In Praise of Simple Machines

I am following up a post on the amazing opportunity presented by technological innovation with something that praises the opposite:  simplicity.

Every car owner knows the two scariest words you can get from your mechanic: “it’s electrical.”  Complexity creates opportunity, but it also creates risk – the risk of additional components that can fail.


I’m a big Tesla fan.

Truth be told, furnaces are doing much of what the auto industry has taken on since the turn of the century.  Your furnace is no longer just a heat source and a fan to push warmed air.  There are complex processes that control the speed of the fan and optimize every inch of operation within your furnace.  This creates significantly less waste, lower energy bills, and a more comfortable home for you by smoothing fluctuations in temperature.  All of these improvements are great and justify the additional risk we take by introducing electronics into the furnace’s operation.  But after staring at all the wires that are now a part of your furnace (or the $500 bill you just got from your mechanic to address an electrical issue in your car that you know is sure to rear it’s ugly head again), it’s wonderful to look at a product that can increase the cleanliness of your air 10x without a single moving part.



An Air Bear has only 3 parts

Media air cleaners are my favorite example of a simple machine in our industry.  A standard buffalo boot and throwaway filter do a serviceable job of catching the stuff you don’t want in your air anymore, but a media air cleaner will clean your air ten times better and doesn’t involve a single part that can break down on you.  The difference is a more precisely engineered housing, and a superior filter (also known as the media).  The trade off that comes with a media that cleans the air better is that it also has the chance to restrict airflow and cause your furnace to work harder to push the same amount of air, but the best ones out there (such as an Air Bear) are able to provide superior air cleaning without impacting airflow in a meaningful way.


There is very little to a whole home humidifier

The other simple machine that I want to talk about it a whole home humidifier.  That is another item that provides a great service:  adding moisture to the air is great for your skin, can cut down on dust and allergens in the air, and is the best means of preserving your hardwood.  All of that value is generated without using a drop of electricity.  The components of a humidifier are incredibly simple:  a water line, an evaporator pad, a drain line, the housing, and, for higher end models, a humidistat (which, full disclosure, does require simple wiring).  The water percolates across the evaporator, which increases the water’s surface area and adds that moisture to your home’s duct system.  This added moisture preserves your home, your health, and even makes you feel more comfortable at a lower thermostat setting, which can save you energy.


We are constantly bombarded by the new world we are forming as technology races forward; attempting to make our lives simpler by making our things more complex.  It’s in that light that I particularly enjoy reflecting on the things that we have designed so well, we cannot substantially improve them by making them more complicated.