Merrimack firm hopes Kickstarter helps it make a way to monitor your furnace
Mar 03, 2013 (The Telegraph - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
How energy efficient is your home heating If you burn oil or propane, the answer is: You have no idea, and no easy way to find out.
A family business in Merrimack thinks it has a solution to that problem with a device that determines the efficiency of your oil or propane heating system by sensing the vibrations of your furnace's flame. It hopes that a Kickstarter crowd-sourcing project will help bring the product to market.
"Nobody has calculated energy consumption from the vibration patterns, but to be honest, the hard part was making a one-size-fits-all device," said Radu Gogoanna who, with his father, electrical engineer Marian, is behind the HeatMeter system. "Making a device in which the same box fits on all models and types of boilers and furnaces -- that was hard."
Gogoanna, a mechanical engineer recently graduated from MIT, described the product as being the equivalent of a scale for somebody trying to lose weight; it provides the hard data that can be used to make decisions.
"There's nothing out there that allows you to track the improvements you make. It's like going on a diet and not having a scale," he said.
Similar systems are available for electricity usage and natural gas usage -- two systems where usage is constantly metered, providing hard data, as compared to the occasional deliveries of fuel oil and propane.
HeatMeter is being developed by the family's engineering design firm, Yshape. The company, which moved up here from Virginia in 2007, specialized in designing manufacturing equipment for lamination machines, but that business has shifted.
Gogoanna said they have been working on HeatMeter for a couple of years. Prototypes have been developed and tested; now $60,000 is needed to develop the first 400 units for sale; hence the Kickstarter campaign, which runs through March 20.
Here's how the system works, Gogoanna said:
Attach the HeatMeter sensor box to the side of your boiler or furnace, using magnets; it hears when the flame turns on and off and "learns your boiler's parameters" via the firm's algorithm.
"It tunes in and rejects all other noise -- music, vacuum cleaner, all that," he said.
Hooked into your home network via WiFi, it can register and send data about how your heating system is working. The owner inputs some other data, including square footage of the house, its ZIP code, and data about the heating system that can usually be gotten from the most recent service tag. "You can take a picture of the tag and send it to us, and we'll do that part," said Gogoanna.
All this information is collected by HeatMeter; with local weather data (hence the need for ZIP codes), it can be used to create an efficiency score. If compared to data from similar structures nearby, it gives a score that can guide a homeowner's decision about whether, for example, to add more insulation or turn down the thermostat.
"With the right data, we can predict pretty accurately how much turning down your thermostat is worth, how much you'll save," Gogoanna said.
The company says the devices also can be used to monitor homes remotely, such as a vacation home that is shut down for the season.
The software for computers, tablets and smartphones allows setting energy goals, alerts for system services, alerts when tank levels are low and alerts about "abnormal heating system operation -- e.g. it's below freezing outside and your heating system hasn't turned on for over 10 hours."
The firm aims to sell the devices for $150.
David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua telegraph.com Follow him on Twitter at @GraniteGeek.
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