Making Sense of Science
   
January 2010
 
 


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Welcome to another Year of Science in Plain-English

Hi !
Before we get to today's topic, I would like to direct your attention to a Guest Opinion Column published in the WA Business News of 28 January 2010, titled, "How to Avoid Another Firepower."   For at least the last 10 years, Australia has been hearing about a company developing a fuel pill that claims improves a car's fuel consumption, performance and emissions.  Engineers and scientists recognized this as pure fiction; nevertheless the company gathered over AU$120 Million from hundreds of investors who were none too skeptical of the claims.   Of course the whole thing has fallen in a heap now, and few if any will be getting their money back.  How can investors avoid being taken advantage of again by unproven, untested pseudoscientific claims?  Read the WA Business News this week to find out.

You may also read a synopsis of the article on my blog.

Keeping Cool: Simple Methods and Why They Work
 
The temperature inside your house is a direct result of the energy you bring in (or allow in) minus the energy you can afford to extract, at the cost of running an air conditioner. 

Did your Dad used to patrol the house, switching off any lights he deemed unnecessary?  Did this cause arguments, accidents and disquiet among the troops?  If he prevented just five 60-W bulbs from burning one unnecessary hour per day every day, then 108 kilowatt-hours of energy would have been saved in a year.  If we assume a cost of $0.15 per kWh (higher in some countries, lower in others), then your Dad would have saved the family a princely $16.20 each and every year!  Almost enough for two serves of fish&chips.

Today, most of Australia has converted to Compact Fluorescent bulbs.  The same regime of light-switching-off would now save a barely-discernable $3.24 per year on energy costs mounting to $1000 to $3000 annually.  Switching to compact fluorescents saves the average household from $50 to $100 per year in lighting costs, but also saves some of the costs of cooling during the summer.  Why?

An incandescent bulb creates visible light by electrically heating a fine wire element to a temperature between 2000 C and 3000 C.  Only around 2% of the energy consumed comes out as visible light, leaving ample room for improvement.  The rest becomes heat, which you in effect have to pay for twice.  Your air conditioner has to do extra work to remove that unwanted heat.  

Compact fluorescent bulbs are close to 10% efficient, as well as lasting 5 to 10 times longer.  They reduce your summer energy bills both directly and indirectly while making life more comfortable, by putting out around 80% less heat.

Incidentally, the incandescent light bulb was invented not by Thomas Edison in 1870, but by Sir Humphrey Davy in 1802.  Edison's contribution  is summed up by his statement, "We'll make electric lighting so cheap that only rich people will burn candles."  This he did.  Now with compact fluorescent lighting, and very soon with LED lighting, it hardly matters whether you leave the lights on or not.

Far more important for keeping cool in summer is the energy coming in from outside. The following steps will help keep you comfortable.

Insulate.  Heat always flows from high temperatures to low temperatures, but it doesn't have to do so very fast.  Light, porous materials are poor conductors of heat; while hard, dense or crystalline materials are excellent heat conductors.  Therefore brick, cement, metal and glass walls will make your house hot; while fibreglass batts, rigid foam, enclosed air gaps, and wood can help you keep cooler longer. 

Ventilate.  Hot air rises naturally, so let it.  Allow the air at the highest points in your house to ventilate upwards and outwards.  Ventilate the attic space aggressively and thoroughly, too, since it can be 10 C to 20 C hotter in there than outside.

Double Glazing.  I would never build or renovate a house without insisting on double-glazing.  Anything less is a complete and utter waste of your time and money.  It dramatically reduces incoming heat in the summer, heat lost in the winter, and very importantly, it vastly reduces the noise you can hear from outside.  Once you've lived in a double-glazed house, you will never want to go backwards.  I would go so far as to say this should become mandatory in the building code.  It is that important, that effective, and it doesn't have to be much more expensive once manufacturers get on board.

Shade.  The less sunlight your house soaks up, the cooler you will stay and the less money you will spend on cooling.   Shade the house and the perimeter of the house to a distance of 3 meters.  Eaves are a must; verandas are even better.  Place garages, patios, sheds and carports on the sunny sides of the house and make them taller than you first intended. 

Also, reflective roof and wall paint is very effective.  Engineered paints can reject up to 80% of the sun's rays, but some built-up neigbourhoods do not allow them.  They are blindingly white to look at. 

If you are sweltering in the southern hemisphere's summer, consider implementing some of these tips.  If you are freezing in the northern hemisphere, file this away for 4 months.  Your time will come.

  
 
Regards,

John

See John Live at the Gingin Observatory Friday 19 February.  "Climate Change Science:  What Do We Know and How Do We Know It?"  Bookings essential.  Ring (08) 9575 7740.
 
John will also be appearing at the Army Museum, Fremantle, on Saturday 27 March at their Stars and Tanks event.  (I don't actually know what this is about - should be fascinating though!)
 
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