Frugal Thermodymics Part I: Limiting Sources of Heat in the Home

Wooden Thermeter Photo by Petr Kratochvil

Even though science has always been one of my favorite subjects, I am frequently surprised at how even the most basic principles taught in high school have proven useful to everyday life, household management and health issues. Of late, because heat is the primary financial drain in summer, the laws of thermodynamics are very much on my mind. These laws are very simple concepts dealing with heat and its natural tendencies which is helpful in figuring out how to stay cool while using our resources efficiently.

Limiting Sources of Heat in the Home

The first thing to understand is that heat is a form of energy, it is often produced as a byproduct of other processes. The heat of summer, for example, is the byproduct of nuclear reactions in the sun. And while we unfortunately cannot control that particular source of heat (except by insulating our homes and drawing the curtains shut), we can improve our situation by limiting other means of heat production. Following are just a few of the possible sources of heat in your home which you may choose to regulate.

  • Electronics
    Computers, televisions, lights and other electronics emit high quantities of heat. Turn them off when they are not absolutely necessary. Unplug appliances and stereos that still draw electricity when not in use (the ones with glowing lights or numbers). Limit cooking and cleaning activities (especially ironing or using the dryer) to the cooler hours of the day.
  • Human Metabolic Activity
    “Calorie” is simply another word for “heat.” You constantly produce heat in the process of respiration. Therefore, strenuous activity and indoor exercise can really warm up your home. You can avoid this by exercising outdoors or elsewhere. For the weight conscious, drinking lots of cold water can raise your metabolism while literally flushing a good deal of body heat out of the house. Also note: metabolic activity produces water vapor in addition to heat which increases the humidity of your house (see below) so that is another reason to work out elsewhere or at night.
  • Pet Metabolic Activity
    Pets such as cats and dogs have higher metabolic rates than people. A medium sized dog can noticeably heat up a small room. For your own good as well as the good of your pets (to avoid heat stroke) discourage them from being too active during the hottest hours.
  • Trash & Food
    Decomposing matter generate heat from bacterial and  fungal respiration. This means that it would be to your advantage to take out the kitchen trash more often than usual and throw away unwanted or spoiling food sooner rather than later. Germs, mold and other microbes burn calories just like you and your pets. So logically, the fewer “little housemates” you have, the cooler you’ll be.
  • Humidity
    Water vapor is the gratest contributer to the greenhouse effect. A humid house with sunlight streaming through the windows will easily reach tropical temperatures. I strongly suggest ventilating well after showers, fixing leaks, not having too many fish tanks or house plants, avoiding indoor exercise, and getting a dehumidifier if necessary.

While some of the means mentioned above may seem so insignificant that most people may feel inclined to dismiss them, I believe that many small factors can make a notable change. And the proof is that we are enjoying a fine day at home in the Mojave Desert with full sun, no breeze, and being no poorer for it.

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