Thursday, December 1 2005
This morning Gretchen and I sat side by side in front of a laptop researching refrigerators. As the single biggest consumer of electricity in our household, our 715 kwh/year refrigerator with an unreliable freezer seal had suddenly come to the attention of my ongoing energy inquisition. Nobody expects the Energy Inquisition, least of all a non-sentient refrigerator whose fate is to be placed as a "slumlord special" on Carl's List. A little internet research turned up the fact that refrigerators of greater size (and better geometry) using two thirds our present refrigerator's electricity can be had for about $1000. That's more money than expected, but this is an energy conservation jihad we're on, and compared to strapping bombs to ourselves and wading into a crowded market, forking over $1000 is pretty easy medicine to take.
There are, of course, even more efficient refrigerators that can be had for even greater amounts of filthy lucre, but these are smaller, and Gretchen insists that any replacement be the same size as the one we presently have. The Sun Frost, for example, would be perfect in a world without monetary or size restrictions. It's a handmade temple of efficiency, and you can see the thickness of the wall insulation at a glance. This brings up an obvious question: is it possible to increase a conventional refrigerator's efficiency by swaddling it with external insulation?
I should mention at this point that the refrigerator still used in my parents' house was already old when we moved into that place back in 1976. Since then it has developed at least one hole on the inside, which would have quickly allowed moisture to soak the fibreglass insulation and render it useless. Refrigerators built in those days were notoriously inefficient to begin with, having such thin insulation that they tended to sweat in warm weather, which led manufacturers to include electric heaters beneath their external surfaces. They typically drew 1500 kwh of electricity each year.
Plumbing is a language like any other. For a creative person, then, the moment you master its vocabulary and grammar you start wanting to write novels and poetry in it. I've written sonnets, haikus, and novellas in copper, solder, and (occasionally) valves and pumps. Today, as it became clear that little remained to be done on my solar project (save for the installation of the ULN2003 in the sufficiency controller when it arrives in the mail), I began to think about other things that could be done in the boiler room. One thing that really needs doing is the installation of a heat exchanger and pump to separate the slab hydronic loop from the household zone system. The temperature requirements of the water in a slab heating system are very different from those of a baseboard heating zone, but as it stands now, they all get exactly the same kind of water. At some point I'd like to build a heat exchanger and implement a more efficient system. Energy efficiency is important to me; remember, I've been on a jihad against energy waste since July.
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