Heating A Home With Sunlight… And Water

The sun is a tremendous source of energy, and while photovoltaic panels are an easy way to harvest some of that energy especially now that prices for them are incredibly low, there are plenty of other ways to tap into that free energy as well. [Engelbert] was looking for alternative ways to heat his house since traditional methods were prohibitively expensive, and ended up building a heat exchanger using solar-heated water to cover his home heating needs. (Google Translate from Dutch)

The system uses several large roof-mounted hot water heating panels. The heat captured by them is then pumped into an underground pipe network which is able to warm up a large area of earth in the summer. In the winter, that heat is able to be extracted back out of the earth and used to heat his home. The system includes almost three kilometers of pipe which are buried two meters below grade, so this will probably not be a weekend project, but it still cost much less than the €80,000 to install gas heating in his home.

[Engelbert] is able to use this self-built system to keep his home and another smaller building at a constant 23°C all year. He actually overbuilt the system slightly and has since disconnected almost half of the pipes, but we certainly understand the desire to over-engineer things around here. The only problem he has had is with various government entities that are slow to adopt energy-efficient systems like these. Perhaps the Dutch government can take some notes from the Swiss when it comes to installing geothermal systems like these.

Thanks to [Jero] for the tip!

Hydraulics Made Simple

Corralling electrons is great and what most of us are pretty good at, but the best projects have some kind of interface to the real world. Often, that involves some sort of fluid such as water or air moving through pipes. If you don’t grasp hydraulics intuitively, [Practical Engineering] has a video you’ll enjoy. It explains how flow and pressure work in pipes.

Granted, not every project deals with piping, but plumbing, sprinkler systems, cooling systems, and even robotics often have elements of hydraulics. In addition, as the video points out, fluid flow in a pipe is very similar to electrical current flowing through wires.

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The Ground Beneath Your Feet: SuperAdobe Construction

Homes in different parts of the world used to look different from each other out of necessity, built to optimize for the challenges and benefits of local climate. When residential climate control systems became commonplace that changed. Where a home in tropical south Florida once required very different building methods (and materials) compared to a home in the cold mountains of New England, essentially identical construction methods are now used for single-family homes in any climate. The result is inefficient and virtually indistinguishable housing from coast to coast, regardless of climate. As regions throughout the world are facing increasingly dire housing shortages, the race is on to find solutions that are economical and available to us right now.

The mission of CalEarth, one of the non-profits that Hackaday has teamed up with for this year’s Hackaday Prize, is to address that housing shortage by building energy-efficient homes out of materials already available in the areas that they will be built. CalEarth specializes in building adobe, or earth, homes that have a large thermal mass and an inexpensive bill of materials. Not only does this save on heating and cooling costs, but transportation costs for materials can be reduced as well. Some downside to this method of construction are increased labor costs and the necessity of geometric precision of the construction method, both of which are tackled in this two-month design challenge.

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Iron Pipe Makes A Great Workbench

It’s a frequently encountered problem in any workshop; how do you make a bench? And once you’ve made a bench, how do you put it on wheels to move it about? [Eric Strebel] needed a cart for his laser cutter, so he designed his own in an unexpected material: malleable iron pipe.

The attraction of iron pipe is its ready availability and ease of assembly. [Eric] created a sturdy table complete with a worktop made from a solid door in a very short time. T pieces and joiners were used, along with a hefty set of flanges for the tabletop itself. The casters are the expanding stem variety, with a compressed rubber insert expanding to hold them securely in place.

The result as can be seen in the video below is a really neat trolley for the cutter, followed quickly by another workbench. It would be interesting to know more about this material, parameters such as its wall thickness and lateral strength, because in a table without any cross-bracing it becomes important to avoid an untimely collapse.

The most common material for benches seems still to be wood, indicating that for such a technophile community we can be surprisingly conservative in our choices. Sometimes though, benches are made from the most surprising things.

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Linux Fu: Pimp Your Pipes

One of the best things about working at the Linux (or similar OS) command line is the use of pipes. In simple terms, a pipe takes the output of one command and sends it to the input of another command. You can do a lot with a pipe, but sometimes it is hard to work out the right order for a set of pipes. A common trick is to attack it incrementally. That is, do one command and get it working with the right options and inputs. Then add another command until that works. Keep adding commands and tweaking until you get the final results.

That’s fine, but [akavel] wanted better and used Go to create “up” — an interactive viewer for pipelines.

Pipe Philosophy

Pipes can do a lot. They match in with the original Unix philosophy of making each tool do one thing really well. Pipe is really good at allowing Linux commands to talk to each other. If you want to learn all about pipes, have a look at the Linux Info project’s guide. They even talk about why MSDOS pipes were not really pipes at all. (One thing that write up doesn’t touch on is the named pipe. Do a “man fifo” if you want to learn more for now and perhaps that will be the subject of a future Linux Fu.)

This program — called up — continuously runs and reruns your pipeline as you make changes to the pipe. This way, every change you make is instantly reflected in the output. Here’s the video, here’s a quick video which shows off the interactive nature of up.

Installing

The GitHub page assumes you know how to install a go program. I tried doing a build but I didn’t have a few dependencies. Turns out the easy way to do it was to run this line:

go get -u github.com/akavel/up

This put the executable in ~/go/bin — which isn’t on my path. You can, of course, copy or link it to some directory that’s on your path or add that directory to your path. You could also set an alias, for example. Or, like I did in the video, just specify it every time.

Perfect?

This seems like a neat simple tool. What could be better? Well, I was a little sad that you can’t use emacs or vi edit keys on the pipeline, at least not as far as I could tell. This is exactly the kind of thing where you want to back up into the middle and change something. You can use the arrow keys, though, so that’s something. I also wished the scrollable window had a search feature like less.

Otherwise, though, there’s not much to dislike about the little tool. If writing a pipeline is like using a C compiler, up makes it more like writing an interactive Basic program.

Pipes, Tees, And Gears Result In Smooth Video Shots

It’s depressingly easy to make bad videos, but it only takes a little care to turn that around. After ample lighting and decent audio — and not shooting in portrait — perhaps the biggest improvements come from stabilizing the camera while it’s moving. Giving your viewers motion sickness is bad form, after all, and to smooth out those beauty shots, a camera slider can be a big help.

Not all camera sliders are built alike, though, and we must admit to being baffled while first watching [Rulof Maker]’s build of a smooth, synchronized pan and slide camera rig. We just couldn’t figure out how those gears were going to be put to use, but as the video below progresses, it becomes clear that this is an adjustable pantograph rig, and that [Rulof]’s eBay gears are intended to link the two sets of pantograph arms together. The arms are formed from threaded pipe and tee fittings with bearings pressed into them, which is a pretty clever construction technique that seems highly dependent on having the good fortune to find bearings with an interference fit into the threads. But still, [Rulof] makes it work, and with a little epoxy and a fair amount of finagling, he ends up with a complex linkage that yields the desired effects. And bonus points for being able to configure the motion with small adjustments to the camera bracket pivot points.

We saw a similar pantograph slider a few months back. That one was 3D-printed and linked with timing belts, but the principles are the same and the shots from both look great.

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How To Bend PVC The Nice Way

PVC pipe is a valuable material to the backyard hacker. It’s cheap, readily available, and comes in a range of different sizes. However, what do you do if you need to bend it? The typical approach would be to grab a heat gun or blowtorch, warm it up, and go from there. These methods can get messy however, with kinks and melted surfaces spoiling the final result. Now [Linn] has released a video with a method that delivers impressively neat results.

A bending jig can help create repeatable results.

The method is simple, using that classic hacker staple — duct tape. The end of the pipe is taped off, and the pipe filled with sand. With the correct amount measured out, the sand is heated on a cooktop, then poured back into the pipe. After giving the heat some time to soften the plastic, the pipe can then be manipulated into the desired shape.

[Linn] does a great job of explaining the process in a clear and concise manner, and shares tips on how to use a bending jig to guide the final shape. Results are best with smaller pipes that are easier to heat through, but larger sections can be manipulated with patience.

We can’t wait to see what [Linn] builds with this new technique. The possibilities could be further expanded by combining with these PVC fittings designed just for building stuff.

[Thanks to George for the tip!]