Have any of you seen the You-Tube videos on soda can heaters, or the how-to instructions to make one in the Mother Earth News Magazine? We did, and since we will try just about anything, we decided to make one.
When we told people what we were doing, of course most of them thought we were crazy (not the first time) and had just come up with another hair-brained idea. But when we told them to go to You-Tube and search for soda can heaters, they would come back later and say things like “sheesh, it just might work” or “wow, that’s really interesting”. But most people still thought we were crazy. 😉
It took a while to gather up enough soda cans to use. You know how easy it is to crush the can in your hand once that last drop of soda slides down your throat, kind of like stating “all done” in a more adult way? Well, we had to break ourselves of that habit because you really need to use non-crushed soda cans for this project. Once we had gathered enough cans (thanks Barry and Stephen for donating to our cause) we were able to begin the planning stages of our heater. By this time we had watched at least four hundred and seventy one videos (not exaggerating – well, maybe a little) on soda can heaters and were therefore mildly confused as to which method we would use, so we decided to wing it and devise our own hybrid heater. So….. off to the local box store to buy some Plexiglas. We figured that the size of the Plexiglas would be what dictates the size of the box we would build and then fit the soda cans into it. Unfortunately, we didn’t listen to one of the instructional videos as well as we should have, which states that the Plexiglas can actually MELT in one of these heaters!
So, we built a box from 1 x 4’s with backing to fit to the Plexiglas and lined the entire box (except for the front) with some extra Styrofoam we had laying around. The soda cans were fitted into the box and we found they fit almost perfect. Ray drilled holes in the bottom of each can (not easy to do) with corresponding holes drilled into the bottom of the box and through the bottom Styrofoam, and also into the top of the box. Next, we glued the cans together bottom to top, bottom to top. This is also easier said than done. The glue we thought would work didn’t stick as well as we had hoped, so we spent an extra day re-gluing the cans into stacks of nine . Then the stacks of cans were painted black. A word of caution here – that paint stinks – especially when the heater is working! Perhaps we should have used some kind of high temp paint instead of the cheap flat black, but since this was just an experiment, we figure we can learn from our mistakes. The Styrofoam was wrapped in aluminum foil and then the can stacks were glued into place. Ray temporarily placed the Plexiglas covering over the front and – voila – we were in business!
- The Box This is the box built out of 1 x 4's, using a piece of cement board we had laying around for the back. The box was sized to fit a piece of plexiglas over the top.
- Drilling Holes into Cans This wasn't easy to do, but Ray discovered that if he put the can in one of those squishy can holders, the vice would hold the can in place without squishing it.
- Holes Holes corresponding to the can holes were drilled into the bottom of the box for the cold air to come in, and then more holes were drilled into the top of the box for the hot air to go out.
- Gluing the cans together Not an easy task. We found the grooves in the back of the truck worked well to corral the cans into a straight line. It would probably be a good idea in the future to do more research into what glue would work best for aluminumum, not only for keeping them together, but also for the off-gassing.
- Styrofoam covered with foil We covered the Styrofoam with aluminum foil as a reflective surface and to also help seal it. Not sure it was necessary, but it did make the whole thing look a lot nicer. 😉
- Trial fitting When all the pieces and parts were pretty much done, we did a trial fitting - just to make sure! Luckily everything fit together pretty well!
- Painting Cans Probably the easiest job - one we should have thought more about, however. Once the heater was installed, the smell of the paint for the first few days was ghastly! For future reference, we will probably use the high temperature spray paint.
- Our Version So this is what the whole thing looked like when we were finished. Not bad, huh?
- Installed Ray attached aluminum ducting to the top of the box to route the air into one pipe, wrapped it with foam insulation, and then installed it into the kitchen window of our trailer. It works ! It doesn't heat the whole trailer toasty hot as it's a bit too small. It may work better if we attached a solar run fan on it. Happily our pipes don't freeze anymore!
Our first testing came on a cold but sunny January day. As you can see from the results in the pictures, the inside temperature got up to 160 degrees before our thermostat conked out! Holy cannoli, this thing really works.
- Testing the heater Now it was time to see if this thing works! We had an indoor/outdoor thermometer, so we placed the indoor part behind the heater in the shade, as you can see, and put the outdoor part on top of the heater where the holes let the heat out. We did the test on a cold yet sunny January day.
- 10:38 We didn't get the first picture soon enough! Within three minutes the temperature inside the heater had already risen to 71 degrees! You can see that the outdoor temp was 45 degrees and the time was 10:38.
- 10:41 Three minutes later and now the temperature is 104! That's the temperature of my hot tub! The outside temp is now 47.
- 10:45 Sheesh - One hundred thirty two degrees!
- 10:48 Another three minutes, another fourty degrees! Wow, this thing is crazy! You can see the outside temp is also going up a little, now 49 degrees. We suppose that was because of the reflective heat from the concrete and the can heater.
- 10:52 Wow. A full one hundred and five degrees HIGHER than the outside temperature! How's that for making heat from the sun!
- 10:53 This was the last shot we got because the next minute the thermometer went kaput! Too hot! Wow, we can't wait to tweak our design just a bit having learned from our lessons and make a larger, more efficient one. We may even build a permanent one of these for our house! After all, it's free heat!
We can’t wait to make another bigger, better and prettier one!
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