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Solar Heaters on a Church

An inspired leader and a willing congregation reaped unexpected benefits when they fitted their church with solar heaters.

| May/June 1983

  • solar heaters - three men, with church and solar collectors in background
    The Revered Poole (left) and two members of his congregation in front of the homebuilt solar heaters that send warmed air to either the Sunday school building or the church sanctuary as it's needed. The heaters save the organization some 55% on its fuel bills.
    Photo by Jim Strothman
  • solar heaters - halved aluminum soda cans inside collector
    The black-painted, cut-in-half aluminum cans used in the project were donated by the local fire department.
    Jim Strothman
  • solar collectors - hand pointing to air vent inside church
    Fans pull air from the collectors and push it through the building's ducts and vents.
    Jim Strothman
  • solar heaters - b&w, woman standing beside collector
    Rev. Poole's solar heaters have attracted attention from all around the world.
    Jim Strothman

  • solar heaters - three men, with church and solar collectors in background
  • solar heaters - halved aluminum soda cans inside collector
  • solar collectors - hand pointing to air vent inside church
  • solar heaters - b&w, woman standing beside collector

Inexpensive solar heaters (made with sliced-in-half beer and soda cans) have cut the Washingtonville, New York First Presbyterian Church's fuel costs by 55 percent!

The project got under way in the fall of 1978, when the Reverend Lee H. Poolea — longtime solar advocate — convinced the church's council to put up $110 to build a solar collector. He drew up the plans himself, and the first unit was constructed over the course of a single weekend in a member's back yard.

"We tested our creation on a sunny October afternoon," the minister recalled, "and the temperature inside the collector reached 203 degrees Fahrenheit. So we knew then that my design would work, and as a result the council agreed to fund two more units."

A Quick Payoff

The Reverend's system was hooked into the church's Sunday school building by air ducts and a fan that drew cool air in from the basement and passed it through the collectors and into the building again. It reduced the church's fuel oil costs by more than $650 that first winter, almost exactly what it cost to construct and install the complete solar heating system.

The church then offered to "spread the word" by sending information about the solar heater design to anyone who'd mail in $1.00. A few months later, the New York Times and other newspapers, as well as a number of church magazines, publicized their offer — and that attention brought in more than 13,000 letters, from all 50 states and 29 foreign countries.

"During the peak of our mail-answering period," the pastor noted, "we were printing plans in lots of 2,000, and we had five youngsters and three mothers sending them out and taking money to the bank."

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