by Reeve Curry
Installing a new solar water heating system was the way a group of volunteers and I celebrated April 22, Earth Day. Local GALA (Global Awareness Local Action) folks watched and learned from the experienced members of award-winning PAREI (Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative) as piles of piping, lumber, solar tubes, and dozens of small bits of carpentry, electrical and plumbing materials were skillfully cut, soldered, nailed, bent and wiggled into the system which by the end of the day would be heating the water of a 120 gallon water tank.
Local members GALA-vanted, a favorite term for ride-sharing, to the second annual Earth Day energy-raiser for PAREI at the New Hampton School. Fourteen students from a sustainability class and New Hampton’s facility crew were full of enthusiasm and provided much of the labor, including setting up the scaffolding and site prep before our arrival.
There is room for every level of ability on a PAREI project, and even those who, like me, brought zip for skills to the day, learned a lot working as assistants during the “hold this, bend that, measure here” layer of the job. One helpful PAREI volunteer had set up a table specifically to give each of us the experience of cutting, cleaning, fluxing and soldering copper pipe bits, increasing our usefulness later in the day. Not only I, but Josh Arnold, founder of GALA, and his father Tom Bryant, owner of Stay Tuned, were particularly delighted to acquire that bit of experience.
One of our GALA members, Mike Haeger, a carpenter from Tuftonboro, worked all day on the roof crew, which built the frame to hold the long evacuated glass solar tubes, and broke a hole through the roof down to the crew under them on the porch, who were simultaneously breaking through the floor of the porch, turning a sharp corner and boring two holes through the foundation wall into the cellar. It is this path in which, in a single circle of pipe, heated food-grade glycol will pour, flowing hot from the roof, down into the cellar, on through piping now coiling like a snake in the water tank itself, radiating its heat into the water as it circles back up to the roof for re-warming.
GALA has just become the newest ‘Community Partner’ of PAREI, who will help GALA organize its first local projects. GALA has already begun developing a core crew of volunteers, both beginners and professionals who, after working on a number of the PAREI solar-raisers, will be able to start building solar hot water systems locally. This is well-suited for GALA, as its primary goals are sustainable living, and strengthening community, and there is nothing like the barn-raising model to deepen both.
At the end of the day, the sun’s power was pouring straight into a water tank, saving another bit of electricity with costs we don’t notice, like leveling a mountaintop in Appalachia, or transmission lines across the northern part of our state from Canada.
Barn-raising was the inspiration for the principles behind PAREI, that neighbors and craftsmen share knowledge, time and strength to build something much faster than can be done alone. More than a barn or a solar array is built, however, on a day when strangers and neighbors gather to work together. After the last valve was turned we had new friends, new skills, shared lunch and laughter, and the sun which had been toasting our faces was already raising the temperature in the brand new water tank of their school.