Heating Seattle backyard studio with soda cans as solar panels

Peter Rowan left his job as a “corporate weenie” in 2010 to live a life with less stuff and fewer expenses and with more time to pursue his dreams.

Since downsizing his life, he’s begun writing fiction from home (in addition to a teaching gig) so for a bit more privacy, this year he decided to single-handedly convert the family’s unused garage into his off-grid writing retreat. Crafting it mostly out of repurposed materials, he decided to heat it using a home-made, recycled can solar panel.

After collecting 275 cans (soda, juice, mineral water, and beer), he began to drill holes into the ends, glue them together and fit them into a box crafted from plywood and 2 by 4’s. Adding a bit of black spray paint and some plexiglass, he created his home-made solar panel. He salvaged a couple of fans from an old computer to create a system for pushing cold air into the solar panel and pushing the hot air out and into his office.

In this video, Mary Rowan used her iphone to film her husband’s month-long process of building a solar heater with recycled cans. Granted Seattle may not be the ideal spot for solar, but Peter says that it seems to heat up the space by about 5 or 6 degrees even on a “crummy day” and when the sun is out it can provide too much heat.

Instructions for building a solar heater with recycled cans:

On *faircompanies:

Peter’s fiction writing:


  1. What a good couple , Using The lounge as his workshop , and the lady is all for it , GOD BLESS her , one day she'll have her own workshop , good on her , and him ,😉

  2. for the sake of the cold air vent you likely would have wanted to install a fan or a device to cause forced movement of air considering both the intake and exhaust ports are located at the same height from the ground. An alternative would be to install a series of hurricane vents on the exhaust manifold that would have better regulated the pressure of the rising air and allowed better heat transfer prior to exhaust.

    Great project overall – thanks for sharing the idea!

  3. Pointless waste of time, it has to be a warm sunny day for these things to work so pointless in making in the first place

  4. The problem with this is that the cans don't hold that much heat, bending a long metal pipe would probably work much better

  5. Beathing in that aluminum dust when drilling his abusing your lungs man. No mask on, not a smart health insurance policy.

  6. It's great to see an "average Joe" implement a simple system that usually only hardcore DIYers install.
    The complete process with warts and all is especially illuminating for newbies…it proves that you can survive mistakes and actually learn something new. I see him the way to more practical projects to reduce costs and "save the world". Good job.

  7. excuse to drink a lot of cand of beer because rain gutters or heat duct would have been easier. great man plan though.

  8. Couldn't you just open the doors on a warm day and face a box fan to blown warm outside air into your studio? Also do you really need the cans? Couldn't you just seal the collector box with a black interior for the same warming result? Why are the cans necessary? Nice work though.

  9. Genius idea. If he hangs the solar screen sideways, it would be camouflaged against the house, and he could build 2 more into the wall. Using window hinges he could still incline the separate panels towards the sun.

  10. I have track lighting in my apartment. Back when I had incandescent bulbs my apartment was much warmer. At the time we had electric heat. They switched us to natural gas, but it made me think that the ideal light fixture for a house with electric heat could have a heat lamp and a LED bulb and be tied into the thermostat and motion sensors so that it could rotate what bulb it was using to optimize comfort on cold days but still save energy on warmer days.

  11. Oh wow this video is 9 years old. I believe you can make a space heater like this using a solar water/liquid heater, which pumps heated liquid inside the house, it's more efficient than photovoltaic systems.

  12. This is so cool. And if I’m able to understand how to build it anyone can. I have zero experience with building but this is very straightforward!

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