Should we be using computers to heat our own houses?

A random thought, prompted by a discussion with APC a few years ago. I was surprised to discover (having clearly been a poor student in O Level Physics) that the amount of heat output by a rack of processors, storage etc was exactly equivalent to the amount of power that went in. I know, its so obvious it hurts. More recently, there are plenty of stories of office blocks being heated using computer equipment. The question – as I sit in a relatively warm room,  no doubt due to the two computers pumping out hot air right now – is whether such a strategy could also be adopted by the “connected home”?

Which begs the next question – which is the more efficient heating device – the computer  or  the oil-fired radiator – and why? It would be funny if, at some point in the future,  processor cycles were seen as a knock-on benefit of our silicon-based wall heaters…

Should we be using computers to heat our own houses?

4 thoughts on “Should we be using computers to heat our own houses?

  1. In the good old water-cooled mainfraimes days, many data centres were built to heat surrounding offices. Which worked fine until the mainframe was replaced by an air-cooled version, or by some mini-computer or client servers….

  2. Rob Curran says:

    I wonder what the relative efficiency of heat as a byproduct of CPU cycles is, versus conventional electrical element heating (which is 100% efficiency from a radiant-heat-as-a-desirable outcome perspective).

    Of course element heating is very expensive versus other means.

  3. Anon says:

    During my days as an undergraduate I didn’t use the radiator in my room. The heat churned out my my PC – which was typically turned on between the hours of 9am and 11pm – was more than sufficient.

  4. As for the Physics, firstly the efficiency of an electric radiator versus a PC will be exactly the same – 100%. Both take electrical energy and produce heat. The radiator might be more effective as it has a higher power consumption (does your PC uses 2kW?), but may be worse watt-for-watt as a PC fan moves the air around, and most radiators just heat the top of the room (hot air rises).

    The second point is that there is a better way of heating your home – use a heat pump. Heat pumps act like fridges, except they refrigerate a lot of pipes running through your garden, and use the heat from outside to heat your house. This makes them more than 100% efficient as the energy pumped in is added to the energy used to pump it. You just get chilled daffodils. Note that a normal fridge also heats your kitchen.

    I suspect that the most efficient combination is to put data centers in blocks of flats or hotels, use thin clients at home and use heat pumps for suburban heating.

    But let’s be sensible. The first thing to do is exclude draughts, put up decent curtains and other insulation, and then see how much PC heating we need.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *