Dr. Harry Thomason: Pioneer in Solar Home Design

Residential solar heating systems are thought to have high up-front costs and a long payoff period, but decades ago Dr. Harry Thomason came up with a solar home design in cost parity with conventional dwellings.

| November/December 1979


Dr. Harry Thomason completed his first solar home design in 1959.


Twenty-three years ago, in the heart of North Carolina farm country, a young United States Patent Office examiner found himself caught in a summer thundershower. Surprisingly enough, that experience caused the man to make an accidental discovery that has influenced the development of solar heating.  

The gentleman was Harry Thomason. Although his name might be unfamiliar to some, he is in fact one of the bona fide pioneers of solar home design. You see, ever since that summer day over two decades ago, Dr. Thomason (who holds the degree of Juris Doctor and an honorary doctorate in science) has dedicated himself to the development of practical, affordable solar energy systems.  

For example, Harry built—and moved his family into—his own first sun-heated house in 1959. The fuel bill for the initial winter season totaled a very satisfying (to the home's designer especially) $4.65. Since that time he has built four other solar homes himself, and hundreds of other dwellings using his sun-power system have been constructed through his licensing program. Every one of them has performed remarkably well.  

But, as Dr. Thomason emphatically points out, performance is only part of the story. After all, given enough funding, just about anyone should be able to build a solar energy system that works. The problem is to build one that people can afford and that is financially attractive to building contractors as well.  

It is toward this goal that Harry Thomason has been fighting for the past 23 years. Although a few battles have been won (the U.S. Department of Energy, working jointly with George Washington University, has recently published a report of performance data on one of Thomason's houses), the war still rages on. Until the public realizes that solar heatat a cost no greater than that of conventional thermal controlis no longer a dream but a reality, the Thomason system will continue to remain more of a "secret" than an accepted fact of life.  

But exactly who is Dr. Harry Thomason, anyway! How is it that this man, who holds more patents in the field of solar energy than anyone else in the world (he's had nearly three dozen granted to date, covering almost 40 inventions),has just recently come into the public eye? Why weren't his ideas acted upon 20 years ago? How can he possibly install a solar heating setupand an active one at thatfor the same cost as a conventional unit? Exactly how well does his "Solaris" system work?  

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