Unusual Ways of Helping the Environment

Unusual Things to Help the Environment

Have a party! Keeping a house at a comfortable temperature on days of extreme temperature takes a moderate amount of energy. If instead of having three houses that each contained two people you had one house with six people and two houses with the heater or air-conditioner turned off then the energy use would be reduced.

In winter a house with a large party may not need any heating. Each adult dissipates an average of 100W of heat [1]. 30 adults will dissipate about 3KW – equivalent to an electric heater used for heating a room, in my experience it’s not uncommon to open windows during a winter party to cool the house down.

In summer it’s often impossible to use an air-conditioner for a medium size party. A medium size air-conditioner can remove 3KW of heat so if there are 20 people plus some cooking or 30 people without any cooking then the house will be cooler if the windows are left open.

The most energy efficient parties would be family events, as they generally involve moving all the people from several houses into a single house.

I have previously written about the benefits of using water evaporation to assist a car air-conditioner (which reduces a/c use as well as making the car cooler) and of using ice to cool a room to avoid buying a larger a/c [2].

Please try and think of the most unusual ways of helping the environment and let me know by comments or by a post on your own blog. Overall it’s most effective to use more fuel efficient cars, set your home thermostat to a temperature which is closer to the outside temperature, and to recycle as much as possible and reduce needless consumption. But if you are interested in science then it’s more fun to discover unusual ways of doing things even if they don’t do as much good overall.

Having twice-yearly “Environment Parties” on the hottest day of summer and the coldest day of winter would also be a good way of spreading the idea that we need to do something about environmental problems.

9 comments to Unusual Ways of Helping the Environment

  • Actually, Wikipedia says that an average adult *consumes* 100W, but we are only interested in heat dissipation, which is probably lower. Please correct me if I am wrong!

  • Anonymous

    While some of what you said makes sense, one thing doesn’t: you propose that the houses of the people currently at the party don’t need to run air conditioning, but I wouldn’t want to come home from the party to a 95 degree (F) house.

  • Dave X

    100W is about an adult male at rest. Partying, it could be twice as much: with 100Wh ~ 340 btu

  • I’m not so sure about your ice idea actually helping environmentally. It would depend on the energy source used to create the ice. In Victoria, this would generally be via electricity generated using some of the world’s worst-performing coal power plants.

    Given the humidity in Melbourne is generally quite low, ceiling fans are a good option. Designing cross-flow ventilation into the house is another good approach, though neither is generally an option for renters. A draping a wet towel next to a pedestal fan might help somewhat.

  • etbe

    Paggas: Energy consumed == heat dissipated plus other forms of work. When at a party you are not going to store any mechanical energy, and most sound produced by people will be contained by the building and thus converted to heat (and it will be a small fraction of the 100W on average). Assuming that all energy ends up as heat is pretty close to what really happens.

    Anon: All the better A/C systems allow you to schedule when they turn on. On hot days where I live the temperature usually becomes fairly reasonable at about 10PM or 11PM, so coming home to an un-airconditioned house wouldn’t be so unpleasant (I just did that recently on one of the hottest days of this year).

    Dave: Thanks for the link (pity it uses strange and obscure units though). I expect that my parties most closely resemble a “restaurant” in terms of heat, although the document doesn’t explain the meaning of the “sensible” and “latent” columns so it’s a little difficult to be sure. Even so, this doesn’t affect the energy savings by having a party, it merely determines when you should give up on using an A/C and open the windows.

    Shermozle: When comparing getting ice a few times a year with buying a new A/C unit and all the embodied energy used in it’s creation I think it would be a long time before the A/C system broke even on environmental damage, even without considering the electricity used to run the A/C. For the A/C system to ever win against occasional use of ice I expect that you would have to include the plastic bags used to ship the ice.
    Fans use a surprising amount of electricity. At the above URL I have the energy use of an air filter, I expect fans to have a similar range (and plan to do some tests in the near future). If a ceiling fan used 100W then over the course of a night it would use an amount of energy that could possibly be used to create 5Kg of ice (not sure how efficient freezers are) while also having that energy end up as heat in the room.

  • Actually with a series of days rounding out near 40C (104F for those in Imperial systems). I can see where you are coming Russell.

    Heat is a big concern for our household… .we’ve got approx. 2 dozen computers (don’t ask), and they do generate considerable heat.
    In winter, we ventilate the actual server room heat and heat the entire house. (Sure it’s not the most energy efficient — however it saves additional cost of running central heating, or other heating methods!)

    Add to it that the current house has no cooling to speak of and no insulation… it adds up to a sweat box on days above 30C.
    Unfortunately we’re renting here, so our choices are limited.

    However, we’ve learnt how to deal with it.
    This involves using blinds, and keeping doors, windows, curtains closed during the day. And opening up the house at night. Circular fans work well and are improved considerably when faced towards open doors, windows. Add a bowl of water below the fan and you’ll also improve it’s efficiency.

    We also learnt that whenever possible, limit the amount of household lights that are on. It’s amazing how much heat these suckers can produce. Where possible, move into one room, and attempt to keep that room cool (we use a portable AC in the study — which we’re doing as I speak) — but keep it only 2-4C under the outside shade temperature.

    Also turn off electrical devices that have a ‘standby’ feature when not in use for a period of time (ie: greater than 1/2 day), this includes things like the radio, games units, tv, vcr, etc). You’ll be amazed how quickly it all adds up.

    We’re currently building a new house.. and taking this further.

    Our new house will have:

    * Evaporative Cooling — utilising open windows/breezeways where possible for air-flow.
    * Double Glazed Windows throughout – further reducing heat transfer and an added bonus of keeping external noise down.
    * Doors/Windows with seals to stop drafts
    * House with 600mm eves. Ensuring at the heat of the day the house walls are under shade. This greatly reduces the heat that is transferred into the home. One thing many modern houses unfortunately have forgotten.
    * Insulation in roof, walls and interior walls.
    * Solar Hot Water System. – Backup to mains power as required.
    * House north-north/west facing – to utilise the sun in winter to warm all living areas.
    * Window Shutters to block out heat during summer.
    * Minimal downlights (they are NOT energy efficient, as you require more to light an entire room than traditional batten fixtures). We only have installed downlights over work benches (kitchen) and the bathroom (vanity) – to aide in detailed work.
    * 5 Star Energy Rated house by Australian Victorian standards (actually it far exceeds it).

    Initially we were looking at running the house under full solar (with battery storage and back to the grid), however the current economies of scale don’t favour (even with government/state rebates) individuals undertaking it. (In order to undertake ~5kw you’re looking at 50-60k AUD in investment). Hopefully within the next 5-10 years as newer technology hits the market and more energy/sqm is achievable through new panel technology this should become an affordable and cost-effective measure. (Around 5-15k).

    Another tip: Dampen a towel and place over an open doorway/window. The outside breeze will use the water in the towel to create a cheap and natural evaporative cooler. ;-)

  • It still beats me on why humankind ever wandered off the high tropical areas. At 19 degrees north and 2200m altitude, Mexico City is… Just right ;-) Even going down to 1000m (say, Cuernavaca – my parents’ city) heat is very seldom excessive. We have never owned any air conditioning equipment. Heating? Well, my father (64) recently got one, but I don’t dare enter his room when it’s running :)
    I can understand today science has taken us to places we never dreamt of and blah blah and whatnot. But go back in time, 200, 300, years. Even more. Please explain me what drives you out of nice weather, almost anything at or above 500m above sea level and at or below 30 degrees of latitude? How and why did mankind get to Scandinavia? War among tribes, yes, but… Hell, vikings were not precisely known for being easy to beat around!

  • Anonymous

    etbe: Yes, I have an air conditioner that allows me to schedule when it turns on. However, where I live, during the summer (and late spring/early fall), if I want a reasonable inside temperature at any point, the air conditioner needs to run continuously during the day. Turning it off, for even a couple of hours, allows enough heat to build up that the inside temperature will remain sweltering until long after the sun has gone down.

    I would love to run my air conditioner less. In addition to conserving energy for environmental reasons, I’d love to have a lower power bill. However, the weather simply does not make that feasible.

  • etbe
    Matt: If you have 24 computers and each uses as much power as a P3 system then you are looking at a minimum of 900W. If each system uses as much power as a laptop or a Cobalt Qube then it will be about 480W. I am assuming that most of them are idle most of the time – unless you are using them for cracking passwords then that will probably be the case.

    Given that 480W to 900W constant power use I find it difficult to believe that turning off lights (surely you are using CFLs at ~10W each) and stand-by devices (maybe 5W each) will make much of a difference – unless of course you have a server room with a fan blowing all that heat straight out the window.

    I wasn’t aware that you could have a combination of battery storage and sending power back to the grid. Batteries aren’t so great for the environment so a grid-connected system is probably the best option.

    Gunnar: Didn’t the human race evolve on plains which were unpleasantly hot?