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The OTHER Free Heat

Shy of installing a solar heating system, you’re always going to be paying for heat, right? There has to be some input of fuel or energy to get heat out on-demand. Or can it be done another way? Generating Heat We make heat using more than just a furnace or a boiler. Nearly everything in your facility generates some amount of heat. Some equipment will produce hundreds or thousands of BTUs of heat, and you actually pay to throw that heat away. This is equipment that generates heat as a side effect of running and will probably be damaged if it gets too hot. Consider for example, a large pump motor. This motor outputs enough torque to crush Sales Guy Scott’s jeep (don’t worry, we won’t be proving that Scott, even if it would look really cool). The thing is a gigantic space heater. There’s friction inside of it from the bearings heating up, there’s a massive amount of heat coming from the windings as we cram amps into them to make these monstrosity spin. The motor casing has fins on it to dissipate the heat. In some installations, it may be necessary to ensure the room has good air flow or even air conditioning to help manage the heat or risk the motor overheating. You’re paying to both generate and counteract that heat generation. This sort of waste happens everywhere. It happens in manufacturing, chemical processing, and especially in […]

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What About Free Heat?

We’ve covered heating systems where you supply SOMETHING to make it work, electricity or fuel. What about systems that don’t need that? Can we get everything for nothing and can it be done at industrial scale? The Power of the Sun The sun is a massive, nuclear fireball, bombarding the Earth with numerous forms of radiation day in and day out. Nearly all the warmth on the planet comes from the sun. Even in the middle of winter, there is a TON of heat being blasted down on us. Just look at Pluto, which gets essentially no sunlight. It would make the ice planet Hoth look like Miami. This difference means that there is an abundance of energy, it’s just not enough to make the whole area toasty and warm. Air currents and shorter days reduce the total heat delivered and cause an overall lower temperature, but there is still a ton of heat. Think about it. If we have a large window into a well insulated room, the sun will heat that room up, regardless of the season. That’s without using any engineering to make it an efficient process. It’s just the natural conversion of radiation into heat. Thermal Engineering The most important part of a solar hot water system is to squeeze as much energy out of the sun as possible. This comes down to the design of the pipes in the rooftop component, a Thermosiphon, what they’re […]

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How DOES Electric Heat Work?

Fuel-based heating systems are straight forward, right? We blast a fuel source into a combustion chamber, then we expose it to a low flame, enough electricity to disintegrate Zeus, or a really hot heating element, and boom, it combusts, creating heat and exhaust. What about electricity though? We can’t burn that. Friction is Key There are a lot of set ups available to create electrical heat. You could use an electrically powered heat pump for example. That’s not really electric heat though, it only works if there’s somewhere to take heat from. It’s electrically facilitated heat. What makes heat directly from electricity? The short answer is friction. When we move an electrical current through anything, we are moving electrons. The electrons are gong to effectively slide against or impact the molecules in the wire. This causes the electron to lose some energy to those particles, giving them energy, and causing the material to heat up. Resistance is Futile The friction in wiring like this is called Resistance. We can measure it in ohms. More ohms means more heat and a lot less current passing through the resistor. Most resistors are small components inside the electronics around your home or office. They can be used to lower currents, divide voltages, and other work in small electronics. A big resistor however, can be the heart of a furnace or portable heater. A heating resistor like this is going to work one of […]

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Why Do We Use Heating Fuels?

There are a number of heating systems in the world. Typically these systems all need some sort of fuel to be pumped in and burned, whether that’s oil, natural gas, propane, or even a bucket dumping wood pellets. The question is though, why burn these fuels when it could be cheaper and more convenient to use electrical heat instead? An electric system needs no ducts, pipes, or fuel tanks, and it can be set up as a zone-system with individual heating units in each room. Old, Reliable Heat Heating technology is centuries old. Homes in the 18th and 19th century were largely heated with wood stoves and eventually early coal powered central heating systems. Electricity was still a new thing, either used for little magic tricks, lab experiments, or eventually available for lighting in cities. It’s easy to forget just how slowly electricity spread around the world. In the United States, electricity was a rarity until about the 1950s. In 1935, less than ten percent of homes had electricity. In 1951 the number finally reached 80%. Early heating systems had no choice but to use combustible fuels. These systems had to be fully mechanical to operate. Combustion systems were the default heating technology and as a result they were the most affordable and reliable way to heat anything. There had just been so many more advances in purely mechanical heating systems and the new entrant to the market, electricity, was […]

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Can Ice Damage Your Building?

Ice is a menace to our paved surfaces. It can destroy foundations, roads, concrete structures, pipes, and more. This is one of the key strengths of crystal structures. They can exert great force on their surroundings. Ice starts from liquid water, so it can move, invade, and then cause a massive obstruction or destruction with ease. What few people realize however, is just how much damage it can cause to the rest of a building. High Loads in Weak Places Ice will easily accumulate at the sides of a building, where water typically runs into the gutters. During cold weather events and cycles of melting and freezing, the gutters can become clogged. Water first freezes inside the gutters, then it flows over the edges and starts to freeze on the sides and down the bottom of the gutters. This will quickly grow into a major issue: ice is heavy. The exact weight of ice per-volume will vary with the temperature. For round numbers sake we’ll say a gallon of ice weighs eight pounds. Raingutters vary in capacity as well, a five-inch wide gutter holds just over a gallon and a six inch gutter holds two gallons, per foot. You can see this is going to get heavy very quickly. If your business has one side with rain gutters that is forty foot long, and those are six inch rain gutters, then those gutters alone would weigh 640 pounds once they’re […]

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More Than Pipes Freeze

The big fear we always have around cold weather and buildings is pipes freezing. If a pipe bursts, there’s going to be water damage and that can lead to millions of dollars in property and equipment issues. Imagine a pipe flooding a computer room or dousing a multimillion dollar MRI machine? It turns out however, other things can freeze too. Expand and Contract When materials are heated and cooled, they will change in size. This is from changes in their atomic structure as we put more and more energy into something. In the case of winter, it’s more of a contraction as we suck the energy out of things. These effects can be observed in a couple of places. On the extreme end of the spectrum, you have the SR-71 Black Bird, which gets longer in-flight due to heating from atmospheric friction. On the more common end of the spectrum, poor ice water in a glass bowl that’s just had boiling water in it. The bowl usually cracks, because the ice causes parts of it to cool down rapidly and contract, but the rest of the bowl is still hot. Glass has a rigid, crystaline structure and the force of contraction overpowers the rigid molecular bonds. It causes it to crack or even shatter (so don’t try this at home). These effects occur on essentially everything, with varying degrees of destruction involved. No matter what, nature is always going to […]

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History of Groundhog Day

Groundhog day is a bit of a big deal in Pennsylvania, we all gather around to see if Punxsutawney Phil will come out or see his shadow. If his shadow scares him back underground, then winter will be longer. If he stays outside, then Spring is right around the corner. The tradition dates back several centuries if we look for its oldest roots. Evolving Holidays The oldest holiday like Groundhogs Day is the Celtic Imbolc, a celebration of the beginning of Spring. This was traditionally held on February second, what we now call Groundhog’s Day. Christianity eventually turned Imbolc into Candlemas, a holiday revolving around Jesus in Jeruselam. Candlemas brought about the first predications for when Spring would arrive. In some parts of Europe, Christians believed that a clear day on Candlemas meant another forty days of snow and cold weather. A cloudy or otherwise inclement day would mean Spring arriving early. This is starting to sound a lot like Groundhog Day, isn’t it? The Germans would give the holiday the final major evolutionary step: if a small animal emerging from its den is scared back inside, winter will be longer, and if not it will be shorter. Their animal of choice for the holiday was a Badger. Moving to the States Pennsylvania has a massive German Heritage, often called PA Dutch (a mispronunciation of Deutsche by the English speakers of the 1700s). On top of having strong influences of […]

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The Frozen Toilet

The internet is full of some incredibly weird things. We thought we had seen it all, from exploding boilers to a bathtub rowboat. Today we came across this post on Reddit, of a toilet that sort of exploded. No one in our office has ever heard of anything like this happening. Let’s take a deeper look. Typical Winter Plumbing Winter is no friend to your plumbing. We’ve talked before about problems like pipe bursts before. These are typically your biggest winter plumbing problem. The water freezes in your pipes and causes them to burst open. When the ice thaws, you flood the house with running water. This problem is caused by one simple fact: water expands when it freezes. On top of that, the pipe is full of water, so there’s only one real direction for the force of expansion to go: outwards. The pipe is essentially more rigid than it is flexible. It’s possible to bend copper, but the force needs to be applied in the right way, that’s why we have special tools to bend copper pipes. A force like this will find the weakest part of the pipe and once that’s failed, it loses all its strength and ruptures. For this freezing to occur, typically the ambient temperature around the pipes must be below freezing. Most ground water is cold, but likely to be above freezing. The Earth it turns out, is an amazing insulator. For any […]

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Preventing a Snowy Driveway

Welcome to another freezing winter in the US Northeast. In some places it’ll be so cold your spit will freeze before it hits the ground. It’s the sort of cold that would give you frostbite on your spleen. We’re located about a mile south of Freezing to Death, for those who’re curious. There are only a few traditional ways to fight this: sweat and tears, sweat and tears with a snow blower, or just have some lifted four wheel monstrosity. There is however, a modern way to fight the cold: heating systems. Some Basic Concepts When it snows, the snow will only actually become a problem if the ground itself is cold or can be chilled by the snow. The first couple hours of snowfall may melt as soon as it hits the ground and produce no significant challenges. This is the major weakness of snow: it requires something to be cold. Snow will almost always build up first in grassy and wood covered areas. Dirt, wood, and grass are quick and easily chilled to support the snow. Pavement however, essentially rock, things made of denser, heavier elements is not so fast to change temperature. Road surfaces retain a lot of thermal energy. It takes significant effort to warm or chill one of these surfaces. The easy solution would be to spray down the driveway with hot water, melt off the snow, and drive way. Unfortunately, the laws of physics […]

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NASA’s Water Recycling System

After last week’s Wednesday post, Lead Sales Guy Scott has told me no more sewer blogs. He really values his breakfast. Luckily for me, that’s a request I’m happy to oblige, with a loophole a mile wide: you don’t call it a sewer when it’s in space. In space, we call that Waste Water Reclamation or Recycling. Water In Space Water is a basic human need. If there is no water, there will eventually be no humans there either. Its probably possible to have life without water, but that won’t be us any time soon. We’re giant blobs of water wrapped in a soft, squishy membrane for all intents and purposes. We’re 60% water, which makes us water with some contaminants. Our bodies however, constantly excrete that water. We sweat, exhale water vapor, and lose it in our waste. Consequently, we need to constantly refill ourselves with more water. On Earth, this isn’t much of an issue. We can return the water to the environment and find more. If necessary, we can build an enormous processing plant and turn ocean water into drinkable water. In space however, that’s not an option. In a best-case scenario, it costs about $2500 per POUND to put anything in space. Cost of Water Per Astronaut Without Recycling1/2 Gallon of Water X 8.34 LBs/Gallon X $2500/LB$10,425/Day Per AstronautWater For The Longest Stay on the International Space Station438 Days x $10,425/Day$4.6 Million Per Astronaut It would […]

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