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What is the most efficient way to heat and cool a city apartment?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 39
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Since heating and cooling are the primary uses of energy for apartment dwellers I'm very interested to know of any super efficient ways to regulate my apartment's temperature.

Is there any way to make a rocket mass heater work in my new york loft apartment?

And what about cooling in the hot summer? What is the most efficient cooling method for a city apartment ?
 
steward
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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I hate to say "Bite the bullet, and pay for heating & cooling", but in an urban city apartment, there are not the same options as are available to a rural home in the woods.

Getting approval for a RMH in an apartment would be a huge hurdle.  They are large, heavy, and probably against NYC codes.  The landlord would probably have a shit-fit at the mere mention of one.

Some of the best ways to moderate temperatures in an urban apartment should drastically lower energy bills.  A lot depends on the orientation of your apartment.  The north side of the building will be much cooler than the south side - summer and winter.  If you have south facing windows, you can put bubble wrap on them to give you a few extra degrees of comfort. (Reflective bubble wrap in summer, and clear in winter.)   Heavy insulated curtains can block a lot of the heat/cold from entering/leaving.

Wearing a light sweater in the winter allows you to keep the thermostat set much lower.
(I know people who walk around in shorts and t-shirts and then complain about the cold!  DUH.)
Electric blankets in the winter keep you warm while sleeping, and avoid heating the entire apartment.

Using crock-pots, toaster ovens, etc. will not heat up the house as much as using the built-in oven.

 
master pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Eric Giordano wrote:

Is there any way to make a rocket mass heater work in my new york loft apartment?



Your landlord will SO evict you for that!  
 
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I've wandered if swamp coolers are cheaper than air conditioners, or if the water cost would cancel out the electricity savings.  
 
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Teresa, I don't think water cost for a swamp cooler in the city would even be a blip on your radar and would be a lot cheaper than a compressor (ac) running.  The problem is based on humidity.  The more humid the less effective swamp coolers typically become.  I live in FL and they are basically worthless for true cooling because we are most often above 70% humidity.  Now, cooling outside is easy, hook up a fan with a mister and that will drop the temperature by ten degrees or more in the zone the fan is facing.  I use a large blower and it covers about 500sqft easily, but inside this will just make a huge mess and make everything damp....  

In other areas, with lower humidity, the swamp cooler will work great (had one in New Mexico and never used the AC).

So it comes down to the details once again.  

Here is some other options for cooling (for my own area of high humidity):

http://menga.net/the-easy-way-to-cut-a-florida-electric-bill-for-cooling-by-more-than-half
 
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Location: Toronto
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In the winter, I simply open the windows to cool it down. I never use the heat, since the surrounding units prefer it warmer than me.

In the warm months, I just accept that I'm going to spend an extra $70 on AC. That's only problematic when the building hasn't turned on the compressors (April) or has shut them off (October).

I did find one thing that greatly improved the efficiency of the AC: when they constructed my unit, they failed to properly tape some of the duct work, so cold air would recirculate inside the HVAC unit instead of being pushed out. A little bit of aluminum tape later and now the place stays much cooler.

I like the eastern sun first thing in the morning, so I don't close the blinds, but in a previous place facing west I found that blocking out the sun made an immense difference.

Another thing to consider is nearly every bit of electricity used by a device will end up as heat. If you're using AC, saving a watt saves you roughly double.
 
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I agree with Ken.  We had a swamp cooler for years in Utah, where the humidity is very low.  It worked great, but I would not consider one in an area with high humidity.  They do, after all, rely upon evaporation to work.  Also, you need to change the filters frequently for them to be effective.  At least once a season.  More might be better for efficiency.  I don't know what they use for the filters now (which is also the medium to hold the water for evaporation).  It used to be aspen "threads" in a mat.  I loved it when we put in new ones.  Not only did they cool exceedingly well, but they had a wonderful out-in-the-woods smell.  It felt and smelled like I was camping in the mountains, rather than baking in the desert!

They do make window mounted swamp coolers.  Just make certain you are able to mount them appropriately, and that your landlord will approve.



Regarding the heat question -- I have built a rocket heater that exhausted into an old, inefficient fireplace.  HOWEVER, it was not code and a fire marshal would likely take a hammer to it if you live in an area with building codes.  It would probably void any insurance policy in case of a fire.  And, a landlord would most likely consider it a violation of your contract.  Rocket heaters that have thermal storage (like you suggested) are very heavy.  Even if you could build one, you would need to make certain the structure could support the massive amount of weight in that location.  There are a lot of issues to consider in retrofitting one into a home.  For most people, it would probably be easier to incorporate one into a new design, or massive remodel.  And, it helps to be in a location where there are no building codes (we are fortunate in that regard).
 
gardener
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As they say in the industry; location, location, location. After living in one during a heat wave, I swore off *ever* living in a west facing apartment again. Luckily I was on the ground floor and could use buckets of water to wet the bricks on the outside to provide some evaporative cooling, a technique which we still use where we currently live on the few really hot days of the year. If there's any possibility of hanging bamboo shades or similar on the *outside* of the windows, that is more effective than inside. I sew my own shades/curtains, and buy inexpensive thermal blankets to use as the liner and once got some very pretty fleece warm-wear fabric which I made drapes out of for a large north-facing window. I know - totally man-made material, but apparently a main component is used plastic pop bottles and it lasts a long time, is easily washable and adds a layer of insulation that typical curtains lack. Similarly, if there's access from a balcony, consider large planters (like half a plastic barrel) growing some sort of suitable vine. The first year I lived in one house when money was short, I grew Scarlet Runner Beans - gave me privacy, cooled the patio, and beans for dinner. There are locations where SRB's are perennial, but I can save seed and use low till systems, so I'm not going to quibble. If the heat is extreme, there are better varieties that like the heat more than SRB's, but I like the hummingbirds they attract! If you want the sun in the winter, annuals make sense.
 
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Cooling:
Shade curtains... Some are hung on the balcony overhang, some are over windows or as a film stuck on it. They drastically reduce the amount of suns radiation coming in and heating up your apt.
At night have two windows open, one at each end. Put an exhaust fan in one. That will draw to cool night air all the way through the apt.
Close the windows in the day because once outside temp passes 65F, open windows will just let outside heat in. And that outside heat is what is coming of the side of the building, not the actual air temp.

Heating:
Very light colored balcony floor and walls will reflect light into the Apt.
Theoretically, one could surround the balcony in plastic, turning it into a solar greenhouse. Even better, bubble wrap!
Bubble Wrap is also a great insulating blanket for windows and, unlike heavy curtains, will still let in a lot of light.
 
 
pollinator
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Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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Great suggestions here.

I'd add, turn off your heat for a few days in winter and see if you can find creative ways to stay warm.  Having the heat off means you get instant feedback whether your creative idea works or not--vs. waiting until you see the heating bill (if you see it at all--in some cities heating is included in rent by law).  You can do it on a weekend so if you're not able to sleep at night you won't be so put out the next day.  I did this for three months last winter and it was a very illuminating experience.  And barely used the radiator this winter either (a mild one where we are).

solar heater--a big black object hanging down from your window, enclosed in glass/clear plastic, allowing heat to rise up and into your room by a small opening at the top.    I tried building a solar heater a la Dancing Rabbit design, but with cruder materials--it generated a tiny amount of heat but I wouldn't say it helped my room at all.  Weird angle where I am, a roof just below my window outside so it couldn't really extend far enough down to capture sunlight significantly.  But there is another design I saw on youtube somewhere that looked interesitng -- I think it was actually on permies or maybe on Geoff Lawton's Friday Five? I don't recall now.  

For cooling, awnings are even better than shade curtains, if you can swing it--they're pricey to buy, but you might even be able to rig up a tarp from a tent and have it look presentable.  The advantage of the awning is that it blocks sunlight before it enters the "greenhouse" of your apartment, rather than merely shielding once it gets inside.  I used a shower curtain.  Again, I'm cheap, and yet it did help.

Had a bunk bed already--so heat in winter rises and that would be toasty warm even if the room below was chilly.  My computer laptop was really old--the heat it produced was alone enough to heat me overnight on a cold night with the blankets and sleeping bag.  In summer, the trick I figured out was to open the windwos from the top down instead of bottom up--and rain couldn't get in that way either if it rained in teh night because the eves overhang the top of the windows.  that way I got a cross breeze, and the mosquitoes rarely/never figured out how to get in.  You could even slide your screens up top if you had this setup.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
Posts: 1132
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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Not sure if a solar air conditioner was mentioned here, but that's a cool thing too--a heat chimney draws air up and out, and then the air drawn into your house (from the cool side of the house) cools you down plus there's air movement.  Never experienced it but it's an amazing idea.

 
Posts: 183
Location: Kachemak Bay, Alaska (usda zone 6, ahs heat zone 1, lat 59 N, coastal, koppen Dfc)
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I lived in San Antonio TX for a couple of years with my ex wife and in the summer we would open up all the windows in the apartment at nighttime or anytime it was cooler outside than inside(also rainstorms and cold fronts).  often the stray cats would come in the house and eat our cats' food, but we didn't mind having more friends. We would close the windows and blinds before heading off to work.  I also started taking cold showers in the summer. With those 2 strategies we went most of the summer without using AC and were fairly comfortable.  I can imagine a couple of situations in which cardboard with aluminum foil or mylar glued on could be used to reflect more light into your windows in winter, but it all depends on the geometry of your place.  My family and I live by the water here in Alaska, and the reflected light from the water definitely increases our solar gain, its like having 1.5 suns or better when the angles are right.
 
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