DIY Solar Panels - Air Heaters Made of Pop Cans




Introduction: DIY Solar Panels - Air Heaters Made of Pop Cans

It is really easy and simple to build cheap pop can DIY solar panels for supplemental home heating, by re-using scrap parts and empty pop cans. Pop can diy solar panels are actually thermal panels that heat and recirculate the air inside the room. Water, or any kind of liquid is not used here, which makes these panels resilient to extremely low temperatures and winter freezing accidents.

Solar absorbent / collector is crafted using empty beer and soda aluminum cans, painted in matte-black paint resistant to high temperature. The upper part (cover) of cans is specifically designed to provide more efficiency in heat exchange between the cans and the passing air.

Housing for solar collector is made of wood (plywood 15mm), while its front is 3 mm (0.12 inches) Plexiglas/polycarbonate (you can use tempered glass as well). The back of the case set is made of 20mm rock wool (or styrodur) insulation.

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36 Discussions


2 years ago

I made a similar system, but also with a very intelligent controller (with a webserver on a Raspberry PI). So you get a graph on the temperatures, and it is controllable by a smartphone. I put the pictures on


Can anyone tell me whether this works best *outside the building and feeding in*, or are they just as good *inside* on a window sill? Also, is it best to suck in air from inside the house rather than outside?

Paint the box black,eliminate the cans and the fan and you have a trome wall that would be just as efficient , if not more.

Wow, what a nice large solar air heater! I designed mine using a different principle - mounting on the inside of my window. However wow, yours can be built and scaled as large as you want! mine is limited by my window size. Here is my setup if u r interested:

I've been checking out various designs and really like yours.
A couple questions:
1) Is there are reason not to 'chain' the cans together so they are all one long connected tube, with u type joints? Would over heating be a problem?
2) I live in Canada so if I can store the heat for use after dark that would be ideal. So, have you thought or known anyone to try including a radiant system within the pop can heater?
Thanks for your thoughts.

1 reply

I believe the idea behind orienting them in this manner is to keep as much volume in one, self insulating mass; therefore reducing the external surface area that would lead to heat loss. When they are run in parallel, the sides that would normally loose heat in a continuous chain are in face adjacent to other collectors.
I'd imagine the more "square" the structure is, the more thermally efficient it would be.

I wonder what health risks might come from breathing the air that the hot aluminum cans produce. Or is aluminum dangerous only when you burn it? Like when you cook with foil or smoke out of a can.

I wonder if you could use water as the insulator to keep the panel warm through the night. Collected rain water could be added at the same rate of evaporation, through a self watering dog bowl apparatus like an upside down liter bottle with the bottom cut off placed at the water level. The evaporated water could be collected. But I wonder if this would have issues in temperatures below freezing.

When I take the air from in our home (back room in my basement at 15.5C ) and through the pop can heater , it comes out at up to 34 C . I fine it does run most the time at 24C to 28C ..I also have a click button that turn the fan on when the can reach 43.3 and shut off at 33.2 ..That button is in the unit mounted on a top can center.

just a hint/ question, would it be a benifit to have a one way air check on the inlet side to the heat chamber, so at night the air does not reverse flow and cool the have inspired me to try to build one of my own

Some one may have already mentioned this, if so sorry...

Brick would only be the right choice in situation where you wanted to STORE the heat of the day and release it after the Sun is no longer warming the "system". I think this is awesome... If I didn't have side hinged windows I'd like to try this. Might be interesting to replace an entire window with one of these...

This is a great idea.

I have a couple questions though.

I live in Canada, and we get temps down to -40. Would this still put out "hot" air?

I was also thinking if you put a reflective surface like a mirror or space blanket on the back of the inside of the box, you could push the temp up even further. Is there any reason you wouldn't do that?

I would be interested in knowing if you were to slow down air movement in the cans by using smaller holes so the air had more contact (wrong term I know) with the sun to make the air hotter, could you push the performance even further...

6 replies

The greater the difference in temperature, the faster both states want to reach equilibrium. So if you slow the rate of air flow, it will result in a less efficient system. You want to keep air moving, because as the temperature of the air and the cans gets closer, the rate of heat transfer slows. You are probably thinking of temperature vs heat. Think of it this way, you would rather transfer 20 cubic meters of air 2 degrees hotter than the air in the house over 5 cubic meters of air at 4 degrees hotter than the air in the house, as the former has a greater caloric content.

1. Hot air is result of Sun's light and not outside temp. You just have to be sure, there is no heat leaks, or looses in pipes (if present). I had same doubt when my interest in this started, but heat is transferred via Sun's rays, in component of light spectrum (not distributed around the Sun all the way to the Earth. This way, empty space would be hot, and not cold...right?)

2. There is no space between cans for light to pass, so mirror in the back of the cans has no purpose (there would be no light to reflect from behind...). If you have spare mirror and open space around solar panel (and if it is low mounted), you can position mirror near it and reflect additional volume of light on panel. There is video on Youtube where some guy test this, and it have couple of degrees temp. increase...

3. "could you push the performance even further" - this is true in terms of max temp., but not in quantity of heat collected from device and added to living space. Yes, by slowing air flow, you will gain higher temperature, but less air to transfer it. There is calculation of volume of heat (energy) received from this kind device on net, where air temp, and air volume are included. Your goal is not to have small volume of air with max temp, but to heat the room as much as you can during sunny hours. Your goal is to transfer as much collected heat using max air-flow, into the room as possible. All heat (energy) which remains in collector and not transferred into the room is NO GOOD. :-)

I apologize for long sentences and bad English...

Thank you for commenting. Your English was perfect!

I didn't realize there was no space between the cans. That makes sense now.

Solar thermal systems do not rely on the visible light to conduct the heat. They use the infrared spectrum coming off the sun. Visible light does not convert to much heat at all. To give you an appropriate example, look at LED lights. They produce lots of visible light, but hardly any infrared light unless specifically tuned for it. Even tuned, they don't produce long-mid wave infrared associated with heat.

@ calskin.  What you are describing is called "contact time," and it does affect how much heat [the "real" goal, versus actual "temperature" of the air] is transferred from the heated can tube wall to the air passing through.  This can add a few degrees [and more heat (measured in Calories)] to the air, but there is a point of "diminishing return" where slowing the flow rate down too far will cause inefficiency in the transfer of as much heat as possible to the room, which is the real goal.

Yes, the faster the air flows through the can tubes, the less time there is to transfer that heat.  And, as someone else mentioned there is only just so much total heat available [limited by the size of the collector], so "throttling" the air flow is sort of a trade-off on the amount of heat transfered to the room versus temperature of the air going into the room.  The greatest AMOUNT of heat [not temperature] transfered from the collector to the room results in the greatest efficiency.

There are a couple of advantages of not using a too slow air flow rate:

1.  If the flow rate is way too slow it may allow enough heat build up in the collector to damage the insulation, OR even cause a fire!. 

Years ago [back in the 1970s] I read an article where this type of solar collector, in new houses somewhere in Colorado, that were vacant and waiting to be sold, and had the air circulating blowers turned off, allowed the "stagnated" air in the collectors to get so hot that the polyurethane insulation in the collectors caught on fire, resulting in roof fires on those houses.

2.  IF the air flow rate is TOO slow, then you will only get the amount of heat that that air can carry, whereas a higher rate will allow the collection of more heat and adequate airflow will be able to carry all the heat collected.

Also, "tseay" [prior comment] made a good point about prevention of heat loss from the heat INSIDE the collector by creating a "dead" airspace at the glass interface. 

This is commonly referred to as "double glazing" which creates a layer of non-circulating air which acts as an insulating  blanket to reduce heat transfer "back" through the glass to the atmosphere.

Double, or even triple, glazing is a great efficiency improvement for any thermal type collector.