DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

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DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by Regulator » Wed Nov 03, 2010 6:08 pm

Need some free heat? A break from your expensive utility bills? Here's my suggestion.

A Solar Air Heating Panel

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This panel is 2’x5’6’’ It is 5.5” deep tapering to 3.5” on the sides. The polycarbonate sheet salvaged from an old tanning bed is the only reason a flat sheet wasn’t used. You could use glass, plexi or polycarbonate. The fan is from a computer power supply. The rest of the materials are new.

I bought some guttering downspout, two 1x4x6, one 1x6x8, one 4x8 sheet luan, 2 – 4” duct taps and some black caulking at Home Depot. I got 3 cans of high heat black paint, a quart of roll on primer and a cooking thermometer at WallyWorld. Got the 12v 7ah battery, the 12v solar panel and the fan thermostat online. I had various screws an such on hand.

Gather your material and find a nice place to work. Like this gravel parking lot :D

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I routered the edges, it is not required.

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Using a skill saw and guide I cut a channel for the polycarbonate to slide into down what would become the sides of the panel.

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I then cut my sides and end to length and assembled the panel frame around the poly sheet.

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Once I had the inside dimensions of the panel I cut my spacers for the collector tubes. I used a jigsaw to cut the openings and sanded them to the same dimensions. Also drilled 2 ½ holes on each side to allow enough air flow to eliminate any possible condensation in the panel.

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I cut my downspouts into 52” long pieces. I then used two pieces to test fit the spacers into the panel to make sure everything would be square.

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It looked good so I cut and added the luan back to the panel frame. I also cut in the intake and exhaust holes for the panel and installed the 4” duct taps.

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Then using a step bit I put a 1” hole in the bottom of 55 pepsi cans. You have to make sure your cans are completely dry and shake out all the aluminum shavings after drilling. Easy to do, and it won’t rattle during use.

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And then stuff the cans into the pieces of downspout. This is to create a heat exchanger of sorts. The aluminum downspout and cans collect the solar energy and transfer it to the air passing through and around the cans.

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I then assembled the collector tubes and spacers and caulked them into place.

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I drilled the hole for the thermostat at the top of the center tube and everything got a coat of primer and a couple coats of black high heat paint.

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Once the paint was dry I added an adjustable fan thermostat. This is a close on rise stat. It turns the fan on at 110 degrees and off at 90 degrees. The fan is brushless, very quiet and rated at 106 cfm, this goes in front of the upper hole blowing out of the panel. I installed the battery in the bottom and connected it to the stat and fan. I also drilled a hole and installed a probe thermometer in the top side of the panel.

I intend to add a 12v PV panel to charge the battery as soon as Fed Ex brings it to me. This will allow the battery to be charged anytime the panel is in operation and the panel will be completely self contained.

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I touched up the painted surfaces and once it was dry I put the poly panel on and set the solar air heating panel in the sun.

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Today, Nov 3, 2010 here in KS it is mostly sunny, windy, and the ambient air temp was 57 degrees. This is the thermometer behind the bottom of the panel where the intake air would be drawn from.

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It took just over five minutes for the panel temperature to rise enough to activate the thermostat at 111 degrees and turn the fan on. At 30 minutes the temperature had been stable for a few minutes and I didn’t think it was going to rise any more. It stabilized at 148!

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The panel was creating a 91 degree temperature rise and blowing 148 degree air out at 106 cfm. This would allow a complete cycle of the air in a 12’ x 12’ room in less than 10 minutes.

A solar air heating panel will definitely supplement your daytime heating and reduce your utility bills. Further testing is needed, but I suspect it would heat a small shed or hunting cabin by itself. If you have a south facing wall, you can use these.

My total cost with this panel was about $130.00

Easy project!

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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by WhoShotJR » Wed Nov 03, 2010 6:28 pm

Very nice, keep us updated how it performs for you in colder weather. I would love to have one of these but I'd have to cut down a bunch of trees and loose my summertime shade for the house. But that has got me thinking that I may be able to add one of these to the garage, just have to pay more attention to how much winter sun it gets.

Thanks for posting.

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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by American_Infidel » Wed Nov 03, 2010 7:31 pm

Nice project. That battery won't last long exposed to the direct sun rays like that. A small solar cell should have no problem powering that fan.
There was an article in MEN decades ago that described something similar exept it used fluorescent tubes instead of the guuter sections you used.
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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by Regulator » Wed Nov 03, 2010 8:21 pm

WhoShotJR
As it takes less energy to heat dry air (cold/winter) than it does to heat moist air, I am hopeful that the temperature rise will remain similar. Ie: if the ambient temp is 20 degrees and the panel can raise it to 100 or better I’ll be happy.
One reason I went with polycarbonate is that it is 250 times stronger than tempered glass. You could mount one of these on your roof with little fear of damage. Another thing to consider is unless you’re surrounded by conifers your foliage should be gone in the winter allowing sun to hit your panel(s).
FWIW, when I removed the panel from the sun, it took 17 minutes to cool enough for the thermostat to shut it down. This seems to indicate that partially sunny days (or tree branches) wouldn’t have much of a negative effect on panel operation.

American_Infidel
You’re correct on the battery. My solar panel should be here tomorrow. It is a 1.8watt panel and I don’t know if it will run the fan and/or if there will be any delay in operation. I will experiment and adjust as needed. Mostly I want the panel to be self contained and zero maintenance. If I leave the battery in the panel it will have a cover to protect from the sun rays. Heat is not a problem as the bottom of the panel is always cool from the intake air.
I have not seen fluorescent versions; however there are solar glass tubes available that will boil water in direct sunlight. I may get some of these and experiment with ways to manifold them into air heaters. And of course I’d post my results. :mrgreen:

I’ll be hitting this with a non contact thermometer and logging results for a bit and see just how it does day by day.

Thanks for the comments.

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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by FlungPup » Wed Nov 03, 2010 8:29 pm

Sweet fuckin win this is! I just put up a shed for the motorcycles and was thinking solar to heat it.
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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by WhoShotJR » Wed Nov 03, 2010 8:37 pm

Especially if you do what you can to seal/insulate the panel well, it should do better than that. After all, you won't be heating ambient air, but air from inside the house. I might have missed it, but have you added swing doors, like on a dryer vent, to keep air from circulating at night?

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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by Regulator » Wed Nov 03, 2010 10:48 pm

WhoShotJR
The panel will be sealed air tight from the outside, but not insulated beyond the cabinet and the poly sheet. You are right on the intake air coming from a heated structure most of the time. The real test will be if it can keep a non-heated structure at a reasonable temperature, like the hunting cabin or something.
I considered a louvered dryer vent for the outlet but dismissed it as un-needed. Even with the fan off heat should passively rise through the panel. Now, at night, when the panel is cooler than the interior of the structure, I am not sure if cold air will “backflow” or if the interior warm air will keep it in check. In the event of backflow, I may have to put louvers inside the panel on the intake air.

Good question! You’re helping me think it through :wink:

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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by Dawgboy » Wed Nov 03, 2010 11:22 pm

Very nice work! I have seen a couple of these made from Polycarbonate corrugated roof panels, but yours looks more effective.
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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by Stercutus » Wed Nov 03, 2010 11:56 pm

Dude you rock. That looks pretty solid. I would keep the battery but move it completely outside the box even if it were not in the sun, the heat in the box would kill it. Use the small solar panel to keep it charged. What about a storage medium inside the heat exchanger? Would that help any?
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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by Regulator » Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:54 am

Thanks guys

Dawgboy
I’m not familiar with the exact design you are referring to. I have seen some with a flat black sheet behind the clear sheet. The design I used gives me considerably more surface space to absorb solar rays. You also have to account for the ridges in the collector tubes, these help to keep the rays from bouncing off. The ridges and corners also remain at more of a 90 degree angle to the sun as it moves across the sky.

Blacksmith
The battery is in the bottom of the panel along with the intake air. This area of the panel never gets above room temperature. My only concern would be UV damage to the plastic battery case and I hope to solve this by covering the battery with a light weight cover.
As far as the heat exchanger goes, that is the purpose of the pepsi cans. To provide thermal mass and enough obstruction to slow the air flow though the collectors. With the round can in a square hole, air has to flow through the four corners and up through the cans. The passage through the cans is larger than the corners but obstructed by the tops and bottoms of the cans. It seems to be a good balance.

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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by cafemonkey » Sat Nov 06, 2010 12:23 pm

Reminds me of this:

http://www.motherearthnews.com/Do-It-Yo ... abber.aspx" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Would love to see how the heat exchanger method compares to the zig-zag air method.

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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by grand94jeep » Sat Nov 06, 2010 12:58 pm

I may be over thinking this, but what happens after the sun goes down? I mean you've got a good rise in sunlight, but how is heat retention? Its gonna get mighty cold around midnight, in certain environments, unless the building is insulated well. Or, is this more of a daytime/early evening use project?

If I were looking to keep structure warmer, longer, I would use some type of sealed oil system inside the box. Kinda like the old electric oil furnaces. Of course your system there would have to be larger, and able to take the weight, and extended heat of an oil system. Basically once the oil heats up (really hot at 148* or hotter) :shock: , your fan could keep drawing heat long after the sun goes down. If I used this system, I'd devise a cover for the outside to help hold heat in, after the sun goes down.

Awesome project. :twisted:
Last edited by grand94jeep on Sat Nov 06, 2010 1:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by Confucius » Sat Nov 06, 2010 1:13 pm

Very nice, although I would suggest adding flapper valves at both the in and out ducts lest it start to reverse cycle and cool your building down at night.

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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by Commo141 » Sat Nov 06, 2010 2:47 pm

You may want to think about putting the fan on the inlet. The air there will be cooler and more dense so a fan should be able to move more air as it has not warmed and expanded yet.
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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by grand94jeep » Sat Nov 06, 2010 3:05 pm

Commo141 wrote:You may want to think about putting the fan on the inlet. The air there will be cooler and more dense so a fan should be able to move more air as it has not warmed and expanded yet.
Plus, it may help keep the fan motor alive longer.
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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by Regulator » Sat Nov 06, 2010 6:44 pm

It seems the heater in the MEN article is a passive thermosyphon style same as a zig-zag air heater would be. They will allow heated air to rise into your structure as it is warmed. My panel forces the air with a fan so the output is considerably greater.

As far as nighttime usage goes.. it doesn’t. This panel is designed for supplementary daytime heating only. Any heat it produces in the daytime is heat your furnace doesn’t have to create. There is very little heat retention in the unit itself once the sun is gone.

The way the panel is designed it only needs two 4 ½ holes cut into the structure. All other wall insulation remains in place. I want to keep it simple for the average homeowner with common tools to be able to install the panels easily. This is also the reason it doesn’t have oil or piping or other external components. The liquid systems could be made pretty easily too though.

The intake air will have a louvered vent on it to keep cool night air from back-flowing into the structure. I haven’t tested the unit in a structure yet, but for $4, I’m gonna add the louvers. The output air won’t need one as the air at that elevation will always be warmer.

I hadn’t thought about the density of the cool air versus warm air. I may experiment with that on the next panel. The fan is rated for temps well above the panel operating temperature so that shouldn’t be a concern.


Ok, here’s everything together except the battery cover and intake louver. The test conditions today were almost identical to above. 60 in and 148ish out. I let it run for about 4 hours. The PV panel produces 22v in direct sun, will run the fan by itself, but stops immediately if shaded. I am going to keep the battery in the system to allow usage on partly cloudy days. The PV panel will charge the battery.

Appreciate the comments.

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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by Undying_Carcass » Tue Nov 09, 2010 2:36 am

This is amazing. Fantastic work!
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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by Squidi » Fri Nov 12, 2010 11:04 am

How are you planning on plumbing this into a house? Do they sell 4" insulated "ok to be outside" ductwork? I think they do, I just can't remember.

So, cut two holes in the wall/roof and plumb it in that way? I know on a shed/cabin it wouldn't be a big deal, but in my mind I want to build one to supplement my current heating system.

I was thinking about the ones that circulate water/antifreeze. They are easier to wrap my head around how to make them stop ( turn a valve ), and how to plumb them inside ( drill a hole, fish a pex tube, caulk it up ). I was thinking about getting two car radiators and doing it for my shed/dog house, just to see how well it really worked. Local junkyards want big bucks for car radiators though, high aluminum content and new ones get into the price range of the purpose built solar water heaters.

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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by ZMace » Fri Nov 12, 2010 12:49 pm

This is really cool, I will have to try it on my unheated, uninsulated shed and see if it would be worthwhile in such a structure.

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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by TargetDrone » Fri Nov 12, 2010 4:46 pm

I am very impressed. Not only does this seem to work well, but it is easy on the eyes (important to the wife).

I do realize that you put the cans in to slow the airflow, but I wonder how it would be affected if you were to make it flow through end to end instead of all the tubes at once (by connecting every other tube with a couple of 90's making it a long winding path instead of going down all 4 at once). I know this would definitely slow down the airflow but it seems like it would give more "endurance" to the heat coming out......as in the air would have a longer flow through the heated area).

I think I will see about putting one of these together. It looks awesome. Thanks very much for sharing it.

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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by Regulator » Sun Nov 14, 2010 6:32 pm

Squidi

On a wall you just cut in your two holes for the ducting, caulk a bit of foam around the holes, set the panel in place and screw it to the wall. Then from the inside slide a piece of 4” round pipe in to the length you want it. Cover with a vent if you like.

For a roof application your panel would probably not be against the roof, if fact it’d be best to not be. In this situation you would just pipe the panel with standard 4” round pipe. You would want to ductseal it and run it through flashings like any other roof penetration.

Liquid systems have some advantages over this of course, but they are more expensive and complicated for the average person. As far as your needs go, watch for demo of old buildings in your area. You may be able to get some actual radiators for cheap or even free for hauling them away.



ZMace

It would definitely pump some heat into your structure. Insulation of course would make your building stay warmer.


TargetDrone

I have seen versions where the air flow is zig zagged in a panel but never considered looping the collectors with 90’s. It might be something to experiment with. My first thoughts are the radius of two 90’s would put the collector tubes much further apart. 12” maybe, the panel would be considerably wider. It also would decrease the volume of air in the header… I don’t know, I’ll have to think on this some.

Thanks for the comments and suggestions

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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by Murph » Sun Nov 14, 2010 6:43 pm

Impressive!
Does your BOB at least have: water, basic tools, fire, food, first-aid kit, and shelter?
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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by BullOnParade » Sun Nov 14, 2010 7:28 pm

I'm definitely going to build one of these for the B.O.L. There isn't a lot of sun in the summer, but it should be open enough when the leaves fall off the trees. I like the idea of connecting the tubes in sequence, I think it would make for a warmer air to be pushed through, even if it is a lower volume of air.

... I'm kind of blown away by how awesomely simple this idea seams. Cannot wait to try it.
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Re: DIY Solar Air Heating Panel (Pic Heavy)

Post by ZMace » Tue Nov 16, 2010 1:25 pm

Did you get the idea from here?:

http://www.coloradowindpower.com/page.php?26

Even if you didn't, this is a slightly different way to do pretty much the same thing.

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