Pitch your electric space heater and replace it with
By Elizabeth Fern and MOTHER's Staff
The handcrafted space heater pictured here can be used
wherever you've got a full-length, south-facing window or
sliding glass door, and it makes an ideal first solar
project for the family newly awakened to the possibilities
in harnessing the sun's energy. What's more, the solar hot
seat—as its name implies—doubles as a useful
piece of furniture, which makes it of added benefit to
folks who live in cramped quarters or on limited budgets.
And just how does the solar hot seat work? Well, simply and
unobtrusively. When it's placed before a large pane of
glass on a sunny day—with its screened side facing
into the room and its lid and back flap opened toward the
sun—24 water-filled milk containers inside capture a
useful amount of solar heat. When the sun sets (or no
longer shines), the trunk can be closed back up to be used
as a sitting stool; then the warmth that's been collecting
in it all day will be released slowly into the living area
through the screened panel.
Tempted to make a solar hot seat of your own? OK, find a
tape measure ... a handsaw ... a coping saw or jigsaw ... a
protractor ... a pair of tin snips ... a hammer ... a hand
drill with bits ... and a screwdriver. Then scrounge up the
following building supplies: A couple of 37-1/2"-long 2 X
4's ... about 25 linear feet of 1 X 2 pine ... 18 square
feet of 3/4" plywood ... 10 feet of trim molding ...some
foil-faced foam insulation and decorative screening ...a
handful of finishing nails, screws, body washers, and
carpet tacks ...two 3" hinges and two 1-5/8" hinges (with
matching screws) ...a small magnetic latch ...and a lid
support (preferably one with a friction catch). In order to
turn your solar heater into an attractive and comfortable
seat, you'll also need some sturdy fabric, as well as
cushioning foam, for upholstering the lid.
Got everything? Then here's a step-by-step list of building
instructions that, together with the illustration, should
guide you through making your solar hot seat.
 Begin by nailing a 25-1/2" X 37-1/2" plywood base atop
the two (parallel) 2 X 4 runners, using 6d finishing nails.
 Then build the frame up from this base (as shown in the
diagram), using the cut-to-length 1 X 2 strips and
 Next, screw (from the inside) a 16" X 25-1/2" section
of plyboard to each end of the framing to secure the
structure. Use your coping saw to cut out the lower reliefs
 This done, screw (again from the inside) a 5-3/4" X 39"
piece of plywood to the bottom third of the back side of
the box. When that's in place, attach a 10" X 39" plywood
door to the same side, at a point directly above this
stationary panel, using the two small hinges.
 OK, move to the front of the trunk and cut the
decorative screen to fit this side, af fixing it to the
frame with mitered trim molding and finishing nails.
 Now, using the large hinges, attach the 27" X 39"
plywood panel to the top of the box to form a lid.
 Cut the foil-faced foam insulation to fit inside the
lid, the two sides, and the back door (making sure to allow
for the vertical frame support as the illustration shows).
Then use wood screws and body washers to hold these panels
in place on the interior walls.
 You're almost done! Add the small magnetic latch to the
back door, and the lid support to the top ... and—if
you want to get the maximum use from available
sunlight—paint the wood around the insulation with
reflective silver paint.
 To finish up your solar project, measure and cut the
material and the foam padding (or whatever else you have on
hand) to fit over the lid. Then cover the padding with the
cloth, securing both with carpet tacks spaced about 4"
apart around the rim. For an added decorative touch, paint,
stain, or upholster the two sides and back of your hot seat
to match the cushioned lid.
Now your own solar hot seat is ready for action. Well,
almost. You still have to fill the 24 milk jugs with water
(use food coloring or clothing dye to darken the liquid,
making it even more heat-absorbent) ...cap them (if you've
lost the lids, secure plastic wrap around the rims) ...and
place them in the hot seat. Now, you're really
ready. Just open 'er up and let the sun shine in!