Build an Inexpensive Solar Heating System

Learn how to build an inexpensive solar heating system that only cost $30, includes step-by-step instructions and diagrams to build a solar heating system.

| November/December 1977

You can build an inexpensive solar heating system that only costs $30 out-of-pocket.

Build an Inexpensive Solar Heating System

See the solar heating system diagrams in the Image Gallery.

"For a super-simple and super-inexpensive solar heating system that really works," say Don R. and George Waterman of Springfield, Missouri, "you only have to follow four rules. One, glaze with low-cost plastic film instead of glass or plexiglass . . . two, use a structure's existing south-facing wall for the back of your collector . . . three, forget about trying to store the heat you collect . . . and, four, scrounge!"

If you really want to put solar energy to work for you right now on a minimum-cash-investment basis, you can. I know, because last winter my father, George Waterman, and I supplied a 30 by 40 insulated workshop with almost all of the heat needed to keep the building's interior comfortable throughout near-zero days . . . and we did it with a solar heating setup that cost us a total, out-of-pocket, of only $30.

We accomplished this feat with a four-fold secret of low-cost construction: [1] We glazed our 8 foot by 30 foot solar collector with inexpensive plastic film instead of glass or plexiglass, [2] we used our workshop's existing south-facing wall for the back of the collector, [3] we did not build any heat storage into our design, and [4] we scrounged a great deal of the material that went into the solar heating system.

Thanks in large part to the four points listed above, our sun-powered heater was also quite simple in design and went together very rapidly. We put the whole system up with only about a week's worth of work (spread out, due to bad weather, over nearly two weeks). Compare our total time and cash investment to the $1,500, $2,000, or more that 240 square feet of commercially manufactured collectors would have cost (before installation, of course, and before tacking on another ridiculous figure for blowers, ducting, etc.) . . . and I think you'll agree that our initial investment was quite reasonable.

1/23/2018 11:10:44 AM

Greenhouse plastic is more expensive, but you will only have to replace it about 1/3 as often. You need some kind of air control on all the openings between the collector and the room, otherwise it will thermo-syphon during the night. Some furnaces have 2 speed blowers in them. If you can get one of these and the thermstats for them, then you can get finer control: Tweak the thermostats so that the low speed runs on somewhat overcast days, and it switches to high speed if the temperature rises another 5 degrees or so.

Frank Marks
2/13/2014 5:48:11 AM

Billy it works great on a smaller scale . I build smaller version of this and actually put it in the patio door on the south side of the house (inside). My fan is out of a computer ( 12CM Fan)that I runs off a 12 volt car battery which is hooked to my home made solar panel. As for a thermostat I use a Snap disk to come on around 110 degrees and shuts off at 90. This heats the kitchen and living room on Sunny days so I don’t have to use the furnace. Want glass instead of Plastic, ask any glass installers if they have any new to you glass. I work for a glass company and we would rather give away any glass that we pull out instead of having to pay to have it hauled away also the crates that the glass come in are large and have lots of 2x4 , 2x6 and plywood . I love the scrounging part. Cost : Solar panel cost $50.00 Solar Collector $20.00 Snapdisk and controller for solar panel $25.00 on Ebay

2/7/2008 11:23:22 AM

how would this work on a smaller scale?

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