The idea of using solar power for heating your home is hardly a new concept. Since the dawn of mankind sun energy has been used to provide much needed warmth. However, modern technology has completely transformed the way that it can be done, even from the methods used several generations ago.
In the 1920s some municipalities supplied hot water to homes by large storage tanks that were heated by the sun power. As the unit cost of electricity and gas decreased, such applications became relatively more expensive and were unable to compete. However, old ideas quite often become new again, but with a modern twist. Modern solar hot water heating systems using sun energy have now been in use for more than thirty years.
However, what is even newer are ways of heating the home with the use of solar energy that go well beyond simple windows. Although it is certainly possible to just allow sunlight to stream in through a window, that often leads to areas of the home that are too bright. It also generates areas that are too warm, while others receive little or no heat. Modern solar heating systems can redirect solar energy to provide an even, comfortable temperature throughout the house.
Some such systems use water or a salt water mixture. The tubes and channels that contain the liquid sometimes lie in small parabolic mirror-type troughs that concentrate the sun’s rays to raise the water temperature. That is how many solar water heating systems work, minus the salt, of course. But that same technology can be adapted to supply home heat.
Most water systems are designed to keep the heat from escaping. That way, the water does not have to be continually reheated and hot water is available on demand. But home heating systems reverse that idea and allow some of that heat to escape.
In one application, a series of tubes runs under wooden, clay or other materials used for flooring. By design, the heat gradually flows through the flooring and rises up into the air to provide a comfortable interior environment.
Clever designers have taken the idea one step further. They know that water is not the only common fluid in our environment. Although air is not a liquid, it is defined as a fluid by scientists. That gives it some of the properties of a liquid in that it flows easily. Filling the tubes with air or other gas makes it possible to still absorb and deposit heat where it is needed. At the same time, because the gas is not a liquid, if a leak occurs there is no major damage to the home.
Such applications are not as efficient at storing heat as liquid systems are because they are not as dense. But neither would you have to endure the cost of major repairs in case something goes wrong. If the system springs a leak, it is only necessary to patch it or replace a small section, an inexpensive operation especially compared to the cost of replacing flooring or walls after a water leak.
Such problems are not as rare as they may seem. In climates where the weather becomes quite cold in the winter, water inside pipes does sometimes freeze and break the pipe. Yet, at the same time, there are many such cold days that still supply plenty of sunshine that could be used in a solar heating system.