Adventures in Passive Solar Appliances at Heathcote Community

by Rebekah Hicks

Summer Solstice has come and gone and we have been very aware of the omnipresent power of the sun. We celebrate this time of fire, energy and passion, and this is a time of 'getting things done.' The plants are growing beyond belief, the animals are out and about doing their things and at Heathcote we are preparing for our annual Permaculture Design Course. The design course gives us an opportunity to get feedback on the sustainability of our site. It's a slow process, limited by finances and free time, but we keep working toward increased sustainability.

One of our obvious deficiencies is fuel. All of our energy needs are supplied by electricity and propane (periodically supplemented by firewood but more for ambiance than fuel purposes). This means that we are very dependent on 'the grid'. This presents us with a resiliency problem. Were we for some reason unable to use these sources all of our fuel uses would be compromised, particularly cooking, heating and lighting. Any number of things could cause changes disabling our use of electricity or propane. Local financial problems limiting our available currency, large scale economic problems skyrocketing the cost of these energy sources, or natural disasters physically disrupting the distribution of them. Clearly to be resilient to change we must repeat functions, we must find other sources of fuel.

Another problem with our current use of fuel is a lack of sustainability. Using propane or coal (used to generate electricity), we are using these resources at a much faster rate than they can be replaced. We can shift our energy use to the sun's renewable energy and also be reduce pollution from burning fossil fuels.

But as always we should keep my favorite principle in mind as we look for changes to make - appropriate scale. Converting the mill to Photovoltaic Cells is more costly than we can currently handle, and we're just not ready to build a new structure. We decided to look at smaller more manageable fuel needs and try to find alternative sources for them.

Cooking. Linda and Joshua (12 year old) set about to create a solar oven. They started with two cardboard boxes, additional cardboard, white glue, aluminum foil and a piece of glass. The most time-consuming part of the project was gluing foil to just about everything! The inside of the larger, outer box; both sides of the inner box; pieces of cardboard to act as insulation between the two boxes; and the reflector which they made from the lid of the outer box. The inner box contains a dark tray to absorb the heat. The food to be cooked is placed in the inner box in a dark container, which also helps the food absorb heat. Josh designed a side door for the oven that will minimize heat loss when opening and closing it. This means the glass on top of the oven can be placed permanently and glazed in place, resulting in less leakage of heat. They eventually intend to build more permanent wood solar ovens and some solar food dryers in which we can dry fruit from our orchard (yum)!

Heating. Water that is. Rebekah and Arthur have undertaken to build a solar shower up on the hill near the trailer. The shower design came from folks at 'The Farm' Community in Tennessee. It consists of a wooden Cabana with 'SunWings Solar Water Heater' on top facing due south. SunWings is essentially the tank of an old 40 gallon Hot water heater that doesn't have to work, but can't leak. The tank is painted with special solar absorptive paint and wrapped with solar grade fiberglass. Then curved 'wings' are constructed on each side and lined with reflector panels which reflect additional sun onto the tank. The tank has a constant supply of water, such that as hot water is taken out the top, more water enters the bottom to be heated. We are currently constructing it to be a three season shower, as ambient air temperature would limit it's use in the winter. Design course participants will be using it this year, as well as our annual SoL guests for the autumn quarterly meeting.

For more information, try:
Solar Cooking Archive