Meet Randy Buchanan. He lives in Fredericton, the capital of the province of New Brunswick. As you can imagine, it gets pretty cold up there. Along with that cold comes your typical increased energy bills. While there are many things you can do to lower your winter energy bills, he decided to take it one step further.
He spent $300 and built his own personal solar furnace. As a result, he instantly decreased the amount he pays for heat. He explains how he did it in the video below:
Video Source: CBC News
As you can see, he found plans online on how to build a solar furnace. Modified them a bit, and then spent $300 on all of the materials. After he attached a small exhaust fan, he had instant heat. In fact, he may have had too much heat:
We took it outside… it was a cloudy day and I was doing paperwork and kind of forgot about it and had the exhaust and intake plugged. The sun came out and I said, ‘I should run out and see if it’s producing any heat. On the way over I heard a large bang and the inside window had broken on the thermopane, it got so hot. I took a thermometer and checked it, and it was 120°C, so you could boil water inside here.
~Randy Buchanan, Warm Canadian
The outside air enters his solar furnace at approximately 41°F, but exits at a toasty 100.4°F. All of that heat isn’t costing Buchanan a single penny. While he doesn’t quite know how much he’s saving yet, there’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that his makeshift furnace will pay itself off over time.
Solar Furnaces: A Recent Invention?
While Buchanan may have made the news for his innovative way to stay warm, building your own solar furnace isn’t really a new thing. In fact, a simple Google search reveals many designs for small-scale furnaces that you can build yourself. Buchanan built a “pop-can furnace,” a different type of solar furnace that increases the temperature of air.
The most common type of solar furnace is basically an array of mirrors that concentrates light onto one focal point. As the heat rises on this focal point, it can be used to generate electricity.
The concept of solar furnaces has been around for centuries. In fact, many historians believe that ancient Greek scientist Archimedes used a solar furnace to attack Roman ships. As the theory goes, his array of mirrors were believed to collect solar energy which was then used to set fire to Roman ships from afar. However, recent research out of MIT casts some doubt on this theory.
The largest solar furnace can be found in France (pictured on the right). Built over thirty years ago, it consists of over 10,000 mirrors that redirect sunlight onto a conclave mirror that then redirects the sunlight onto one spot. With so much sunlight focusing on one spot, it will heat up to approximately 5,400°F.
Can you build your own?
Yes. There are many designs ready to be downloaded online. With a little bit of work, you could get free heat directly from the sun for many years to come.
If you’re not willing to put in that work, you can always buy a portable space heater to help keep you warm. They’re typically cheaper than the cost of building your own solar furnace, but then you’ll have to plug them in. Space heaters are great for supplemental heating, which will also help you lower your overall heating costs. It’s really just a matter of what’s more convenient for you.