Cheap Ways to Go Solar at Home

Cheap Ways to Go Solar at Home

Article by Timothy Peters

Have you noticed lately how many homes have walkway lights, and garden lights? And have you also noticed that on porches and in garages without electricity, there’s no a light on at night? If you have, then you’re seeing affordable solar at work.

The cost of photovoltaic (PV) cells used in many small items like outdoor lights, flashlights, and other items… calculators and chargers, for example, have gone down. Availability and variety have gone up. Why plug into an electrical outlet that gets its juice from fossil fuel CO-2 emitting power plants?

Yes, you can do the whole thing at once…a whole solar energy system to power your home. Or, you can start small and build on.

For example, you can build your own solar batch water heater with an old…but non-leaking electric hot water tank that you can probably pick up at a thrift or second hand store. Then, you’ll need to strip it down to the metal tank, clean out any built up sediment, spray paint it black, and add the fittings and pipes for water to come in and out. Build a collector box, which will collect the sun to be absorbed by the water heater next. The collector box needs to be large enough for the water tank to sit in, plus have enough room for good insulation, aluminum foil or some other reflector to line the box, and a glass cover. That’s the basics, or at least it should be enough to make you curious if you’re really interested in building your own solar water heater. If you want to see some real detail, along with photographs of what it looks like during construction and when it’s finished, there’s a good example at

They also have a good illustration there of a photovoltaic (PV) collector that sits on the roof and is connected to an insulated water storage tank in the attic. Cold water is pumped up a pipe from the home’s main water supply into the bottom of the storage tank and through the solar collector on the lower left-hand side. The hot water is returned from the collector to the top of the storage tank, and then through a hot water outlet, it is gravity-fed back into the faucets of the home.

If you’re a do-it-yourselfer ready to start building your own solar panels, you can do that as well. Of course you can also buy them pre-made and simply do your own installation.

If you’re ready to tackle making your own panels, however, you’ll need some space, and a few basic supplies, including solar cells (you may be able to find usable cells with minimal damage on eBay or similar sites), a shallow box built of plywood and painted that will hold your solar cells, Masonite pegboard or something similar, Plexiglass, glass or other clear protective glaze, hardware and screws, wire, silicone caulk, a diode and a jones plug. Connect the solar cells together by soldering them in a series with a blocking dioide mounted inside the panel, and a polarized two-pin jones plug connected at the end of the wires. Connect and protect the solar cells inside the box, cover it with the plexiglass, and seal it with silicone caulk to prevent damage. Once everything’s put together and properly sealed, the panel can be connected to an inverter and into your electrical grid, or into a battery bank. This is a pretty basic description, and you’ll want lots more detail I’m sure before you start. If you’re really interested, though, in building your own solar panels, you can see that it is very feasible.</P

You can get detailed description of how to construct a solar panel, including photographs and instructions, at various locations on the internet. One good site to vist is

Building codes and permits, of course apply, whether you’re building your own panels, or buying them and installing them yourself. This applies, also, when you’re having someone else do the installation.

All right, you’re off to a good start. You know you can do solar on a budget. And…you know that every little bit you can do lifts the amount of CO2 we put into the air to contribute to global warming.

About the Author

Timothy Peters is a home solar power enthusiast and author. He lives in Spokane, WA and enjoys teaching others how to save money on their utility bills and helping the planet through solar energy.

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