EZ Heat Solar Furnaces

An energy kit Revision provided for low-income families.

An energy kit Revision provided for low-income families.

Driving through the Westwood neighborhood, you’ll notice something you see in many lower-income neighborhoods – evidence of poor housing stock, like cheap single pane windows, inadequate siding, and frequently, additions that aren’t up to code.  For many families in this neighborhood, the winter months are a dreaded battle to remain warm.  Poor insulation and weatherization mean their houses struggle to retain heat. The cost of keeping the house livable can reach $200 or more, and many families simply cannot afford this.

In 2011, Revision won a grant from the Denver Energy Challenge to help low-income families reduce the energy usage to heat and cool their homes. Tapping into it’s extensive community-network in Westwood and southwest Denver, Revision conducted over 200 home energy audits, providing those families with an energy efficiency kit and resources on how to weatherize and insulate their homes. However, after 18 months, it was obvious that the program was not meeting the needs of low-income residents. Energy audits simply gave them a list of things to fix on their house that were too expensive, and the energy-saving kits didn’t make a big enough impact – it was like bailing out a leaky boat with your hands.

An early prototype of the solar furnace. This iteration cost approximately $80 and has 144 cans.

An early prototype of the solar furnace. This iteration cost approximately $80 and has 144 cans.

Enter a unique collaboration between Revision and Metro State University of Denver’s Aaron Brown, an assistant Professor of mechanical engineering. Aaron’s passion for engineering and appropriate technology in impoverished communities led him take on the issue of heating houses in Westwood.  Could he come up with a solution that would help heat a home and be affordable? The result was a simple prototype: a soda-can solar furnace that costs less than $40 to build, and utilizes reclaimed resources.  Dubbed “EZ Heat” by residents, these solar furnaces take air from inside the house, funnel it through a passive-solar configuration of soda pop cans painted black, and pump it back in the house.  The solar gain increases the air temperature over 100 degrees, all while only using a tiny computer fan to move the air, costing less than 2 cents per day to run. The furnaces are expected to save an average of $30 per month during the winter!

Thanks to Aaron’s vision, the dedication of his students, and the work of Revision promotoras to sell the idea to the community, four low-income families have prototype furnaces installed on their homes!

Over the next several months, the furnaces will be monitored and each family’s energy bills will be examined to calculate savings. Additionally, Aaron will train Revision’s promotoras on how to build the furnaces with the goal of creating a small community-based business employing residents to build them to sell for the neighborhood.  

Interested in buying a furnace? Email us to put your name on the waiting list. Want to help make this and other community efforts a reality? Donate to Revision and know your dollars are heating up change in the lives of low-income families and communities.