Building the first solar oven with Zadia

As part of Zadia’s home school education I have taken on the role of part time science teacher, at least for the more fun projects. Mom (Kristie) still does the day to day curriculum but when I visit, I plan a science project that Zadia and I can build together.


As noted previously, the emphasis of this site has been to promote and report on our activities relating to both alternative energy projects or other “green activities”.  As the process of cooking is a major consumer of electricity or natural gas, the logical extension for any science project is to build a solar cooker (oven) that will reduce the usage of a natural resource and provide a useful item for mom to use as a demonstration of the sun’s energy. 


The secondary lesson is to discuss how food is cooked in third world countries where women have to collect fire wood, coal or animal dung to build a fire. By using a fire and breathing the smoke over a prolonged period, women in these countries suffer from numerous respiratory problems. These could be reduced if a solar oven, that was inexpensive and effective, could be used. In addition, much of the water that is consumed would be considered unfit for consumption in any industrialized nation.  If a solar oven could be used to pasteurize water it is clear that many unnecessary illness could be prevented.


Lesson Plan:


The lesson plan calls for Zadia is to build two solar cookers and then, as part of the evaluation process, compare the results of using them under similar conditions. While it is easy to foresee the results, it should prove to be an interesting experiment for a six year old. My goal is to form within Zadia, a natural curiosity for trying things just to learn the results and satisfy her curiosity.


The two solar projects:


The first effort is to build the solar funnel, designed by Professor Steven E. Jones at Brigham Young University and then the open box cooker designed by Roger Bernard. Both use simple cardboard construction, uncritical measurements, very simple construction tools and aluminum foil. Each has been shown to work effectively as a solar cooker or oven but the solar funnel, based on actual results from using it in the field, is projected to have superior performance.


Building the solar oven:


The actual construction was done using a flat piece of cardboard her father had saved in the basement, some tin foil, a bit of Elmer's glue and some packing tape. The flat cardboard was cut, using the pattern suggested by professor Jones, to accommodate a Dutch Oven. The Dutch Oven was selected as a test vehicle because it was available and was sufficiently large to bake bread in.


Zadia, taped the edges of the cardboard to stiffen it and then applied glue with a paint brush to the cardboard. The tinfoil was applied over the glue and then allowed to dry overnight. Unfortunately it has rained for two days so the results of the oven are unknown at this time.


The actual funnel oven

is shown with Zadia

holding it together in the

living room as it is

raining outside at the

moment. The funnel will

be set up in the back yard

when the sun comes out

and will be held together

using twist ties (recycled

from loves of bread).


A sun tracker was added

so that Zadia could

reposition the oven to

accurately track the sun. It

is a simple device that

Just makes a shadow on

a black dot in the center of the reflector. In this way when the sun moves, Zadia will know she has to readjust the reflector so the shadow is centered on the dot.


Two different containers are to be used with the solar funnel.  The first is a Dutch Oven and the second is a wide mouth canning jar painted black. Once the oven has been tested, the results will be posted here.



The first real test of the solar oven was on July 15, 2008. Zadia made up a rice, beans and lentils dinner in a ball canning jar that was painted black. As Professor Jones recommended, the canning jar was put inside a plastic bag to retain the heat and the solar funnel was set in the driveway.

Zadia is holding Dinner

It is all prepared for cooking

Adelia looks on

The solar funnel is in place and the canning jar is set in place

Dinner is done—and yes it did taste great …. So the solar cooker is a success and will now be used for baking and cooking

July 15, 2008

The following day Zadia baked a small loaf of Boston Brown Bread in the Dutch Oven. This was baked using the steam method (water was put in the bottom of the Dutch Oven and the steam baked the bread).


It too turned out great.

Herb & Barbara our interests and family

The second Solar Oven — 2011

This one was built, using all scrap materials, including an old storm window from Kristie’s house that was replaced with new energy efficient ones, so that I could barter with Kristin for a used bicycle that I could ride while visiting Kristie.


Kristin and her husband  live 90% off the grid and have an urban farm. Their only mode of transportation is bicycles. What you see is their custom built bike trailer which is used to transport large and frequently heavy items from one place to another. In this case, Kristie and Kristin loaded the solar oven on the trailer and Kristin took it home.


I actually built two ovens as once I finished this one, I had to build one for Kristie as well.