Early Solar Examples in Oregon

By: John Reynolds, U. of O.

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Here are some brief comments about how solar energy influenced Oregon, beginning about mid-20th century. These examples will be accompanied by my slides shown at the 40th anniversary members meeting, December 5.

1947 — One of the first texts on solar energy, The book Your Solar Home was published by Simon & Schuster in 1947, with one example for each of the then-48 states and the District of Columbia. Oregon’s example was designed by Pietro Belluschi. Oddly it seems to have almost as much north-facing as south-facing glass!

1967 As I began teaching at the University of Oregon Architecture Department in 1967, I struggled to make solar impact more interesting to students. Solar position charts are more visually interesting than mere tables of numbers, but do not yet grab and hold ones’ attention.

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So I started a series of solar photos, taken three times of day, [morning, solar noon, afternoon] and 4 times a year [winter solstice, spring equinox, summer solstice, fall equinox]. Much more information appears in addition to sun position, such as sky color, and especially deciduous vines and trees. Their “living awning” provides shade in warm seasons, sun in cool seasons.

1970 — When the Eugene Water and Electric Board [EWEB] wanted to build a nuclear power plant in 1970, our voters rejected it. My subsequent anti-nuclear, pro-conservation political campaign got me elected in 1972. I was outvoted 4–1 for all of my 4 unpaid years on the Board. The rest of the Board demanded to know what I wanted to use instead of nukes: thankfully, wind and PV emerged and got steadily cheaper.

Early Examples of Solar Water heating -

1) Coos Bay

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Mathew House

Hearing rumors about a “solar house” in Coos Bay, I asked the Coos Bay World to run an article asking for information from the public. A neighbor of Henry Mathew contacted me. Henry built this home near cloudy Coos Bay; a second collector in the backyard was about the same size as the 400 s.f. one on the roof.

Henry dug the trench, fabricated the 8,000 gallon steel tank, raised it about two feet above the bottom of the trench for air circulation, then built his house over the top of the tank.

By the time our solar team from U of O and OSU were measuring solar impact at Henry’s house, his aluminum foil roof surface had lost some “shine.” A group of students and I put on a new layer to increase reflectivity.

The present owner removed the collector. I was told that he couldn’t figure out how to make repairs.

I presented a paper on the Mathew House at the Solar World Congress, Los Angeles, 1975. The attention this attracted led to my involvement in solar policy both locally and nationwide, ultimately with my service on both the ASES and the ISES Boards. I was on ASES Board from 1984–1990, and again from 2005–2011, where I served as Chair for two years.

Midway through my EWEB term I assembled a series of charts and examples, called Solar Energy Pacific Northwest Buildings. “Time tables” of temperature, wind direction/intensity were included, as were diagrams of the Mathew House. The booklet was published in 1974 by the University of Oregon, Center for Environmental Research. It is no longer available.

2) Glide, Oregon

At his ranch near Glide, inventor Troy Erwin assembled a storage tank [one stock-watering tank turned upside another one then welded together], enclosed it in this collector shed, and ran supply-return lines to his house. The solar heated water flows through a radiator from a 1950 DeSoto; a box fan distributes the heat.

3) Eugene, Oregon

Some 40 years ago, I assembled a solar water heating collector on my rear deck, then called some friends together for a Collector Raising Bee. A good time was had by all.

4) Malheur Wildlife Refuge Field Center

Forty years before the Bundy Gang attack on the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Field Center, my summer UO design class designed, built and installed a water heating system on the Director’s house. It had three tilt positions to take advantage of the four seasons.

5) Bill Bishoprick’s home

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Architect Bill Bishoprick designed his air-collector home, one of the first aesthetically pleasing examples of solar architecture in Oregon. A small vent into the bathroom allows some by-pass of rock storage for immediate heat while bathing.

6) Cottage Grove

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Prof. G.Z. “Charlie” Brown and I formed Equinox Design, and our first building was the Cottage Restaurant in Cottage Grove, built in 1981. Featured are large south glass areas, vines for shading, and water heating collectors.

Many dark blue 30-gallon barrels of water and a concrete slab floor provide thermal storage, both for winter sun, and for summer night cooling by ventilation. Insulated interior shade panels protect the clerestory windows from winter night heat loss.

Due south is offset from property line, so the “jagged” south façade allows for east-facing doorways that connect outside trellis area with the tables inside.

The summer night cooling is a combination of an underground tube, open at both ends, and turbine ventilators above the roof. Summer shade includes grape vines, and roll-down exterior shade for the clerestory. About 40 years ago, insulated motorized shades were available in the passive solar heydays. The shades travel in side racks that form an effective air barrier by night.

Finally, one of my favorite examples of active-above/passive-below solar energy usage is at an earlier home of Doug Boleyn, Oregon Passive Pioneer!

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