This Smart Roof Can Cut Heating and Cooling Bills

UC Santa Barbara researchers, Charlie Xiao, Elliot Hawkes, and Bolin Liao, have introduced a solution to address the high energy consumption associated with heating and cooling in buildings. Their creation, outlined in a recent Device journal paper, is an adaptive roof tile designed to autonomously switch between heating and cooling states based on the temperature, without relying on electronics.

The breakthrough came with Xiao’s idea of utilizing a wax motor—a technology found in common appliances. The wax motor responds to temperature changes and adjusts louvers on the tile’s surface. In colder temperatures, the wax solidifies, closing the louvers and absorbing sunlight. As temperatures rise, the wax melts, opening the louvers to reflect sunlight and emit heat.

The researchers’ tests showed a significant reduction in cooling and heating energy consumption—3.1 times and 2.6 times, respectively—compared to non-switching devices with conventional coatings. Remarkably, the device operates without electronics, batteries, or external power sources, relying solely on the wax motor. Its simplicity allows for customization and potential mass production.

While still in the proof-of-concept stage, the researchers anticipate that this technology could positively impact the cost of heating and cooling our houses.

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