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Dear Jim: I'm not handy with tools, but I would like to build a low-cost solar heater for my house. My heating bills are too high now. What simple design, that does not require big roof collectors, is best? - T. J.
A: In the past several years, there has been a resurgence of homeowners' interest in using various methods of solar heating. Residential solar heating is free, quiet and non-polluting. Building one yourself also sets a good example for your children and helps protect the environment.
There are several simple do-it-yourself solar heater designs that can easily heat one or two rooms on a sunny winter day. In the summer, these solar heaters convert to natural whole-house exhaust fans.
A flat (only 5 inches deep) solar heater, mounted on a wall, is the least expensive and easiest design to build. Its construction plans call for many common scrap materials to keep the cost low. If you finish the edges neatly with cheap aluminum angle, it will look just like a large picture window on your house. If you do not need natural ventilation in the summer, it can easily be removed and stored in a garage.
Old corrugated metal roofing, sheet metal or scrap printing plates from a print shop make efficient solar collector sheets. Use an old storm door or inexpensive clear plastic for the front cover. Size the heater to use standard lumber (4 ft. x 8 ft.) for the least waste and lowest cost.
This basic solar design concept is a shallow box with a clear front cover. Inside, a black solar collector sheet absorbs the sun's heat. Room air circulates between the insulated back of the solar box and the collector sheet. The air picks up the solar heat from the collector sheet.
Scrap corrugated metal roofing is particularly good to use because it causes turbulence in the air flow. This increases the heat transfer to the room air and boosts its efficiency. It also catches more of the sun's rays.
For the greatest solar heat output, mount the solar heater with the inlet and outlet openings both at the bottom. This design requires a small air circulation fan to force the cool room air in and the heated air back out. To avoid using a fan, mount the solar heater on its side with one opening above the other. The less dense heated air will naturally flow up and out.
Another effective design is a solar Trombe wall. This is a decorative indoor masonry wall built just behind a large window. The wall stores the sun's heat during the day as room air circulates past it for distribution.
Instant Download Update Bulletin No. 940 - do-it-yourself instructions for making a simple solar water heater and a thermosyphoning air panel, diagrams and required materials list for both designs.
Dear Jim: I popped the cover off of my wall thermostat to clean it. I saw a small dial inside with some numbers like .1 to 1.2 on it. How should I adjust this for the best efficiency? - R. B.
A: What you saw inside was a heat anticipator. It is a small device that helps the thermostat hold room temperatures more constant as the furnace cycles on and off. You really should not try to adjust it yourself. Your service technician uses an ammeter to set it properly for a specific current. If you did move it, adjust it to the center setting and have your serviceman check it later.