The sun is one of the most reliable sources of warmth on the Earth, so why not use it for your home heating? Solar-powered heaters take the comfort and convenience of conventional heating and combine it with energy-efficient solar energy for an interior heat source that’s as great for your energy bills as it is for that cold spot in your bedroom.
If you’re thinking about converting your existing heating system with a solar heat source, there are a couple different paths to get there. You can supplement your conventional forced air system with a solar space heater, or connect a solar collector or hot water storage tank to a radiant floor system, baseboard heaters or even a forced air unit. Here’s a brief rundown of all the most popular methods.
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Portable Solar Air Heaters
Solar Infra Systems is the most respected names in solar heater tech. In fact, they make one of the few—if not the only—commercially available portable solar air heaters out there. And you can purchase these units at retailers like Walmart and Home Depot! They offer three residential units, one free-standing portable model and two window-mounted units.
Each heater pulls in cold air from the interior of the room at the bottom of the unit, runs it across the sun-heated solar collectors, and pushes it out near the top of the unit. The warm air is forced through a connected duct, which you can move around the room to place it in the most convenient spot.
Radiant Floor Heating
Solar makes the perfect heat source for installed radiant floor heating. Typically, in these kinds of setups, a solar heated storage tank is connected to the radiant system to pump heated liquid through the pipes embedded in the radiant flooring. There’s often a gas, electric or oil backup for particularly cold days. These systems work well in areas that have a high potential for solar activity—especially in homes that already have a radiant system in place.
Retrofitting your existing floors with a subfloor heating system can be pretty intrusive since it requires ripping out your existing floors and subfloors and replacing them with new concrete slab flooring. And it’s fairly costly—expect to spend between $9,000 to $22,000 on average for a 1,500 square foot home. But it’s undoubtedly one of the most comfortable and quietest heating systems around.
Hot Water Baseboards or Radiators
That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the benefits—financial and otherwise—of solar-powered heating unless you have radiant heating installed in your home. Hot-water baseboards and radiators offer a less invasive alternative to radiant floor heating.
These are usually connected to flat plate collectors, similar to a solar hot water heating system. The baseboards or radiators have a larger surface area than conventional electric heaters so they can hold more heat. Most homeowners choose to connect them to a backup heat source for colder weather.
Solar-Connected Forced Air Systems
It is possible to connect a liquid solar heating system to a forced air system, though it will take a little work. Mainly, you need to install a liquid-to-air heat exchanger or heating coil in the return duct before it reaches the furnace. Air cycled through the duct will be heated as it passes over the solar-warmed liquid in the coil, then blown out into the rooms of your home.
The heating coil itself is fairly inexpensive—you can pick one up for a couple hundred dollars or so. But you’ll probably want to hire a professional HVAC technician to place the exchanger in your return duct, which can drive up the cost a little bit.
However, supporting your heating unit with a 100% free heat source will make a big difference in your energy bills, even if it’s only supplementing a conventional heating unit. And that’s a great reason to get on board with solar heating!