hotairballoon not eco/green
January 22, 2008 6:00 AM   Subscribe

Hot Air Balloons - Not Eco, Not Green - I find them noisy and a waste of gas - am I alone? has anyone got the science?

A lot of commercial hot air balloons float over my house. They dont look nice (big ads for banks or beers), they are real noisy when they light the burners and it just seems just a pointless waste of propane. The ones over my house have 12 passengers and a pilot. Does anyone have any idea how much gas they would use? Am I alone in my hatred? I know, get over it, but some nights there are over 20 flights here in Bath. That is 200 people at £100 a head so quite a big business operating by being able to "roar" as they float over me. I feel better just writing it down. Thanks
posted by priorpark17 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total)
Can you approach the company about even slightly altering their route? A difference of a few degrees and you probably wouldn't hear them-- and face, it, that seems to be what bothers you, not the gas use.
posted by hermitosis at 6:12 AM on January 22, 2008

The flights go over that route because that's the way the wind blows. The only way they can change their route is to go higher or lower to catch wind going in a different direction at a different altitude.

According to wikipedia, common tank sizes are 10 (38), 15 (57), and 20 (76) US gallons (litres). The smaller balloons take at least three tanks of propane. The larger balloons take more. Here is a good diagram.

I don't get your hatred of hot air balloons. Then again, I'm from Albuquerque, New Mexico which is the hot air balloon capital of the world. The annual International Balloon Fiesta draws about 900 balloons to the city each October. I love the sound of the burners! I love being up in a balloon. I love being part of a chase crew. Have you ever been up there? Take a ride sometime. It may just change your mind or at least give you some insight as to why it is so loved.

Do you have planes fly over your house? Do they bother you? Planes can make much more noise than the short burst of the balloon's burner. Just tune them out.

Full disclosure: I've lived next to train tracks and in the flight path for a military base.
posted by onhazier at 6:30 AM on January 22, 2008

I'm assuming a few things with these calculations:
Total mass of the balloon is about 2000 kg, including payload, basket, fuel, etc.
Volume of the balloon is about 100,000 cubic feet (roughly 2800 cubic meters).
Without going into too much detail, the temperature of the air in the envelope would have to be about 320 degrees C for the balloon to be neutrally buoyant, which would take 7.8 kg of propane to heat up from room temperature. I didn't bother figuring out how much fuel it takes to keep that temperature steady. It would also take a bit more fuel to make the balloon rise.

Really, though, if you wanted to offer your hot air services to the balloon company you could do a lot of good in reducing their carbon emissions.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:34 AM on January 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Actually, I think that temperature is exceedingly high, but it's probably because I underestimated the size of the envelope. The fuel burn sounds about right, though.

Thanks for this question, it's the first time I've gotten to use what I learned in college in a long time.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:43 AM on January 22, 2008

Is there a noise ordinance where you live? In the US, many places have noise ordinances that outline how much noise you can make during what times. Heck, I've known people who've called the police because the noise from a barking dog.

Also, you might consider the possibility that if you are successful in your noise complaint and the balloon company needs to avoid residential neighborhoods and such as they fly, then they will be wasting more gas. And since you seem bothered by both fuel waste and noise, you might want to think about which bothers you more.

As for the noise from a 12-passenger balloon as it lifted up above me? Yes, the noise would bother me too, if I had to hear it 20 times a day, so you have my sympathies.
posted by jujube at 7:02 AM on January 22, 2008

According to this:
An average one hour balloon flight over Melbourne uses approximately 180-200 litres of propane, which burns to form water and carbon dioxide; in addition to the fuel used by the balloon's ground retrieval crew. We have estimated that the activity to launch and retrieve one hot air balloon uses the equivalent of 378.1 kilograms of greenhouse gas (or 7,562 black balloons).
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:08 AM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Huh... quick little idea, for a relatively stationary balloon (like one that might be used in advertising) one could use heliostats^ like in concentrated solar power^ combined with a GPS transponder to heat the air in the balloon's envelope.
posted by XMLicious at 7:13 AM on January 22, 2008

Best answer: Whether it is a waste of gas or not depends on perspective. I assume that these are pleasure trips, with passengers returning to their starting point? In this case then the benefit to them is in the form of pleasure, there's no commercial/work benefit as there would be in using public or transport to get from A to B. Thus you are left with the difficult question of how to compare the apples of CO2 emissions with the oranges of increased happiness.

You could look at this from the balloon operators perspective, obviously he feels that the emissions are worthwhile. It's unlikely however that the balloon operator is paying the full costs of the damages to the global environment that stems from his emissions, (most energy use in western society isn't), those costs will be picked up by society in general (e.g. through land loss, drowning, or paying for clean up later). Perhaps you could approach the balloon operator to consider buying carbon offsets against his emissions if you feel strongly about it?

Societally, you can certainly make an argument that the continued operation of the balloon and the absence of a carbon tax where you live which hasn't put it out of business indicates that society values the benefit to the economy of having another business operational higher than the emissions from the balloon. (NB, this isn't an argument that such a tax should exist, merely a comparative indicator of priorities/carbon valuation in your area.)
posted by biffa at 7:27 AM on January 22, 2008

Is there a noise ordinance where you live? In the US, many places have noise ordinances that outline how much noise you can make during what times. Heck, I've known people who've called the police because the noise from a barking dog.

He says he's in Bath, which I guess means the Southwest of England. Most local councils in the UK have departments to deal with noise pollution - although I just looked on the Bath Council website and it doesn't seem very helpful. Apparently environmental noise and aircraft noise are not dealt with by them.

Maybe the OP could try the Citizens Advice Bureau if he really feels strongly about it.
posted by afx237vi at 8:22 AM on January 22, 2008

Reading an accident report [pdf] about some balloonist numpty who collided with some power lines on landing, it says this particular balloon (with 1 pilot and 10 passengers) used 120 litres (26 UK gallons) of propane an hour:

The balloon was equipped with a triple burner fed by four 60 litre fuel tanks. Each tank should have lasted for up to 30 minutes

So not exactly environmentally friendly.
posted by ComfySofa at 8:29 AM on January 22, 2008

Sorry, missed the Bath bit, noise issues are delt with by Environmental Services, here's some info on what they might be able to do about noise in your area.
posted by biffa at 8:31 AM on January 22, 2008

Disclosure: I do not own a hot air balloon, nor do I fly one. But I did crew for one for a few years and am relatively familiar with their operation.

From my experience, you're talking about two different types of commercial ballooning: advertising and passenger rides. I know in some areas giving a ride when you're flying a balloon meant for advertising is frowned upon, as the advertiser (especially if they own a stake in the balloon) could be liable for anything that happens to the passengers. However, I doubt that's much of an issue if you're seeing balloons obviously meant for commercial passenger use -- those with large baskets.

As for being green or environmentally sound, it's kind of a non-issue if you're talking about pleasure rides and not advertising. You could always attempt to convince advertisers to try a more environmentally sound advertising approach. As for leisure, is this more green than sitting and reading a book? Of course not. How about owning a snowmobile, or driving for pleasure, or going on long trips? It's difficult to judge hobbies and leisure by the same standard as, say, advertising -- it's all unnecessary by definition.

The route, on the other hand, is probably where I've seen the most misguided information on this question. Hot air balloons do not typically have a planned landing spot, nor do they make round trips. You can find a take-off point that is convenient, and depending on the air currents, you may end up in a completely different spot each time. Finding a good landing area can be difficult, and there is often a lot of negotiation with landowners. If you have balloons going over often, then you are either near where they take off, or the wind currents are surprisingly consistent in your area.

I'd recommend checking to see if there's a local organization and seeing if they could fly at a higher altitude over your area.
posted by mikeh at 8:54 AM on January 22, 2008

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