New Building Update!
Hi guys, welcome back to Tidal Gardens. I hope you all had a happy new year. This is the end of year update on the new building construction. It is crazy to think that we are about 14 months into this build. We’ve made some good progress since the last update much of which is actually in our old greenhouse.
People always ask if we are going to take down the greenhouse now that we have this new building in the works. Short answer is “no.” Not only are we not going to take the greenhouse down, we are making significant improvements to it.
In fact, I would argue that the improvements we made the past month to the greenhouse are the biggest improvement projects since 2007 when we poured a radiant heated concrete floor and completely reworked the heating of the aquaculture systems.
Fast forward to today and that revamped heating system from 2007 was good for its day, but it could use some help. It’s been a little over 10 years now and it got a major overhaul in the last month because of what we are able to do over in the new building.
To sum it up, the commercial Lochinvar boilers in the new building will be heating: The radiant heated floor of the new building, the four systems that will go into the new building, the 1,000-gallon saltwater holding tank (which we will talk about a little later) and they will now also heat the 5 separate systems in the greenhouse.
The original heating system for the greenhouse was a Rinnai tankless hot water heater. It is a residential model and wasn’t really designed for radiant floor heating systems, but that what it was primarily used for. The Rinnai used one pump to deliver heat to the radiant floor and a second pump to deliver heat to the 5 systems through a manifold.
The problem there is it was a little bit clunky. There were three main problems. The first was that there was a single temperature probe making the call for heat for all five systems. What that means is, if that one system gets chilly it can call for heat. If any other system got chilly that’s too bad. It’s not getting any heat until the one with the temperature probe calls for it. Alternatively, if that system with the temperature probe calls for heat but another system is already too warm, TOO BAD it’s about to get a whole lot warmer.
The second problem was it was hard to tweak the temperature. Because we had only a single pump feeding heated water to this manifold, the flow rates would have to be adjusted by closing down these flow control knobs. Problem is, if they get gummed up over the years or get stuck in a certain position it could throw off the heating to all the systems because you are changing the flow rates.
Long story short, it was not an ideal system, but it worked well for years here. Over a decade!
This new system will have five separate pumps with five separate temperature probes, so each system will regulate its own temperature and all of it is going to be handled by the heating system in the new building.
I did say that there were three problems with how we used to do it. The last problem was there was no redundancy if the Rinnai were to fail.
The new heating system has two industrial grade boilers that can individually handle the full load of the heating duties. If one goes down, the second one will pick up the heat load and keep everything at the right temperature.
There is nothing as panic-inducing as a heater failure. In past years, the Rinnai at the greenhouse would occasionally fail for any number of reasons and that was a huge problem because that was the only source of heat.
The biggest causes of failure was due to the exhaust port freezing when the winter temperatures fell below zero degrees Fahrenheit. We hooked up a control panel in my house that was a direct wired connection to the greenhouse so it would sound an alarm when the boiler out there sends an error code. Invariably it would happen at 3am in the middle of winter. I would have to bundle up and go out there with a hammer and break up the ice blocking the exhaust vent and restart the Rinnai. I don’t expect to have the same problem with the new system.
One concern I had was heat loss in the water lines going between the two buildings. The water lines travel underground between the two buildings. They are encased in an insulated channel underground which helps keep the lines warm, but until it is running it is hard to figure out how it would perform.
My concern was unwarranted because the heating system would send water out to the greenhouse at 130 degrees and it would return at 115 degrees. That means that the water would make its way through the underground portion, through the greenhouse to the coil, do the heat exchange over 100’ looped in the sump, back through the greenhouse, through the cold ground again, and back to the furnace while only losing 15 degrees.
This was surprising because the previous heating system would go into the water at about 130 degrees and come out of the water at about 80 degrees because the flow though the coil was so poor that all the heat transferred into the water. This was mainly because the old system used a single pump for all 5 heating coils where the new system has 5 separate pumps so there is much more flow.
Since this heating system has been running, I could not be happier with the results. Just looking at the temperature graphs on my aqua controller you could see the moment the new system came online. Water temperatures went from a 3 degree temperature swing to a 1 degree temperature swing.
In the spring we are going to create a separate geothermal cooling system using the rain water collection cistern but that will be the subject of a different video when the time comes.
After all that, you might be wondering why not simply have electric heaters do all this. Long story short, the electrical draw made that impossible. Same reason I could not just run giant chillers in summer to cool the tanks down.
The size of electric heaters we would need for these tanks would be insane. A general rule of thumb when it comes to sizing heaters is roughly 5 watts per gallon of water, but that is assuming a decent room temperature as a baseline, not a greenhouse in an Ohio winter where it is substantially chillier. We would be looking at over 8,000 W per system which there is no way we could plug anything like that in without causing major problems.
Speaking of electricity.. For years we were struggling with electrical capacity. We could not plug in anything new that required a lot of juice. This greenhouse didn’t even have a full 100A to work with when it was originally constructed back in 2002. Originally, the plan was not to have lighting at all overtop of these tanks and rely on the sun, but over time we went with artificial light to normalize the light exposure from season to season. When we first started, the tanks only had maybe 3 devices plugged in per 1000 gallon system whereas now we have dozens of devices plugged in.
It was getting to the point that plugging another high powered device into any outlet would trip the main breaker and shut down the whole greenhouse. We were just out of capacity.
This is the next big improvement to the existing greenhouse system. For the new building, we had a monster 400A three phase service installed which is more than enough capacity to operate the new building. We took the opportunity to use some of that capacity to upgrade the electrical at the greenhouse. We also cleaned up some of the breakers to even out the electrical load because there were a couple breakers that would trip because they just had too many devices on them.
Electric isn’t a super sexy topic and most hobbyists don’t really have to think a whole lot about it from an infrastructure standpoint. I would guess the vast majority of hobbyists just having their tank on a dedicated 20A circuit is more than sufficient, but once you start talking building sized projects, electrical demand increases and it usually will end up being for more consumption that previously estimated.
I often get asked about the possibility of solar power in the future and it IS something that I would like to do, but there are a couple hurdles to it. For starters, the initial cost is still high for the volume of power we would want. Second, the amount of sunlight we get in northeast Ohio is not ideal. There are a lot of cloudy days here. Third, the orientation of the building’s roof is not south facing. It is east-west facing so any panels installed on the roof are not going to get getting optimal exposure. Lastly, #4 the low cost of electricity here in Ohio makes the payback period longer than in states with higher electricity prices. If we were located in California or Hawaii with lots of sun and super expensive electricity rates, this would be a no brainer, but here in Ohio it makes the investment harder to justify. Still, there is no guarantee that electrical rates stay this low so maybe in the future it will make more financial sense. I would love to make this whole operation net zero if I could.
Next up is our Internet situation. Our first few attempts at running this line failed but we tried one last time with a different parachute material and it went through the conduit at what felt like 100 miles per hour. We carefully pulled the fiberoptic line through and got our 10GBE fiber backbone from the house to the new building up and running.
Shout out to tidal gardens youtube subscriber Rip Van Winkle for his suggestion to go with the Ubiquiti enterprise line of wireless access points. We now have a single wifi network for both the new building as well as the greenhouse and I’m slowly building it out so that we have coverage all over the property. There are several buildings here and it would be nice to be able to walk from place to place and not get dropped from the wifi.
Moving on to the studio, there isn’t a whole lot done since the last time we looked at it. The sound panels are installed on the walls and I’ve made a makeshift desk area just so I can use the space. The dark charcoal DIY panels on the walls I think are going to get moved up onto the ceiling and I will be replacing the ones on the wall with ones similar to the professionally made grey panels.
The sound absorption is just ok right now. For regular conversation you can’t really pick up much in the way of an echo, but I have really sensitive microphones and you can really hear a reverb on those especially during a live show.
Like I said, there isn’t a whole lot new with the studio, it is very much still a work in progress where a little bit gets done each week. I’m in no hurry whatsoever because there are a lot more pressing needs. You gotta prioritize.
The next big improvement is a system to make maintenance much easier. We installed a system of water lines to each sump in both the new building and greenhouse to deliver both fresh and salt water on demand.
If the water level in the sump is low from evaporation, we can quickly top off with RO. If we need to replace saltwater we can quickly refill with pre-mixed salt water that is heated to exactly 77 degrees.
There was a time when I was thinking of installing a continuous water change system using dosing pumps, but the more I thought about it, there are plenty of activities we do here on a daily basis that removes salt water from the system such as siphoning detritus, bagging corals for sale, making up tubs of water for pest dipping, etc. etc. So there really isn’t a need to have a dosing pump system to remove tank water, and having salt water on demand to top up when maintenance tasks are finished is a much quicker and easier solution than having a device do it.
These lines are already run throughout both buildings and once the water containers are delivered we can get started on building out the whole water purification system in the new building. There will be a 1,000-gallon container for fresh RO water and a 1,000-gallon container for salt water. Here you can see the heating lines for that salt container.
Now that these water lines are finally installed in the ceiling the finish carpenter could install the ceiling paneling. The ceiling on the first floor is filled with R-19 insulation mainly to soak up sound and vibration from the activity upstairs. If you haven’t caught on already, I am trying to minimize sound whenever possible. After the insulation is packed into the floor space, the carpenters put in a 6 mil vapor barrier and then this smart panel material.
We are still waiting on some trim work to get done but that should take no time at all, and then we can get the painter back in here to finish painting the ceiling. In fact, by the time this video is published there is a good chance the painting will be done.
The next steps now are to get the HRV air exchangers installed, trim work done, and start building all these aquarium stands. There are a couple projects that I am still thinking about doing, but nothing is set in stone yet.
The construction is more or less done at this point but I want to make sure that there are no projects that need to be done at this stage that I will regret not doing down the line. Basically once there are tanks running in this building I can’t do any more major construction work or do anything where a lot of chemical fumes get into the air. I don’t want to be in a situation five years from now thinking I wish I could go back in time and to BLANK but now I can’t with all my aquaculture systems running.
In any case… It’s crazy to look back at this build and see how far things have come. It has been a major undertaking getting to this point and I’m really excited to get aquariums running in here… but that won’t be until April, so there is still time to do some fine tuning.
Thanks for following along on this build. Don’t forget to subscribe and the notification bell to see future updates. We are getting close guys. Happy reefing.