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Nine Great Do-It-Yourself Solar Power Projects

If you're considering using solar power but aren't ready to go whole-hog with a photovoltaic (PV) solar power system, here are some small projects you can undertake that will make a huge difference. You can save money and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time.

  • Install a solar water heater: To install a solar water heater, you have to be good at plumbing, electrical wiring, solder joints, PV panel installation, copper tube cutting, climbing around on roofs, and figuring out what to do when things don't fit right. And that's just for starters.

    You need to be patient and able to change horses in midstream. In other words, installing a solar water heater is a do-it-yourselfer's dream come true!

  • Go green with landscaping: Landscaping means you're completely outdoors, and that should be enough to convince any green enthusiast. When you're landscaping, nothing can really break, and you won't run into parts that don't fit. You can start off small, with maybe just a new tree planted in a strategic location, or you can rip out any trees, bushes, or plants you don't like and replace them with ones that support your solar-power habits.

  • Vent your attic: A solar attic vent fan project is great because you get to do a little bit of everything (in contrast to the solar water heater project, where you get a whole lot of everything). You can install a solar attic vent fan in a day or so, depending on how difficult your attic structure is. You get to install a PV panel, which requires you to figure out orientation and placement.

  • Shelter living spaces from the sun: Trellises are good projects because they're functional and nice looking. You can make them out of wood or synthetic material. You can even get kits of aluminum parts. Plant some flowering vines around your trellis, and the results will be fantastic.

  • Warm up pool water: You can make a solar hot water heater out of landscape tubing, and you can design it to fit just about anywhere. It's cheap and just as effective as the collectors that cost $600 apiece.

  • Purify your drinking water: You can make a small purifier or a big one with valves and drippers and all kinds of features. You can purify a gallon of water a day or a thousand, and the concept is the same. You can use salvaged parts, so if your game is to get everything for free, here you go.

  • Make a solar oven: You can build a simple oven, or you can get fancy and make a super-duper one. You can even design and build an automatic tracker, to follow the sun over the course of the day automatically, so that you don't have to do it manually.

  • Make a reading light: An off-grid reading light is a great project, and you can get as fancy as you want. Start with a simple, self-contained camping light comprising a small PV panel and a little pod containing a rechargeable battery, a light sensor, a switch, and a few LEDs. Then hang this light over your favorite reading chair (you may need to monkey around to get the light to shine in just the right spot), and you can read every night for hours without plugging in to the grid.

  • Pump water with a solar fountain: Solar fountains have tons of potential for do-it-yourselfers. You can make a small one or a massive one. You can make them work any number of ways. You can make one work all night long, if you want.

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