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His encore: Cool invention!

Virgil Johnson stands in his backyard on Falls Street that's laid out with three rainwater and two storage barrels that pump a watery mist to cool and clean his old central air conditioner. Part of his Rain Barrel Mister system uses about 100 feet of garden hoses with links and valves. The rainwater can also be redirected for use on flowers, gardens and lawns. Johnson's says his device will cut utility bills because it allows air conditioners to cool a house faster using less power. <i>Phil Pfuehler pho...

Two years ago Virgil Johnson invented an energy-saving solar air heater for homes. He sold a do-it-yourself eBook online on how to build one.

Now the 55-year-old Virgil Johnson is back with another energy-saving invention with the long name of: Rain-Barrel-Water-Mister-For-Your Central-Air-Conditioner.

This one also has an option for a solar pump and comes with a do-it-yourself 25-page booklet that can be bought on eBay and printed in PDF format.

Johnson says his setup uses mineral-free, cost-free rainwater that's sprayed on air-conditioning condenser coils to keep them cool and clean.

Your air conditioner works more efficiently and the system doesn't rely on city water -- or, for country residents, well water that contains rust, lime and other minerals. Such particles can accumulate and clog up air conditioning coils.

During this super-hot summer Johnson estimates he's saved about 250 watts per hour using his invention to make his central air conditioner run better on less power -- an old AC unit he believes was built at the same time as his 40-year-old house.

So who is Virgil Johnson?

He worked as a River Falls power plant operator for five years before becoming an electric meter technician with the River Falls Municipal Utilities.

Johnson jokes that three decades ago there was talk that the power plant would close so he took the utility job reading, testing and installing meters.

The power plant ended up closing only last year, but Johnson is still tending to the city's utility meters.

He's from Red Wing, Minn., but grew up in Ellsworth. He went to a trade school in Red Wing to become an industrial mechanic.

Johnson's worked all his adult life in River Falls and belongs to the Minnesota Investors Network.

He describes himself, informally, as a tinkerer, but more seriously as a technical writer and an avid woodworker, metal worker and electrical technician.

For more on this story, please see the Sept. 6 print edition of the River Falls Journal.