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Solar Shop Heater

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Project by summerfi posted 253 days ago 2512 views 18 times favorited 37 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Solar Shop Heater
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I live in a cold climate, and heating my workshop in the winter can be an expensive problem. We’re not allowed to heat with wood where I live due to air quality restrictions. The options are electric or natural gas. I have an overhead natural gas heater in my shop, but it adds a chunk to my utility bill and is also somewhat noisy. Fortunately, the front of my shop faces due south. That got me to thinking maybe I should try to capture some of nature’s free energy.

After researching several solar heating options, I settled on a design similar to this because of it’s simplicity and low cost. The design couldn’t be simpler. It is totally passive, consisting of a transparent panel installed in front of your insulated garage door. The door is raised on sunny days to allow sunshine and radiant heat to come in, and closed at night or on cloudy days to trap the heat inside.

Here are pictures of my version of this heater installed on my shop.

The heater consists of four 48” wide x 8’ tall removable panels. The frame is made of 1x pine that I cut on my small sawmill. The transparent material is clear polycarbonate corrugated panels like are used on greenhouses and patio roofs. The only other materials are some black spray paint, clear caulking, foam weatherstripping, and screws. The 26” wide polycarbonate panels are available from Lowes for $21.62 each. In total, I have less than $200 in the project. In addition, I had previously installed 1 1/2 inches of foil-backed polyisocyanurate foam insulation on the inside of my garage door.

So how does it work? Since installing the heater last Sunday, we’ve had three sunny days. If the sun shines all day, and I open the garage door in the morning, by mid-afternoon the inside temperature has proven to reach 30 to 35 degrees higher than the outside temperature. Right now the temperature outdoors is 25 degrees, and inside my shop it is a pleasant 60 degrees. I’ve not turned the gas heater on all day. The highest temperature I’ve achieved so far was 70 degrees on a day when the high outside temperature was in the 40’s. I anticipate that as days get longer and warmer, I will have to keep the garage door partially closed, or open it only for a portion of the day, to keep it from getting too warm inside for comfortable working.

This is a picture from inside the shop looking out.

In addition to warming the shop, this 8’ x 16’ “picture window” also lets in a lot of light. This should help save on electricity too. Not only does the solar heater warm the body, but it also helps warm the spirits. The bright working environment is much more pleasant to be in during cold winter days than a closed up shop.

While I’ve had this in operation for less than a week, the results I’ve seen so far make me think it’s going to be a big success. When Spring comes, I’ll simply remove the four panels and store them away. They are made to be light and easily moved, and they can be installed or taken down in about 15 minutes.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- "Of all the tools I own, my favorite is a good sharp pocket knife." - My Dad





37 comments so far

View Mark Davisson's profile

Mark Davisson

488 posts in 1951 days


#1 posted 253 days ago

Bravo! And I’m glad to see you acknowledge how sunlight helps “warm the spirits!” The older I get the more I appreciate the emotional and physical benefits of exposure to sunlight.

-- I'm selfless because it feels so good!

View AandCstyle's profile

AandCstyle

1288 posts in 891 days


#2 posted 253 days ago

Bob, that was a great idea and a wonderful project. Would it be possible/reasonable to vent some of the excess heat from your shop to your house?

-- Art

View summerfi's profile

summerfi

996 posts in 321 days


#3 posted 253 days ago

Art – Probably not possible to do that with my house, because it sits 100’ away and downhill from my shop. However, it may be possible to vent heat to the second storey of my shop, which right now is just used for storage.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- "Of all the tools I own, my favorite is a good sharp pocket knife." - My Dad

View SteveW's profile

SteveW

361 posts in 1492 days


#4 posted 253 days ago

Great project. I’m thinking I need something like that to help heat my shop in the cold weather.
I too have a natural gas heater, and can agree, that it sure can add to the monthly gas bill.
Are those panels polycarbonate that are open at the top and bottom, or did you seal them somehow?

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! SteveW

View john2005's profile

john2005

922 posts in 812 days


#5 posted 253 days ago

Bob, that looks like a pretty slick setup. I also struggle to keep my shop to temp, especially if I am gluing. Kinda wishing it faced south now. Definitely given me something to ponder.

-- In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.

View summerfi's profile

summerfi

996 posts in 321 days


#6 posted 253 days ago

Steve – The polycarbonate panels fit inside a wooden frame and are sealed on all sides with clear caulking.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- "Of all the tools I own, my favorite is a good sharp pocket knife." - My Dad

View luv2learn's profile

luv2learn

1680 posts in 937 days


#7 posted 253 days ago

What a great way to heat your shop. Good thinking and very nice execution of an idea. Nothing better than free radiant heat. I didn’t know Missoula had winter time burn bans. Half the shops here in North Idaho are heated with wood.

-- Lee - Northern idaho~"If the women don't find you handsome, at least they ought to find you handy"~ Red Green

View Gittyup's profile

Gittyup

52 posts in 590 days


#8 posted 253 days ago

Nice feature you’ve made there.

I saw a solar design on the internet for a shop in Wisconsin. The guy had a south facing wall. He cut slots in the wall between studs about 4” high x 14.5” long, about 5 of them high on the wall and 5 low on the wall. On the outside, he built a simple shall box tall enough to encompass the slots in the wall. The box was lined with black screening, painted black, and covered with clear corrugated panels like the ones here. Supposedly the screening greatly increases the surface area exposed to solar gain. Cool air flowed in at the bottom slots, was heated on both sides of the screening, and naturally convected back into the building. He claimed it kept his shop at about 65 degrees even when 20 or colder outside. At night/in the summer he had swing closed doors to close of the heater. Struck me as a great idea, even if it only partially heated the space. Unfortunately, my south face is into the woods.

-- tel

View Rick M.'s profile

Rick M.

3883 posts in 1014 days


#9 posted 253 days ago

Amazing that just that much difference in sunlight can make a huge temp difference inside.

-- |Statistics show that 100% of people bitten by a snake were close to it.|

View hoss12992's profile

hoss12992

2598 posts in 527 days


#10 posted 253 days ago

Great job, and I absolutely love FREE energy from Mother Nature.

-- The Old Rednek Workshop https://www.facebook.com/theoldrednekworkshoptn

View oldnovice's profile

oldnovice

3715 posts in 2002 days


#11 posted 253 days ago

After seeing this I wish my garage door faced south as this is definitely a simple, efficient, low cost heating system!

I live in San Jose and it doesn’t get nearly as cold as Missoula but I would surely enjoy a 68° to 72° work area in our “horrific” winters.

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View deon's profile

deon

2171 posts in 1659 days


#12 posted 253 days ago

Great work!

-- Dreaming patterns

View Ken90712's profile

Ken90712

14878 posts in 1822 days


#13 posted 252 days ago

Awesome sounds like it works well.

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1110 posts in 603 days


#14 posted 252 days ago

Very smart and very cost effective.

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View JJohnston's profile

JJohnston

1577 posts in 1925 days


#15 posted 252 days ago

Have you done the math to see how long it will take to pay for itself? Probably won’t be long, by the sound of it.

-- "Sorry I'm late. Somebody tampered with my brakes." "You should have been early, then."

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