Refrigerator Energy Tips

I was recently flipping through a brochure published by the Arkansas Public Services Commission on lowering energy usage when I spotted a familiar recommendation about lowering refrigerator energy usage by keeping it full.  You may have heard this tip before (my wife said she heard it from her mom), but it may not be obvious how exactly it saves energy.

Refrigerators work by pumping heat from the inside to the outside which lowers the temperature inside.  Since the walls are insulated, once the inside reaches the desired temperature the refrigerator doesn’t have to work very hard to keep it cold.  Unfortunately, whenever the door is opened a lot of the cold air will rush out to be replaced by warm air from the room.  Once the door is closed, the refrigerator now has to cool all this fresh air down to the cold temperature again.

This is where the tip of keeping the refrigerator full comes into play.  By keeping your refrigerator full, the amount of air that can rush out is reduced.  This lowers the load on the refrigerator once the door is closed.  In short, there is less warm air that must be cooled off after each door opening.  One caveat to this is you want to make sure that there is still enough space between items so that air can still flow throughout the refrigerator for even cooling.

Another factor would be the cost of food you are now using to keep your refrigerator full.  You aren’t saving any money if you buy more food than you need and it ends up spoiling.  In this case, you could always use bottles of water or other containers that will take up space.

Other tips for reducing refrigeration energy usage include letting warm foods cool down before placing them in the refrigerator and keeping the seal around the doors clean (a dirty seal could let warm air in).  Also be sure that there is enough space behind the refrigerator for air to flow around the compressor and condenser.  Be sure to check your manual for the recommended minimum space.

There are a lot of simple things that can be done around a home or business to save energy.  Many of these efforts are low to no cost changes and we recommend them as the first measures to adopt when looking to save money.   Forward Engineers provides energy auditing services for any size of building where we review your current usage, inspect the building and make recommendations that will save you money by saving energy.  If you are seeking to work with an engineering firm that is client-centered and strives to provides services that are on time, on budget and exceed expectations, please contact us. We would love to work with you on your next project!


How Insulation Works

Unless a building is quite old, it is required to be insulated.  Just about every surface (walls, windows and doors) all have insulation.  You may have not thought about it in this way, but clothes and blankets are also insulation.  So, how does insulation work?  Read on to find out!

The purpose of insulation is to slow down conductive heat transfer between two points.  In the case of a wall, the exterior may be very cold with the inside nice and warm.  The heat that is inside wants to get to the colder outside.  This is a law of nature similar to water flowing downhill or air moving from high pressure area to low pressure areas.  To slow the movement of heat, engineers can select materials that don’t transmit it as effectively.  Metal is an example of a material that would transmit the heat very quickly while air is a very inexpensive (it’s free) substance that slows down the rate of transfer.  The trick is to make the air stagnant and this is done by trapping it in a lightweight, bulky material.  Another way to put it is to say that the insulation works not because of the material but because of the air trapped in the material.

There are many different types of insulation, and they are rated using a number called the R-value.  The R-value is mathematically the inverse of the U-value which is the overall heat transfer coefficient.  For the U-value, smaller numbers conduct less heat.  Since the R-value is the inverse, the larger the R-value the better the insulation.  Typical R-values are R-13 for walls, R-30 for roofs and R-1 to R-5 for windows.

When a wall is designed, the R-value of the insulation doesn’t tell the whole story.  The total R-value of the wall must be calculated to include additional building layers or to include any thermal bridges.  Additional layers such as drywall, vapor barriers and siding can all slightly increase the R-value.  The wall framing (especially if it is metal), window frames without thermal breaks and any gaps in the insulation can all cause the overall R-value to be lower than the insulation’s R-value.  As you probably guessed, engineers have computer programs that help a lot with these calculations.

The walls, doors and roof of a building (AKA: the envelope) are a critical element in energy efficient design.  It is also a part of the building where more isn’t always better.  At Forward Engineers, we can test design options and provide a client with estimated expenses letting them make an informed decision on how much insulation to install.  If you are seeking to work with an engineering firm that is client-centered and strives to provides services that are on time, on budget and exceed expectations, please contact us. We would love to work with you on your next project!


March 2017 Newsletter

I had an engineering professor in college that would routinely say, “It’s easy…if you know what you are doing.”  I suppose he was right, but it’s the “know what you are doing” part that is hard.  Once I started working in design after college, a different saying became popular at the office.  Regarding construction documents, someone would chime in that, “it’s just lines on paper.”  Similar to my professor’s comment, the statement is indeed accurate but it doesn’t quite tell the whole story.  If you work in design, you know that there is a lot of work that gets done before anything gets printed out on paper.  See what that work entails, how it is done and also why it wasn’t always so easy in our article on Building Design Software.

Here’s a few other topics we were talking about this month:

  1. 179d Extension: February 2017 Update – I’ve received a lot of questions about the extension of the 179d Federal Tax Deduction. Here’s an update
  2. Airliner HVAC – I recently got to wondering how the air in an airplane cabin was conditioned so I did a bit of research.
  3. Sound Levels in HVAC Design – Noisy HVAC systems are something engineers try to avoid. Here’s how they do it.

Be sure to check our website regularly for updates or follow us on FacebookLinkedIn or Twitter.  We wish you the best this month and if you ever have need of any of our services, please don’t hesitate to contact us.   Have a great day!

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