Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mechanix Illustrated 1959: Heat Your House With Solar Energy

Recently, I came across the April 1959 issue of Mechanix Illustrated magazine.

It had the article:  Heat Your House With Solar Energy, by John I Yellot.

I've been looking at solar energy for a few years now, including solar thermal for heating.  It's very interesting to see this early work of this solar pioneer. 

The issue of economics was also mentioned back then: 
"The principles of solar heating are simple. The trick is to install the equipment at a cost so low that the total annual cost of owning it and whatever auxiliary equipment is needed to ensure good year-round performance is less than the cost of doing the entire heating job by conventional methods."

It's good to see that after 50 years, there are a lot more efficient, and cost effective solar systems on the market now!

Many solar thermal systems today still have the same three parts to the basic design he describes: 

"A solar heating system requires three major parts. The first is some form of collector which catches the sun's heat and transfers it to a fluid (water or air) which carries it away. The second is some means of storing the heat when the sun sets or is shut off by clouds. The third is a method by which the stored heat can be made available to warm the house."

Much of the article goes into details of two different solar houses.  One built by MIT in Lexington, Massachusetts for winter weather.  And, a louvre type collector design built in Phoenix, Arizona.   Does anyone know if these houses and their solar systems are still in use, where they are, and how well they worked?  If so, please leave a comment. 

The article also goes into the pros and cons of various materials that can be used for construction: glazing, pipes, insulation, collectors, heat storage tanks.  Why water is the best medium to store heat.  "Water has a higher specific heat ... than any other liquid".  Heat distribution:  warm air, or radient systems.  Auxilary heat systems.  Controls, thermostats, pumps.  Exploded views showing details of construction. 

It is not a difficult article to read.  Given that solar thermal was in its infancy, the article seems to be geared toward the inquisitive do it yourselfer (DIY).  Architects, engineers and city planners could also get a good introduction to the technology to know what is involved.  

So Much Less DIY Now:

It's interesting that the "how to" magazines for the DIYs like Popular Mechanics, Popular Science and Mechanix Illustrated, are not that popular anymore.  My suspect this is for a few reasons.  Products are much cheaper now, relatively.  It is cheaper to just buy many things, rather than "save money" by making them.  For instance, a sled or wagon for the kids.  Perhaps a car trailer, cabinets, or chest of drawers. 

With computers, products are also more complex, and can't be made at home anymore, unless you have some specialized electronics, firmware, and programming skills.  Don't forget specialized equipment and manufacturing facilities.  Design plans for home made televisions or IPads anyone?  Another impediment is that so many of us now live in apartments or condos now, and don't even have a garage, or basement in which to build or fix things anymore.  We are being deprived.  And, it seems that many (wo)men don't have the tools, or even the skills to use tools these days.  I can't think of anyone other than myself who even waxes their own car.  Do you?  

John Yellot Was A Very Interesting Man:

Reading further, the biography of John Yellot is a fascinating read.  "after having already achieved recognition in steam, coal, gas, and nuclear energy, he switched fields—to passive solar energy."  

I'm always impressed by these kinds of people, who progress beyond their early training, influences, or stations in life.  Other examples are Eisenhower, the general who as president, spoke out against military spending.  JFK, the rich kid, later championed the poor.  In movies, you could call this character development.  

I've scanned the article into a PDF file and uploaded it here for everyone.  Enjoy!


  1. wow, thank you. very interesting solar thermals stuff. wondering why no one else comments. better let my friends know

  2. Solar thermal is a better idea for house heating.Thanks for sharing this nice post.

    Lexington Heating and Air