Natural Handyman's Links Library section header
Natural Handyman's Home Page Home repair articles and do it yourself tips Home repair contests at Sweepstakes Central Do it yourself books on a variety of home repair topics Tools Natural Handyman's Question and Answer archives Find a handyman or contractor for those small home repair jobs Select links to home repair and do it yourself products and services Advertising options on the Natural Handyman website Comments and questions

How To Make Your Own Solar Panel

Solar energy may seem like a complex term that is only understood by scientists and professors, but it is not as complicated as it sounds. At the core of solar energy is the fact that the sun beams down on the earth, releasing solar radiation. This radiation is a valuable source of energy that we can convert into electricity or fuel.

The amount of solar energy that reaches the earth's surface is astounding and could completely eliminate the need for any other energy source if we were able to collect it all. For this reason, scientists and engineers have focused on creating new and innovative ways to collect it. But you don't have to be a scientist to start collecting and using solar energy.

solar panels

Use the sun's energy! Design and make your own solar panels!

You can create your own solar panels out of materials found at your local hardware store and lumber yard. At Modernize we love fun and educational projects to do with your kids. This can even be a life hack for adding a little extra heat to your unheated garage or outbuilding. Follow these instructions for an easy and inexpensive way to make your own solar panel for supplementary heating in your home.

Read this whole article first before you start building...

This is not a precisely designed project.  We did not give you precise building dimensions for a reason.  Think of this article as a rough template... a foundation for you to use in designing your own unique solar collector.  "Absorb" the concepts, adapt them to your own needs and go for it!

Use old beer or soda cans to heat your home!

One method of building a solar panel makes use of a surprising tool: soda pop cans. Even though you can get solar heat from almost any box left in the sun, the advantage to using cans is that they increase the surface area, thereby increasing the amount of heat that's collected. The curve of the cans also allows for more collection as the sun moves across the sky. The panel pulls air from inside of your structure, heats it as it flows through the cans and the heated air flows back into the room.

First things first... design and build your solar box

The first step is to build a simple box out of plywood. Depending on your design needs and where you plan to place the box, it can be a horizontal or vertical as long as the cans are stacked vertically. The natural rise of heated air will assure that the air exiting the top of the box will be the hottest.

The number of the cans in the box is more important than the box's orientation, as a higher number of cans will allow greater heat collection. You will be stacking your soda cans atop one another, so measure the height of your cans and size the inside of your box accordingly. You will want to make your box is one extra inch taller than your can stacks or columns.

Plywood and soda can solar panel - prep

Drill holes in your solar box for airflow and seal your box so it is air-tight.

Drill a round hole at the top and bottom of your plywood box about 1 ½ inches in diameter. These two holes will allow for airflow once you put everything together and mount your panel.  The location is not critical except that they should not be covered by your soda can columns!  Locate the holes based on the intended final location of your solar panel.

Seal your box using adhesive caulk. Make sure to use silicone adhesive caulk since regular latex caulks are unable to withstand the heat. Rutland's 500 Degree High Heat Silicone Sealant is a great option, though there are others. Note that this caulk is NOT PAINTABLE so do not get any on the outside of the box if you want to paint or stain it!! If you use a black caulk, then it will better match the painted cans inside the box.

Perforate the can bottoms to allow heated air to flow...

The heated air will need to travel freely from can to can, so drill or poke one or several holes about the size of a nickel at the base of each can. Cans at the bottom of each column in the panel should have holes drilled in the sides since the bottoms of the cans will be against the frame. This will allow air to enter the columns.  See graphic below.

preparing soda cans 1    preparing soda cans 2    preparing soda cans 3

Time to assemble the columns...

Line the top of each can with caulk press them together.  You might find it easier to build the columns within the box to help keep them in alignment inside the wooden frame. If you do this, though, you'll have to be careful not to accidentally glue the cans in place before painting since you'll want to paint all sides of the cans!  Laying wax paper under the cans can help, since the caulk will not stick well to it.

Only use enough caulk to stick them together and to minimize "squeeze out".  Using a black high heat caulk, as recommended, will look better should any squeeze out.

caulk and glue soda cans 1            caulk and glue soda cans 2

Allow the caulk to dry. Once your cans are securely attached together, you'll want to paint the can columns with a paint that can withstand high temperatures and has a flat finish. This will optimize solar heat collection. You can find high temperature paints at your local hardware store, since these are normally used for ovens and wood stoves. (Note that in graphic below, the adhesive shown is not the one we recommend.  Use a high temperature adhesive caulk for best long term results.)

Installation of painted can columns into plywood box

Glue the black, painted can columns into your plywood box...

Use the high temperature caulk to secure the cans to the base of your plywood box. Attach a length of wet-vac hosing to each end of the box (see graphic above), where you've cut out holes, and seal this with caulk. The hoses will be the heat outlet so cut the hose to the any length you need. Cover the front of your plywood box with Plexiglas and secure with caulk.  Since this will be more visible, you might want to use a clear silicone caulk for this purpose.

Cut holes on the surface where you intend to mount it that correspond with the holes you drilled in your panel at the beginning for your exhaust and air inlet/outlet. An air compressor hose should work just fine. The hose opening at the bottom should be where the cool air flows in and also where you should install a fan to get the air moving. Run the same hose through the top so that the exhaust (heated air) flows back into the room.

Even though you can mount the panel on a flat surface, it is more effective to mount it on a slant. One way to do this is to build a frame that props it up on the lower end.

Voila!  Below view the final result... before the Plexiglas is installed!

Painted can columns within our solar plywood box
Courtesy Build it Solar

Your solar panel is now ready to start collecting energy and converting it to heat. It's amazing to see our planet sustaining itself and it may just inspire you to make other sustainable adjustments in other areas of the home.