John Canivan, DIY Expert


John Canivan
Occupation: Carpenter/inventor/writer
Residence: Long Island, N.Y.
Web site: Solar Homes and Solar Collectors

DIY background

John cut his first 2-by-4 at age three. He learned the construction trade from his father, a general contractor and hardware store owner. John single-handedly built several houses and was involved with hundreds of home improvement projects with and without crews. He built and installed solar hot water systems, sun spaces and solar greenhouses, and his latest project, Modified Trickle Down solar heating, is made from commonly available materials and is designed for DIYers. Getting John to start talking about solar is easy, but you may have a problem getting him to stop.


How to Build a Solar Hot Water System, © 2002
How to Build a Solar Thermal Roof, © 2003
Solar Thermal Energy, © 2003
Energy Independent Housing, © 2003                  
Solar Heating Projects, © 2005
MTD Solar Heating, © 2007


Serpentine collector made with three-eighths-inch copper, aluminum flashing and fiberglass reinforced plastic, a union T, a heat storage tank using external heat exchange, multitank heat storage, Modified Trickle Down solar heating, a differential thermostat with battery protection, a low cost pyranometer and a number of other solar thermal applications that may be used with or without PV panels.

Personal History

For his first birthday John’s father built John a bedroom with a south facing window. John was afraid of the dark and hid under the covers all night as shadows crawled across his bedroom wall. Fortunately the morning sun came to his rescue and chased those nasty shadows away.

John’s father, Frank, owned and operated Canivan Bros. hardware store in Garden City, N.Y.  John’s mother was a nurse. Together they raised John and his four sisters and provided a nurturing environment in which curious children could develop.

In college John majored in chemistry and eventually became a certified high school science teacher in the Plattsburgh, N.Y., area. Unfortunately John soon found that teaching unmotivated high school students was not his forte. On a frosty morning in 1978 during the Carter administration, John noticed icicles melting on the south side of his roof and had an idea for harvesting the sun’s energy during the coldest days of the year. He became the founder of the Adirondack Solar Association in 1980, ran solar heating workshops and taught solar home design at Plattsburgh Community College. He also runs solar heating workshops at the Solar Energy Center in Farmingdale, N.Y., and teaches people how to build their own collectors.

He is presently engaged in an energy independent research project in his own back yard. Richard Heiliger and a growing number of do-it-yourselfers have taken an interest in this kind of independent, solar thermal energy research. How about you?

John is happily married to Catresea Canivan and the proud father of two solar cats.