EchoFirst, Inc., recently showcased their combined whole home energy solution, which uses photovoltaics and solar thermal, at the Pacific Coast Builders Conference Home of Innovation. The system provides electricity for a home, but it also provides hot water, heating, cooling and ventilation, all in one unit. The approach creates a net-zero energy home and is gaining popularity among community and homebuilders.
“We use straight out of the box solar electric panels. We draw air under the panels and do that via a mechanical blower,” said EchoFirst co-founder Gordon Handelsman.
The company is module agnostic, meaning that it use different modules in different climates if needs be. But it does have some trusted suppliers like SolarWorld, he said.
“We get a BIPV [i.e., building-integrated photovoltaic] look,” Handlesman said.
The air under the panels is heated as the sun strikes the panels. “That way the panels get cooler, so we make more electricity,” he said. “Every bit of heat we recover means the panels works better, and we get solar thermal for the heat exchanger.”
The thermal heat collected is used to heat water and provide heating, cooling and ventilation for the home.
Most solar thermal systems, like solar hot water systems, place liquids on the roof adding weight and stress to the roof. The Echo system avoids that.
“Because we’re air based, we’re totally compatible with building practices,” Handelsman said.
Builders like the comparatively lighter load placed on the roof by the Echo system.
A number of builders, including Meritage Homes, Shea Homes, Joseph Carl Homes, Wathen Castanos Hybrid Homes and ZETA are incorporating the Echo system on newly built homes.
The system can also be incorporated into existing homes with the solar thermal aspect tied into a home’s existing HVAC system, according to Handelsman.
“We tie into the supply side of the ducts,” he said. “We run the hot air through a filter and connect it to the HVAC. So it makes it a really simple way to integrate into the home. The same blower that draws it under the array, also can blow through the home.”
The systems have been offered for a number of years now.
“We’re probably in the 500 to 600 range [of installed systems] now,” Handelsman said. “We’re standard in over 30 communities across America. We’re very fortunate and growing rapidly.”
EchoFirst relies on local installers to implement the systems, Handelsman said.
“We’re a manufacturer. We go into a particular region and find very well qualifies installers,” he said. “They are ultimately the installer and servicer of the system.”
The company also monitors every system it’s installed to make sure it’s working properly. On top of that it has added remote thermostat control for system owners, allowing the homeowner to control the home’s temperature via their smartphone or computer, according to Handelsman.