Using solar energy to generate electricity is not the only way to take advantage of free energy from the sun to heat your home. If you live in an area that receives a large amount of direct sunlight most of the year, you might be able to save a significant amount on your home heating bills by switching to solar heating.
Direct gain is a form of solar heating that involves opening the curtains of south-facing windows and letting the sun's light shine in, warming the room. If the walls are made of masonry or any other dense material, it will absorb heat throughout the day and slowly radiate it back at night. You can also use tanks of water to absorb heat, although this requires maintenance to prevent the growth of algae. Direct gain is the cheapest and easiest solar heating option, but it's also the least effective in that it only heats specific rooms for a short period of time each day. (See References 1)
Another form of passive solar heating is indirect gain, such as with a Trombe wall. Create a trombe wall by painting an exterior, south-facing masonry wall a dark color, and install sheets of glass a few inches away from the outside wall. This creates an insulating air space, allowing the sun's heat to pass through and warm the wall but preventing the heat from radiating back out once the sun goes down. Instead, the heat radiates through the wall into interior rooms, providing long-lasting warmth during the nighttime hours. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that heat will travel through dense masonry at a speed of 1 inch per hour, so a wall 8 inches thick will provide heat well after the sun goes down. (See References 2)
Active Solar Heating
Active solar heating systems are the most effective way to heat your home using the sun's energy, but they can be the most expensive and difficult to install. First, you must install solar collectors on your roof to harness the sun's heat. In an air-based system, this heat transfers to interior ducts, warming air as it moves through your home. Some units use liquid as the transfer medium instead, pumping this fluid through pipes installed in interior walls to warm your home from the inside out. (See References 3).
Solar Water Heaters
Solar water heaters use the sun's energy to warm water rather than relying entirely on electric or gas to provide heat. In most cases, these systems cannot completely replace a conventional water heater, but the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that installing a solar water heater as a supplemental heat source may cut hot water costs by 50 percent or more. (See References 5)
- U.S. Department of Energy; Direct Gain; Feb. 9, 2011
- U.S. Department of Energy; Indirect Gain; Feb. 9, 2011
- U.S. Department of Energy; Active Solar Heating; Feb. 9, 2011
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Passive Solar; Sept. 29, 2009
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Technology Research; Nov. 18, 2009
Milton Kazmeyer has worked in the insurance, financial and manufacturing fields and also served as a federal contractor. He began his writing career in 2007 and now works full-time as a writer and transcriptionist. His primary fields of expertise include computers, astronomy, alternative energy sources and the environment.
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