I learned about passive solar power (no electrical or mechanical components) the year I graduated, when I chose it as my theme paper. At that time, we were just learning about the power of the sun and how to put it to better use. To add to my interest, there was quite an energy crisis going on. Cars were in long lines to buy gas and it seemed everyone was adding more insulation, buying wood stoves and doing what they could to economize.
In the early 80′s we put up a new home ourselves, and didn’t go on the grid for about 6 months. This was in central Texas, and we had 3 small children. Remembering my high school studies, I purchased a children’s pool and spray painted it black, covering it with clear plastic. In the morning I would fill that pool half-way up with water and by the time for the children’s bath after dinner, I needed to fill it the rest of the way with cool water to make a perfect bath, the water was that hot! I emptied it in the morning into the garden and started it all again. They still remember those garden baths. I had other containers that I used to solar heat the dish water.
We made a solar cooker out of a cardboard box… that was OK, but still took forever to get anything done. I remember doing quite a bit of food drying on screens which was quite acceptable in the dry Texas sun. We made use of windows that opened at the top for cross breezes and thermal drapes to block out the harsh sun and let in the evening breeze.
About 5 years ago, I learned how far solar power has come when I hired a company to install solar panels to heat our pool and house’s hot water. I had the pool re-covered in a beautiful black marsite, (reminiscent of the children’s bath so many years ago). We swam many times in a bathwater temp of 100 degrees. To make the best use of the solar heated water, we needed to take our showers in the late morning/early afternoon and run the dishwasher and hot clothes washing at that time as well. This made the best use of optimal sunshine.
At our small house, we have a solar powered fan for the greenhouse and use the sun to do the majority of heating of the hot tub. We use passive solar power for drying our clothes (clothes line). It would be nice to put up some solar cells for heating water here but truthfully, the investment takes so many years to re-coup that we would not be likely to ever see the break-even point in our life. Hopefully the prices will come down.
DO YOU FEEL THAT THE START-UP COST IS WORTH GOING SOLAR?