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Heating Seattle backyard shed with soda cans as solar panels

Peter Rowan left his job as a “corporate weenie” in 2010 to live a life with less stuff and fewer expenses and with more time to pursue his dreams (see video Alternative American Dream: less house & stuff, more travel).

Since downsizing his life, he’s begun writing fiction from home (in addition to a teaching gig) so for a bit more privacy, this year he decided to single-handedly convert the family’s unused garage into his off-grid writing retreat. Crafting it mostly out of repurposed materials, it’s fitting that he decided to heat it using a home-made, recycled can solar panel.

After collecting 275 cans (soda, juice, mineral water and beer), he began to drill holes into the ends, glue them together and fit them into a box crafted from plywood and 2 by 4’s. Adding a bit of black spray paint and some plexiglass, he created his home-made solar panel. He salvaged a couple of fans from an old computer to create a system for pushing cold air into the solar panel and pushing the hot air out and into his office.

At first he placed his home-brewed panel on the roof of his tiny office, along side his 4 tiny photovoltaic panels (just enough to run a laptop and a light, but not enough for conventional heating), but there wasn’t enough lift to move the air through. He moved it down to the side of the office where it’s now hinged to the structure and can be moved depending on the angle of the sun.

Granted Seattle may not be the ideal spot for solar, but Peter says that it seems to heat up the space by about 5 or 6 degrees even on a “crummy day” and when the sun is out it can provide too much heat.

In this video, Mary Rowan used her iPhone to film her husband’s month-long process of collecting cans, crafting the heat collector and finding a perfect resting place for the panel.

[For a set of instructions on how to make your own DIY solar panel see our post Building a solar heater with recycled cans.]

  • Sapioit_

    You could use a small fan with one of the soda can pillars, to move air from the roof to the floor. Also, you can adapt the soda can panels to power a small stirling engine, or even a rammed earth heat storage unit insulated with aerated concrete, to store some of that heat to have 24/7 electricity production. Would you need all that? Probably not, but it’s nice to have some extra energy or backup system, just in case. Also, you can use the output of the stirling engine as an input for a heater or cooler (depending on the direction of rotation), so you can cool down the place in the summer and heat it during the winter.