Category Landscape Lighting

Solar Cooking

Here’s a fun and potentially productive project that anybody can do. For less than $50, you can make a good solar oven. You can easily save this much in power bills over the course of a sunny season, and if you make your oven with enough quality, you can use it most of the year. Plus, in the summer, you won’t be heating your house with conventional cooking.

Solar Hat Fans

This is a cheap toy, but a fun one. Give solar hat fans as gifts that people will remember for their novelty. Kids will have a gas with them. Solar hat fans are small solar-powered fans that clip onto your hat visor, and they cost only $10 apiece. If you’ve got a business, put your logo on the fans and hand them out to potential customers. Look up www. realgoods. com for a supply.

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Battery Chargers

If you use a lot of batteries, you can drastically cut back on battery costs by using rechargeable batteries in conjunction with a solar charger. And I’m not only talking about the standard household batteries, either. You can get solar chargers for vehicle batteries, notebook computer batteries, and small appliances.

Using these devices gives you a very good lesson on PV technology because you’ll need to locate the PV panel in a good, sunny spot to get the most juice into your batteries.

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Sun Tea

Here’s the cheapest project you can possibly do with the sun. Put some tea bags and water in a big glass jar with a lid, and leave it in the sunshine for a few hours. By the middle of the afternoon, you’ll have refreshing sun tea. You don’t need to heat water on the stove or in the microwave, and the tea tastes wonderful. (Just don’t leave the jar in the sun too long.)

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Solar Fountains

You can get a good solar fountain for under $100. The water will flow when the sky is sunny and cut back when it’s cloudy. You’ll be aware of how much sunshine you are receiving at any given time.

You can build a large solar fountain for a little bit more if you do most of the labor yourself and use natural landscaping elements, like indigenous rocks.

You can build a really big fountain, and the only cost you’ll incur is for the solar pump.

You can build a solar fountain with a large upper reservoir so you can even out the fluctuations in water flow when the sun changes. The reservoir also allows you to save the water for use later, like when you’re dining nearby.

You can locate a solar fountain anywhere, as long as you put the PV panel in sunlight.

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Sunscreens with Roll-up Mechanisms

A lot of sunlight comes into your non-northern windows over the course of a hot day. This has two negative effects. First, the sunlight makes the room temperature hotter, and second, the bright light makes the room seem hotter (a psychological effect). It’s a fact that if two rooms are the same exact tem­perature, but one has a lot of sunlight and the other is dark, people prefer the darker room.

Solar screens reduce the amount of sunlight coming into a room by up to 90 percent. It costs around $2 per year to cover a typical window, and the effect is dramatic. You get the most heat reduction in your house when you install sunscreens on the biggest south-facing windows.

You can tack sunscreens up with ordinary thumbtacks, and they look good from both inside and out if you take care to cu...

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Portable Showers

Portable showers are kind of silly, I’ll grant that. You fill a big plastic bag with water and set it in the sun. When the water heats up enough (to 105°F or so), you hang the bag from a tree, stand underneath it, open a small plastic valve, and voila, you have a shower au naturel. Ahhh. . .

You can use one near your swimming pool to rinse the chlorine off after a swim. You can use them while camping. You can use one for a hot water bottle big enough to soothe your entire back or stomach.

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Landscape Lighting

This is probably the cheapest way to get started using solar power. You can install a single light in a strategic location and get a lot of effect. It takes five minutes and costs less than $10. You won’t get a jolt of electricity, and if the lights don’t illuminate an area exactly the way you had planned, you can move them around to your heart’s content.

One of my all-time favorite gizmos is a swimming pool light that changes colors. It floats on the surface and casts its light down into the pool so the entire pool changes colors. The lights are fun to swim underneath, and kids love to play games with them. (A word of caution, though: Kids usually end up breaking them.)

The same color-changing scheme is used to good effect in some decorative yard lights...

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