A moonbeam heater

The music comes from the neighbors out back. Yes, it is that loud.

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As I’ve mentioned numerous times, we have three hot-water sources here at the Hacienda: solar, gas and on-demand. What catches my attention most is the solar. I’ve spoken to a number of people with solar panels, and everyone says they work great.

And they do … if the sun has been shining. In the early morning, it’s useless, so for people who bounce out of bed to take a steamy shower before heading to work, a solar heater will disappoint.

In the afternoon and early evening, however, it’s hot enough to boil eggs or cook live crawfish to serve with ketchup.

What I want sitting on my roof beside my solar panel is another heater, a fourth, which has yet to be invented, that works on lunar power. Yes, I want a moonbeam heater.

“Green” energy has a way to go before rising to the reliability of old-school sources like natural gas and coal. Remember last winter when Texas came close to having its entire energy grid collapse during a prolonged, hard freeze? That was because Texas switched to “green” energy in a big way, which was a huge error.

“Green” is a great backup, but not as a sole source. At least, not yet. And as Texas went green in one direction, it shut down old-school sources simultaneously.

When we want hot water in the morning, it’s a simple matter of flipping a switch from the solar to the on-demand. And we still have the old-style gas heater sitting out there too with its pilot off. We have options. Texas stupidly had too few options.

Don’t put aging hippies in charge of energy.

I climbed to the roof yesterday to shoot these brief videos. In the middle of the top one, you see the roof of the sex motel next door. That orange room is the laundry. There are several industrial-sized washers in there but not a single dryer.

They dry stuff on those metal racks, which are new. Until recently, blankets, etc., were simply spread flat on the roof to dry.

In the bottom video, I was shooting over the glass top of the upstairs veranda, three-fourths of which is covered by shade cloth.

It was a very lovely day.

Nearing the end

gas
Our very large propane tank.

heater
The solar heater is dicey, but it can work. It’s our second. The first was useless.

OUR PROPANE tank is almost empty.

Normally, the response is to phone the gas company, and they send a tanker truck, usually the same day, and refill it.

But we have a problem. There’s a gizmo that sits inside our tank, and it tells us, via a gauge outside, the level of the propane. That gizmo has gone on vacation!

This happened almost two years ago.

Since then, the gizmo decided to start working again, so it’s been filled a time or two. A fill-up lasts almost six months. But now it’s not working again. Our plumber says the gizmo cannot be changed unless the tank is empty.

If you knock on it with your knuckles, you get an empty sound, but there remains some gas in there because the stove and water heater are still functioning fine.

When the gas runs out, we’ll call the plumber pronto. Whether he comes pronto is another matter.

You know how we Mexicans are.

Both our stove and water heater rely on gas.

We have a second water heater — solar-powered — on the roof. However, it’s temperamental. Sometimes the water is blazing hot, sometimes not, sometimes tepid.

The kitchen stove is considerably less of a problem because we have another stove out in the pastry workshop, and it’s on a different gas tank.

And if the solar water heater totally fails, we can always drive the 15 minutes to our Downtown Casita, which is currently unoccupied, to take showers.

A few months ago, our plumber told us that the measuring gizmo inside the tank almost never malfunctions. He’d never known of it to happen. Lucky us.

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(Note: We have more gas tanks, water tanks and pumps than you can shake a stick at. I could be a survivalist kook.)

Felipe goes green!

green

HAVING LOST ITS raison d’être, the gas-fueled water heater sits silent out back.

Even its pilot light has gone dark.

After four-plus years of wanting to go green (well, save cash, actually), we have a solar water heater that really works. Our first solar heater, some readers may recall, sat on the roof for about four years doing pretty much squat, occasionally squirting some tepid H2O.

But since that first set of panels was only connected to the gas heater — the theory being that it reduces the gas used to heat water — it did not have any practical effect on us personally.

We still enjoyed hot showers.

But I knew the solar panels were doing little because I’d climb the circular stairway to the roof now and then to open a valve to find tepid water coming out most every time.

That first heater, manufactured by Rotoplas, one of the biggest names in Mexican plumbing, had a 10-year warranty. Finally, I got off my lazy keister and returned to the hardware store where the Rotoplas had been purchased. I expected one of two responses:

1. Warranty? Ha!

2. Okay, but the warranty will be pro-rated. You’ll get 60 percent of your cash back.

Option No. 1 is common down here.

Imagine my shock when Rotoplas picked up the old heater and returned 100 percent of the purchase price, 10,000 pesos, about 665 American dollars these days. I used that money to buy another solar heater, a different brand, Solemex. Never heard of it. The Solemex cost 6,000 pesos, about 400 dollars, but I paid about 1,000 pesos to have it installed.

The Solemex did not work either.

The water it produced was blazing hot. It just did not deliver the water to the faucets in the Hacienda. Oh, it sputtered out some hot water now and then. On rare occasion, it even worked well. Sometimes no water at all came out of the showerhead. Nada.

You might imagine my irritation.

We even installed an inline pressure pump. The poor pressure remained the same.

But, to make a short story even shorter, the problem was not the solar heater. It was that the plumber who installed it was clueless. After returning twice, he finally figured it out, and now it works like gangbusters. We are hot and green!

The Solemex is connected directly into the house, not to the gas water heater.

A friend down the highway has installed a massive array of solar panels on his roof to generate electricity. He does not do solar water, but his electricity bill has mostly disappeared.

Maybe one day I’ll go green with electricity too. I feel like a hippie tree-hugger.

Heater
The new Solemex!

 

Geppetto’s magic

kitchen
Waiting for Geppetto.

work
Geppetto at work this week.

done
The finished product.

THE PASTRY workshop is finished. The final step, the installation of counters and a worktable, was done by an old carpenter we called Geppetto because his appearance reminded my child bride of Pinocchio’s pal.

Geppetto did much of the groundwork downtown at his shop. Then he and his son brought the bases here in a taxi pickup truck. The final work was done in two days, and we’re quite happy with it.

We had purchased about 15 feet of Formica at a building-supply store here in town.

Now we must move all related cooking gear from the house’s kitchen to this new space.

Before, last November.
Before, last November.

After, how it now looks.
After, how it now looks.

* * * *

You might recall that the solar water heater on the Hacienda roof was removed at about the same time the unrelated work on the pastry workshop got under way in November.

We purchased the heater four years ago, and it was never worth warm spit. This was surprising since it was manufactured by Rotoplas, one of the big names in Mexican plumbing gear. It had a 10-year guarantee and, to Rotoplas’ credit, they removed it and returned the full purchase price of 10,600 pesos.

solar

So we bought a new one, slightly larger, made by another company, Solemex:

newone

The hardware store manager told us they had sold just six of the Rotoplas heaters, and four were lemons. They’ve sold more than 25 of the Solemex and, he says, the owners are all contented customers.

Let us pray that we will be contented too. And it cost only 6,000 pesos.

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(For a blow-by-blow photo gallery of the workshop construction, go here.)

(For a taste of pastry production, go here.)