November 2015
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An Inexpensive Easy-to-Build Solar Oven

It’s not hard to imagine using the sun’s rays to heat water or generate electricity with solar panels. But did you know you can cook with the sun? A solar oven is surprisingly easy and inexpensive to build. It is especially good at slow cooking things like what you would make in a crock pot. Sure you don’t have the fancy controls of a modern oven, but don’t let that stop you.

A solar oven is also a great tool to have in case of power outages, or even if you just want to reduce your power bill. It is a necessity for off-grid living. In many countries, cheap energy is not readily available like it is in the United States. In those places, solar ovens are an indispensable tool.

CooKit Solar Cooker - $39

CooKit Solar Cooker – $39

There are many designs for solar ovens – some elaborate and some simple. You can buy one or you can build your own. The basic concept is to create an enclosure with reflective surfaces to concentrate the sun’s energy inward. I will describe the very simple one that I built. I used the design from Solar Cookers International. They sell the solar oven for $39, but they give away the plans. I made mine for less than $1. The picture above is the one they sell. The plans and instructions are in this link: instructions. They are very detailed so I won’t repeat everything here. All you need is a large piece of cardboard, aluminum foil, and white glue. This link has a template to use to cut out the cardboard. The instructions show where to cut and make folds. The inside surface is covered with aluminum foil. The foil is placed with the shining side facing out and the dull side toward the cardboard. It is attached to the cardboard with a mixture of white glue diluted 50:50 with water. Brush the mixture on the cardboard, covering the entire surface. Press the foil on to the wet cardboard. I learned quickly not to worry about how it looked – it won’t affect how it cooks. What matters is to cover all the surfaces with foil. I cut the foil into several pieces to make it easier to fit, rather than trying to make it all one piece. In the case of the solar oven, function wins out over form. Once the glue dries, check all the foil surfaces for any loose pieces. Add more glue mixture to hold those down. That’s the whole thing. Fold the cardboard following the directions and you have the finished solar oven. Below is a picture of the one I built. It isn’t as pretty as the one you can buy, but it works. I keep the 2 clamps with it because they are handy for positioning the front flap. Just set the angle of the flap by sliding it up and down the side flaps, and place the clamps on the underside of the flap to keep it from slipping.

My Solar Oven

My Solar Oven – $1

To use the solar oven, you’ll need a black pot with a lid. The pot is placed inside a large plastic, heat-resistant bag to keep the heat in. Oven cooking bags work well. A fun experiment is to heat water with the solar oven. On a bright sunny day you can boil water in it. Another good one when you’re starting out is baked beans. One thing you have to get used to is that cooking times will be longer than you are used to. You just have to get your food started a little earlier in the day. Here is a link with lots of great tips on cooking with a solar oven. With a little practice, you’ll get better at it. You will learn which foods you like to cook in the solar oven. Check out this link for some recipe ideas.

A solar oven can also help to reduce you power bill, not just because you aren’t using the conventional oven. On a hot summer day, cooking outside with a solar oven will avoid heating up your kitchen and adding more load to your air conditioner. Now that’s really cool.

If you aren’t sure a solar oven is for you, that is a perfect reason to build one of these. It costs so little to try it out. The solar oven is each to build, inexpensive, and fun to cook with. Give it a try and you’ll see for yourself just how easy it is to save some money and add a little energy independence to your bag of tricks.

Resources for this post:
Solar Cookers International information
The plans and instructions
Cooking Tips

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