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Ten Inexpensive Solar Projects and Devices

If you want to start using solar energy, you don't have to wait until you have enough money to convert your whole house to use solar energy. You start out simple and work your way up with solar projects and devices like these:

  • Landscape lighting: This is probably the cheapest way to get started using solar power. You can install a single light in a strategic location and get a lot of effect. It takes five minutes and costs less than $10. You won't get a jolt of electricity, and if the lights don't illuminate an area exactly the way you had planned, you can move them around to your heart's content.

  • Portable showers: You fill a big plastic bag with water and set it in the sun. When the water heats up enough, you hang the bag from a tree, stand underneath it, open a small plastic valve, and voilà, you have a shower. You can use one near your swimming pool to rinse the chlorine off after a swim. You can use them while camping. You can use one for a hot water bottle big enough to soothe your entire back or stomach.

  • Sunscreens with roll-up mechanisms: Solar screens reduce the amount of sunlight coming into a room by up to 90 percent. It costs around $2 per year to cover a typical window, and the effect is dramatic. You get the most heat reduction in your house when you install sunscreens on the biggest south-facing windows. You can make a retractor mechanism for a few dollars. This device allows you to retract the screen when you don't want it to cover the window.

  • Solar fountains: You can get a good solar fountain for under $100. The water will flow when the sky is sunny and cut back when it's cloudy. You'll be aware of how much sunshine you are receiving at any given time.

    You can build a large solar fountain for a little bit more if you do most of the labor yourself and use natural landscaping elements, like indigenous rocks. You can build a really big fountain, and the only cost you'll incur is for the solar pump.

  • Sun tea: Here's the cheapest project you can possibly do with the sun. Put some tea bags and water in a big glass jar with a lid, and leave it in the sunshine for a few hours. By the middle of the afternoon, you'll have refreshing sun tea.

  • Battery chargers: If you use a lot of batteries, you can drastically cut back on battery costs by using rechargeable batteries in conjunction with a solar charger. You can get solar chargers for vehicle batteries, notebook computer batteries, and small appliances.

  • Solar cooking: For less than $50, you can make a good solar oven. You can easily save this much in power bills over the course of a sunny season.

  • Solar hat fans: This is a cheap toy, but a fun one. Give solar hat fans as gifts that people will remember for their novelty. Kids will have a gas with them. Solar hat fans are small solar-powered fans that clip onto your hat visor, and they cost only $10 apiece.

  • Solar lamps: For around $40, you can get a little light module that you can charge during sunlight hours and use when it gets dark.

  • Solar flashlights: A solar flashlight is always ready to go when you need it. Instead of storing it in a drawer, you need to put it on a window sill, but it's worth it.

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