Tapping into solar power without spending a dime!

Solar Power and You

by Jacqueline Harris-Stone

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Do you use the sun to provide energy for your home? If not, what's stopping you? Chances are, you immediately thought of the high price of solar panels, or, perhaps, the long break-even time. The good news is that it isn't necessary to buy a solar panel in order to tap into solar power. You probably have everything you need already.

Make a Solar Cooker

If you like your slow cooker, you'll love a solar box cooker! It has many of the same advantages of a slow cooker with a slow, flexible cooking time that tenderizes tough cuts of meats. However, unlike a slow cooker, you can also bake, roast, and prepare several separate dishes at the same time. You can make rice or cornbread in a jar, chicken in a casserole dish, and roast vegetables nestled in a black sock at the side of the cooker.

Both the solar cooker and the energy can be free. A simple box cooker can consist of two cardboard boxes, the Mylar found in food packaging or balloons (or substitute aluminum foil), and a used and washed oven bag. Of course, there's no cost for the sunshine that runs the cooker. Don't exclude yourself from the joy of solar cooking because you live in a cold or cloudy place. Solar box cookers can run on twenty minutes of sunshine per hour in sub-freezing temperatures. Or, make a parabolic cooker, which is as fast as a conventional stovetop. See www.solarcooking.org for solar cooker designs and recipes.

Dry Your Clothes Outside

Line-drying not only saves electricity, but it also reduces wear and tear on the clothes by not submitting them to the beating of the dryer. To further extend the life of your clothing, turn it inside out before placing it in the sun. If you put shirts and pants on hangers instead of using clothespins, the clothes are ready for the closet directly from the line.

Open the Curtains

Get into the habit of drawing curtains rather than switching on lights. Ninety percent of the time, after a brief pause for your eyes to adjust, the illumination from the window will suffice. You can economize further by getting up with the sun. When the light starts to fail, do outside tasks requiring little daylight, such as taking washing off the line.

Grow and Dry Your Own Produce

Growing fruits and vegetables can be a big help with the grocery bill, and it's an obvious way to tap into the sun's energy, but buying seeds, containers, dirt, and water may end up costing far more than you save if crops aren't good. However, with a little creativity, these need not cost you anything.

Plant your sprouting garlic and potatoes. Google how to grow a pineapple plant from its top. Save the seeds from peppers, green beans, cucumbers, etc. Be creative. Just placing a slice of leftover tomato in a pot of dirt may produce a crop. You may have the best luck with organic vegetables, as they're guaranteed not to have genetic modifications, making them sterile.

Dirt, if you're lucky enough to have a garden, can be free. If you don't, look out for "free dirt" signs at construction sites. Homemade compost or fertilizer from your kitchen scraps can enrich this dirt.

If you live in an apartment, don't despair. At the least, you can grow your own green onions on a window sill by putting a bunch in a glass of water and cutting off the tops as you need them. Assuming you have a patio or balcony, you can grow most plants in containers, which can be old plastic food tubs, cracked buckets, and even used tires or plastic bags. Generally containers do better if they have drainage holes, but if you can't drill through them, you can create drainage by placing broken crockery at the bottom of the pot.

Look into reclaiming clean water that normally goes down the drain for your plants. Save the cooking water from your vegetables (the added vitamins can increase plant growth) or the water you use to wet your toothbrush. Put a bucket in your shower to catch the water you run before the shower is fully heated.

If you produce more fruits and vegetables than you need, you can always use the sun to dry them for later use. (Solar dryer designs can also be found at www.solarcooking.org.)

The sun is a great resource for the frugal household. Use it well, and you will be surprised how effortlessly you save money on a daily basis.

Take the Next Step:

  • To Purchase a solar oven, click here
  • Visit solarcooking.org for solar dryer and solar box cooker designs and recipes.
  • Stop struggling to get ahead financially. Subscribe to our free weekly Surviving Tough Times newsletter aimed at helping you 'live better...for less'. Each issue features great ways to help you stretch your dollars and make the most of your resources. Subscribers get a copy of Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist And What You Can Do About It for FREE!

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