New solar heating
When the back bedroom, the bunkie, or the cottage workshop needs a little warming up, but a small plug-in electrical heater isn’t enough (or your cottage is off-grid), and a woodstove is more heating power than you need, is there another option? A Newfoundland company has found a way to combine sunshine and libations—two things dear to most every cottager—into a supplemental heat source that is almost free to operate.
Cansolair units encase an array of 240 empty pop or beer cans inside a clear plastic-and-metal solar panel that’s about the size of a doorway. The panel gathers and traps heat from the sun, and is mounted on the cottage roof; to capture more of the low-angle winter sun, on an exterior, south-facing wall. Air from inside the room heats as it passes through the aluminum cans placed end-to-end inside the casing. Some units require 30 watts of electricity to power an electric fan that pushes the warm air through a duct in the wall and into the cottage. The company claims that Cansolair units can output up to 10,000 BTUs.
Because they only work when the sun shines, Cansolairs are useful only as a supplemental heat source during the day. Gary Poxleitner is the co-owner of 3e Solutions, a company that installs Cansolair units. He also has one in his house. “It’s a nice, dry heat,” said Poxleitner. Before installing, he does a site assessment to see if a particular building will get enough sun for the unit to work. If your place is crowded by big trees, solar heating likely isn’t an option.
Last fall, Don Wright had a Cansolair unit installed at his cottage at Tobacco Lake on Manitoulin Island. Surrounded by empties in his day job at a beer store, Wright was intrigued by a free-to-operate heating system that uses cans as its key component. Wright uses the Cansolair unit to warm two hard-to-heat upstairs bedrooms of his cottage. On a clear winter day the rooms are about 21°C. “I figured I had nothing to lose by going with it and we’re very happy with the heat it delivers,” said Wright. Cansolair units cost $2,700 plus about $500 for a wall installation ($900 for a roof installation), though handy types can install them as a DIY project.
And if you’re a real keener, Mother Earth News offers instructions to build a similar solar heat collector from scratch—start saving your beer cans!