Sunday, July 27, 2008

Extra Insulation For The Poor

Extreme circumstances call for extreme measures.

If you are not happy with your single pane windows, but don't have enough money to replace them with something better, and willing to live with the ugliness of a temporary solution (in these times of failing employment and skyrocketing prices of everything this may be quite acceptable), here's a way to deal with it:

Install a sheet of expanded polystyrene into the window.

They come in different sizes, the most convenient would be 2'x4' (or 4'x8' if you have a truck).

4x8 2" thick costs (at the moment of writing at my location) about $23. 2x4 costs less than $6.

2" thick sheet is R-7.8 (for comparison, a single pane window is R-1, triple pane window is R-3).

Thinner sheets cost less, but have significantly lower R value, so you be the judge of what you need.

These sheets are not completely opaque - they let just about the same amount of light as a heavy curtain, with the added benefit of preserving the spectrum (with a slight blue hue because of blue lettering on them).

A nice tool to cut these sheets with, should that be necessary, is a Japanese (pull style) double blade saw such as Vaughan Bear - it's a complete topic in itself, you'll love using this tool, much more exact and rewarding than a comparable size push saw.

Installing these makes a hell of a difference.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The other side of the coin: mini-splits

Just returned from a trip to Eastern Europe.

Just as forced air HVAC systems are the king in the US, mini-splits and multi-splits rule over there. Of course, it is dictated by the environment - they are mostly being slapped on the walls of existing high rise buildings, where the choices are extremely limited - either mini-splits, or window shakers which are noisy and obstruct sunlight, or indoor portable units, which occupy a lot of already limited space.

I watched one of those being installed. Well, guess what, it is just as bad as it is here - the condenser turned out to be installed noticeably askew when we momentarily lost our vigilance, installers were visibly taken back by questions about how exactly they were charging the unit and eventually cut us off with "It's already been charged by the manufacturer", unfazed by questions about the relations between tubing length and operating pressures... Oh well, let's just hope that the HVAC manufacturer did their best and came up with some incredibly smart way to take that into account.

On the down side: God! They are sure an eyesore. Condenser is more or less OK since it is outside, but the air handler is HUGE.

On the up side: they seem to be orders of magnitude more efficient than big iron HVACs of US are. And, they're virtually silent, especially the condenser (it must be said, though, that I was witnessing the high end inverter system, cheaper models may not be as quiet).

Bottomline: if one of my HVACs decides to go south, I'll be replacing it with several mini-splits or multi-splits.

Even though they are said to be expensive, I'm sure that with my overinflated demand for quality I'll get just about the same price as I would get for a single forced air HVAC of similar capacity, plus advanced ability to place the unit where I want, not where the ducts go, plus advanced scheduling and shutoff capabilities, plus zoning out of the box, plus truckload of free space in the walls where the ducts used to be.

/me off investigating...