Keep cool with cost-free solar power

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Old Sol will try to fry your hide

That old sun beats down on your house and really “does a number” on your electricity bill. Where I live, summertime is thought to be relatively cool whenever the midday temperature does not go over 95 degrees in the shade. Some areas boast of even higher temperatures. People want to do something to gain relief from that sort of heat – so they twist the air conditioning thermostat dial downward. That, of course, results in their electricity bills heading upward.

Cool costs

At our place, we try to leave the thermostat dial alone, using the air conditioner as sparingly as we can. We understand that paying for those increased electricity bills requires us to sweat more working to get the money with which to pay them. So we turn on some fans to move the room air around as much as we can, thereby feeling cooler with having saved a bit of gold and also in fact. Moving air cools the body a lot more than does non-moving air.

As the sun beats down on the house, the temperature inside rises above that of outside air overall. It would be helpful to get some of that outside air inside, wouldn't it? Once inside, moving that fresher air around and then back to the outside once more would give us at least a small advantage over what would otherwise become too much heat in the house.

This is not the kind of chimney we are dealing with here. Hot sun -tall chimney-not the same thing
This is not the kind of chimney we are dealing with here. Hot sun -tall chimney-not the same thing | Source

You could plug in a fan, but...

A simple device would be useful in moving cooler air in and exchanging it for hotter room air to be moved out. In the way of words, these devices are often referred to as solar chimneys. Air goes into the bottom of the solar chimney and exits through its top, just like smoke does in a fireplace or an industrial chimney. The power needed to move hot, unwanted air from the base of the chimney, through the chimney, and out of its top is, in the instance of the solar chimney, radiation from the sun.

Blowing up thermometers

It is startling to witness the amount of energy that can be visited upon things by sunlight. One time, some years ago, a friend and I were piddling around with a solar energy collector we had put together. It was built as a wood-framed enclosure that measured about three feet wide, four feet long, and six inches in depth. The inside was painted jet black. The broad side facing the sun was window glass. There was a small hole drilled into the box for placement of a tall industrial thermometer, the kind that used a column of mercury to indicate the temperatures reached in testing. In went the thermometer. Then we put the solar collector box into the bright sunshine of the day. At the ten-minute mark, the thermometer, with a top reading potential of 500 degrees, Fahrenheit, blew up – destroying itself and telling us that sunlight hitting the black inside of our box produced oven-type heat beyond our earlier guesstimates.

Kinda like Goldilocks – Not too hot, but just about right

The solar chimney is an open solar energy collector. It will not become super-heated. However, it will get very hot, both inside and outside. This will heat the air inside the chimney to the degree that the air will rush to the top – but, in order to move like that, the air will have to be replaced as it moves up the chimney. In other words, just as in fireplace and industrial chimneys, there must be a “draft.”

Drafts do more than just supply soldiers for the Army

If that replacement air can be supplied from a room in the house, then it will be hot house air that will be the source. As that unwanted room air leaves the room to make the solar chimney happy and workable, hopefully cooler air will enter the room from the outside. It is always possible that this “cooler air” may not really be cooler than the room air it is replacing, but even then, it will be moving air. The hotter the chimney becomes, the faster the air in the room will move, always trying its best to get to the solar chimney for a sun-sponsored free ride up into the heavens above.

Nor is this the kind of chimney we are dealing with, either...
Nor is this the kind of chimney we are dealing with, either... | Source

Make your own solar chimney

You need a large pipe of some sort for the solar chimney part. Round pipe, such as a stove pipe would work. It should be a foot or two in diameter and probably about 10 to 15 feet in length, and thick enough to be able to stand vertically without crumpling. It should be painted jet black with non-glossy paint, thus being able to better absorb sun radiation, reflecting as little of that as possible. If you believe that super-heat inside the chimney would better suit your needs, you could get carried away somewhat more by making a clear plastic envelope around the chimney that better traps the sun's heat onto the black-painted chimney pipe.

At the bottom of the chimney would be a large diameter pipe of some workable material that serves as the air input port to the chimney. A duct of either fixed or flexible material would be attached to the air input pipe, leading from a partially open window of the room to be cooled. When that window is opened and its output duct thereby actuated, air will leave the room toward the solar chimney provided that the chimney is appropriately heated. This pulls new air into the room, cooling it – or at the least, moving the room air so as to provide some cooling to room occupants.

It would not be the worst of all ideas to keep rain, leaves, bugs, birds, and critters out of your chimney, however even that is not vital to its working well. For this, some sort of mesh screening is fastened to the top of the chimney and a cap, separated from the top by enough space so as to not slow down the flow of rising air, should be fastened above the open top of the chimney, too.

Solar chimney diagram prepared using the Logo Editing feature of Serif PagePlus X5
Solar chimney diagram prepared using the Logo Editing feature of Serif PagePlus X5 | Source

Comparing these little chimneys to whole-house chimneys

This simple gadget is easy to put together. The big kid in the family is the solar chimney attached to the house, going up into the air perhaps 30 feet or more. Surrounded for much of its length by a sturdy plastic envelope, big solar chimneys like those are used to change room air throughout an entire building. The air pulled from the building leaves near the top of the building, with fresh air entering somewhere close to building bottom. Air movement in chimneys like those can be great enough to think of installing electrical generation turbines inside the chimney pipes. Additionally, ducting could be placed deep in the ground surrounding a building such that incoming air could be pre-cooled by the constantly lower temperatures typically ten feet or so underground. Even in the height of summertime heating, underground temperature where I live is probably in the range of 55 to 65 degrees, Fahrenheit.

Dampness and insects could pose problems with such air input schemes, but that is often the kind of difficulty with which gadgeteering is tested. You get rid of one problem and another one meets you head on.

Ready, aim, fire – before you are fired upon

So, what I hope that this little article teaches is that, before you get all bent out of shape by the hot summer days to come, it might not be a bad idea to mess around with some solar stuff beforehand. Then, when the summer heat strikes, you might be ready to swat back at it.

Be kind to your six-legged friends, for a fly may be somebody's mother...
Be kind to your six-legged friends, for a fly may be somebody's mother... | Source

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Comments 28 comments

sallybea profile image

sallybea 3 years ago from Norfolk

Great read as always Gus, especially good to read whilst the British temperature plummets to an all time low with unbelievably cold weather for March. My but you sure make those words flow on the pages. Always such a joy to read, no matter what the subject! I am suitably impressed with your coiling system too, I could have done with one of those when I lived in Africa. Voted up and shared.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA Author

Howdy Sally (sallybea) -

Indeed we have been hearing about that "balmy" springtime weather you all are enjoying. Nothing like a wee bit of global warming, right?

Happened to be editing and messing around with this little article just now and picked up on the fact that your comment was here - so I jumped on it to provide a reply. It is always good to hear from you - and your kind words are gratifying, mainly because I don't believe any of the really good ones. :-)

I'd have put up another article, that one concerned with my no-moving-part solar air conditioner - but it went the way of some of my other hairbrained schemes. The doggone thing blew up.

Gus :-)))


sallybea profile image

sallybea 3 years ago from Norfolk

Hi Gus, Trust me, you sure have a way with words. I look forward to every 'new edition' You had better believe it! You keep on having fun but try not to blow yourself up with one of your 'hairbrained schemes. I sure would miss you if you were to go up in smoke.


Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 3 years ago from Rural Arizona

Gus, very interesting hub. It points out just one of the things most homeowners can do to trim their electric bills and still remain fairly comfortable. It should also be noted that this same principle works in the winter. The chimney will pull heated air out of the house and replace that with cold air from outside that leaks in through improperly sealed doors and windows. That is a bad thing.

When we are paying to heat the house, we would want to make certain the opening to the chimney was properly sealed off to save the heat we just paid for.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA Author

Hi Mike (Old Poolman) -

Yes. You have to keep the chimney shut off from the house during the winter - unless you let it get good and hot on a sunny day and use a fan to get warm air from the chimney into the house. There's a guy on Quirky.com who has a heat collector he wants to put into windows to collect sun radiation at that position and heat air within his collector - then direct the air into the room. Air won't flow in that direction easily, but I suppose he channels it out of the top of his collector with room air going in at the bottom. If that is so, you have a heater in the window space. Some time back I placed a 55-gallon, black-painted drum of water at the inside wall of a greenhouse I had built for my bride. It would get warmed up during the day and release warmth into the greenhouse in the dark hours. Worked pretty well. Emptied it of water in the summer to effectively "turn it off," Now then, someone is going to ask, What's on the bottom of that big chimney pipe?" My reply would be, "Probably nothing is on its bottom. It sits on the ground (or in a hole in the ground) and that is closed enough. If everyone's bottom were as closed as that, not only would the air be better to breathe, but the world might even become somewhat quieter, too." :-)

Gus :-)))


Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 3 years ago from Rural Arizona

Great idea on the barrel of water for the green house. I made a solar oven once and actually baked a loaf of bread. It required constant small turns of the oven to keep the sun focused, but it worked great.

Sadly however, I could never convince my wife that this was the way to go for baking bread. She prefers turning a knob and setting a timer to constantly tracking the sun and adjusting the direction of the oven.

Ideally, we would build our houses underground eliminating the need for heat and air conditioning completely. Heck, I think the cave men were ahead of us on this one.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA Author

Mike (Old Poolman) -

Right on. There's a fellow nearby whose house is about 50% below ground level. One of these days I might call on him to see how that is working out for him.

Gus :-)))


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA Author

Sally (sallybea) -

Well, I went and skipped right over your most recent comment. That is probably how I am constructed. Hop, skip, jump - splat ! :-)

OK - I am attempting to revise an "oldie" that I refer to as a "power cube." I have seven thumbs and zero fingers, so when I tried to have someone put a power cube together for me to use in a serious demo, no one showed up at the table. This is an interesting gadget based on some well-known (and often used) physical principles. I showed some folks how to lift a heavy desk with it one time - no hands or feet and just a wee bit of other body power made it work well. Lifted myself up several feet from the floor one time right next to where my bride was snoozing on the couch - fell off and scared the daylights out of that lady. There are some industrial uses for this powerful gadget in everyday use, but no one seems to be using the stuff around the house. Not ready to go with it yet, but sooner or later...

Gus :-)))


Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 3 years ago from Rural Arizona

Gus, I worked on a house many years ago up in Moab, Utah. The owner had drilled and blasted rooms back into one of the sandstone cliffs and built his home inside. They cut trenches in the floor for electrical and plumbing, then poured concrete on the floor. They framed and sheet rocked the walls and most of the ceiling. The living room ceiling was left open with a high cathedral type solid sandstone natural surface. The front was all glass with a beautiful view of the town and the surrounding mountains. The inside temperature stayed close to 78 degrees year around with no heat or A/C.

Needless to say, the place was not only beautiful, but very thrifty to to maintain.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA Author

Mike - Your description reminds me of the "Felsenkirche" (church in the rock or cliff) overlooking Idar-Oberstein in West Germany. You can put those into search engines and see some interesting history stuff. Several of us goofy GI's had some adventures there, too. Almost lost one of our buddies who tried his doggonedest to fall hundreds of feet down the cliff before we grabbed him back to remain in the land of the living and the home of the poor. Sure enough, Mike, grunts like you and I surely did get many a free ride around this little world, didn't we?

Gus :-)))


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA Author

Mike - One more thing about houses...

One of my patients at the clinic in Prescott, Arizona (a wonderfully cool place even in the heat of summertime) was an older guy who had received a patent on his house design. He built the thing atop a mountain to achieve clear viewing 360 degrees around. His house was rotatable 360 degrees around, too. If he wanted his view to changed, he'd hit the switch and around the house would turn. I never did learn how he kept the wiring and plumbing from getting ripped out, but I suppose that it was all in the center and did not turn when the house turned. Not going to try to figure it out, either. If I could remember the guy's name, I'd look up his patent some day, but that name is gone like my first, second thru tenth million bucks... :-)

Gus :-)))


Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 3 years ago from Rural Arizona

Sounds like the planetariums that sit on ball bearings and can be completely rotated with a little 12 volt motor. We actually have the technology to build homes that would require very little from the utility providers. 12 volt lighting with small solar arrays and deep cycle batteries could handle all of the lighting needs. When I win the lottery I will build one of these houses.


drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida

I like the solar chimney idea, Gus, and I was on the verge of trying it out where I live. But then I realized I could never get permission from the building manager so another idea shot to you know where.

Wonder if he would agree to the 360 degree rotating unit?


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA Author

Good Doctor bj (drbj) -

I'm on my way to the pharmacy to get a headache powder because of building managers like the one you boast of... :-)

Life in a multi-occupancy place would be difficult for me beyond belief. If I were not allowed to piddle around with stuff, I suppose I'd go nutso on everyone. My problem here today is that there are so many trees surrounding our yard that the sun hits this part and then that part whenever Thor helps God move the clouds around so that sunlight can sneak in on us. Now, our rooftop is always sunny, so I'm considering making a unit to stick up there via the two legs of one of my grandsons on my big ladder. I don't do ladders any more. Reminds me of my father.

In his older years - like close to 80 if not there yet, he placed a tall ladder on top of the porch roof of our 3-story tall house so that he could replace a big rock that had fallen from the stone chimney above the house. Up he went after sousing the cavity with wet cement, big rock in one hand. My mother down below yelling at him, "Be careful, Gus, be careful..." He leaned way over, rock still in hand, and yelled back, "Go away, you are bothering me..." Cool Dad, mine. Gotta smile, cause he gave me the genes for that stuff.

Gus :-)))


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America

Our town has one underground home that I was lucky enought to visit with friends in high school; but it's still in use. It was the most confortable place I've seen to this day. The entrance was a like greenhouse in itself, with all the plants and a nice skylight. Over in Dayton OH, an underground office building did well for many years until the land was sold for other uses.

Your solar chimney is a great idea and we could have used it last year when it was 100 degrees F for much of July. The way things are progressing this year, it may snow this July!


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA Author

Hi Patty - (Patty Inglish,MS) -

It is said that many, maybe most, of us have Neanderthal genes left inside of us, so maybe cave-dwelling is part of the plan.

I don't know who came up with solar chimneys, but I think it to be a nifty idea. I am going to try to put a good one together this year, more for the fun of it than anything else. Summertime here is the super-hot part of the year and very costly in terms of those electrical bills for the A/C units that have to run full blast for so many hours a day. We'll see what happens come late June and on through September.

Gus :-)))


DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Interesting and a some what new idea to Croatia. I haven't heard of cost-free solar power. here but I have learned more of the idea.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA Author

Bok Devika (DDE) -

Power you can use in the home and at work is always available from the sun's radiation - sometimes strong and sometimes weak. The idea is to figure out ways to grab some of that energy and use it - to heat, to cool, to make electricity, and so on. Every year there is a great big contest in Australia in which teams of students from colleges and universities around the world compete with each other using solar-powered automobiles in long-distance races, races that go on for several days. That sort of thing is very "way out," or esoteric. Getting a little bit of heat or a small amount of cooling from the capture of a small amount of sun energy is "tiny" technology and easy for almost everyone to understand and to apply.

Gus :-)))


drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida

Aha, Gus, now I know whose feisty genes you inherited. Your dad must have been a lovable, powerful son-of-a-gun.

You are so right - living in a condo takes some getting used to. But I have already done the large house with a too large lawn multiple times. So at this point in my live it suits me well.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA Author

Good Doctor bj (drbj) -

Those who live in condos should not throw chondrites (nor sit on them, swallow them, or think that there are rules that can be broken about them...).

You are correct, however, in believing that my Pop was unusual for a straight sort of guy. He and one of my brothers-in-law sweet-talked my mother into giving Pop one-time permission (finally) to bet actual money on a horse race. What did the two do next? They collaborated on constructing a large multi-slider slide rule into which they could put Pop's horserace formula to figure out the first 6 positions for each of 8 races on 2 racetracks on a single weekend of racing. Pop told me later that he had taken his 25 bucks to Belmont (along with one excited brother-in-law) and, in the first 15 minutes around all of the people and horses, losing every penny of it. Oh, yes. It scares me to think how much like Pop his son turned out. Scary. That's the right word.

Gus :-)))


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

They always say that the acorn does not fall far from the tree. Sounds like your Pop was a great guy. Enough said! Too bad you do not have a patent on your idea of a solar powered chimney. Keep coming up with those ideas Gus. We need them in sun soaked Texas and other areas of our country that heat up in the summer. Up, interesting vote and sharing. :))


Mommy Needs a Nap profile image

Mommy Needs a Nap 3 years ago from Arkansas

Very interesting article. I am going to check on that for myself.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA Author

Hello Peggy (Peggy W) -

You got it exactly right. Both Pop was and I am nutso. As they say, "It runs in the family" but now it has slowed down to a walk, and that's for certain. A patent on solar chimneys would be nice, but the techniques are so very old that no one could any longer have patent protection on them. Great ideas, those, whoever it was who first thought of them. I forget where and when I first encountered that stuff, but it was obviously good stuff - as you say - here in the hot country of Texas. Thanks for your interest in this and, of course, for sharing.

Maybe, when I stick the solar chimney out into the world this year, one of your beautiful and interesting drgaon flies will perch on its top, sort of like a natural "hood" ornament...

Gus :-)))


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA Author

Hi Michelle (Mommy Needs a Nap) -

There's a ton of info on this solar chimney stuff out there on the Internet. Enjoy reading some of it. Maybe you can get the older of those 6 kids to work on putting one of these things together for you.

Gus :-)))


KwameG profile image

KwameG 3 years ago from MS

Very very interesting, will be digging into this more, thanks for the inspiration.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

I think this would help one survive, if needed! Interesting post and you write it with such wit!


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA Author

KwameG - I am glad this piqued your interest. And you are most welcome. Wouldn't it be great if either you or I had thought of this first?

Gus :-)))


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA Author

teaches12345 - As I long ago explained to my bride-to-be, if I only had about another quarter of one wit more, I could be in the half-wit class. (She did not understand, so I felt we were most compatible with one another.) I am glad, none-the-less, that you found this solar chimney stuff to be of interest.

Gus :-)))

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