Monthly Archives: November 2009

Not Powered by Fairy Dust

There was a discussion.

My true love wondered if I might like to know how heat pumps actually work.  Apparently there is no fairy dust involved.

He was patient and clear.  Gave me the formula for gasses.  Well, not gasses, but how they react to heat, or pressure, or maybe both.  Apparently a CO2 fire extinguisher doesn’t work by blowing all the air away so the fire suffocates.  Instead it makes the fire cold.  Or something.  It works the same way a refrigerator works.  In that a compressed gas uncompressed and gets cold.  Or the other way.

Anyway at the end of the very patient explanation I still don’t understand how heat pumps work.  Or refrigerators.  Or sewing machines.  Which don’t use pressurized gasses, but seriously, how do they work?  When I try and imagine how all those little grooves and bits underneath the pressure foot combine with the thread from above and make stitches, it just makes my head hurt.

Don’t get me started on zippers.

At the end of the explanation we agreed that there is no fairy dust.  And no storybook elves.  That would be silly.  Nope, it’s ninja elves powering the heat pump and the refrigerator.

My true love is going to make a sign to hang over the compressor “Powered by Ninja Elves.”

It’s very environmental.

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Powered by Fairy Dust

We’re getting a heat pump installed to replace the gas wall heaters installed when our house was built in 1952.  While I’m sure they were the bee’s knees when they were installed (was ‘the bees knees’ something they said in 1952?  I’m trying to remember if I ever heard it on Happy Days, my sole source of 1950’s culture, as interpreted by 1970’s television)

What was I talking about?  Oh yes, 1950’s post war housing heating technology is insanely inefficient.  It took me years to finally track down how bad they were – only about 40% efficient.  They are so inefficient that all the web sites that give you the efficiency rating of various heating technologies didn’t bother to mention them, since clearly any sane person would have replaced them already.  A few decades ago.

So we are upgrading to this really cool heat pump, that lets you heat sections of the house rather than the whole thing.  Which seems like such a no brainer to me, I don’t know why all heating systems don’t have the same ability.  We don’t have a large house, less than 1,100 square feet, but even so there are rooms I don’t use on a daily basis.  Why should I heat them?  So now I don’t have to.  And the new system – 97% efficient.  So I’ll be saving energy and money.

So I’ve been happily babbling to friends about the new heat pump, and how I’m feeling like I’m quite the grown up, what with the ability to be warm in my home without having to practically hug the wall heater in the hallway (which was less comfortable than it sounds), and tonight a friend asked what the difference was between a regular furnace and a heat pump.

Now I know that a traditional furnace uses gas, typically, or sometimes electricity or propane, to generate heat, which is then distributed through ductwork.  Pretty simple to understand.

But heat pumps?  My true love has explained how they work.  A few times.  As far as I can tell it is powered by fairy dust and elves.

Apparently I am unclear on the concept.