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An anonymous reader writes "I found this very interesting project called DIY Zoning. It allows one to add air flow balancing, temperature control, zoning, home automation, and more to an existing or new HVAC system. After getting a $200 electric bill, this sounds like a good solution for those who are getting screwed with outrageously high electric bills due to their HVAC unit especially since organizations like TVA have raised the electric rates."
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  • by (1337) God ( 653941 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:08PM (#8425003)
    DIY Zoning is just one in a family of projects.

    Don't forget about Haywire [], Jukebox [], and ServoMaster [], all of which are hosted at SourceForge and directly tie-in to the temperature zoning system featured in this Slashdot posting.

    [Oh, and FWIW, Professor Tkachenko's son is a cutie (an old college friend of mine knew him)!]
  • Im just waiting for someone to recycle toilet water for showers. When is the madness going to stop.

    • by dirkdidit ( 550955 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:15PM (#8425040) Homepage
      Would there be anything wrong with using your shower water as toilet water? I honestly can't see anything wrong with that and it'd certainly cut down on somebody's water bill from month to month.
      • by Saint Stephen ( 19450 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:28PM (#8425102) Homepage Journal
        This is going to be the vaguest answer you ever got:

        I saw a program on PBS or The Discovery Channel or HGTV or God knows what channel...

        about a hotel in Arizona or Malaysia or Australia or god knows which country

        which has a water recycling system installed. They have low flow toilets, and a filtration system, and the water is in a clear acryllic case. All the water for the all the systems is mostly recycled.
        • I stayed at a place like this in Australia. It was a vacation house [] in the Kangaroo Valley, about 2-3 kilometers from the nearest paved road and 2.5 hours south east of Sydney. It's apparently fairly common in remote areas, not just in Australia. The toilets were low flow, though not much lower flow than the rest of Australia. However, the water was not recycled for drinking water in this case.

          There were two tanks - one caught the majority of the rain water for fresh water, and filtered and chlornated
      • by Patrik_AKA_RedX ( 624423 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:34PM (#8425138) Journal
        Or rain water. You could save rain water for several purposes, like toilet water and watering your lawn.

        It's even mandatory these days to install a rain water reservoir for new houses (here at least).
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:46PM (#8425207)
        There's a great deal that can be done to conserve water. Here's a few things:

        • Install stormwater tanks. Hook them up to your roof's stormwater system, with the excess (that the tanks can't store) going into the stormwater drains, as the whole lot used to do. Use this water to flush toilets, water gardens, and possibly wash clothes and shower in (depending on the quality of the rainwater you get).
        • Redirect water from your shower to gardens, toilets, etc. You may need to treat it to get rid of soap, shampoo, etc. residues.
        • Fix those leaking taps.
        • Take shorter showers.
        • Install a water-saving shower head.
        • Stop hosing down the damn concrete driveway. Use a broom, or a blower if you're that damn lazy.
        Here in Australia, stormwater tanks used to be illegal! That's changed, though, as the Powers That Be came to the realisation that our water resources are limited, they won't be expanding, and yet they have to support a growing population. The scary thing is, since my father installed stormwater tanks for our showers, toilets, and laundry, our water bills dropped by a third (or more).

        As an aside, there's one place in Melbourne (Aus) that has no water bill. None. Zero. Zip. They were actually investigated pretty thoroughly when this happened, because authorities assumed they were stealing water from their neighbours. Not so, though; they were just very efficient with their water use and recycling, and were able to fill their needs from stormwater.

      • I saw a thing a few years ago on a fix it show that had a fancy lid for a toilet that when you flushed it, first the water flowed through a fountain at the top before it went into the commode so that you could wash your hands without turning on the sink faucet.

        Of course I've never seen one in person, so it obviously didn't catch on.
      • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:51PM (#8425232)
        Indeed, one of the problems we have, conservationally speaking, is that we use our drinking water for everything. There is no water shortage, overall. We have just as much water after you flush your toilet as before. It's just that that water is no longer suitable for drinking.

        Would you buy bottled water to pour into your toilet? Probably not, and yet that is essentially what you're doing right now.

        I like to use a good, old fashioned cistern, a big bucket to collect rain water, for many uses that don't involve ingestion. Why buy "bottled water" to spray across your lawn/plants? Hell, your plants even like it if it's a bit, ummmm, shitty.

        You can learn a lot about water managment by reading books on sailing. When blue water cruising, management of drinking water while still getting other things done requiring the use of water can mean the difference between life and death, not merely a larger water bill. Salt, rain, grey and fresh drinking water all have their various ideal uses.

      • I recently got back from Disney World. At Epcot, in Innoventions, they have a "home of the future" tour. Most of the stuff is fluff stuff that if you read sites like slashdot, you would already know about. However, one of the interesting things they show is a plumbing system that takes the hot water going down the drain of your shower and uses it to heat new water going into the shower. I think that she said something like 30% efficiency.
      • Hong Kong is kind of unusual (at least, I've never heard of this being done anywhere else) in that they have two different plumbing systems. Toilets use salt water, and the rest of the system uses fresh water. This is because they have to buy their fresh water from mainland China, and it severely reduces their costs to use salt water for their sewage.
      • by BigBlockMopar ( 191202 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @11:07PM (#8426119) Homepage

        Would there be anything wrong with using your shower water as toilet water? I honestly can't see anything wrong with that and it'd certainly cut down on somebody's water bill from month to month.

        I meant to reply here rather than my post in the previous parent, I clicked on the link and brainfarted about the subject.

        My toilet costs me about $200/year to flush (based on number of flushes per day counted for a typical week, and the size of the toilet's tank). So I built a system to refill it using water from my washing machine [].

        I did also consider using the water from the shower, but in practice, the water from the washing machine provides enough water to keep the storage barrel full.

        Whether you have one or several toilets, the number of flushes per day is probably proportional to the number of people in the house. Since the laundry usage is also proportional to the number of people in the house, the water barrel is likely to remain full, but I'm sure there'd be no harm in dropping a pipe off the clean-out port at the bottom of the bathtub/shower U-trap, putting in another U-trap to serve as a vapor barrier, and draining that into the barrel. A couple of barrels should probably also be paralleled for a high-volume multiple toilet installation, but if you store too much water, it will start to grow (stinky) algae.

        I tried paralleling barrels, but in practice, I didn't need to - just two people in my house. It'd be very easy to do, just a hose connecting fittings near the bottoms of each barrel, and they'll reach an equilibrium even if it's several minutes after the washing machine has finished a drain cycle.

        As for what's wrong with gray water toilets, I don't know. I know it's against building codes here, but I don't know why. My system, not being a permanent installation or requiring any modification to the existing plumbing, skirts the rules about building codes.

        I have yet to find a single disadvantage to my gray water system.

    • Don't they do this on the ISS?
  • by maliabu ( 665176 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:13PM (#8425023)
    for non-eXtreme geeks like myself, HVAC stands for Heating, Ventilation, & Air Conditioning.
  • Not that it would matter to you if you are working on it by yourself, but without support for the technologies that the spec requires going forward, you face the unenviable position of being stuck with some out of date specs.
    • What the fuck does this post mean? I've read it twice, now three times. I'm going to read it several more times before the end of this comment probably. Without support for the technologies that the spec requires - What spec? Going forward - What's going forward? The support? What does 'go forward' mean in the context of support for technologies required by this nonexistent specification? And uh, so what if your specifications are out of date? Technology from the 1980s still works. Does any of this mean any
  • by Realistic_Dragon ( 655151 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:14PM (#8425028) Homepage
    Put the real thermostat somewhere hidden and place a dummy one in the hall for the wife and kids.

    Putting a circuit in to turn off the AC when someone opens a window helps too.
  • by ciroknight ( 601098 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:16PM (#8425043)
    Is going on a lot here where I live. Berea College [] has completely rebuilt many of their buildings to make them more environmentally friendly, and to cut down on their "outrageous energy costs". Not to mention that Berea College owns all the utilities here anyways.

    I really don't get why this kind of project is really worthy of doing anyways. May save some money, but most people's houses dont use more than 1500 kWa of electricity a month... ~140$ of electricty around here (considering we pay the "Berea College Utilities" tax). Now a worthy project would be covering your house with solar panels and breaking even on your utility bills ;).
    • Photovoltaic panels are NOT (yet?) environmentally friendly, as their production is a very messy and energy consuming process.

      Your argument about Berea owning the utilities seems flawed, unless of course they are operating their own oil wells or hydroelectric plants or whatever, in which case they could still sell the excess energy they are not wasting due to the rebuild.
    • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @09:43PM (#8425759)
      May save some money, but most people's houses dont use more than 1500 kWa of electricity a month... ~140$ of electricty around here (considering we pay the "Berea College Utilities" tax). Now a worthy project would be covering your house with solar panels and breaking even on your utility bills ;).

      Actually, the single most worthy project would be simply buying a new refrigerator. They are the #1 electricity consumers in almost every household, because they run 24x7x365, and are never thrown out until they completely fail(after years of working below the already mediocre factory performance). Newer refrigerators are MUCH more efficient than those made 5, 10 years ago. There are even models that are so efficient, they can be run entirely off solar power.

      Wanna reduce your electric bill, but can't replace your fridge? Leave enough space behind it for airflow, and vacuum/dust the coils, especially those under the unit. Oh, and properly set the controls; buy a thermometer and adjust until both compartments are cold -enough-. The freezer control, by the way, doesn't control the freezer compartment temperature- it controls the RATIO of cooling between refrigerator and freezer compartments.

      All in all, even if you buy a new fridge, it could end up paying for itself in a year or two in saved electric costs. Oh, and slowly switch your lights over to fluorescent bulbs, wrap hot water pipes in foam insulation, put sealing inserts behind outlet plates+switchplates, etc. In the winter, cover windows in rooms you don't use with the window insulation you can buy at the hardware store. Find out the R-rating on the insulation in your walls, attic, etc; old insulation can be horrible compared to the latest new stuff(which can often be "blown" into place, install is a cinch). Got an old furnace? Get a new one; they're also a thousand times better these days. My folk's new gas furnace is so efficient, its exhaust is a 2" PVC pipe that is barely warm to the touch when it's going full blast...

      Last but not least, turn off the damn computer when you're not using it, get an ISP account with webspace instead of running your own webserver, etc. I worked it out once...100-200W over 24x7x365 equals a LOT of money per year!

      • by Doco ( 53938 ) <> on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:06AM (#8426321)
        I just couldn't let this pass by -

        "I worked it out once...100-200W over 24x7x365 equals a LOT of money per year!"

        First - that math is for 7 years, it should be 24 x 7 x 52.179 or 24 x 365.25

        200W x 24hrs/day x 365.25days/year = 1753.2kW-hours / year.

        At a rate of $0.08/kW-hour = $140.

        Now - that is assuming that it is using the full 200W all the time. A 200W or 300W power supply is needed because there is a lot more power used when the disks are spinning up or that CD/DVD is spinning and writing. Even a more busy CPU and graphics card will draw significantly more power. So that box is probably drawing only a fraction of that power on average which means that it isn't really close to that much.

        Now if I could just find my clamp-on amp-meter to give some real power numbers on my own boxen.........

  • Bills? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:16PM (#8425048)
    This is why I only use solar energy!

    Ack, gotta go, a cloud's coming!
    • They have to in the UK. The vacuum tubes used in domestic installations these days are around 80% efficient at collecting solar energy and converting it into heat, about 1kW/m^2 here, more as you get closer to the equator and less through winter.

      You simply size the system to provide the amount of heat you want at the time of year you want, the heat is stored in a water tank until required. Solar thermal systems are quite a bit cheaper to implement than photovoltaic.

  • Do it yourself (Score:3, Interesting)

    by capz loc ( 752940 ) <{capzloc} {at} {}> on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:17PM (#8425054)
    A friend of mine is doing this himself using parts from a website (the name escapes me) and drivers that he is writing himself. I also ran into this [] a while back. It looks like a lot of work, but considering how much a system like this would cost, its probably a pretty fair bet for experienced hackers with some spare time.
  • by frostgiant ( 243045 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:18PM (#8425056)
    Complaining about TVA rates? Haha... You are getting some of the cheapest, subsidized electricity in the country.

    Read this:
  • by re-Verse ( 121709 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:20PM (#8425062) Homepage Journal
    Does anyone remember way back in the BBS days of the early 90s (when the net was new or undiscovered for so many) when HVAC meant "hacking, virii, anarchy, cracking"?

    What a weird yet fitting title to see on /.
  • Zoning rocks (Score:5, Informative)

    by MajorDick ( 735308 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:23PM (#8425079)
    As an ex plumber-pipefitter, zoning is a must for any eficient system.

    Take this house for example, 2000 sq ft 2 story farmhouse, 1950's anderson windows, still nice but not real tight, no in wall insulation, attic is aesbestos (but now sealed)

    The house is set up into 3 zones, on an old , circa 1950 American Standard electro-mechanical zone system, it is hot water heat, about half baseboard, the other half cast radiators, the heat throught the hose is awesome, never too cold anywhere. Now, the fun part, we dont have gas, and electric was way too ineffecient to heat this house soooo, my grandfather a pipefitter as well installed the system back in the 50's ,it is looks like a full blown commercial install, When I was out of town once the boiler went out (flooded expansion tank) so my wife called the company I worked for, my friend glen cam out and said , "uhhh youre gonna have to call in a commercial outfit were all residential and Ive never seen a system like this before Chris (me usually handles all our commercial stuff"

    The wind up of all this , my heating bill for the entire year ? Under $600 Thats 350 gallons of oil, I only took 310 or so after 13 months last time I topped off. And I live near Cleveland Ohio (Akron), not exactly warm winters here ya know
    • Re:Zoning rocks (Score:3, Insightful)

      by instarx ( 615765 )
      ...and electric was way too ineffecient to heat this house

      Electric resistance heating is 100% efficient. What you really should say is the cost of electricity in your area makes electric heating too expensive.
  • by Rinikusu ( 28164 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:24PM (#8425081)
    It's quite simple, really.

    Learn to do without.

    I know it sounds contrite, but hear me out.

    Do you really need both of those monitors? If not, chuck one, or turn it off. Monitors draw quite a bit of power. Also, make sure you turn off your monitors when you're not using them, or make sure their power saving modes are on. Alternatively, you could go LCD to help reduce the costs, but I've always looked at that with some suspicion in that the prohibitive costs related to 19" and higher LCD's offset the potential savings.

    How many computers are you running? If the answer is more than one, ask yourself if you really *need* to be running the others. Sure it's nice that you've gotten that old P233 up and running as your firewall, but frankly, a Linksys dedicated router/firewall is going to draw much less power, with fewer moving parts.

    Air Conditioning: Learn to live a bit warmer. Learn to open windows instead of reaching for the thermostat. You'll find that your body can and will adjust to warmer temperatures if you let it. I live in the South with oppressive humidity and heat during the summer and my dad tells me stories of him growing up when they didn't have A/C. It can be done. And, if you follow the first 2 items above, you'll find your house isn't as hot. Computers + Monitors == lots of heat. Now, in my apartment, I don't have central A/C, only a couple window units, unfortunately. A trick I've learned is to shut the door to my bedroom, which happens to be decently sized, and only run the A/C in that room. It gets downright cold pretty fast. Now, it does make me somewhat of a prisoner in that room, only venturing out to use the can or to cook something in the kitchen, but I've learned to cope. Besides, I can grab my laptop and browse the web wirelessly from anywhere in my house. Also, at least here, the hottest part of the summers is only one or 2 months that you have to "suffer" through. Actually, if you work a lot, here's an excuse to work some OT. :)

    My bill dropped from $150/month to less than $50/month once I adopted these measures.

    If you're married with kids, feel free to ignore because I'm assuming most of the /. readership are bachelor males. Of course, a fantasy alternative would be to get a girlfriend with her own place and just crash over there.
    • I agree, the entire approach to the DIY problem as advocated in the SourceForge project is overkill. For those of us who simply can't stand the heat, there are very reasonable do-it-yourself solutions which consume very little energy, provide wireless and RS-232 interfaces for monitoring, and free one's time up for more meaningful projects (I've provided links elsewhere). This project seems to be a solution in search of a problem...
    • by dattaway ( 3088 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:48PM (#8425213) Homepage Journal
      Do you really need both of those monitors?

      My monitors *are* my zoned heating system. A small quartz heater take up what else the distributed computing doesn't make. I can keep my living area around 80 degrees (I like it hot) with a total monthly utility bill less than $100.

      The hotter months, I move my hobbies down to the basement in the furnished bomb shelter. Underground, its much cooler. My LCD displays with the backlight on soft only consumes a few watts, so they are good. Summer utility bills are less than $60 and I get to leave florescent lights on.
    • by Smidge204 ( 605297 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:51PM (#8425230) Journal
      That's all fine and good. In fact, it's excellent.

      But a good HVAC system will save you electricity AND fuel, being better able to meet the heating/cooling demands better. That translates to lower costs all around - AND more comfort!

      A good HVAC system doesn't even need to be all that complicated, either. Chances are it's already possible to have your home re-evaluated and do a minor tweak to save a few bucks.

      If you've got baseboard heat (hot water), and ever had or will soon have your boiler replaced, it's worth doing a detailed heat load calculation. Chances are the guy installing the new boiler will probably size it up to handle what the radiation is designed to put out - and typically it's quite a bit more than you actually need to keep the house comfy warm!

      This results in the boiler cranking out more hot water than is actually required, and with a single-zone system you'll end up with some rooms too hot and others too cool. The boiler will also short-cycle more often, resulting in poor efficiency.

      There's several solutions you could use. Putting the right sized boiler is obviously the best way to go if you don't want to redo the whole house, but if you've got plenty of radiation (and a newer, non-cast-iron boiler!), why not run your system at a lower water temperature? The boiler won't have to work as hard to get up to temperature, and it'll stay off longer (feeding off the latent heat to keep the water warm). A simple tweak of the boiler's temperature shutoff and a 3-way mixing valve is usually all it takes.

      While you're at it, clean that fintube. Maybe throw some insulation on those pipes in the basement. Little things like that are easy to do and certaintly can't hurt.
    • yeah I _need_ to have 3 pc's running.

      how the hell you except me to keep warm you know? the central heating isn't the best around here and it's usually only hot for 1 month per year.
    • Here's another one. Air Conditioners: Get a f'n swamp cooler and use that instead. Keep the AC around for when the swamp cooler has failed. If you put a cover on it, it will keep for a long time. The swamp cooler does nothing but pump a little water (a trivial amount of electricity) and blow a lot of air (a few amps for a really big one to cool a good sized house, say four bedrooms, but less than running an AC compressor and fan.) They blow a lot of cool air, and on really hot days they may drop the tempera
    • Another option in high humidity locations is to just get a de-humidifier.

      If you own your home, consider getting awnings, trees, or some other source of shade for your western exposure.

      Also, try and create a cross-breeze through the house from the bottom of the "cold" side to the top of the warm side. Double-hung windows and attic fans are both good for this.

      Zoning's benefit is that you don't over heat/cool areas that aren't occupied.
  • by pongo000 ( 97357 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:25PM (#8425088)
    The project was born out of a total and absolute frustration which in turn was a result of a fruitless search of information about existing temperature zoning solutions. The only information available on the zoning system manufacturer web sites was usually "call us for an estimate". The estimates were usually being performed by salespeople. Technical people were difficult to get. Read the complete story for details.

    The author obviously didn't look in the right places. Here are a few links to get started:

    SmartHome []
    HomeTech Solutions []
    Bass Burglar Alarms []

    I've done business with all three, and have retrofitted my home with a two-zone system powered by an RCS zone controller and electronic dampers. All three have been extremely helpful in providing technical advice.

    One thing to remember: The HVAC business (as well as the burglar alarm business) are very protective of their turf. You stand little chance of finding an HVAC contractor willing to work with you on designing a custom HVAC system.
    • Begining to change - a number of these industries are moving into SOAP, with such niche languages as CSML (Control System ML) and legacy-extenders such as Bacnet/XML and LON/XML creeping into the market

      Check out the Continental Automated Building Association (CABA []) a consortium of companies now working on OBIX [], (Open Building Information eXchange) whose mission is to expose the API's or Building Automation Systems (HVAC, Access Control, Security, even X10 is on board) under a common XML schema.


  • So this is essentially a programmable thermostat for your PC with some more advancded features like zones, right? Or am I missing something?
  • by nmoog ( 701216 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:30PM (#8425112) Homepage Journal
    The HVAC community is definitely different from Open Source community, and whenever they get close, it gets quite hot []

    Doesn't seem that hot - fun reading I'd say! The idea is great though (not new, but great) - As open source branches in to more and more area, the people involved with open source software are more likely to adapt OSS principles to non-software aspects of their work.

    "An open-source future is one in which we realize that reality itself is open source []" to quote an unknown guy on the internet. Hope it happens this year!
  • by Snoobs ( 43421 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:30PM (#8425113)
    I think the idea of open source energy solutions is a great idea. Right now, we have NO choice of who we buy our electricity from. The situation with electricity and fuel is 20X worse than Microsoft's control of the computer industry. What happens when petroleum gets too expensive and runs out?

    Its time to do something about it.
    • by toast0 ( 63707 ) <> on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:35PM (#8425145) Homepage
      On a similar note, we have no choice of who we buy our water from, and who we give our sewage to.

      • Depends on where you live.

        If you live in a "wet" climate, I'm sure there's little stopping you from collecting your own rainwater, which wold be suitable for just about everything short of drinking. (A distiller or neutralizer/filter might be adequate for potble water, though... I wouldn't trust it for drinking myself without some kind of treatment!)

        And around where I live, we don't give out sewage to anyone - the whole area is private cesspools. Not necessarily better or worse than municipal sewers, thou
        • by michael_cain ( 66650 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @10:05PM (#8425875) Journal
          Depends on where you live.

          If you live in a "wet" climate, I'm sure there's little stopping you from collecting your own rainwater, which wold be suitable for just about everything short of drinking. (A distiller or neutralizer/filter might be adequate for potble water, though... I wouldn't trust it for drinking myself without some kind of treatment!)

          And around where I live, we don't give out sewage to anyone - the whole area is private cesspools. Not necessarily better or worse than municipal sewers, though. Just a different way to handle it.

          Depends very much on where you live. Here, in one of the Denver suburbs, semi-arid climate, the following rules come into play:

          • No new cesspools or septic fields allowed. Inside the city limits, developers are required to connect to city services. If you have an existing septic field, and want to subdivide a portion of your property, you won't be given permission until you shut down the field and connect to city services.

          • No new wells allowed. If you decide the septic field is not worth the trouble and want to connect to city sewage, you'll have to shut down an existing well and connect to city water also. Outside the city, wells have a different set of problems. Shallow wells are not reliable. Deep wells into some aquifers are regulated by the state now. Up in the foothills, it is not unusual to have to drill 10K feet in order to establish a reliable well. Pumping water that far is expensive.

          • Collecting rainfall and storing it is, in general, illegal. Senior water rights to runoff from your property are held by someone downstream. Trust me on this one, buying water from the city is cheaper than trying to find all of the people that might have rights to your runoff. Since some of those rights will be held by the local municipal government, who will not be shy about taking you to court when you try to install a cistern of any size.
          Water law in the western US is bizarre, to say the least.
      • Maybe you don't have a choice, but I do.

        My water comes from my own well in the front yard. I'm in control of it. If I want to know whats in it, I have to test it. If I want to kill bacteria I have to buy the clorine, and follow directions. If the pump breaks I have to fix it (more likely pay to fix it, the pump is 200 feet underground).

        My sewage goes to my own septic tank. I have to pay to get this pumped every few years, but there are several different companies that will do this. When the lines

      • You're partly incorrect:

        As for sewage, I agree. As long as somone takes all my shit, I'm happy.
    • Yes you do (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nuggz ( 69912 )
      Actually I think you do have choice.

      Here you can buy from the government regulated electrical power grid. Or you can generate your own electricity. Solar cells, gas generators, waterfalls or whatever you want.
      But there is a reason most people don't do this, the utility price is easy, cost competative and reliable.

      I think rates aren't all that high, most people waste huge amounts of electricity. I read somewhere the average household in my area uses 750kWh/month, I just just over 300 kWh.
    • ...Actually, I'm not sure how it works elsewhere, but here in Maine we can choose who to buy power from on an open market... of course, the same company, Central Maine Power, still "delivers" the power via its powerlines.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:31PM (#8425116)
    What is the fate of a few third-world countries compared to the convenience of a heated driveway [].

    Throw that snow shovel away!
  • by mc6809e ( 214243 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:33PM (#8425126)
    This site [] includes a number of ideas for reducing that energy bill, including zoned heating/cooling. There are several interesting real-time graphs of current energy use.

    I found the site while searching for information on heat pump water heaters. One example graph they give shows the heat pump water heater using less than half the energy as resistive heating.

    If installed properly, a heat pump water heater will also help air-condition your house. A good place to put ducts is in the kitchen, where the waste heat from cooking can be removed and used to heat water. Ideally, the returned cooled air can be directed at your refrigerator's condenser coils for increased efficiency.

    • by Latent Heat ( 558884 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @08:06PM (#8425300)
      The air conditioning load is made up of 1) sensible heat (the kind you measure with a thermometer) and 2) latent heat (the kind that makes you feel hot and sticky and mutter "it's not the heat, it's the humidity." The latent heat is the difference in enthalpy (internal energy at constant pressure) between water in the vapor and liquid states (listed in steam tables). When you cool air, you condense water, and the latent heat given off has to be carried away by the air conditioner coils.

      The sensible heat load is the outside temperature seeping through the walls, but it is also the sum beating down on the roof and walls and pouring through windows. The latent heat load is largely the result of air infiltration with some contribution from showers and cooking: running a dryer contributes to latent heat because it pulls 150 CFM of inside air through the dryer vent that gets made up by air seeping in.

      One of the points made was that in fall in Florida, the air conditioner runs less so the indoor humidity climbs to the sticky range. They are recommending a variable speed air handler so that a low flow setting, the air gets chilled more so more of the AC goes into humidity removal. Heat pipes have been recommended as well -- to pre-chill the air handler input and pre-warm the output to trade less cooling for more condensing.

      Other approaches include not running your fan in continuous mode because that just evaporates the moisture film on the coils every time the AC cycles off to better draining cooling coil pans.

      But a fundamental problem is that the latent heat load is pretty much constant across the day while the sensible load varies with the sun and contributes to the big electrical peak. One idea is to paint the roof with titanium white to cut down on the sensible heat load.

      The idea I have is to try to smooth out the electrical peak load by letting the AC run more at night and run a little less during the day, and to let the sensible-heat temperature cycle up and down during the day, but to have some combined measure of heat and humidity remain constant. Instead of maintaining a constant temperature to try to maintain a constant indoor dewpoint.

      This system would 1) have it cooler at night to make sleeping easier -- I can stand it warmer during the day, 2) smooth out electrical peak demand, 3) more efficiently remove humidity averaged on a 24 hour basis because humidity removal efficiency goes down if the AC duty cycle goes up during the day and you are pulling the indoor humidity below 50 percent.

      Carrier makes a rather expensive ($200 plus) Humidistat product that controls the AC to both temperature and humidity targets. A cheaper solution for me is to use a setback thermometer which lets the temps go down at night and go up during the day, and to only start lowering temps at sleep time. A typical setback unit has night, wake, day, and return times -- I may go for 75 night, 74 wake, 77 day, and 78 return (the thermal pulse from the sun shining all day makes it through the house by evening, and at 78 the AC will be cycling to lower the humidity anyway). I also use an electronic humidity gauge and dial all those temps up or down a degree or two to get about 50 percent RH).

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:34PM (#8425135)
    While there's no good reason I can think of that retrofitted zoning would be a zoning problem, sometimes what's permissable and what's not isn't always self-evident.

    It would royally suck to need something inspected later on, such as when selling a house, only to be told it wasn't code and had to come out or be expensively upgraded to meet code. I've done a ton of electrical work (some in conjunction with remodeling which was heavily inspected) and nobody said boo, but it was all code-compliant.

    And speaking of resale, even though a zoned hvac system would be nice, one that's more complicated than your grandma can operate will actually lower your resale value to most people since it will be seen as a maintenance liability. I put in a Honeywell 7 day programmable thermostat and my wife hated me for a couple of months until she figured out how to work it. I can only imagine what she would do with something that made one room cold and another warm without being totally obvious (like a 15" LCD touch screen with a floor plan of the house and car-type heat controls).
    • From looking at their site, I would say if it subtracts value or decreases resale value, you can likely undo all your hardware changes in a couple of hours at no cost (servos on the actual vents, wiring in the duct system, no extra cutting, drilling, or equipment in inconvenient places.) While the solution is suboptimal (as they say, vent-placed equipment is not perfect), it is cheap and easily reversible in case you worry about that.

      Now as to the usability, it appears there is a current problem there wit
      • by big punkin ( 244536 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @10:01PM (#8425865)
        A few months ago, I bailed on a seven-year stint as an active HVAC contractor in Florida; I love this project.

        But I am glad I don't have to answer the radio shout for help from the poor on-call technician who gets a look at this equipment for the first time at 0200 on a Sunday morning. If something breaks on a system like this, and the geek that built it is gone, then things will likely progress as you describe: The hardware changes will be undone in a few hours, returning the system to a state understood by the servicer, even if the problem is as simple as a mechanically broken servo link. Many of the HVAC techs working have trouble using their VOMs efficiently on the high voltage sections of the system. For these guys, controls are mysterious scary voodoo magic. For such a cool system to survive its inventor it'll need killer documentation, easy to find and comprehend, and hard to lose.

        The article mentions the Trane XV1500. We had a bunch under our care; they were wicked good air conditioners. They stopped making them because the average service tech was helpless to make them go when they broke, so they tore them apart and tried to make them work in a more simple way...which was not possible with those systems, as the compressor was a frequency-controlled DC motor. Much unhappiness for tech, for homeowner, for service company, for Trane. So now they make a condensing unit with two old fashioned compressors, and stage those. They still get butchered, but at least coldness can happen on an emergency call on the 4th of July weekend.
  • No HVAC here, sorry. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by small_dick ( 127697 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:39PM (#8425162)
    But my swamp cooler keeps the house cool and saves me a lot of money over my A/C cooled neighbors.

    Evaporative coolers use electricity only to spin the fan vs. compressing freon or whatnot, which takes a lot more energy.
    • When I lived in New Mexico, I set my swamp cooler on a timer to come on about half an hour before I got home. After working in the field some days in 90-100F heat, it was sure good to come home to a place that was just the right temperature. MUCH less expensive than refrigerated air, and the increase in humidity was welcome.

      In a somewhat related note, a little trick for those of you with swamp coolers. When you start them up for the first time in the spring, after you flush the system and scrape out the s

    • These are great if you live in a dry climate (Texas, Dubbo, Sahara Desert) but they aren't very good in a humid climate unless you put ice in them. That means that here in Sydney and in most coastal type areas they aren't usually very effective.
  • $30 solution (Score:3, Redundant)

    by Squeezer ( 132342 ) <> on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:40PM (#8425166) Homepage
    go to home depot, buy a $30 digital thermostat. install it yourself (its 3 wires for the heat/AC and a AA battery for the thermostat). program it so in the summer your AC is at 78 when you are home, 85 when you are at work, and in the winter, 68 when you are asleep and 72 when you are home). the digital thermostat will easily pay for itself in 1 month in the summer.
    • bad programing (Score:3, Informative)

      by bluGill ( 862 )

      That is a cheap solution that will for for some. However your temperature settings are wrong.

      When you are at home in summer, set the thermostat to 85, or 2 degrees below the outdoor temperature. You do not need it any colder, you body can handle high temperatures just fine. (There are exceptions, but those folks are under doctors care often anyway) When humidity gets to you, lower the thermostat just enough to get some of it out of the air.

      In winter your pipes need heat more than you do. Invest in

  • by Moderation abuser ( 184013 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:44PM (#8425189)
    Insulate your house. Insulate your attic, insulate the walls, insulate the pipes and add secondary glazing. It's the cheapest and most effective thing you can do.
  • No dampers here (Score:4, Informative)

    by certsoft ( 442059 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:46PM (#8425201) Homepage
    But I did split the house into three "psuedo zones". There are temperature sensors in three areas, only one of which is used to control the central heating/cooling at any one time. This keeps the occupied area pretty close in temperature, while the un-occupied areas have less control.

    Not as good as using dampers, but much simpler. I put a copy of the webpage for this system on my website:
    System_Hvac []

  • RHVAC (Score:4, Informative)

    by rholliday ( 754515 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:49PM (#8425219) Homepage Journal
    My father owns an HVAC company, and he uses a program called RHVAC [] to run loads of new and replacement installs, and gives the full report to the customer before they purchase. So not all companies are that bad. :)
  • Sounds like a pretty cool idea, and cheap. From reading the site, its definetely cheap. Somewhere around $20/room for tempature controls/etc. I just don't like the idea of it being computer-controlled, in areas like where I live, it would suck if the controller crashed, and it was -40 out. Frozen pipes/kitty cats.
  • by MakoStorm ( 699968 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:55PM (#8425252)
    Just do what I do. Gorge and eat as much as you can in the summer, turn the thermostat to 60 in the winter and sleep for 6 months.

    Works for bears, works for me.
  • Only 200? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by red floyd ( 220712 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @08:03PM (#8425288)
    And that's for a business? Now you understand what the whole ruckus was about in CA, back in 2001.

    My home electric bill is roughly $200 (The water is also about $200). And that's LA DWP, which was a damn sight better than the poor fools who got 10x rate increases during the crunch.
  • by almaon ( 252555 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @09:24PM (#8425672)
    I have a fairly paltry income, I was willing to do anything to cut back on expenses to make my daily life a little easier to live.

    Started with the electric bill, did the obvious things, knocked the thermostat in a direction that'd keep the costs down. Replaced all the bulbs in the house with florecents. Switched to more energy effecient devices and appliances. It helped, but didn't make a real dent. My problem was heating and cooling. I live in a location with all the seasons. Very hot, very cold.

    Then a co-worker inspired an idea. He faught in Viet Nam, told me bout how the guys rotated back to the world and stopped in Hawaii for refueling. All the guys in combat were so used to the hot humid jungle that the 88F weather of Hawaii was just too cold for them, they all had on leather jackets trying to beat the chill.

    It was then I realized, that to a degree, my battles with TVA were more easily won by conditioning. All these years I had been spoiled by AC and electric heat. So I did a little experiment this Winter.

    I vowed never to turn on the heat unless there was a chance that the pipes might freeze. Went and bought a coleman sleeping bag and a bunkbed at a thriftstore, kept myself closer to the cieling and snuggly in my sleeping bag. Kept very warm at night, during the day I'd burn a few candles just to take the chill out of the room, wore long sleaves.

    My electric bill went from 270$ a month to around 30$.

    Success through suffering. But the experiment worked, now I can run around in shorts when it's 38F out and it's not big deal to me.

    How will I fair during the Summer tho? Many people die in the South from heat stroke, so I'm a little concerned about that. I really don't wanna die or get sick to save a dollar. So I think I'm going to do some zone cooling, reasonable AC set on 80 and lots of fans.

    The methods illustrated in the story would have been tempting, but I'm a renter. Not a whole like I can apply to the living structure without violating my lease and being homeless where it's gonna be really cold out.
    • Well, it is a matter of what you get use to. I grew up in Southern Wisc/Northern Ill. During the 70's, we had times for several weeks, the temp never got above -20F (I remember one week, where the temp never got above -35F). I did not mind it one iota. Later, I would run around with a windbreaker when the outside temp was 20F.

      Then I moved to Colorado in 1979. After being here for 2 years, I went back for a middle of winter visit with an ex-girlfriend. I dicided to walk up the road to where she was working,
      • It has EVERYTHING to do with what you're used to. The simple fact is, there is no one correct temperature, and not everyone is comfortable living in extremes of either heat or cold.

        I live in a climate known to have some of the greatest temperature variations on the planet. -40C in the winter, +40C (and humid) in the summer. Yes, Alaska is colder, and yes, Florida is much, much warmer (especially when it's humid out). But it doesn't drop to -40 in Florida that often. Up here (central Canada, for those curio
  • -1, Troll (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @09:27PM (#8425683)
    This whole submission is a sensationalist troll. "this sounds like a good solution for those who are getting screwed with outrageously high electric bills due to their HVAC unit". According to the article rates went up 7.4%, hardly a 'screwing'. Thus, if your bill was $200, that means it was $186.74 before, which means your "HVAC unit" (the definition left as an exercise to the reader) is pretty much shit anyway.
    How does this stuff make the front page, is the editorial staff of Slashdot the Socialist Worker's Party or something?
  • Finally! (Score:3, Informative)

    by code shady ( 637051 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @09:38PM (#8425738) Homepage
    Now i just need some soil moisture conent probes, and some light meter things, and i can finally have my computer controlled, uber-efficient closet marijuana garden!!

    ah, technology.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 29, 2004 @10:01PM (#8425862)
    When I bult my house I used Wirsbo(tm) tubing under the hardwood flooring upstairs, and in the concrete slab downstairs. It is set up with zones, digital, 7 day thermostats, etc. The floors are always warm, any backup heat is from a pellet stove. All DIY. It is very comfortable.
    The heat for the infloor system is from standard water heaters. Since the water heaters are downstairs, I don't need to turn on the thermostats for pump control - simple thermosiphon will cause the hot water to flow thru the system in the upper two stories.
    The system is simple and convenient. If power goes out I still have heat from thermosiphoning.
    It is possible top retrofit homes with this system, either with baseboard radiators or running the tubing between the joists (plus some drilling to get to each joist bay) as long as the crawl space is available.
    There are other companies besides Wirsbo that produce this type of heating system/product.
    When you are ready to build/buy your own house I recommend comparing HVAC and infloor heating. Look at "Fine Homebuilding" magazine for ads and articles, they are at the obvious web site.
    To make my heating system more viable I used foam insulation for R-50 in the walls and R-60 in the roof. Double paned windows and a 5 foot overhang to reduce summer heat gain (my outside walls are 11 feet high). If the are more than 8 people in the house at a time I need to turn all the heating off, as the heat thrown off by the bodies raises the inside temp.
    All in all a rather pleasant solution to the heating/cooling system.
    Since I live on the northern California coast I don't need cooling. Average year round temp is 55 degrees F.
    If you need cooling the system could be adapted for that. To cool the house you only need to cool the circulating water, a heat pump would the best solution.
  • by zardie ( 111478 ) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @11:23PM (#8426176) Homepage
    Over the past few years, we've had to replace our 20 year old central heating system (as our old one died) and recently, we've had cooling installed in the house.

    Originally, we investigated the possibility of going for an HVAC reverse-cycle capable system but the running costs, along with the prohibitive installation costs were from Mars, or something. They wanted "only" AU$3000 for install of the three phase, plus it was about ten grand for the system and installation.

    Installing split-system wall units was also an idea, however, cold air doesn't easily move throughout the house due to airflow being restricted so you'd realistically want units in every room. All of a sudden, Carrier's centrally airconditioned system doesn't look too bad.

    In the end, we went with two evaporative coolers from a company called Brivis [] (Australian). These units are self-cleaning and self-maintained, too, so we don't have to dash up on the roof every six months. Our heating system is also from the same company and was the most efficient on the market when we had it installed.

    Now, the nifty thing is that our wall controllers have backlight LCD displays and use RS232 (or 422 - I can't remember but I know that it was standard) for communication, so it should be easy to, say, hook one up to a PC if I really wanted to, although these AU$200 wall controllers have been installed in factory environments with 12 coolers in them. On one controller.

    And because the installers of the cooling were slack (we should be able to have both coolers AND the heater on the ONE controller) and didn't want to run cables under the house, they installed seperate controllers for each cooler. So I've got one to play with if I felt like running some cables.

    So how is it? Cheap to run, but be warned that evaporative coolers are better when you start them in the morning before it gets hot - the ideas is to cool the air by moving a lot of it. Windows need to be kept open to allow the airflow to occur or else things get very humid. And on a reasonable day, I've had the coolers bring the temperature from 38C down to a comfortable 21C.

    But as other people have observed, these coolers become ineffective on humid days - we had a day with 80% relative humidity where the temp came down from 40C to about 32C - still a change, but it was still hellishly humid inside.

    I'd love real HVAC cooling. It's dry, quiet and I can keep all the doors and windows closed, however it costs a fortune to install and a fortune to run.

    Also, most HVAC systems had zoning as a feature. Heck, my heating has zoning built-in. I don't see what all the fuss is about.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2004 @01:48AM (#8426846)
    For heating, zoning works well, since your heating costs are proportional to the difference between inside and outside. For cooling, it's a little different, since the equipment size and air volumes need to be reasonably matched to get a working system. If the airflow is decreased because a zone is closed off, the equipment is less efficient. How much less, compared to the savings of not cooling a room is up to you. Also, having zones shut off can cause floodback conditions, causing wear on the compressor, which can cost alot more than you can save. Heating is less critical, although you can have heat exchanger problems in a furnace if there isn't adequate airflow, ie. half the zones are closed.

    IOW, be careful. I sell my expertise. If someone wants to design a system, then they are welcome to, but I'm not interested in getting involved. This isn't unscrupulous. Guess who you'll call if it doesn't work? Or something burns out? And my time is expensive. I could fiddle with something for days, but will I be payed for it?

    Another issue is the high efficiency cooling equipment, or heat pumps. In humid areas, if you install as per manufacturer's specs for the most efficient, the unit will not dry the air out, and can contribute to mould and high humidity issues. So you may save a couple hundred over a year, then need to spend multiple thousands replacing windows, saturated insulation, etc. Again be careful.

    Swamp coolers work well in very dry areas. In moderate to humid areas, don't even think of them. They will rot your house, and possibly make you sick.

    The best way to save on cooling costs are to shut it off. To save on heating costs, have the house cooler and even cold at night.


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