Using Cow Thermal Energy to Heat Homes in Winter

An enterprising engineer is helping diary farmers conquer the wintertime fuel bill blues by using cow thermal energy to heat homes. Includes how it works and some hard facts on the cowpower heating system.

| November/December 1982


Bryan's invention can be described as operating like a refrigerator in reverse.


Using cow thermal energy to heat homesteads, the heating system is set up similarly to a forced-air heating system. 

Using Cow Thermal Energy to Heat Homes in Winter

Farmers have known for years that, early on a biting-cold January morning (before the woodstove has been stoked up to house-heating pitch), about the warmest place to be on a homestead is down in the old cow barn. Of course, it's one thing to work in a barn, but it would be quite another to live there . . . so few people ever consider using Bossy's excess BTU to heat their homes!

Recently, however, Bryan Ramlow (a former IBM engineer from Poynette, Wisconsin) has developed a new heating layout that's able to successfully harness bovine heat and use it—sans humidity, mess, or odor—to warm a whole house! Bryan, who had always been interested in new energy-efficient ways to transfer heat, first got the inspiration for what he eventually titled "Cowpower" about five years ago . . . when, on a bitterly cold day, he tromped out to fix a farmer's broken-down milk cooler. While laboring in the cow-filled building, Ramlow couldn't help noticing that—even with some of the windows open—the barn was one heck of a lot warmer than the wintry outdoors.

Bryan was aghast to think that valuable heat was being lost out windows and simply wasted, so he went home that night and started puzzling over just how to "corral" all those cow calories.

It wasn't long before the inventive engineer realized that, since a single cow gives off 3,500-4,000 BTU an hour, a mere 15 milkers could provide sufficient excess warmth to heat a standard 2,000-square-foot home. Ramlow then devised a prototype Cowpower system . . . but he tested the unit for a year before he was satisfied enough to put it on the market.

Bryan's invention can be described as operating like a refrigerator in reverse (see the diagram below). A fan blows the 40 degrees Fahrenheit to 50 degrees Fahrenheit air from a milk barn across a set of heat absorbers installed in that building. (Since the moisture in this air is condensed by these absorbers—and then drained off into a gutter outside the barn—the system dehumidifies the cows' environment.)

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