PyraPOD: Soap Bubble-Filled SolaRoof Greenhouse

Hello, my name is Jun Zhang. I have an English name, Aubrey, if Jun sounds more like a girl's name to you :-)

Anyway, the whole thing started after I got my right hand‘ three fingers almost severed on September 19, 2018 as carpenter and solar PV panel and solar heat collection panel installer while working for CRE Green Consulting, now called Create Solar, a company in Kelowna, BC, Canada.

At that time (January of 2018) Create Solar had planned to retrofit Japanese OM Solar heating/cooling system to their demo house (check its physical address on their website). I liked the OM Solar system so much that I left my family in Calgary and moved to Kelowna to join the company. I lived in that house and worked there. I helped them to build a website from cratch and used it to display the whole process of the project.

Anyway, as the first and only carpenter hired by the company in the first half of 2018, I installed all the solar heat collection panels on the roof, along with other components for the whole system, the control, ducts, heat storage, etc. The following picture shows the roof heat collection panels integrated to 4 rows of PV panels:

I won't show anything else about that project - please click here  to check the last entry I entered on their website if you are interested.

Anyway, in the final stage of the project, I got my right hand injured badly while installing hardwood for the lower level of that house - I won't get into the details of the hand injury as it was bloody and out of the topic. Luckily, by this time my wife and three kids had already moved from Calgary to Kelown and they helped me a lot to get through when the injury happened.

After the hand injury and the first surgery (WordSafeBC supports me all along gracefully), I finally got the chance to stop what I did before and sit back/reflect on the whole thing. How to utilize solar thermal energy the easy way? Is there a better way to do it on new buildings - retrofitting is just too much work.

Along with that, I also got the time to watch many videos showing how to grow fish and plants together, the so-called soil-less aquaponics system. So after trying a few versions of aquaponics systems inside the house we lived in, I decided to grow my own food, fresh and living. I needed a greenhouse. As a matter of fact, I ended up setting up two, testing some crazy ideas in my head. Basically I was thinking along the concept of combining solar thermal with geo thermal. Eventurally I ended up building a website SolarGeo dot Net  to document everything I tried.

The turning point happended in February 2020, I bumped into a brilliant idea to better collect solar thermal energy - I documented that discovery here . Basically a new type of greenhouse can be built with two layers forming a cavity in between. Then soap liquid bubbles are produced and used to fill the entire double-layer cavity. That thick layer of bubble foam can then be used as a shade in summer and as an insulating blanket in winter time. The following diagram shows bubble foam's full insulation in winter season and at night time:

So I got so excited and searched any information I could find concerning this. Eventually I found that Richard Nelson was the original inventor and he applied for patents on it in 1979! He later called his invention SolaRoof.

To cut short all the middle stories, I was shocked how simple and easy this type of greenhouse is, I decided to work with Richard Nelson and build one for my family. Richard was kind enough to teach me and guide me along so that I could have a thourough understanding of the whole thing (geo thermal already included in his invention).

So you see, this simple DIY project leads to the forming of our company PyraPOD Global Inc  and an associated website.  The more I learn about the SolaRoof technology, the more I want to build one myself :-)

So after a few months of learning and brainstorming, we have come up with a full line of designs for our PyraPOD products - see video below:

Out of this full line, I have picked to build PyraPOD4 Grande-17 (P4G-17 for short) in the backyard of our house in Rutland of Kelowna. The following video shows the site preparation plan:

I plan to start the site digging some time next week as I have planned for this long.

Money wise, my wife Margaret and I have borrowed $30,000 from the bank. So far we have spent about $20,000 hiring a Sketchup 3D designer to do all the designs and getting everything ready for mass production.

$250 has been spent for a local fabricator making the metal frame for BubbleBox, which is needed for me to test Bubble Generator, the core of the SolaRoof technology, before mass production.

Barry of Falcon WaterJet Cutting has agreed to cut the Bubble Generator casing out of an aluminum sheet using his waterject equipment for $550. I also need one waterproof fan for the testing (one more for the actual build). Two nozzles have been donated by Gord Gouthro, Regional Spray Specialist of Spraying Systems Canada Ltd  in Vancouver - thanks!

Next phase is to prepare the site by digging 4 feet (see the related video above). I need hire someone with an equipment to do the digging. The cost might be around a thousand dollars.

A large piece of pond liner is needed to lay on top of the digged area, forming the undergound pool filled gravel space so that rain water can be collected naturally there (I ended up paying $1270 for one layer of felt and one layer of pond liner). 32 cubic yards of drainage rocks are needed to back fill the space. It is estimated to cost around two thousand dollars.

The biggest cost will be in these areas: (1) Metal structure - to prevent corrosion I want to use aluminum rather than galvanized steel - the two metal fabricators are working on the quote and I have not heard from them yet for the actual figure (a few thousands dollars for sure). (2) Double layer fabric cover system - the cost of materials may be another thousand but the labor for a tent maker to sew them together may be at least the same if not more.  The cost of these two could be at least $10,000.

To reduce the cost, I plan to reduce the shelving from 3 levels to 2 levels. 

Need to get 2 plastic tanks (one for fresh water and one for soap liquid) and four fish tanks. Plus 4 grow beds. Dave our neighbour has donated his old bath tub to me. Thanks to Dave! I will need 5 more is I stick to bath tubs.

One water pump to feed soap liquid upwards to the nozzles in two bubble generator (two nozzles in each). Some plumbing accessories for soap linquid line and also for the iAVS sandponics I plan to do. Sand is also needed to place inside the 10 grow beds.

Need some concrete to build two retaining walls on both sides of the steps (maybe also made by poured concrete).

Exterior double doors - to save money I can use rectangular doors, even used french doors.

I also plan to set up some basic monitoring elements, such as four temperature thermal couples to measure temperatures of outside, inside, water tank and bubbles. Simple hardware and software to record the data.

Any donation, small and large, to this project is greatly appreciated. For donations in form of physical materials such as sand, gravels, pond liner, fish tanks or grow beds, please contact me.

This is a proof of concept project for those who would like to build one for themselves. I will document and reveal everything along the process so that you can learn from this, good or bad.

I believe this DIY project will help us perfect our designs for mass production so that everyone can benefit from it later one if you are not a handy person.

It may also inspire others to build one for a variety of other purposes, for example, outhouse, shed, root cellar, indoor flower garden, or even an extra place to house your summer visitors - considerng the Covid-19 pandemic may stay with us, setting up a tent like this for summer time may not be a bad idea :-)

Thank you so much for the long story!
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