Fuel costs spur wave of wacky energy-saving products

Posted April 03, 2009, at 6:46 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:45 a.m.

About 10 years ago, I was building a house with my friend Jim. We did most of the house by ourselves. As the day dragged on, about 3 in the afternoon, Jim would say something that would crack me up. Being tired and a sucker for his humor, I would usually fall over laughing and it would take awhile until I could compose my-self.

One afternoon, he got me going about the “nothing machine.” This was big news across the state of Maine. A guy in central Maine licensed a new incredible technology that was going to save our collective energy posteriors back in the 1970s when the first oil crunch hit.

The machine was built from a modified washing machine that had two drums, one revolving inside another. The space between them was filled with oil. It got hot from friction and supposedly made more heat than the electric power that ran the thing.

It made energy from nothing. Jim reminded me of it that one winter afternoon and I was more worthless than normal. Cracked me right up. Every so often one of us mentions the “nothing machine” and we still crack up.

So goes the energy business. Every time fuel costs go up, the wacky ideas that prey on the lack of understanding of the laws of physics are free-flowing.

I have to tread carefully here so I do not insult anyone. Many people take this stuff very seriously, including, I am sure, the guy with the nothing machine.

The big one, which we get to talk about a lot on the radio, is the electrically powered heaters that use quartz lights to heat copper tubes to heat the air in a room. If you read the literature, they are green, clean and will heat your house for almost nothing.

And they are basically electric heaters that cost a lot of money. And you can get the same thermal performance out of a $20 electric heater that is in almost every store, everywhere.

Oh, and now there is a new company that makes a portable furnace that uses steel tubes instead of copper — more durable, it is!

Another “innovation” created to drive Tom crazy, is any insulation with “special” foil facing. If it is shiny, it reflects radiant heat and is Space Age!

This is a throwback to several sources. Back when foil building paper first appeared, it was discovered that foil building paper with an air space had some minor insulation value. If you built a lot of layers of foil paper with air spaces, the insulation value increased. It wasn’t a lot.

Fortunately, fluffy insulation like cellulose and fiberglass became available and made this cumbersome concept irrelevant. Of course, the fiberglass people put foil facer on their fiberglass — because it is shiny and is a decent way to staple up the insulation.

Today, foil is on all kinds of insulation, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but some companies are making outrageous insulation claims because of the magic that shininess brings to the table. And they usually verify their products with test results from places like “Joe’s American U.S. Insulation Testing Company.”

For the record, bona fide insulation companies all use something called “Factory Mutual” to verify their claims through industry-accepted procedures.

One last one for this week is insulating paint. Did you know that there are paints out there with ceramic spheres that will insulate your house? Forget about regular insulation! It is from NASA. Paint your house and save energy. And I have been putting off painting!

By the way, insulating paint, along with the “nothing machine,” might synergize the ethereal forces of a foil-faced force that is still undiscovered by regular science. YOU can be the first to try it.

If it sounds too good to be true, you can buy it on the Internet or maybe from your favorite TV advertiser.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.

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