Can a Solar Chimney Compensate for Heat Loss?

I was wondering about my chimney. I have a fireplace with an insert and the chimney is brick about 10 feet wide and facing south, exposed to the outside in Tacoma, Washington. I keep wondering what would be a good plan to collect solar from it and the fire. I could insulate it keeping more heat from the fire. I could paint it black and maybe cover it with a transparent material like clear fiberglass (something not very expensive). Any suggestions? Steven R, Lakewood, WA

Steven, Most people don’t think about their chimney, and since this is winter you raise some interesting issues. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, we waste about 10 percent of our energy through our chimney, whether we have a furnace or a fireplace. One way to prevent your warm inside air from venting out your chimney shaft is using lock-top dampers, energy-top dampers, top-mounted dampers, lymance dampers, top-sealing dampers, flues, chimney dampers, or termination dampers. These chimney energy-top fireplace dampers save you from $100-$250 annually on heating and air conditioning energy costs. These chimney dampers also deter cold draft entry, wind down-draft elimination and outside odor entry. A solar chimney — often referred to as a ‘thermal chimney’ — has been a way of improving the natural ventilation of buildings by using convection of air heated by passive solar energy. A simple description of a solar chimney is that of a vertical shaft utilizing solar energy to enhance the natural stack ventilation through a building. The solar chimney has been in use for centuries, particularly in the Middle East, as well as by the Romans. In its simplest form, the solar chimney consists of a black-painted chimney. During the day, solar energy heats the chimney and the air within it, creating an updraft of air in the chimney. The suction created at the chimney’s base can be used to ventilate and cool the building below. This was used in early American architecture routinely. However, I have not personally seen any in the modern context, and my contacts with several solar architects didn’t turn up anything — most use more modern air-to-air heat exchangers. So I am putting the call out to the Renewable Energy Access readership to see what else we unearth about your idea. — Scott Sklar Scott Sklar is President of The Stella Group in Washington, D.C., a distributed energy marketing and policy firm. Scott, co-author of “A Consumer Guide to Solar Energy”, uses solar technologies for heating and power at his home in Virginia. Have a question? Please contact Scott regarding new products, technologies or experiences for future Q&A columns.
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Scott, founder and president of The Stella Group, Ltd., in Washington, DC, is the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition and serves on the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and The Solar Foundation. The Stella Group, Ltd., a strategic marketing and policy firm for clean distributed energy users and companies using renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage. Sklar is an Adjunct Professor at The George Washington University teaching two unique interdisciplinary courses on sustainable energy, and is an Affiliated Professor of CATIE, the graduate university based in Costa Rica. . On June 19, 2014, Scott Sklar was awarded the prestigious The Charles Greely Abbot Award by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and on April 26, 2014 was awarded the Green Patriot Award by George Mason University in Virginia.

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