,000, he estimates that the system will pay for itself in seven or eight years.
Aside from his own home-heating units, Graff is working on other solar energy projects. One, a solar heating system for prefabricated homes, would be much more affordable than most of those now in use, giving more people the opportunity to have solar heating in their homes. He is also working on a water distillation unit that would employ the sun's energy to make sea water drinkable - necessary in areas such as the Middle East where drinking water is scarce.
He said one of his dream projects is a "hybrid automobile" propelled by a combination of photovoltaic cells and a motorcycle-engine-powered generator. "I expect to go to California averaging 75 miles a gallon at normal highway speeds," he said.
Though Graff said the possibilites for using solar power are almost unlimited," he said he believes the world had not really embraced the idea of solar power as a viable energy alternative.
"What disappoints me is that people are getting into it (solar power) only to make money," Graff said. "There's nothing wrong with that, but is shouldn't be the only reason. I'm deeply interested because I'm convinced there's need for solar energy.
"We need to harness the sun and use it," he continued. "It's there, it's clean and it helps to save other sources of energy for areas where we must use it, like for transportation." CAPTION: Picture, William Graff has placed solar collectors on the roof of house he's building. By Douglas Chevalier - The Washington Post