Feb 192011

I have been looking into different means of lowering our energy costs. The two biggest expenses seem to be heating and cooling. The three places that this is applicable are 1) heating the clothes dryer, 2) heating the house, and 3) cooling the house.

The first thing to do is to make sure the house is adequately insulated and sealed for holding in the heat and cool that we produce. There are several places to get information on this, so I will go on to other things to help.

1) Heating the clothes dryer.

This is a huge drain on our electricity. Using electricity to produce heat is the most inefficient way to use electricity. I actually documented my power use and found that running the dryer uses 5 times the electricity used on an average day. We solved this problem by installing a gas dryer. Burning natural gas to produce heat is much more efficient and less expensive than using electricity.

Another option here is to hang some clothes out to dry naturally. We have an indoor rack that we can hang a few things on and we have an outdoor line (like mom used to have). Hanging things out to dry is good for the bulky things we have.

2) Heating and cooling the geothermal way.

This is a good discussion topic for later. For now just imagine heating and cooling with the same temperature air from an underground duct system. Just like caves stay a constant temperature because of their massive earth insulation, we can have a buried duct system that bring constant warmer than the ambient air temperature in during the winter and cooler than the ambient air temperature during the summer. This is really simplified and these systems are usually supplemented with other methods.

3) Heating the house.

This is the same huge drain on electricity. So, of course, we use gas. This cuts the electric bill by about $200 per month during the cold months and only adds about $35 per month to the gas bill.

4) Cooling the house.

This is my biggest concern right now. Everyone who lives in a region of the world where it is hot for 3 to 6 months out of the year (I know, some are longer) knows how expensive it is to run a central AC unit or window units. This isn’t as easy as just “switch to gas”. Gas units are expensive up front. But if you can afford it and will keep the house for many years then go for it. Heat exchanger units with natural gas are a great alternative. I am going a different, kind of extremist method. I’m going to build an ice cooling system.

In its simplest form we could just put an ice block in front of a fan and turn on the fan. But the ice would melt and get all over the floor. OK, let’s put it in a tray to catch the water. We can even reuse the water if we retain it in a collection system. This would still put a lot of moisture in the air and in some parts of the world that’s the last thing we want. Let’s go a step further and put the water in containers (like a 2 liter soda bottle) and freeze it. Now when the ice melts it is inside the container and we can just freeze it again. We might even incorporate fins on the containers that would conduct the cool over a larger surface area. If you put water in bottles and freeze it, remember to leave a little space at the top of the bottle for expansion of the freezing water and leave the cap off while freezing so the bottle doesn’t burst.

OK, that’s one method.

What if we used the ice a little differently? What if we had an insulated container lined with hose and in the container we had ice and in the hose we circulated liquid that was transported to a cooling coil on a fan?

Take a container (maybe a large Styrofoam cooler) and line the inside with a hose that can circulate liquid. If the hose is a material that conducts (like copper pipe) it will work better, but PVC or garden hose will work. Fill the container with ice and circulate the liquid in the hose using a small pump. Connect the ends of the hose to a cooling coil in a central ducted system or a stand-alone fan. You will need the ice to actually come in contact with the hose for best conduction. This makes the reusable bottle method not as good, but we could drain out the water and refreeze it into ice cubes for reuse. For a little more efficiency we could get rid of all the extra space in the middle of the container. We could actually fill that with smaller containers (like a few 2 litre bottles).

We still need fans to circulate the air, but like the heating, we can save about $200 on the electric bill per month by not using the big central AC unit and the fan will add about $35 back into the bill. The more efficient the fan is, the better.

Taking it to another level …

What I propose to do at my home place is a bit more extensive. I plan to start with a 4 foot by 4 foot pit in the ground. The bottom of the pit will be tapered down in a cone mostly to give a little more surface area. Line the pit with a heavy plastic to capture the water from the melting ice that can be reused or repurposed. I was thinking about putting a small hose and pump down to the bottom of the pit to pull out the water as it accumulates. Next is to line the pit with hose starting about two feet below the top edge. This is much like the Styrofoam cooler method, only this uses the ground for the insulation. This also allows me to have a much larger holding container. The last step is to fill the pit with ice and seal it up. As in the Styrofoam cooler method, I will pump liquid through the hose to a cooling coil used to cool the air and a fan to circulate the air. I will need to get on a regular schedule of draining out the melt-off every day to freeze back into ice for the next day. Usually this type of water cooling system is piped into each room in the house where you can connect a coil and fan setup in any or all of the rooms.

If you live in an area where you can collect ice all winter and store it in a barn or shed, you wouldn’t have to make or buy as much ice during the summer. And if you built this as a large container above ground you could insulate it and ice it for cooling in the summer and build a fire under it for heating the water in the winter.

…There’s much more to come as I investigate this topic further…

  5 Responses to “Alternative Heating and Cooling Options”

  1. I like your idea of using a gas dryer. We have an electric one right now and I try to use it only when I have to – otherwise I like to use the clothesline and free warmth of the sun! But in the rainy season the dryer is necessary. A friend of mine was saying that she dried her clothes outside in a covered area then when they were about dry, she used her oven to get the last bit of moisture out. She got very creative!

    Also, for your cooling methods…when my family lived in CA we didn’t have AC but my parents did install something that they called a Swamp Cooler – which used water. And then we just used ceiling fans in other places. Maybe this would be an easier option than the ice…not sure what one of those would cost though.

  2. Its wonderful to be thinking of solutions to problems. It is the basis of what technology really is.
    I like the way you think, however I dont know if you have factored the cost of making ice to your
    equation. Yes your freezer is always in a frozen state, but when something warm is added to it, the
    compressor needs to do its job to now cool the item you just put into the freezer. This is now added
    to your cost of cooling. i will share my method of home cooling.

    I have a large cfm fan (whole home fan) installed in my top floor ceiling (attic). I keep my windows and
    doors closed during a hot day. Then in the evening when it starts to cool down, I turn the fan on. It performs a couple of tasks that cool the house down rapidly. Being that it is high cfm (3000), it needs make up air. The cooler the better. So a basement or lower lever window on the north side of house is ideal. So firstly it exchanges the interior air in the house in about 10 minutes….secondly it also pushes all the heated air in the attic out of the vents which reduces any heat that may be radiated downward from possible insufficiencies in the insulation. Rarely do i leave the fan on all night as it has cooled the house down so much (geographic differences will apply) So starting with a cool house in the morning and leaving the windows closed, keep the house relatively cool for most of the day. Then the cycle starts again.
    This is my solution. It doesnt work for everyone. I just wanted to share it.

    • I do agree with the ice costing money. It is hard to get a really free way to accomplish things. Your fan idea is a great plan. I agree and plan to do the same sort of thing. If you put in a duct system in conjunction with the fan you could circulate the air in different ways. If you could add a system for shading the south side of the house during the summer it would help tremendously

  3. I would like to add one more way of reducing the power consumption. You can use dampers in your house to restrict the flow of air to the unused rooms. I will save energy and power.

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