Beginning a few weeks ago, I’ve embarked on a project to construct a modular, long lasting cooling system for domestic purposes. I’ve outlined my reasoning for this elsewhere on this site. 100 Year Fridge The majority of my documentation is on YouTube at this time, so I thought it prudent to begin sharing some of the details of the design in a less “rambling crazy person” format.
The first cooling unit was not an all-in-one package, and much more crude, so I won’t be including much of it here. The unit I built was essentially a smaller brine chiller. That is, it was designed to chill an insulated container full of anti-freeze and water. Initial tests were a partial success, as I was able to lower the temperature far below freezing, but not in anything resembling efficiency or longevity. The system was comprised of a 1/4 HP compressor salvaged from an ice machine, a small air cooled condenser, a short length of capillary tube, and a short length of 1/4” copper tubing immersed in the brine tank.
Construction was for two purposes. Initially, I wanted a brine chiller so I could test simple two-phase thermosiphon. I won’t go into it now, but the thing worked just fine, and demonstrated the principle could be used to refrigerate remote liquids (and possibly air) from a distance. The original refrigerative apparatus was consolidated to a single platform with the condenser unit mounted to the surface of a board, and the evaporator suspended from underneath.
After this proof of concept, I returned to the long term goal of making a successful cooling unit for a refrigerator. A mini-fridge, originally thermoelectric, was re-purposed by cutting a round hole in the top, Read more ›
Over the course of the next several years I will be illustrating a plan for a long lasting, modular refrigeration system which encompasses my values in the realm of design and simplicity. Here I will begin that process by trying to describe these values in a somewhat coherent manner. Writing, or even conversing openly about this project is very difficult, as putting these concepts to words in an easy to understand format is fraught with many mental blocks. Providing the necessary background information to understand the needs of a new direction in refrigeration engineering seems to be my greatest shortfall.
From my perspective, the well crafted machines of the 1920’s and 30’s represent a beauty and simplicity which remains unmatched to this day, in my opinion. I have a nostalgia for appliances from my grandmother’s youth. This is strange to some, considering my age, but I am not alone as there are many collectors of vintage refrigerators, as well as restoration experts, and clueless yuppies willing to fork over a pile of cash for an old looking fridge with modern cooling equipment.
Where I feel I may differ from many of the others, is that I want to bring back some of these technologies which were developed at that time. Engineering problem solving produced modular cooling units that were separate from the ice box and could be swapped when a problem occurs, also detailed service manuals were produced to make repairs. Refrigerants of the day (other than the Freons) were often inexpensive, naturally occurring, or produced by simple chemical synthesis. Many of the most successful insulating materials were again naturally occurring, or produced from a simple industrial process. When implemented well, they were resistant to rot and vermin attack. The structural components of the compressor unit and ice box were common materials like wood, felt, cork, mineral wool, glass, and metal. Time has shown that many of these models were handsome, sturdy, reliable, and long lasting. In retrospect, the scientific community has shown the ecological dangers of the Freon group, adverse health affects of asbestos, lead paint, and mercury. But, they were all good ideas at the time, I guess! Read more ›
It has taken me some years to find my path. I believe that were I born in a previous era, I would have found my way to the field of engineering, as that seems to be the my core interest: solving problems and building better things. Alas, this was not the case, and I was born into sick world from the toxic effects of over consumption and growth. The principle of problem solving is no longer the goal of the average engineer beyond the band-aids slapped onto the bad designs inherited from the last iteration of uber-complex, mass produced garbage.
Having just entered my third decade of life, the aggregate experiences of working many jobs, social experiences, and a decent body of literature, has left me with the humbling realization that although I do not have a solution to the world’s problems, I nonetheless recognize their existence and severity. My greatest criticism of our technological culture lies in the things we make, their social and environmental consequences, and the obsessive, bordering religious, quest for “progress” which has been described by others as a “cult of efficiency”.
I am one man, with a variety of basic skills, writing well not being one of them, but I have learned and applied these skills in several vocations that typically involve the maintenance of industrial machines and furtherance of the systems underlying industrial society. Each one of these positions came with it a new perspective of engineering, design, the bureaucracy of management, and dynamics of the economic and political system which governs it: neo-liberalism.
Listing back and forth between cynicism of human nature, Read more ›
In the fall of 2015, I did something which I felt was for my own good: I quit my job as a local truck driver, and pursued a residential HVAC maintenance position at a Portland area company. My view then, for which I still stand by, was that the sensible thing to do was to work in a field or related field that could teach me a valuable skill, and for the first time provide an opportunity to really use my head, rather than only my back. I have long considered HVAC as a trade, but was too cautious to throw my hat in the ring, since the vast majority of the fellas I’ve met doing HVAC or refrigeration were ego driven, pig-headed, stubborn assholes with a god complex. Also, by its very nature, HVAC techs works a lot when it is really hot or cold, and not always in the most favorable of environments generally. I want to be in this to hone my brazing skills, get plenty of trouble shooting experience, and hopefully make a little money to fund my personal refrigeration projects.
In nine months or so at this company, I went from curiosity and excitement, to boredom and cynicism. That part is hardly new; I always get bored. The strange part came from an initial image of ongoing education, and good honest work.
Starting in installations, I was impressed to see the quality which the journeymen strove to achieve. This work could be pretty labor intensive, especially if anything needs run through the attic or crawl space. I’m not as nimble and flexible as I once was. Leave that labor to the younger guys. I was moved to the maintenance program within 6 weeks. After all, I was hired to eventually do repairs. On this side of things, I saw that good old god complex attitude in more than one technician, but there were two good technicians for every one bad, so I can live with that. The part that bugs me, is the amount of sales we are expected to achieve.
I’ll try to lay out the general scheme here. This program is practiced around the country (US) in various forms, but this is how mine worked. Read more ›
In the previous post, I proposed some design principles for the construction of a better refrigerator, and suggested that an “open source design” model could be used to improve it continually through collaborative effort, and an iterative process.
Being that this is a physical machine, requiring raw resources, energy, specialized tools, and physical labor- to be produced, it will not likely be done for free. That is, although the design should be completely open, anyone is free to build and sell one without ethical dilemma. A growing segment of the population is becoming keenly aware that industrial humans have a detrimental impact on the planet, and that one way in which to stem problem, is through the everyday choices we make. There seems to be a lack of choice when it comes to a domestic refrigerator.
- The environmentally conscious
- Minimalists and tiny house dwellers
- Off grid dwellers
- Collectors of hand made goods
- Tinkerers, hackers, DIY community
I would very much like to build a complete refrigerator from scratch, and I may very well get to do that one day, but for now, I’m trying to picture other forms this machine may take, and develop some versatility such that unpredicted possibilities may develop by others.
The Various Forms Which The Refrigerator May Take
Read more ›
“Think free as in free speech, not free beer.” -Richard Stallman
Refrigerators are not software, but they could be designed and shared freely like software. Granted, I’m talking about hardware: steel, glass, copper, insulation, etc., but why not have an “open design” refrigerator? Why not build things like we gave a damn about the future? Why not consider the unborn generations, and the impact our decisions today are going to have on them? Can’t we do better? Isn’t that what progress should look like?
- Constant improvements
- Cradle to cradle design
- 100% recyclable (Not just down-cycled)
- Technology that ensures our species survival, rather than ensures its demise
Why a Refrigerator?
I focus my attention on the domestic refrigerator (and you’ll be seeing a lot more about this, so sit tight) because, although it may not be the most crucial technology for our survival, I think most people would put it high on their list of necessities if really forced to think about it. There are hundreds of machines that should be re-invented, but my personal obsession is the refrigerator – I think they’re neat, while most folks remain largely indifferent. So, it’s my thing, and I’d like to afford others the opportunity to take notice of the heat pump in their kitchen. Shall we begin? Read more ›
The modern domestic refrigerator doesn’t use much more electricity than refrigerators from the 1940s. Admittedly, modern models have greater volume, and no need to manually defrost, but it remains to be seen just how long they will remain functional. What is omitted from that silly EnergyStar tag in your new fridge, is the energy cost, and environmental damage associated with its manufacture. Copious amounts of petroleum based plastics go into the liner, shelves, door, gaskets, ice maker, hardware, and the insulation. Oh, the insulation! I don’t know if I should call urethane insulation “plastic” per se, but in terms of its obnoxious environmental assault, urethane belongs in some sort of category with the rest of the trash in refrigerators.
“Trash” is the operative word here. They make the machine. We buy it. It runs reliably for 10 to 15 years. If it breaks at any time, or is otherwise viewed as a shadow of its former self, the machine is discarded; not necessarily recycled, but mostly just thrown away. Yes, in some cases these refrigerators are separated into their component parts as much as practicable, but the vast majority of the millions of refrigerators thrown away each year in the US are not.
And what about the distance it travels? So much of what we use in the United States comes from southeast Asia. I don’t mean to sound like a chest thumping, flag waiver – I’m certainly not, but I feel that the amount of resources which go into every refrigerator to just get it to our homes, is immense and unnecessary. We can make things here, and we can make them under a radically different model than globalized capitalism.
What I propose is an open design refrigerator, built locally, if not by the users themselves. Read more ›