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Build a $32.18 Solar Heat Collector from Mother Earth News

Solar Heat

I’m fascinated by the thought of heating with solar energy, but not so thrilled with the cost of commercial solar panels. So I was really interested in a recent Mother Earth News article that showed their reissued plans for a window solar heater. The article gives a complete material list and instructions to build the simple window solar heater. By Mother Earth’s estimation, the materials should cost about $32.18 and take someone like me (enthusiastic amateur) about two hours to build. (Note these are 1971 prices - I’ll update you with my own prices once I’ve made it to Lowe’s or Menard’s with my materials list)

Basically, the plans for this solar heat collector work are for an insulated, sealed box that is topped with a glass panel. It has a divider panel down the middle of the box to create two air chambers. The top end is angled so that one end goes inside the window and the rest of the solar collector box sits at an angle below the window. (Picture a slide that starts inside the window.) The end of the box inside the window is open. When the sun heats the outside box, the warm air in the box rises and flows inside the house. The cooler room air is then sucked into the solar heat collector box and in turn heated by the sun and then it flows back into the room. Thus, a circular flow of air is created without need for anything but the box and the sun. When the air in the box is cooler than the room inside (insufficient sun), then nothing happens, meaning that it does not suck heat from the room.

Cool, huh? (Or should I say “hot?”) I do see a couple of drawbacks with these units. First and foremost, they sit below and outside your windows, which means they could be very unattractive, a common problem with solar energy products. Since the top is made of glass, it could also be a safety hazard if it is placed where a small child could easily fall into it. Even so, most homes should have a window or two where they could be discreetly and safely installed.

Another issue to deal with is that the design requires that the top of the unit protrudes inside the window. The window must be raised to fit the collector. To prevent heat loss from the opening of the actual window, the solar heat collector should be carefully measured and made to exactly fit the window. The opening of the window should be weather stripped and sealed.

The need for the open window creates another issue - security. Some sort of locking device should be installed on the windows to keep them locked in place.

Ideally the window solar heat collector will face south for maximum sun hours. The article gives simple calculations for the angle placement based on your latitude.

I’m planning to install at least one of these in the window(s) of a room in my barn. I’ve been wanting to use one of the rooms as an office/studio but didn’t want to spend a fortune to heat it. I’ll keep you updated. Wish me luck. A little patience would be good, too.

Here is the Mother Earth News article link - DIY Solar Heating with the Heat Grabber. You can print out the article for the instructions. Be sure to click on the “image gallery” link to print out sketches of the plans.



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