Baby It’s Cold Out There – but warm in here!

Solar Hot Air Panels Doing Their Job

I was initially uncertain about the value of buying solar hot air panels. The therms we were told the two panels would produce seemed like they would be too little to make a difference. But now that it’s down around 30 degrees, I’ve got to say, I’m loving it!

I work in a second floor home office. The stairwell door is kept closed from the cat and hot air vents are closed to keep heat in the main areas of the house for our roommates. The general house thermostat is set at 57 to 62 degrees F and the second floor would get very cool. I used to wear gloves and kept a blanket to cover my legs.

Then we installed 2 solar hot air collectors. There is a box on the wall in my office that shows me the heat that is available in the solar panels and the air temp indoors on the second floor. On a sunny winter day when it’s below zero, I’ve seen as much as 120 degrees of heat in the panels! Today has been partly cloudy and the fan has kicked in a few times, bringing the office to 65 degrees.

I work on the phone a lot and the fan noise is noticeable but not usually a problem (even though the fan is located directly behind my chair.)

People have asked how much it has reduced our heating bills. I can’t answer that question. We didn’t have any vents on the outside walls on the second floor so the solar installers couldn’t hook into the regular heating system. The space is 480 sf and has only one cold air return (and a stairwell). I’m not sure how well the heat upstairs gets circulated around the house. My hope is that less gas heating on this floor means more heat stays in the basement and first floor, reducing our gas use.

What I can say is how much of a difference it has made in my comfort while working — no more cold hands or blankets. The 2nd floor is reasonably well insulated so the warmth stays on into the evening. Often the fan kicks on in the morning by 8:00 am so it’s warming as I rise.

Alternative energy sources for heating is a real problem for Minnesota homes. To provide us with natural gas for heat, people living in other states have to live with the risks of fracking. It’s not a fair trade-off but there haven’t been a lot of options. Solar hot air collectors are one part of the solution.

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