Five DIY Solar Projects You Can Make with Children

Sustainability is one of the hottest buzz words in power today. It basically describes a source of power that does not need to be created with intensive means. Solar uses the energy of the sun; no one needs to generate the UV rays, because the sun does. Utilizing woods that are responsibly grown and harvested ensures lumber for future generations; recycling accomplishes the same goals.

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Harnessing solar energy has been accomplished throughout history by using mirrors to reflect sunlight into buildings. Using a magnifying glass to start campfires is another example. There are DIY projects that you and the kids can make together to use in your home, camping or on vacation. They teach children about accomplishment, solar energy and sustainability.

Here are five DIY solar projects that won’t break the bank and are fun. Some require the use of a soldering iron, you can use this or teach your child how to use one.

DIY Solar Jar Lanterns

Jar lanterns are generally made with candles, but they require diligence to keep accidents from happening. Solar lanterns have solar cells in the top or lid that collect energy during the day and turn on at night. A light sensor accomplishes this. The power is stored in a rechargeable battery.

You can purchase ready-made solar light mason jar lids and attach them to new, vintage or antique jars for a spectacular display.

Here are ideas to help you customize your solar jars:

  • · The cost of the jars depends on whether you buy new, vintage, antique or are given the jars. You can also use commercial jars that you have on hand. You can use a plastic or metal lid to mount the solar unit into; be certain to use silicone sealant for water repellency.
  • · Purchase the solar stakes at garage sales, flea markets, discount stores or thrift stores after testing to ensure they work; sometimes the battery just needs replacement. These can be found online for a small charge. Take care in removing the light and solar unit.
  • · Use colored jars and spray with frosting or use them as they are.
  • · Use paper lantern shapes with solar lids that you make.

Solar Cooker, Oven Or Barbeque

Building your own solar cooker is easy and the cost is minimal. You can buy commercial versions of solar cookers or ovens, or follow free plans available on the internet. I have cooked various types of food simply by letting the sun do the work for me.

A solar barbeque can be used any time the sun is shining. Better still, it can be used during times when burning and barbeques are banned for air quality. The grill cooks any meat, has no fumes and requires no conventional fuel at all, just the sun.

This is a Solar BBQ grill plan that uses a satellite dish instead of umbrella listed in other sites, and a tripod instead of sawhorses to hold food for cooking. Design and build your own or purchase detailed plans.

Solar Heater

There are quite a few plans on the internet for building your own solar powered heater. You can use soda cans, steel cans or screen materials to collect heat from the sun. Free plans can be found on Utube and many other sites.

There are numerous plans that claim the heated air will rise naturally and make its way into the area you need to heat. This won’t happen; you need to

  • · Insert a small fan in the exhaust port to ensure air movement. You can make a damper from a piece of flashing and attach a coat hanger wire, long nail or other round piece of metal to the middle. Mount this inside the exhaust tube. Use a spring to keep it closed; you will have to adjust the spring tension so that the air blown by the fan will open the damper and allow heat into the room. The fan should plug into a programmable thermostat that is not near the unit. This will keep the room from overheating during the day. The thermostat will turn the fan on and off as needed.

In order to have heat from this unit after nightfall, you must find a way to store the heat. I’m working on a few ideas that I will experiment with and share if they are successful.

Without a thermal mass to store heat at night, you can use a space heater plugged into the thermostat, which will regulate the heat and save even more on the utility bills.

Solar Food Dehydrator

Having dried fruit, vegetables and meat is great for camping and emergencies. Buying can be expensive unless you are an expert at finding and taking advantage of sales. The easier way is to dry your own food. There are many commercially made dehydrators on the market that use energy; building a solar dehydrator is easier than you think and only requires scrap wood, screen material and free plans.

A small, backyard solar dehydrator can dry enough food for a family and friends. Read articles about choosing the food, preparing it properly, drying and packaging it for later use. Paint, stain or preserve the wood with UV protective sealant so that it will last for years. You can use brackets and removable bolts in order to facilitate breaking it down and storing it for the winter.

Another solar dehydrator is made without using wood; this one hangs in a tree, under your house soffit or in a garage. You can take it camping if the heat is right for drying food.

Solar Power Station

There are a lot of portable power stations available on the market that use solar panels to charge an internal battery. These batteries range from 35ah to 60ah. You can build your own portable solar power unit and spend as little or as much as you desire. Most units come with the following items:

  • · A deep cycle battery. Prices will vary by manufacturer, voltage, size of the battery, the number of ampere-hours, or ah, and the type of battery. Lead acid batteries are cheaper than sealed AGM, or aggregated glass matt batteries. The more ah you want, the higher the price. A 12volt battery is best.
  • · A solar panel, charge controller, ammeter and 12volt outlet.
  • · If you want to run an 110volt AC, or alternating current (aka house current) device, you will need an inverter as well. Be sure to buy an inverter that is rated for higher wattage than your device in order to allow for power surges. These happen when a device is turned on. This is most often seen in devices such as refrigerators and air conditioners.

As you and the children build these devices, you can discuss disaster preparedness ideas, energy conservation, science, camping ideas and more. You can make these items for home use or to give as gifts.

Source: The author of this article has over 40 years of experience in diverse subjects and skills such as DIY, home improvement and repair, crafting, designing, and building furniture, outdoor projects, RV’ing and a consummate movie fan.

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