Now that we’re into the coldest months of winter, I’ve noticed a jump in visits to a post I wrote a while back – 7 DIY Pop Can Solar Heaters. And I’m not surprised. We’re all looking for ways to shave a few bucks off the monthly heating bill and you can’t find a more affordable heating source than the sun.
It’s free – and yours for the taking.
I’m devoting the next couple of posts to DIY home solar air heating, how it works and various solar air collector designs.
Lots of solar heating options
There are all kinds of ways to take advantage of the sun’s energy to heat your home from simply opening the drapes on a sunny day (passive) to elaborate multifunctional (active) systems integrated with your existing furnace. Passive solar heating uses natural forces like convection, and thermosiphoning for air/heat exchange. Active systems use mechanical devices likes fans & dampers to help distribute natural air flows.
Solar’s Colorado roots
During the 1970’s, the San Luis Valley in Colorado was the "Silicon Valley" of solar heating innovation in the US. Rising energy prices and cold but sunny winter days made this high altitude valley the perfect place to capture the sun’s energy for home heating. J. K. Ramstetter and his son-in-law, Bill North, designed and installed many of the first solar air systems in 1972 & 1973. By the mid-’70’s, the San Luis Valley Solar Energy Association was collecting the best design ideas and advising homeowners on the most efficient home installations.
Greg West, who built one of the best of the 7 Pop Can Solar Heaters, pointed me to a book by Steve Kornher with Andy Zaugg – The Complete Handbook Of Solar Air Heating Systems. Although the book was originally written in 1984, most of the drawings and concepts are still used today.
The book was re-published in 2009 and is available through Amazon. You can check out chapter 2 – A SURVEY OF AIR-HEATER OPTIONS here (PDF download).
The DIY Solar community
Beyond Colorado, residential solar air heating has largely been left to the DIY community to sort out on it’s own. While architects and engineers are designing buildings that take better advantage solar heating opportunities, finding a local contractor or designer with experience in solar heating for your home may not be all that easy.
One of my favourite sources of inspiration and information is Build It Solar.com. Retired engineer, Gary Reysa, has developed this incredible online resource for the DIY community, providing a much-needed portal for sharing ideas and lessons learned from around the world for everything from solar air and water heating to micro-hydro and wind power generation.
One of Gary’s solar collaborators is Scott Davis. Scott put together this video that nicely nutshells the basics you need to know when building a solar air heater. As Gary puts it – "all the physics without the boredom".
Watch the Video: Designing the Ultimate Solar Hot Air Collector
Fortunately, Gary and Scott fought through the boredom (unlike me) and came out the other side knowing how to gather data using a bunch of sophisticated measuring devices that end with “ometer”. In the next post I’ll get into a few different types of solar air collectors and look at some of the real-world test results that Gary and Scott came up with in side by side comparison tests.
Related posts on this site:
Portable Passive Solar Air Heater
Comparing Solar Air Heater Designs & Performance
Earthships: Sustainable & Self-Sufficient Living
Home Solar: New Financing Options Making it Affordable
Superinsulated House Design
7 DIY Pop Can Solar Heaters