I once read this very interesting snippet about computers recycling (reusing) heat that is generated from their own system by turning a portion of the heat into electricity.

Why I find this interesting is because given current economic and environmental constraints we may be on the tipping point of actually trying to maximize the efficiency of all sorts of products. As we travel up the efficiency curve towards 100% (realistically 100% isn’t possible) the industry will shift from straight up better design to clever tricks to grab the last 10% or so of efficiency. We don’t hear about a lot of these sorts of inventions because honestly we haven’t even done the easy stuff yet.

Let me explain. Take something simple like a furnace. The main function of a furnace in a house is to keep you warm. I replaced my old furnace which was 40% efficient with a 95% efficient furnace. Of course my 95% furnace had a defect, so it was replaced with a 98% furnace. The main difference between the 40% and 95% furnace was the introduction of a computer system that more effectively coordinates the fans, flame, etc. To get to 98%, better motors and additional electronics have to be used. So ignoring for now that I doubt that the furnace is actually 98% efficient what sort of tricks would have to be deployed to more efficiently heat a home?

Here are some ideas:

  • Completely seal the house so vents, such as bathroom vents, don’t vent to the outside but rather though a heat exchanger. This will reduce the need for heat.
  • Run the hot exhaust through the center of the intake pipe (a heat exchanger) so cold air is pre-heated before it put in the furnace. This will reduce the load on the furnace.
  • Install a computerized thermostat that turns off the heat when no people are in the house and can tell when occupants are at home or school based on those occupant’s calendars. This will reduce the run times of the furnace.
  • Capture hot air from the dryer vs. venting it outside. This will provide an alternate fuel source.
  • Better insulation. This will reduce the load.
  • Capture heat from hot bath water. This will reduce the load.
  • Circulate air in the house to create a more even temperature. This will level out the heat so people don’t over heat some sections and under heat others.
  • Heat only the floors or rooms that are occupied. This will reduce the load.
  • Stop heating rooms once beds are occupied because people are sleeping. This will reduce the run time.
  • Higher efficiency motors will make the system more efficient.
  • Multiple smaller systems may reduce the need to cycle the system and allow smaller units to run longer and only run one system on the floor you are currently on.

Some of these focus around making the furnace better and some of these focus around the desired result – keeping the occupants warm when they want to be. This is different than keeping the house warm. You can see how technology will start to play a great roll as we try to sap every drop of utility for our devices. Imagine if your furnace and your car were working together to keep you warm. Maybe if your car GPS knew you were 20 minutes from home it could signal the furnace to turn on next to the TV because you always watch your favorite show on Tuesdays. That is unless your show is a rerun which your TiVo would have to weigh in or it is your wife’s birthday; which your furnace could gather from your Facebook account. You get the point. We have all this technology and it will be great when it can all work together to help us consume resources more efficiently.

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