Energy from the sun can be harnessed and turned into free hot air to heat your home by a simple device known as a solar thermal panel. Building a solar thermal collector is simple and inexpensive. Essentially, it is a wooden framed box lined with some sort of insulating material and covered in glass. The box is then attached to a window in your home through any of many methods so that air in the box is heated by the sun and then allowed to flow into your home.
The design of this collector can vary greatly depending on how and where you intend to mount it. If you are building the unit into an existing window, you will want to design it to the exact dimensions of the window. However, the collector can be mounted by a simple lip over a window seal or it can even be built directly onto the wall of your house.
Although the shape and size of the collector can vary, the basic materials typically remain the same. You will need 2" x 4"s and piece of plywood cut to the right dimensions for the frame. If the collector will be inside a window, you will need plexiglas cut to size, otherwise you will need to use double-insulated glass. You will need enough aluminum flashing to line the entire frame, some old computer fans, and incidental tools, screw bolts, and staples.
A design made to fit inside a window is the simplest. Construct the frame out of 2" X 4"s and plywood to meet your dimensions. Cover the inside of the frame completely in the aluminum flashing but leaving one side unsecured until the fan wires are run through it. Add a series of three baffle boards made out of 2" X 4"s to create a three tier channel for the air to flow through. The baffles should be cut or sanded to be flush with edges of the frame. Cut a hole at the end of the channel at the top of the collector and at the beginning of the channel at the bottom of the collector and mount the fans so that the bottom fan takes air in and the top fan blows air out. Be sure the run the fan wires beneath the aluminum flashing to whatever power source you are using. Test the fans.
Once everything is working properly, cover the entire panel with plexiglas and carefully caulk all of the edges to make the panel air tight. Mount it inside your window with the plexiglas flush against the glass of the window. Power up the fans and let the collector do its work.
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