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What Are the Best Tips for Installing DIY Solar Heating?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Homes can be designed from the start to take advantage of the sun for heating, and the ground as a heat sink, but do-it-yourself (DIY) projects are capable of adding some of the same benefits to any structure. The best tips for DIY solar heating can depend on the type of system, since these projects may be designed to heat either water or air. Many solar air heating systems are designed to provide heat for an entire structure. One tip for that type of DIY solar heating project is to calculate the size of the heater according on the average heating requirements during the cold season. Another tip is to orient the solar collectors to within 15° of true north or south depending on the hemisphere they are located in.

Solar heating typically refers to systems that capture heat energy from the sun and redistribute it as needed. These systems typically use some type of heat sink to store the heat energy, which often takes the form of a large volume of air or water. When the heat is needed, it can be drawn out of the heat sink. Solar heating can be used to warm up an entire structure, though other systems are designed to provide a building with hot water, or to even warm up a pool. Other DIY projects can involve photovoltaic solar panels, batteries, and traditional electric heaters, though these installations are not typically referred to as solar heating.

One type of DIY solar heating project that can effectively warm up an entire structure is the solar air heater. These systems use solar radiation to heat air within a collector. The most important tip for working with this type of system is to perform some calculations based on the cubic footage inside the structure, the amount of heat lost through windows and other components, and the average outdoor temperatures in the area. If calculations based on the coldest temperatures are used instead, the solar air heating system will typically be too large. In order to provide a little extra heat on the coldest days of the year, an electric heater, wood burning stove, or other option can be used.

It is also important to consider the positioning of the collectors in any DIY solar heating project. The best position for the solar collectors, which are the components that capture solar radiation to heat up air or water, can depend on the geographic location. It is possible to calculate the optimum direction based on latitude, though a general rule of thumb is to point them within 15° of true south if they are located in the northern hemisphere, or 15° of true north if they are south of the equator. If the collectors are not properly aligned, a DIY solar heating project will typically fail to work at peak efficiency.

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