Let the sun shine on home improvements
People have relied on the power of the sun for thousands of years. Before electricity and other fuels provided warmth and light, the sun was the source of such comforts and necessities. Families in ancient Greece built their homes in ways to maximize the amount of sunlight during the winter months. Others have used the sun's energy to cook foods. There are a number of ways to harness the sun today for homeowners' needs.
Solar radiation is a powerful source of energy. Scientific research indicates that the sunlight that shines on the Earth in just one hour could meet world energy demand for an entire year. Solar energy can be converted into thermal energy to heat water or spaces. It can also be converted to electricity in two main ways.
Photovoltaic (PV) devices, also known as solar cells, harness the sun's energy and transform it into electricity. They are often used in remote areas where there is no connection to the electric grid. PV devices can also power watches, electronics and other items.
Solar power plants use the sun to heat a liquid, which then forms steam to power a generator. As of 2006 there were 15 known solar power plants operating in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Many people feel the benefits to solar energy outweigh the negative aspects. For example, solar energy is free and its supplies are unlimited. Using solar energy produces no air or water pollution. Minimal indirect impacts on the environment include production of photovoltaic cells used to convert sunlight into electricity. This consumes silicone and produces some waste products. One additional downside of solar power is that sunlight is not constant. The intensity of the rays fluctuates daily and could be impacted by weather. Therefore, solar energy is often used in conjunction with other types of power.
For those considering harnessing the power of the sun for their next home improvement project, the process can be as detailed or easy as one desires. Here are some ways to put solar energy to work.
* Cut back trees or shrubs near your home to maximize sunlight shining indoors. This reduces the amount of artificial light or heat you need in the home.
* Purchase a solar cover for your swimming pool or spa. It will heat the water with no need for electric heating systems.
* Hang laundry outdoors on a line to dry in the sun and air, rather than running the dryer.
* Rely on solar-powered accent lighting on your property to add light and style to your landscape.
* Install skylights or sun tubes to bring extra light indoors to areas of the home that need it.
* Use a solar-powered attic fan to vent hot air out of the space.
* Install PV panels on the roof to use solar power as an alternative to, or in conjunction with other power systems in the home.
* Design and build an all-season or "Florida" room that can be an addition to the home. Enjoy a bit of the outdoors while you're still inside.
For more ideas on uses of solar energy and other innovative green projects for the home, visit www.greenhome.com.