The Elegant Solar Wall Heater

Reader Contribution by Kyle Chandler-Isacksen
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This post continues my words on Appropriate Technologies. My last entry was about our $30 greenhouse – a super appropriate technology for sure. Here’s another quote from EF Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful that I love which relates to AT’s: “…To redirect technology so that it serves humanity instead of destroying it requires primarily an effort of the imagination and an abandonment of fear.”  Yes!  Go Ernst Friedrich!  While the Solar Wall Heater does involve a bit of imagination and creativity I’m betting that no one is afraid of it thus making it even easier to employ for humanity’s continued existence. (I will share about fear in future posts.)

There are several great articles on making a solar wall heater in the MEN archives to which I can add little. However, I will share some of why I feel everyone on the planet should be using this simple and elegant appropriate technology.  What follows is an analogy-cum-brief rant with a little about our own model afterwards. Enjoy!

When a friend offers a gift, and a good one at that, do we turn our backs and refuse it?  Do we go even further in rejecting it by behaving antagonistically to the spirit of the gift?  Of course not!  We accept it graciously and use the gift with love and respect. Hopefully we think of our friend who made the effort to share the gift each time we use it and thereby strengthen our connection to them and to love in the world generally. We may even rejoice in the abundance of our lives and feel so moved that we “pay the gift forward” to another so that they too can feel so uplifted.

For me, it’s the same with the Solar Wall Heater. Nature/God/the Universe…has given us a great gift in the Sun. It shows up daily and predictably and lights and heats our world, all without attachment to results or even to recognition. I’m reminded of this poem by Hafiz:

Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,

“You owe me”

Look what happens with a love like that.

It lights the whole sky.

What a gift we’ve gotten!  And God/Universe/Nature must love Reno because we get about 500 days of sunshine a year, and that includes the winter. To not accept this gift, to not make use of the abundance he/she/it has lain at our feet is akin to giving God the finger. “F-U God!  We don’t need your stinking blessings. In fact, to spite you even more we will build our houses on a North-South axis (or to line up the roads we make) and warm ourselves by burning oil and coal sucked and ripped out of your sacred earth. So there, take that!” (Extend middle finger now).

OK, rant over. But I get pretty fired up about solar and our neglect of it, especially simple passive solar – the lowest hanging fruit. It seems we Americans so often snub nature and sit around wasting our time debating how best to burn or destroy things when the simplest and most elegant answers are staring us in the face (literally in this case) every day. Solar Wall Heaters are one of those answers that are simple enough for a middle-schooler to understand and make in a few hours. I share my thoughts and experiences in the hope that more of the world will choose elegance, simplicity, and gifts.

I built our heater from a scavenged glass door (thanks, Weston) – make sure it is NOT a low-E door – a scrap of OSB plywood, some old 2×4’s, two square buckets with good lids (via Whole Foods’ dumpster), and a piece of corrugated metal that was laying in my friend Scott’s backyard. I also used some crummy old black paint (not recommended – use decent paint, preferably low or no VOC) to make the metal more heat absorbent. I measured and cut two holes in our bedroom wall (which happens to be the only south facing wall on our place) for the buckets and then built the box to hold the metal and mount the door. I plopped it on, shoved some insulation in the cracks, and ran inside to see if it worked. It did. Beautifully. The crummy paint smelled real bad for a while (I learn) but other than that it’s super. The lids are on now so I don’t get any summer heating. I tried to not use paint but couldn’t come up with something else that was black and would work. Suggestions welcomed!

Time was about 3 hours. Cost was about $2. A Super Appropriate Technology that works for us and, incidentally, does little to destroy the world. There should be a Boy Scout badge for these. You can do this!  We can do this!  Rave about your magic heater at cocktail parties and potlucks. Show it to your friends because examples have transformative power. Get out there and use that big, bright, ball of burning gas in the sky. It’s the greatest gift we’ve been given.

You can read more of Kyle’s adventures and inventions at  The Be The Change Project.