Depending on the complexity of the system, commercial solar air heaters range from under $1,000 for single room heating to $6,000 for large-space or multi-room applications [source: Darling, altE]. But keep in mind that these are supplemental heat sources; you'll still need your conventional heating system. Solar systems designed to provide central heating aim to replace 40 to 80 percent of conventional heating. They're most cost effective when providing 50 percent of the home's heat [source: NC Solar Center, U.S. Department of Energy]. A simple room heating unit, of course, won't cut your heating costs by that percentage. It will, however, reduce the amount of conventional heat you need to keep your home comfortable.
Installation is an extra expense. Simple unit installation is within the capacity of an experienced DIY-er, but solar air collectors measure around 4 feet (1.2 meters) wide by 7 feet (2.1 meters) high. And they're heavy, so you'll need a helper or two to mount one on a roof. You may need a building permit, and you'll definitely need to make sure that adding the collector to the roof won't exceed its load limit. Larger or more complex systems require ductwork and electrical wiring, but commercial manufacturers are making strides to simplify installations with integrated fans and thermostats that you can plug into existing outlets in your home. If you choose to hire a contractor, look for one with experience in solar installation technology.
Each home is different and climate conditions range widely from place to place, so how much money a solar air heater shaves off your heating bill depends on the condition of your house and where you live. If your house is poorly sealed and insulated, installing a solar heat unit won't save very much energy; solar heated air leaks out just as quickly as conventionally heated air does. Solar air heaters do their best work in areas with long, cold, sunny winters. In warmer regions with short winters, designing the system to do double-duty for household water heating during the summer increases cost effectiveness and accelerates ROI. This is more complicated than adding solar room heating. It requires the addition of an air-to-water heat exchanger to the system. Some designs also require plumbing. Like the solar air heater, this is supplemental energy. It won't replace electricity or natural gas for water heating in most climates, but you can make it work to reduce the cost of this function.
Find links for more energy saving innovations below.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- AltE University. "An Introduction to Solar Thermal: Solar Heaters and Solar Water Heaters." Solar Air and Water Heating. (Accessed 05/13/2009). http://howto.altestore.com/Library-Articles/Solar-Air-and-Water-Heating/An-Introduction-to-Solar-Thermal-Solar-Heaters-and-Solar-Water-Heaters/a83/
- Chiras, Dan. "Buyer's Guide to Solar Heating." Mother Earth News: December 2006/January 2007. (Accessed 05/13/2009). http://www.motherearthnews.com/Renewable-Energy/2006-12-01/Buyers-Guide-to-Solar-Heating.aspx
- Cohen, Ariel. "State of the Union 2007: Recognizing the Threat of Strategic Oil Dependency." The Heritage Foundation. January 24, 2007. (Accessed 05/18/2009). http://www.heritage.org/Research/EnergyandEnvironment/wm1324.cfm
- Darling, David. "Solar Air Heater." The Encyclopedia of Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living. (Accessed 05/13/2009). http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/S/AE_solar_air_heater.html
- Deri, Sascha. "Solar Air Heating: Overview." AltE University. Solar Air and Water Heating. (Accessed 05/13/2009). http://howto.altestore.com/Library-Articles/Solar-Air-and-Water-Heating/Solar-Air-Heating-Overview/a37/
- House-Energy. "Solar Air-Space Heating." (Accessed 05/13/2009). http://www.house-energy.com/Solar/Solar-air-heating.htm
- House-Energy. "Solar Space Heating Systems." (Accessed 05/13/2009). http://www.house-energy.com/Solar/Air-Options-Solution.htm
- Kornher, Steve with Andy Zaugg. The Complete Handbook of Solar Air Heating Systems. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1984.
- Murph, Darren. "DIY solar heater constructed with aluminum cans." Engadget, April 30, 2007. (Accessed 05/21/2009). http://www.engadget.com/2007/04/30/diy-solar-heater-constructed-with-aluminum-cans/
- North Carolina Solar Center. "Space Heating with Active Solar Energy Systems." North Carolina State University and North Carolina Department of Energy. June 2000. (Accessed 05/13/2009). http://www.ncsc.ncsu.edu/information_resources/factsheets/20acspht.pdf
- Pahl, Greg. Natural Home Heating: The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Options. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2003.
- Sustainable Sources. "Solar Hot Water, Heating and Cooling Systems." Sustainable Building Sourcebook. Updated September 12, 2008. (Accessed 05/13/2009). http://www.greenbuilder.com/sourcebook/HeatCool.html#ACTIVESPACE
- U.S. Department of Energy. "Active Solar Heating." Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; Energy Savers. Updated March 24, 2009. (Accessed 05/13/2009). http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/space_heating_cooling/index.cfm/mytopic=12490
- U.S. Department of Energy. "Solar Space Heating and Cooling." Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; Solar Energy Technologies Program. Updated July 11, 2007. (Accessed 05/13/2009). http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/sh_basics_space.html
- U.S. Department of Energy. "Ventilation Preheating." Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; Energy Savers. Updated December 30, 2008. (Accessed 05/13/2009). http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/space_heating_cooling/index.cfm/mytopic=12510