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How Well Do Solar Heaters Work? A Guide To Solar Home Heaters.
My Solar Home Heating Project, Update.
Before buying a solar room heater I did a lot of searching the internet for how well solar home heating worked. I could not find many answers so I just went ahead and bought one of the heaters sold by Northern Tool and installed it on my home in central Texas. Here is how my own solar room heater project has gone so far.
There are only a couple of companies making solar heaters for home use. The main manufacturer is "Your Solar Home" and their panels are called Solasheet and I purchased a double unit from them last fall.
It is not a question of whether solar room heating works. It does and that has been proven in many applications, from active to passive solar design.
The question is are these product worth the cost, which can be close to $2000? The answer depends on two things, how quickly you want payback on your investment and if offsetting several tons of CO2 are important to you.
The panels were installed on the southwest side our our two story home in the fall of 2007. The location is in Central Texas where we do see several days of freezing weather during the winter and have ample sunshine.
Using a dual panel kit, composed of one main panel that contains a solar electric panel, fan and thermostat, we used the system to heat the upstairs of our 2500 square foot home.
The area of the upstairs is roughly 1500 square feet, which is the square footage that the manufacturer claims the unit will heat.
Supplemental, Not Primary Heat
First you should understand, just as the manufacturer states, that solar room heaters such as this are not for primary heat. The work best when there is full sun during winter.
We used the unit throughout the winter and during the day there was a noticeable difference in how much the thermostat from our conventional heater kicked on.
On cold days when the sun was shining and the outside air temperature was hovering just around the freezing mark the temperature of the air coming out of the solar heaters duct, (as measured by a conventional thermometer held to the vent), was 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
This was enough to warm the room for at least five hours during the day when it was sunny to partly cloudy.
Not For All Areas
While solar room heaters such as the Solasheet units will provide some warm air even on cloudy days they are best for areas of the nation where there is some sun during winter. In high mountain areas, the south and southwest these units function very well.
Estimated Energy Savings
My own estimate of the energy savings is unscientific at best, but based on 5 hours of good heat output for 3/4 of the number of winter days it was used, it appeared to reduce our heating bill (electric) by about thirty to forty percent.
I plan on adding another two panel unit which I will duct to the downstairs of our home this fall and I will update this article on how well total energy use has been reduced.
Since our electric bill usually runs around $200 in the cold winter months and I figure savings of about $60 per month for four months or $240 per year, the payback should be in only 12.5 years at today's energy costs. Sooner if energy prices rise.
So far we have had one bad hail storm since we installed the solar room heater unit. The hail was marble to nickel sized and the only damage was some minor dings to the upper part of the aluminum box frame. The tempered glass panels were not damaged
I bought my solar heater at Northern Tool but I spoke with the manager at Lowes, where my spouse works part time, and he said they are planning on carrying solar room heaters in the fall but did not know who the manufacturer was.
Other Types Of Solar Home Heating Methods
Besides the system above which simply heats air, there are more complex solar home heating systems that use hot water that is produced from a solar hot water heater on the roof. I plan on trying this type of system next. I'm a self described "energy tinkerer" and spend quite a lot of my time experimenting with ways to make our home greener. We currently own a solar hot water heater and I am considering adding more solar modules on the roof in order to use solar heated water for heating our home. I will post an update on the site as to how that project goes.
Passive solar home heating refers to designing your home to collect the maximum solar heat in winter. A good architect can orient a new home so that it receives the most solar heat gain in winter and the least in summer. Things as simple as rock walls inside the home that collect the winter sun's rays can make a big difference. You can see some of these methods incorporated in earth ships at earthship.net
You may be eligible for a federal tax credit for solar heating systems. For more information on federal tax credits for solar see http://www.energy.gov/taxbreaks.htm