How to Make a Model Solar House Out of a Shoe Box

David McGuffin

Solar homes incorporate both active and passive design concepts including solar panels to capture sunlight and convert it into usable energy as well as large, windowed south facing home orientations to collect sunlight as heat energy.

Convert an old shoebox into a model solar home.

Although these are just a few of the basic solar design principles in use by today's home designers and engineers, they can be easily modeled using a simple shoebox as a science experiment for a young student.

  1. Glue cotton balls as your home's insulation into the three walls of your shoebox. Pack the cotton balls in so that they are at least .5 inches thick all the way around the three walls.

  2. Cut another shoebox with a pair of scissors to fit the interior walls of the cotton-ball insulated shoebox, modeling the insulation requirements for an energy efficient house.

  3. Cut large rectangles into the shoebox lid and glue a thin sheet of glass to the inside of the lid. Use a glass cutter to size the glass appropriately if necessary.

  4. Stand the shoebox so that it is positioned vertically, making it so that its length is upright, creating a larger vertical space for it to catch sunlight throughout the day. Cut the smaller side of the shoebox that is facing the ceiling so that it is positioned at a 30-degree decline from the top edge of the box to its lower edge. This will allow it to have a greater ability to capture sunlight as the windowed side is facing the south while the northern side of the house is facing northward and has little exposure to the outside elements where heat can be lost.

  5. Disassemble solar garden lamps or use small solar arrays available from toy science kits and position them near then top edge of the lid of the shoebox, so that the solar panels are positioned on top of the house. Angle the solar panels at a 30-degree angle, in order to capture the most sunlight as possible. The solar panels should face a southerly direction, similar to the glass lid of the shoebox.

  6. Connect the mini-solar panel to a wire, which may have be soldered on, depending on the panel's design and solder or screw on the wire to an individual LED light bulb, which will simulate the house's ability to collect and use solar energy.

  7. Paint the outside walls of the shoebox black to absorb as much of the sun's heat as possible.

  8. Install a thermometer on the inside of the house to measure its heat gain during the day and its heat loss during the night. Record the highs and lows of your shoebox model solar house compared to the highs and lows of the ambient air temperature for each day.