Circulating Pumps for the Off Grid Home

March 16, 2013 · 11 comments

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14 watt circulating pumpIt is almost inevitable you will need at least one circulating pump for your off the grid homestead. Whether it is for radiant home heating, keeping fish alive in a aquaponic or aquaculture system or making a home-made air conditioning system, circulating pumps are very important.

If you go to your local hardware store and buy the same circulating pump everyone else uses you will be surprised to find out it uses more electricity than many other items in your home. Let’s look at the electrical consumption of some of the usual appliances you will want to operate:

  • Refrigerator – 100-200 watts x 8 hours per day = .8 to 1.6 kWh per day
  • Hair Dryer – 1500 watts x .25 hours per day = .375 kWh per day
  • Front Load Washer – 150-200 watt hours per load x 2-6 loads per day = .3 kWh to 1.2 kWh per day
  • Laptop Computer – 60-120 watts x 8-10 hours per day = .48 kWh to 1.2 kWh per day
  • Circulating Pump – 150-200 watts x 12-24 hours per day = 1.8 kWh to 4.8 kWh per day

It is easy enough to innocently install a circulating pump for your outdoor wood boiler only to find out you do not have enough electricity to use it.

Let’s look at the specs of a common Grundfos circulating pump used by many:

Grundfos Circulation Pump

MODEL: # UP 26-64 F

VOLTAGE: 115

HORSEPOWER: 1/12

AMPERAGE: 1.7

WATTAGE: 185

FLOW RATE: UP TO 34 GPM

The above pump is a high quality and very reliable circulating pump and it can move a lot of water, up to 34 gallons per minute (128 liters per minute). It is perfect for the on grid home owner as the 3 or 4 kWh per day the pump consumes, only accounts for a tiny portion of their power bill. If used for a heating system, HVAC installers don’t want customers complaining about the lack of heat in a particular room so they install a pump much larger than necessary such as the Grundfos UP 26-64 F.

It does not belong in an off grid home. It simply uses too much power.


If you are looking for a pump for a heating system such as radiant heat, hot water baseboard, or old fashioned radiators a better way to go is to use one highly efficient pump (like the units discussed in the rest of this article) per heating loop and have each pump controlled by its own thermostat. If a zone needs heat, the thermostat will send power to the pump until the zone is warm when the thermostat cuts the power to the pump. No zone valves, no waste. To learn more go to the The Best Off Grid Heating System.


Efficient Circulating Pumps

In the past the only high-efficiency circulating pumps we would recommend were the El Sid pumps made by Ivan Labs Inc.

Ivan Labs were the first company to make a reliable pump that only consumed between 3.5 and 20 watts. We still highly recommend anything made by Ivan Labs Inc. They even make temperature differential controllers specifically for their pumps. Very cool!

Today there are many options including battery direct pumps, pv (photovoltaic/solar) direct pumps and 120 volt AC circulation pumps.

We have tried many high-efficiency pumps and have been very pleased with the units listed below.

Ivan Labs El Sid PumpEl SID DC Circulating Pumps by Ivan Labs Inc.

The El SID is revolutionary brush-less, DC circulating pump that has no bearings or seals to wear out or leak. All of these pumps are DC (direct current), made to work with a battery or solar panel and operate at either 12 or 24 volts depending on the model.

The Ivan Labs El SID Pumps models are as follows:

PV Direct (operated via solar module(s)

SID3.5PV – Operates from a 12 volt solar module, consumes 3.5 watts and pumps up to 2.0 gallons per minute.

SID5PV – Operates from a 12 volt solar module, consumes 5 watts and pumps up to 2.5 gallons per minute.

SID10PV – Operates from a 12 volt solar module, consumes 10 watts and pumps up to 3.3 gallons per minute.

SID20PV – Operates from a 12 volt solar module, consumes 20 watts and pumps up to 6.0 gallons per minute.

Battery Direct (connected to a more stable voltage)

SID10B12 – Operates from a 12 volt battery, consumes 10 watts and pumps up to 3.3 gallons per minute.

SID20B12 – Operates from a 12 volt battery, consumes 20 watts and pumps up to 6.0 gallons per minute.

SID10B24 – Operates from a 24 volt battery, consumes 10 watts and pumps up to 3.3 gallons per minute.

The above pumps are perfect for radiant heat (one pump per loop), solar hot water, homemade air conditioners, small aquaponics and fish ponds. Learn everything about Ivan Labs Inc. El SID DC circulating pumps.

Bell & Gossett ecocirc e3 Circulating Pumps

Bell and Gossett has been making pumps for years and is the first major typical hot water recirculation sysemmanufacturer to design a high quality, high efficiency 120 volt AC circulation pump. These pumps were designed to be used in a loop as hot water circulating pumps for domestic hot water. Look at the photo at the right.

In this system there is a pipe loop that travels from the water heater all the way to the furthest tap and back to the water heater. Each hot water tap is simply connected with a tee to the hot water loop. The pump operates (24 hours per day) to keep the water in the pipes hot all the time. This way there is always hot water ready at each tap without delay.

It does in fact save water as you no longer have to open your hot water tap and dump gallons of water down the drain while waiting for the water to get hot.

It is my understanding that they were developed for large buildings such as a hotel as the hot water heater might be hundreds of feet from a particular tap.

Some claim to do this to save water and some do it because they do not want to wait the 10-15 seconds it might require for the water to get hot at the tap. Any sales pitch I have been given at plumbing supply stores is the fact that you no longer have to wait at the kitchen sink for hot water. Apparently it is a big enough problem for Bell & Gossett to make a special pump.

There are many problems (pumps consumes electricity 24 hours per day/hot water loop heats house in the summer etc.) for the off grid homesteader (please read comments below) created with the system mentioned above but it does not change the fact the ecocirc e3 is a super pump.

ecocirc e3 high efficiency circulation pumpThese pumps are perfect for solar hot water, radiant heating, aquaculture, ponds, aquaponics (they can overcome a few feet of head) and homemade air conditioning systems as they are very efficient and designed to last for years.

The ecocirc e3 is a 120 volt AC pump that consumes between 2 and 30 watts depending on the model. We use the e3-4 as it is designed to pump up to 5 gallons per  minute using up to 10 watts. More about the ecocirc e3 and how to use it.

Leave a Comment

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Doug Danforth June 28, 2016 at 2:35 pm

could you please send me some pricing on your sid pumps and which pumps would perform best hookedm to a on grid system Thanks Doug

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Jody Graham June 29, 2016 at 8:34 am

Hi Doug,

The El Sid pumps are not our pumps. They are made by a company called Ivan Labs in Jupiter Florida. Just Google their name and you will find their phone number. They do not have a website. That is why we made pages to explain their pumps as they do not and we think they make a great product. Hope that helps. Have a great day…Jody

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Kyler Brown February 29, 2016 at 12:06 pm

I’m trying to get a circulating pump for my home, and I’m glad that I read this before making the purchase. It would’ve been frustrating buying one that wouldn’t work with the amount of electricity that the home has. This Grundfos seems like a great investment so thanks for sharing this.

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imad knio February 25, 2016 at 2:11 am

we have immediate need for DC power solar pump, not sure of size we need, we like to try 3.5 and the 10 PV..also, do you have some that run on 24VDC..

Please let us know the estimated run hrs before failure. This would run potentially 15-18 hrs/day every day. The media is glycol at around 20-50C

Regards,
Imad Knio

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Jody Graham March 1, 2016 at 10:30 am

Hi,
We actually don’t sell any of these pumps. Ivan Labs Inc. is the manufacturer and the best place to buy them can be found through this link. Ivan Labs Pumps. They do make 24 volt DC models. They have a service life of 30,000 hours. I use mine for circulating hot water through our concrete floors. I live in Canada where the pumps operate about 5 months per year almost steady. Have had the same pumps for 12 years with no failures as of yet. Good Luck…Jody

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Joseph A Laurenza March 21, 2015 at 10:52 am

Wow maybe i missed something!!!! You write about being efficient about a circulating pump yet in the same sentence you mock someone who wants to save water by installing a pump. Upside down on this one!!!!! Joe

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Jody Graham March 25, 2015 at 10:58 am

Hey Joe,

Thanks for your comment and you may have a valid point. If water is in short supply maybe it does make sense to circulate hot water to each and every tap in your home. That way you will have instant hot water available when you open the hot water tap instead of running the tap for 10, 20, 30 or even 60 seconds to get that hot water you want from the tap. That is a waste of water.

My concern is the energy consumption. This website is dedicated to those who want to live off grid and produce their own electricity. Every watt hour of electricity consumed is one we have to generate. Running a pump 24 hours per day is something most solar/wind energy systems cannot operate. If someone is lucky enough to have a great micro hydro system they could likely spare the pump’s energy consumption.

Another issue is the heat loss in all the piping that is kept hot all the time. That pipe will act like a hot water baseboard or radiator heating your house all day long and all night long. That heat loss will have to be replaced by your hot water heater consuming more wood, oil, or gas. I didn’t mention electricity as most solar homes do not have large enough solar arrays to heat water. This will change though as the price of solar modules continues to plummet.

In the winter this extra heat just offsets whatever else you are using to heat your home. No big deal.

In the summer you would not only be consuming more wood, oil, or gas to heat the water that is being cooled by your long pipe run, but you will also have to operate your air conditioner to offset the heat that is being produced by your long hot water pipe run. Most off grid homesteads do not have the extra electricity to operate the air conditioner.

I know you could insulate the pipe loop to lower the heat loss but you could also insulate all your hot water lines and lower the water wasted while waiting for hot water at the taps.

If someone does like the idea of the return loop from all taps with a circulating pump (and they have the electricity to operate it) please insulate the heck out of it. I mean put the amount of insulation you think it needs and double it.

All of these reasons make it impractical for the typical off grid homestead.

I do really appreciate your comment Joe and you are right about millions of households wasting millions of gallons of water while waiting for hot water at their taps. I wish I had a better solution. I am just glad it lead to Bell and Gossett designing a super efficient 120 volt AC circulating pump.

By the way I rewrote that section of this webpage as I was being judgmental. Thanks for pointing that out!

Take Care…Jody

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Audrea October 15, 2016 at 12:10 pm

Is there a way to turn the pump on a few minutes before you use it to circulate it for readiness instead of the constant pumping? We had something like that in Korea, I believe.

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Jody Graham October 15, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Hi Audrea,

Thank you so much for your question. I think what you’re referring to is a system that pre-circulates the hot water to your domestic hot water taps. This makes it so hot water is always available at all of your taps without waiting for the hot water piping to warm up. It is a horribly inefficient system yet very convenient.

What we are talking about in this article is using circulating pumps for radiant heat applications and using the most efficient pumps possible.

I am not familiar with any system that can anticipate you might want to use hot water and start the circulating pump. It would have to have some type of brain that would know you are about to use hot water and turn itself on.

In a radiant heat system, there are thermostats to turn the pumps on and off.

Sorry I am not more help,
Jody

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MidwestFam December 3, 2016 at 9:31 pm

Could Audrea be thinking of a tankless water heater possibly, rather than a circulating system?
Would it be feasible to install multiple smaller tankless water heaters – one in each location (say 1 in the kitchen and one in the bathroom)?

I wonder (off the top of my head as I type this) if you could use a wood burner or solar pre-heat loop (or both) with a tankless “boost” at the bathroom location to minimize both heat lost in the transfer from the tank and btu’s expended to bring the water to full heat. I think it would only really make sense in a system where you were already using the wood heat for home heat – basically reducing the lp bill for the demand heater when you are burning or when the sun is shining on your h20 pv but giving you the lp backup for those “shoulder ” seasons when you aren’t prime for wood or solar.

Thoughts? Am I *way* off base? Even if it is technically feasible and mechanically sound (not sure about that) it may not pass the financial value test…

HomesteadJohn March 18, 2013 at 5:58 am

Thanks for the help finding the best circulating pump. Where can I buy one?

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