Here's a novel way to save money on your home heating bills: Wear a sweater. No, not just any sweater. A team of researchers at Stanford University is working on clothes that purport to be so warm you might not need a furnace at all.
Let Your Body Heat Work for You
The research puts forward an interesting notion: Instead of heating up an entire house, why not heat up your body instead? “Although energy-efficient buildings are developing quickly based on improving insulation and design, a large portion of energy continues to be wasted on heating empty space and nonhuman objects,” the study states. “Here, we demonstrate a system of personal thermal management using metallic nanowire-embedded cloth that can reduce this waste.”
The team developed clothing that is dipped in silver nanowire, or AgNW, and claims it reflects 90 percent of body heat back to the wearer. The garment can also be used with a small power source (like a battery) to turn into a heater itself, similar to how an electric blanket works. The total amount of silver is worth 50 cents and weighs less than a gram, which could help keep costs low if these textiles ever reach the consumer market.
The way the wires are structured means that the clothing looks normal, not like a tin foil shirt or astronaut suit. It's flexible and breathable because the nanowires are so porous, yet still remains effectively reflective. You can even throw it in the washing machine when it gets dirty.
The Government Takes a Peek
The AgNW-coated material is just one entry in a field where interest is growing. The long-term benefits of reducing energy usage include not only saving people money on personal heating bills, but slowing human contributions to climate change. Temperature control of buildings accounts for 12 percent of domestic energy use, according to the federal Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), so there's a lot of room for improvement. To look for ways to increase efficiency, the group held a workshop in 2013 on “personal thermal management” to gaze at the future of textiles and encourage development of personal insulation strategies. Keep an eye out for more developments to come.
It's too soon to throw away your furnace or boiler just yet-- for one thing, your silver sweater won't do anything to prevent the pipes from freezing in your house. But whether super-reflective clothing ever catches on outside the lab or not, you don't need to wait for the textiles of the future to save money on your heating bill. You can save up to 5 percent on your winter heating costs by turning the thermostat down a single degree between 60 and 70 degrees. All you need to do is put on that traditional wool sweater-- no nanowires required.