Energy-Saving Fireplace Thermostat

[Andrian] has a boiler stove that heats water and sends it to a radiator. As the fireplace heats the water in a boiler a temperature sensor opens the a valve to send the warm water to the radiator. The radiator sends its cool water back to the boiler to be reheated. The valve is slow, so before the boiler can send all the water to the radiator, it’s getting cool water back causing the valve to close while the heat is built back up. To prevent the valve from working so hard and wasting energy, [Andrian] designed a better thermostat to control the valve operation.

The thermostat uses one LM85 temperature sensor to check the water in the boiler and another one for the ambient temperature. Once the boiler water reaches the desired temperature, the valve is opened via relay. The system waits for half an hour and then checks the boiler temperature again. The brains of this operation is an ATMega168 with a 32.768kHz crystal as the RTC. Code and PCB files are available in his repo.

We love to see these types of hacks that challenge the status quo and increase the efficiency of appliances. We applaud you, [Andrian], for turning your dissatisfaction into a positive plan of action and for sharing your experience with the rest of us!

If you want to up the eco-friendliness of heating water a bit, you could heat the water with a compost heap.

Now You’re Washing with Gas

[Michiel] likes to wash his clothes in warm water. Like a lot of machines, his draws from the cold water line and  heats it electrically. Gas is much cheaper than electricity in the Netherlands, so he wanted to be able to heat the water with gas instead. Hot-fill machines already exist, but few models are available and they’re all too expensive.  [Michiel] rolled up his sleeves and hacked his brand new washer into a hot-fill machine.

He started out thinking that he’d just connect the hot water line instead, but that proved to be too hot. He found out it needs to be about 35°C (95°F), so he decided to mix input from the hot and cold lines. Since it’s a shiny new machine, [Michiel] wanted an externally mounted system to keep from voiding  the warranty. He got two solenoid valves from the electronic bay and used a PIC16F to make them dance. He wired up a light switch on a two-panel face and used the blank plate for power and status LEDs.

[Michiel]‘s design works like a charm. The machine used to draw 2000W to heat the water, and peak usage now is as low as 200W. He noticed that the washer drew a lot of power in standby mode so he added a solid state relay and a bit more code. Now the electricity to the machine is cut after two hours and [Michiel] saves about €97 per year.

From Saw Dust to Stove Fuel

brisquit maker

[Alois Schmid] is an avid woodworker, and as such, he makes a lot of saw dust. Unfortunately, saw dust is kind of wasteful — it doesn’t burn very well unless it is compressed… so he built his own wood briquette press!

He originally looked at purchasing a machine designed for this, until he discovered they run upwards of 10,000 Euros. You could buy an amazing CNC mill for that! Needless to say, it was out of the question.

He started by purchasing a new more efficient dust extractor and an electric log splitter, and then he built an ingenious feeder system. He’s replaced the log splitter blade with a long metal dowel with a protrusion at the end (helps keeps the briquettes in one piece), which is slightly smaller than the compression tube he’s built.

[Read more...]

Cleaning Up Smoke with an Electrostatic Precipitator

smoke precipitor

[Steve Dufresne's] got another great project for us — a device that effectively gets rid of smoke!

It’s called an electrostatic precipitator and it works similar to the way many cars are painted today using a process called electrostatic coating. Electrostatic coating works by giving the paint particles an electrostatic charge, opposite to the charge on the vehicle’s body panels — this makes the two attract and results in using around 95% of sprayed paint — barely any over-spray, and a better bond to boot!

[Steve's] tried this experiment of creating a smoke precipitator with the eventual goal of using it on a car’s exhaust. He’s been through a few designs so far, and finally has one that works quite well. It’s not even that complicated, just take a look at the following diagram.

[Read more...]

7-Foot DIY Wind Turbine Proves Size Matters


When [brokengun] decided to build a 7 ft diameter wind turbine, he had no idea how to even start, so he did as most of us would do and read some books on the topic. His design criteria was that it would be simple to construct and use as many recycled parts as possible. This wind turbine charges a 12 volt battery which can then be used to power a variety of gadgets.

Although made from recycled components, this isn’t a thrown together wind turbine. A lot of thought went into the design and build. [brokengun] discusses matching the blade size to that of the generator in order to maximize power and efficiency.  The design also incorporates a feature that will turn the turbine perpendicular to the wind if the wind-speed gets to high. Doing this prevents the turbine from being damaged by strong gusts.

For the main support/hub assembly, a Volvo 340 strut was used because they are widely available, cheap and known for being long-lasting. The tail boom is made from electrical conduit and it’s length is determined by the size of the main fan rotor. The tail vane is made from steel sheet metal and its surface area is also dependent on the fan rotor size to ensure that the turbine functions properly. The blades are made from wood but instead of making them himself, [brokengun] felt these were worth ponying up some cash. [brokengun] also scored a 30 ft high lattice tower an airport was getting rid of. This worked out great as it’s just the right height for a turbine of this size.

[Read more...]

Software-Controlled Per-Port Power Switching for USB Hubs

[Befi] wanted to add a second stage backup disk to his ODROID embedded-board server, which typically draws ~1.5W at idle. After adding the disk, he saw power consumption increase by 2W when the new disk wasn’t spinning. He thought about using one of those USB hubs with the adorable little rocker switches for each port and replacing them with transistors, but that was going to be messy. After some poking around in the USB standard, he found that most support per-port power switching (PPPS), and set about to hack a USB hub to enable software-controlled per-port switching.

[Befi]‘s NEC hub uses a uPD720112 chip which supports PPPS according to the datasheet. After tying the configuration pin labeled GANG_B to +3.3V, the hub declared itself PPPS-compatible. Of course, the manufacturer saved a penny or two by omitting the  individual switches, so [Befi] added an open-drain NMOS to each port. He is using this program to switch the port on and off and made the switching transparent with autofs. [Befi]‘s current script has the bus ID and device ID of the hub hard-coded, but he intends to update it to find them automatically. This hack saves him 10W on average, which is about €30 ($40) per year.

If your hub is under powered, you could try adding an external power supply.

$1 Coin Cell Charger


Sure, coin cells usually last a long time — but do you really want to buy new ones and throw the old ones out? The LiR2032 coin cell is a rechargeable lithium battery, for which you can build a charger at around $1.

The 5 minute hack starts with a TP4056 lithium charging circuit, which is a great DIY board designed to charge high-capacity cells at about 1A. Luckily, it is pretty easy to modify the board to charge lower capacity batteries. It’s just a matter of replacing resistor R4, and a little bit of soldering! [Read more...]


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