Exploring The Science Behind Dirty Air Filters

Obviously, if the air filters in your home HVAC system are dirty, you should change them. But exactly how dirty is dirty? [Tim Rightnour] had heard it said that if you didn’t change your filter every month or so, it could have a detrimental effect on the system’s energy consumption. Thinking that sounded suspiciously like a rumor Big Filter™ would spread to bump up their sales, he decided to collect his own data and see if there was any truth to it.

There’s a number of ways you could tackle a project like this, but [Tim] wanted to keep it relatively simple. A pressure sensor on either side of the filter should tell him how much it’s restricting the airflow, and recording the wattage of the ventilation fan would give him an idea on roughly how hard the system was working.

Now [Tim] could have got this all set up and ran it for a couple months to see the values gradually change…but who’s got time for all that? Instead, he recorded data while he switched between a clean filter, a mildly dirty one, and one that should have been taken out back and shot. Each one got 10 minutes in the system to make its impression on the sensors, including a run with no filter at all to serve as a baseline.

The findings were somewhat surprising. While there was a sizable drop in airflow when the dirty filter was installed, [Tim] found the difference between the clean filter and mildly soiled filter was almost negligible. This would seem to indicate that there’s little value in preemptively changing your filter. Counter-intuitively, he also found that the energy consumption of the ventilation fan actually dropped by nearly 50 watts when the dirty filter was installed. So much for a clean filter keeping your energy bill lower.

With today’s cheap sensors and virtually infinite storage space to hold the data from them, we’re seeing hackers find all kinds of interesting trends in everyday life. While we don’t think your air filters are spying on you, we can’t say the same for those fancy new water meters.

Smarten Up Your Air Conditioning With The ESP8266

If you’re looking for “smart” home appliances, there’s no shortage of options on the market. Even relatively low-end gadgets are jumping on the Internet of Things bandwagon these days (for better or for worse). But what if you’re not looking to purchase a brand new major appliance right now? In that case, you might be interested in seeing how [Giulio Pons] added some high-tech features to his existing air conditioner on the cheap.

Since his AC unit had an infrared remote control, the first thing [Giulio] needed to do was come up with a way to emulate it. An easy enough project using the ESP8266 and an IR LED, especially when he found that somebody had already written a IR communications library for his particular brand of AC. From there, he could start tacking on sensors and functionality.

With the addition of a DHT11 sensor, [Giulio] can have the AC turn on and off based on the current room temperature. It also gives him an easy way to verify the AC is actually on and operating. By checking to see if the room starts cooling off after sending the IR command to start the AC, his software can determine whether it should try resending the code, or maybe send a notification to alert him that something doesn’t seem right. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper ESP8266 project without some Internet connectivity, so he’s also created a smartphone application that lets him control the system while away from home.

Now admittedly nothing in this project is exactly new, we’ve seen plenty of hackers switch on their AC with the ESP8266 at this point. But what we particularly liked was how well thought out and documented the whole process was. The rationale behind each decision is explained, and he even documented things like his network topology to help illustrate how the whole system comes together. Even if the techniques are well known by many of us, this is the kind of project documentation that makes it accessible to newcomers. Our hats off to [Giulio] for going the extra mile.

In the past we’ve seen a similar project that allowed you to control your AC from Slack, and our very own [Maya Posch] took us on a whirlwind tour of the very impressive ESP8266-powered environmental monitoring system she helped develop.

DIY Air Conditioner Built From Weird Donor Appliance

There are some parts of the world where living without air conditioning borders on unthinkable. But in more moderate climates, it isn’t all that unusual. [Josh’s] apartment doesn’t have central air conditioning — the kind that connects to a forced-air heating/cooling system. It does, though, have a water circuit for air conditioning, so he decided to hack a few experimental air conditioners.

He’s not starting completely from scratch. The two attempts he made at building his AC came from donor parts. The successful one started out as a hot water heater. The very first attempt didn’t quite work as well, using a refrigerator compressor and an evaporator from a baseboard heater. The flow control through the heat exchanger turns out to be very tricky, so [Josh] claims he mostly got ice right at the inlet and minimal cooling through the evaporator.

The more successful one works better but still has a problem with the evaporator freezing that he’s trying to solve. He’s looking for suggestions on how to make it work better. As much as we like a good hack, our advice is to move to a different apartment building.

We’ve seen other homemade coolers, but they are more like swamp coolers. If you just need to cool your desk, you might just get some ice in a metal can.

Continue reading “DIY Air Conditioner Built From Weird Donor Appliance”

Drag Your Office Aircon Into The 21st Century With Wi-Fi Control

We’ll all have worked in offices that have air-conditioning, but a little too much of it. It’s wonderful on a baking-hot day to walk into the blessèd cool of an air-conditioned office, but after an hour or two of the icy blast you’re shivering away in your summer clothing and you skin has dried out to a crisp. Meanwhile on the other side of the building [Ted] from Marketing has cranked up the whole system to its extreme because he’s got a high metabolism and an office in the full force of the midday sun.

Wouldn’t it be nice if individual air-conditioning units could be easily controlled. To that end, [Maya Posch] has made a rather nicely designed board that takes a NodeMCU board with its ESP8266 processor, and uses four of its outputs as PWM to produce 0-10 volt analogue outputs via filters and op-amps to control individual units. In addition there is an onboard CO2 sensor and a temperature sensor, with provision for an external temperature sensor. The whole fits very neatly into a standard electrical outlet enclosure.

Software wise, the system uses the Sming framework providing an MQTT  communication with a backend server that allows the users to control their aircon experience. This is very much a work in progress, so the software has yet to be put up. (Hint, [Maya], hint!) The whole project though is an extremely tidy build, in fact a thing of beauty to a standard you’d expect from a high-quality commercial product. It’s this that tipped the balance into our featuring it before the software is released, it’s one to keep an eye on, because quality like this doesn’t come every day.

This isn’t the first aircon control we’ve brought you, take a look at this one controlled through Slack.

Control The Air Conditioning With Slack

[Raphael Baron] needed a better way to control his office’s air conditioning units. Sure, they have remotes, but that’s too easy. [Raphael] came up with a solution that uses an ESP8266, a computer, IR LEDs, and a bot that runs on Slack.

[Raphael] built a prototype of the ESP8266 hardware on protoboard and used it to read and record the IR signals from the remote. Once he’d figured out the issues he was having with the IR library he was using, he could use it to send the IR commands to the AC unit. Since their office has two AC units, [Raphael] built a second prototype which had two IR LEDs but didn’t have the IR receiver. Using this he could turn both AC units on and off and set their temperatures.

For the server, [Raphael] turned to Clojure, a dialect of Lisp, which provides easy access to the Java Framework, mainly to get practice working with the language. The server’s main responsibility is to use Slack’s real-time API to listen for messages from a Slack bot and forward them to the ESP. In this way, a user talking to the Slack bot can send it messages which the server forwards to the microcontroller which, in turn, parses the messages and send IR commands to the AC units.

[Raphael] admits that this isn’t the most advanced, professional stuff, but it doesn’t matter. The schematics for the ESP8266 board and the code for both the ESP board and the server are available on GitHub. There seems to be a lot of hacks using Slack, such as this NERF Turret controlled by a Slack bot.  Or this jukebox that users can interact with by talking to a Slack bot.

Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Portable A/C

Many people with Multiple Sclerosis have sensitivity to heat. When the core body temperature of an MS sufferer rises, symptoms get worse, leading to fatigue, weakness, pain, and numbness. For his entry to the Hackaday Prize, [extremerockets] is finding a solution. He’s developing a wearable, personal cooling device that keeps the wearer at a comfortable temperature.

The device is based on a wearable shirt outfitted with small tubes filled with a cooling gel. This setup is extremely similar to the inner garments worn by astronauts on spacewalks, and is the smallest and most efficient way to keep a person’s core body temperature down.

Unlike a lot of projects dealing with heating and cooling, [extremerockets] isn’t working with Peltiers or thermoelectric modules; they’re terribly inefficient and not the right engineering choice for something that’s going to be battery-powered. Instead, [extremerockets] is building a miniature refrigeration unit, complete with a real refrigeration cycle. There are compressors, valves, and heat exchanges in this build, demonstrating that [extremerockets] has at least some idea what he’s doing. It’s a great project, and one we can’t wait to see a working prototype of.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

DIY AC For The Hot Shop

Working out in the shop is usually super fun but if it’s summertime, watch out, it can get hot! We’ve all been there and we’ve all wished we could do something about it. Well, woodworker and general DIYer [April] has stepped up to the plate and built a portable low-buck AC unit to cool her shop down to an acceptable temperature.

The unit is very simple and starts off with an old thrift store cooler. A hole is cut in the back of the cooler to make room for a fan that is directed to blow air inside the cooler and across blocks of ice. The air cools down as it passes over the ice and leaves out the top of the cooler through five 90-degree PVC elbows. After all the inlets and outlets were caulked, the entire unit was given a monochromatic black paint job.

[April] says you can feel the cool air blowing from about 5 feet away from the unit. She has measured the output air temperature to be 58-62ºF. If using loose ice cubes, the unit will work for 2-3 hours. Freezing milk jugs full of water gets about 5 hours of use.