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.

Hackaday Links: July 28, 2019

It looks like Apple is interested in buying Intel’s modem chip business. Seriously interested; a deal worth $1 billion could be announced as early as this week. That might look like a small potato purchase to the world’s biggest company – at least by market capitalization – but since the technology it will be buying includes smartphone modems, it provides a look into Apple’s thinking about the near future with regard to 5G.

It turns out that Make Magazine isn’t quite dead yet. [Dale Dougherty], former CEO of Maker Media, which went under in June, has just announced that he and others have acquired the company’s assets and reformed under the name “Maker Community LLC.” Make: Magazine is set to resume publication, going back to its roots as a quarterly publication in the smaller journal format; sadly there’s no specific word about the fate of Maker Faire yet.

The hoopla over the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 may be over, but we’d be remiss not to call out one truly epic hack related to the celebration: the full restoration of an actual Apollo Guidance Computer. The AGC was from a test model of the Lunar Module, and it ended up in the hands of a private collector. Since November of 2018 the AGC has been undergoing restoration and tests by [Ken Shirriff], [Mike Stewart], and [Carl Claunch]. The whole effort is documented in a playlist by [Marc “CuriousMarc” Verdiell] that’s worth watching to see what was needed to restore the AGC to working condition.

With the summer sun beating down on the northern hemisphere, and air conditioners at working extra hard to keep things comfortable. [How To Lou] has a quick tip to improve AC efficiency. Turns out that just spraying a fine mist of water on the condenser coils works wonders; [Lou] measured a 12% improvement in cooling. It may not be the best use of water, and it may not work as well in very humid climates, but it’s a good tip to keep in mind.

Be careful with this one; between the bent spoon, the syringe full of amber liquid, and the little candle to heat things up, this field-expedient reflow soldering setup might just get you in trouble with the local narcotics enforcement authorities. Even so, knowing that you can assemble a small SMD board without a reflow oven might prove useful someday, under admittedly bizarre circumstances.

From the “Considerably more than 8-bits music” file, check out the Hull Philharmonic Orchestra’s “8-Bit Symphony.” If your personal PC gaming history included a Commodore 64, chances are you’ll recognize songs from titles like “Monty on the Run”, “Firelord”, “Green Beret”, and “Forbidden Forest.” Sure, composers like [Ben Daglish] and [Paul Norman] worked wonders with the three-channel SID chip, but hearing those tunes rendered by a full orchestra is something else entirely. We found it to be particularly good background music to write by.

Exploring Basement Humidity With A Raspberry Pi

Sometimes a hack isn’t about building something cool. Sometimes it’s more tactical, where the right stuff is cobbled together to gather the information needed to make decisions, or just to document some interesting phenomenon.

Take this impromptu but thorough exploration of basement humidity undertaken by [Matthias Wandel]. Like most people with finished basements in their homes, [Matthias] finds the humidity objectionable enough to warrant removal. But he’s not one to just throw a dehumidifier down there and forget about it. Seeking data on how well the appliance works, [Matthias] wired a DHT22 temperature/humidity sensor to a spare Raspberry Pi to monitor room conditions, and plugged the dehumidifier into a Kill-A-Watt with a Pi camera trained on the display to capture data on electrical usage.

His results were interesting. The appliance does drop the room’s humidity while raising its temperature, a not unexpected result given the way dehumidifiers work. But there was a curious cyclical spike in humidity, corresponding to the appliance’s regular defrost cycle driving moisture back into the room. And when the dehumidifier was turned off, room humidity gradually increased, suggesting an unknown source of water. The likely culprit: moisture seeping up through the concrete slab, or at least it appeared so after a few more experiments. [Matthias] also compared three different dehumidifiers to find the best one. The video below has all the details.

We always appreciate [Matthias]’ meticulous approach to problems like these, and his field expedient instrumentation. He seems to like his creature comforts, too – remember the target-tracking space heater from a few months back?

Continue reading “Exploring Basement Humidity With A Raspberry Pi”

Hack My House: Raspberry Pi As A Touchscreen Thermostat

Your thermostat is some of the oldest and simplest automation in your home. For years these were one-temperature setting and nothing more. Programmable thermostats brought more control; they’re alarm clocks attached to your furnace. Then Nest came along and added beautiful design and “learning features” that felt like magic compared to the old systems. But we can have a lot more fun. I’m taking my favorite single-board computer, the Raspberry Pi, and naming it keeper of heat (and cool) by building my own touchscreen thermostat.

Mercury thermostats started it all, and were ingenious in their simplicity — a glass capsule containing mercury, attached to a wound bi-metal strip. As the temperature changes, the contraption tilts and the mercury bead moves, making or breaking contact with the wiring. More sophisticated thermostats have replaced the mercury bead with electronics, but the signaling method remains the same, just a simple contact switch.

This makes the thermostat the prime target for an aspiring home automation hacker. I’ve had this particular project in mind for quite some time, and was excited to dive into it with simple raw materials: my Raspberry Pi, a touchscreen, and a mechanical relay board.

Continue reading “Hack My House: Raspberry Pi As A Touchscreen Thermostat”

ESP8266 AC Controller Shows Whats Possible

People often get the impression that home built hardware is destined to have a certain amateurish look or feel to it. It’s as though just because you didn’t buy it in a store, it will look cheap or thrown together. While it’s true a hacked together device could look like it was built from the parts bin (and to be fair, sometimes it is), there are plenty of examples of DIY hardware that could give commercial offerings a run for their money.

A case in point is this fantastic ESP8266 air conditioner controller created by [Sitinut Waisara] (Google Translate). Between the simple yet elegant 3D printed enclosure to the very slick user interface on its OLED screen, this project could easily pass as a commercial device. In fact, we’ve seen commercial offerings that didn’t look half this good, let alone offer the same features for what this cost in components and printer filament. It’s a perfect example of what the modern hacker or maker is capable of with the wide array of tools and components currently available to us.

What’s perhaps the most impressive about this project, especially given how good it looks on the outside, is how little there really is on the inside. Beyond the NodeMCU board and SSD1332 OLED display, the only components inside the device are the three tactile buttons, a photoresistor so it can dim the display’s brightness based on ambient light level, an IR LED so it can send commands to the AC unit, and a handful of passives. The hardware side of this design is so simple that [Sitinut] was able to put the whole thing together on a scrap of perfboard. Not that you’d be able to tell when it gets installed into the 3D printed wall-mount enclosure, complete with printed button caps.

While the hardware side of the project might be rather light, the software is anything but. [Sitinut] really went all-in writing his code for the ESP, adding in the little features like the automatic screen dimming and pulling the current time from NTP that often get overlooked in our rush to get a project out the door. He even included a whole collection of icons to display on the OLED screen, which goes a long way towards selling that professional look. But his effort wasn’t limited to cosmetics or clever features, there was also plenty of work put into decoding the IR signals used to control the AC unit and getting all the features and functions plugged into MQTT.

We’ve seen a number of projects that aimed at dragging an existing HVAC system kicking and screaming onto the “Internet of Things”, some considerably less complex than others. But few have had the level of polish that [Sitinut] has put into his controller, so we take our hats off to him.

Continue reading “ESP8266 AC Controller Shows Whats Possible”

The Lost Art Of Steam Heating

We got pointed by [packrat] to a 2015 presentation by [Dan Holohan] on the history and art of steam heating systems. At the advent of central heating systems for entire buildings, steam was used instead of water or air for the transport medium. These systems were installed in landmark buildings including the Empire State Building, which still use them to this day.

A major advantage of steam-based heating system is that no pump is required: the steam will naturally rise up through the piping, condenses and returns to the origin. This can be implemented as a single pipe where condensation returns through the same pipe as the steam, or a two-pipe system where the condensate returns through its own pipe.

In the presentation, Dan walks us through his experiences working on many of these steam heating systems in major US buildings, the types of systems, fixes implemented by engineers long since dead and the particularities of maintaining these systems.

Continue reading “The Lost Art Of Steam Heating”

Down The DIY Rabbit Hole With A Shop AC Installation

There’s a fine line between a successful DIY project and one that ends in heartbreak. It’s subjective too; aside from projects that end up with fire trucks or ambulances in the driveway, what one DIYer would consider a disaster might be considered a great learning opportunity to someone else.

We’re pretty sure [Cressel] looks at his recent DIY mini-split AC installation for his shop as a series of teachable moments. Most folks leave HVAC work to the pros, but when you run a popular YouTube channel where you make your own lathe from scratch, you might be persuaded to give anything a go. [Cressel] did everything possible to do this job like a pro, going so far as to get training in the safe handling of refrigerants and an EPA certification so he knew how to charge the system correctly. He also sunk quite a bit of money into tools; between the manifold gauge set, vacuum pump, and various plumbing bits, that was a hefty $300 bite alone.

The install went well until he started charging the refrigerant, when a mistake with a fitting caused him to contaminate his nice, new batch of R-410A. Rather than back out and call a pro to finish up, [Cressel] stuck with it, to the tune of $900 in extra tools and materials needed to recover the old refrigerant safely and replace it with virgin R-410A. The video below has a condensed version of the whole tale.

It all worked out in the end, but at a cost that probably meets or exceeds what an HVAC contractor would have charged. [Cressel] seems like a glass-half-full kind of guy, though, so we expect he’s happy to have learned something new, and to have a bunch of neat new tools to boot.

Continue reading “Down The DIY Rabbit Hole With A Shop AC Installation”