Solar Window Inserts




Free heat with minimal investment. Having a serious interest in renewable energy, I recently got the urge to try and create a solar insert that would simply slide into my existing window casings to help with the heating of my 1996 mobile. I saw on the local news one night how a local man built a solar thermo siphon (TAP) air panel to do just that using black aluminum window screen and plywood. OK, that's fine if you don't mind living in a cave as it totally blocked the view and incoming light through the window. The concept is fine and it works. He made a comment about how much he saved on heating, but I don't remember what he said. Having seen many designs on the internet of solar space heaters using black window screen, I decided to test the idea last winter as I had a difficult time believing window screen could possibly generate much heat. So, I grabbed a couple of screens I just happen to have and attached them to the front door with magnets salvaged from a micro wave. Amazing!! I think I was getting over 120 deg. I didn't write it down so I am relying on my (poor) memory.

Anyway, I wasn't too keen on losing the view or light so I set my mind to wandering and came up with the idea of using poly film instead of plywood. The first prototype was made using poly film and the initial test gave me 90 - 94 deg. with the sunlight hitting about 60% of the window screen. Not bad. OK. Now, how can I improve this? If I can reflect the sunlight onto the backside of the screen, it should generate more heat. Aluminum foil? You would need a substrate to attach it to and it would also eliminate the view and light. Then it hit me! Aluminized Mylar (emergency blanket, rescue blanket etc.)!! I recalled that as I was playing with other solar projects that these blankets reflect light and heat yet are also semi transparent, so I tried it. Super! It is like having polarized windows and it boosted the output temperature about 4 deg. This winter will tell the tale.

Now, on with the instructions...

What you need:
3/4" square molding for basic framework
Black window screen - the window screen I see around here isn't really black but Charcoal. Still dark enough to serve as solar absorber.
1/4" X 3/4" molding for attaching film to frame, screen bead molding?
Saw - table saw or miter box
Drill motor
Screwdriver or power driver
wood glue - optional
a sharp utility knife to trim excess film
heavy duty scissors or tin snips for cutting window screen - you might also consider gloves when working with aluminum screen
#6 X 1-1/2" wood screws - I used 8 per frame
#6 X 3/4" wood screws for attaching trim molding
countersinking drill bit for the above screws
Staple gun and staples - 1/4" - 3/8"
POly drop cloth, emergency blanket or other transparent sheet to enclose air chamber and for anti siphon flap valve. Another option that may improve efficiency would be a thin polycarbonate sheet screwed to the frame.

Step 1: Build the Frame

Measure your window opening and cut 3/4" square molding accordingly. My windows are 29" X 59" so, two pieces 28-15/16" for top and bottom frame, 2 pieces 57-7/16" for side frames and two pieces 27-716" for inlet/outlet frames. I cut the pieces for the main frame 1/16" short for a slip fit into the window opening. A tight seal isn't really necessary unless you have serious air infiltration around your windows. In that event, I would either properly seal the leaks or make another frame that you can seal tightly against the existing window and cover it with plexiglass/polycarbonate.

assemble the top and bottom rails to the ends of the upright rails using one #6 X 1-1/2" wood screw at each joint. Here is where we might add wood glue for a more durable joint. Make sure your frame is relatively square and fits well into your opening. Not too tight and not too loose. A competent woodworker might dado the frames for a more professional look.

Now, add the inner rails that will create your inlet/outlet openings. Considering my window size and emergency blanket size (52" X 84") if I make the inner opening 50-1/2" high, I can use the 52" width of the blanket with minimal waste. That makes my vent openings 2-3/4" high by the width of the frame. There is a formula for determining the vent size but me and formulas don't get along too well. Some percentage of total collector area.

Now you might paint or stain your frame if desired.

Step 2: Cut and Attach Absorber Screen

Now, lay your roll of black window screen over the frame, you may need a helper or a scrap of wood to hold down one end of the screen to prevent it from rolling back up as you're trying to work with it. You are going to cover the entire side of the frame with two layers of screen. The first layer only needs a few staples to hold it in place. If your screen is larger than your frame, leave enough room between your staple and where you need to cut to allow you to get your scissors and hand in there to cut, then tack it down after cutting.

I found it easier to attach the screen and then cut slightly in from the edge so the screen is slightly smaller, about 1/4", than the frame in all directions. You don't want any frayed edges to stick out from your frame and catch or scratch your window frame.

Step 3: Attach Screen to Upper Vent.

Since we're working with the window screen, let's flip our frame over and attach one layer of screen to what will be the upper outlet vent. This screen is necessary to prevent the flap valve from being sucked into the frame at night. This screen provides a seal for the flap valve so that at night when it's cooling off, your warm air doesn't get drawn into the solar collector and dumped out the bottom vent as cold air.

Just as warming air in the solar panel creates a convection current where warm rises out the top and draws cooler air in the bottom, the reverse is also true. Without some means of preventing reverse air flow through your panel, your warm air would be drawn into the top vent, cooled down, and dumped into your living space, thereby negating any benefits from solar gain collected during the day.

Step 4: Attach Film to Frame.

Lay your plastic film/mylar over what will be the side of the panel facing the interior (opposite side from the screen side) of your room and stretch and staple the film to the frame. Be careful not to stretch so hard that you rip the film through the staples. It just needs to be taut enough to minimize any wrinkles in the film. Like the screen, we just tack the film to hold it in place. We will finish with thin molding to complete the project. Unlike the screen, excess film can overhang the frame and be trimmed off with a sharp knife after completing the frame.

Step 5: Cut and Attach Molding.

If you are using purchased molding, now is the time to measure and cut it. We are only going to frame the inner opening with this molding, 52" X 29" in my case. So, three pieces 29" long and two pieces 50-1/2". The third 29" piece will create the hinge for the upper flap valve, set this piece aside for now.

Starting at the bottom of the upper vent, place one short piece of molding over the film so it lines up with the bottom frame of the vent and attach with screws, nails or staples. Then we do the same with the bottom, aligning it with the top of the bottom vent. Next, we measure and trim the longer side pieces so that they just fit between the two end pieces, and fasten.

We're almost done.

Step 6: Attaching Upper Flap Valve.

Now, we need a piece of light weight plastic as wide as the frame and 1/2 - 1" higher than the vent opening for the valve. We will trim any excess valve material upon completion. I used mylar here again because I had it and it is extremely light. Plastic trash can liner will also work. You need to have one good straight edge to but up against the trim molding edge. Carefully align the edge of the plastic with the edge of the molding at the bottom of the upper vent. When you are satisfied that there is not too much resistance to interfere with the flap opening and closing freely, staple the valve along the top edge only. Test the valve action again to make sure nothing got out of alignment. Satisfied? Good, now we can complete the project by adding the third piece of trim molding that we set aside in the last step to the top of the outlet vent. As with the last step, I drilled and screwed this piece to the frame.

If you picture a pet door in your door that swings in and out as your pet comes and goes, you can get the idea of what we're doing here. The flap needs to swing to and fro easily, just like the pet door.



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    45 Discussions


    Reply 3 years ago

    To be honest, I'm not sure...probably could...although if you are talking about the bubble wrap barrier, I would think it would block all light from coming through...and probably cost prohibitive. I don't have much experience with it so perhaps another here may have better answer for you.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Hey wow, someone that made something similar to my solar air heater approach? How is it working out for you? Here is my setup and construction if you are interested. Nice man, thanks!


    5 years ago

    I don't have the mylar to test with, but I'm relatuvely sure you could use one of thos screen repair kits to make a very taut mylar sheet. usually, you pull the old saggy screen out and place a new one over th old area. There would be a furrow around the perimeter of the frame in which to roll a rubber gasket from the repair kit.

    I think that would avoid the possibilty of ripping mylar from the wood strips.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Great idea! I was just writing my group about our simple frames. Hubby and I made double sided frames from 1"x 2" wood frames and stapled clear vinyl shower curtains over both sides. (bought cheap at $1.00 ea). We put them in all the windows. The one in the bathroom is getting ragged and we just put it in anyway. The upper flap flopped down and when I reached up to tuck it back in I felt warm air rising up out of the thing! When I have time I want to revise these to include the screen on one side and clear vinyl inside with an upper flap to allow hot air to pour out. :)


    8 years ago on Introduction

    After reading all the discussion about thebriguy's solar panels and WhoTookMudshark (and others) comments, I had to get my two cents worth in.
    Is it possible for everyone, including the practicalists and the thermodynamicists to be right? I think it is.
    First of all, it is obvious that putting up a solar panel is not going to cause any more light (and therefore heat) to come into a room. As was pointed out, that is controlled by the size of the window. As was also pointed out, all that light bouncing around the room is being absorbed by carpet, furniture, your bobblehead collection, etc.
    The thing is, neither the carpet nor the chair is a very good re-radiator of heat and so the chair feels nice and warm if you sit in it because of CONDUCTION and the carpet feels warm (if you have your shoes off) because of CONDUCTION, not radiation.
    In another vein, folks usually keep their windows covered with drapes in cold weather to reduce heat loss through CONDUCTION, unless they have double or triple pane windows in which case they might not need a solar panel in the first place. The other reason for closing the drapes is so that UV rays don't discolor or rot the chair fabric (or fade the bobbleheads).
    Thermodynamics aside, thebriguy did the one thing the body can relate to. He heated the air. Therefore, with the solar panel installed, while the furnishings
    might not be warm, the air is, and that makes people in the room feel warmer as well. And, not to be taken lightly, the solar panel probably keeps some room heat from being conducted outdoors through the glass.
    I think we could all be happier if we agreed that thebriguy's panel does not make the absolute room temperature any hotter, but it does convert the available heat energy into a form that the human body likes best. AHHHH, pass sthe hot chocolate.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Hi, Bit off topic but can I buy my own land with 10-20 bushes  and place a motor home on it?
    IS there any laws against it? zonning etc. Since bushes will hide it from plain view from a far?
    or I can only have one in a trailer park like I hear mostly?
    thanks a lot.
    Al Boz

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    You need to check your local zoning laws and you may need to have utilities supplied to the property before you can place a mobil or manufactured home on it.



    8 years ago on Step 6

    You should monitor you fresh air intake to make sure that you are getting enough 'fresh air' as not to fall victim to carbon monoxide poisoning.
    I live i a mobile home as well, and these are not built as "houses". The gas pipes are right under your floor, and although the homes are built to have 'give', gas pipes aren't.... So you may have small gas leaks and not even be aware.
    Just be careful.
    Fantastic idea, though!


    8 years ago on Step 6

    This looks like a nice project and relatively easy to undertake. I wonder how it worked during 2009-2010 Winter and what your outside temperatures were.

    Good work, sir !

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you use an existing window it is physically impossible to have any impact on the heating. The sun coming in that window was already being absorbed by everything in your house and converted into heat energy. :)

    7 replies

    Yes and no... while you are correct in a larger sense (and I would never recommend someone try to heat their house with one of these 'solar heaters')... depending on the energy efficiency of the windows, they allow light (and heat) to escape out of the house. If you set up a solar over inside the window, and circulate the air through it, you get a much higher efficiency of light to heat conversion, and more importantly, retention.

    Thus you could save pennies per month in your energy bills by retaining a bit more solar heat - and you would also feel the noticeable stream of warm air which would convince many people it is functioning much better than it actually is.

    Of course, the solar inserts in this Instructable would have next to no impact on said retention; in fact it will likely lessen the retention and reflect out more heat than you had before, as it has no proper chamber to heat the air or circulation of said heated air.

    You probably know this already and are simplifying to get your point across; but if you explain where the myth/misinformation is rooted, people are much more likely to both believe, and more importantly, understand.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you for your polite explanation. The value is more in comfort than a heating bill - for my children's room - It will warm a room (I should have not deleted my previous posting). The best designs of these utilize the exterior of the home without obstructing the window.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, a panel mounted outside on a wall would be more effective, in fact I have a panel mounted outside as well, but then you are cutting holes through the walls which is somewhat discomforting to me. I have had over 200 degrees coming from that panel and I need to re-vamp it a little to increase the air flow and bring that temperature down. Then, there is Mother Earth News "Heat Grabber". I had considered trying one of those, but it is rather bulky and you would need a large storage area when it is not in use. I will monitor my inserts this winter and post the results here. I have five windows to fit these to, 3 on south side and 2 on east side.

    bobby sissomSlezridr

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    speaking of mother earth news heat grabber,i built one simular with material i had on hand i was very pleased with the output.I recorded temps as high as 190 coming out in a steady flow on icy cold days with snow covered ground,the more heat it put into my home the less my electric heaters kicked on. i was so pleased i showed my brother the results and he now has one on his home as well

    as for storing it in the summer i simply built an add on box at the top to turn it into a solar dehydrater, great for jerky
    just as a side note sitting in yard not attached to anything ,snow and ice on the ground ,i recorded tempt with a digital temp. at 70 degrees it was 22 degrees outside at the time


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Of course, the solar inserts in this Instructable would have next to no impact on said retention; in fact it will likely lessen the retention and reflect out more heat than you had before, as it has no proper chamber to heat the air or circulation of said heated air.

    In essence there are two air chambers in these inserts one between the window and the insert, and another between the screen and mylar film. The cooler air enters at the bottom and weaves through the screen on its way up and out the top vent. I don't have a suitable graphics program to create a diagram of the process, but if you check out the "Solar Barn" at Home, there is a good explanation of the thermo siphon process.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    if that were true, nobody would be able to see into your house because of 0 reflected light(if it were all converted to heat)