Me and Murphy: A Tale of Solar Ovens

Last updated on July 27, 2011

I admit it. It is I who is responsible for all the severe weather most of the country’s been experiencing. I’m sure of it. See, the kids and I have been working on making a solar oven.

Solar ovens are not difficult to make. In fact, anybody with a box and tinfoil can make one–go for the luxury item with a piece of plexiglas, or just use saran wrap over the top. Of course, you get better results when you understand the principles of heat exchange, concentrating light, converting light to heat, and insulation. So far, our family experiments have settled on a nice sized fruit box (acquired for hauling groceries home from Costco), aluminum foil, a piece of Plexiglas, and lots of carpet tape, duct tape, and electrical tape. We’ve also been using smaller boxes and scrap cardboard in different configurations, trying to figure out the best way to get the heat in and keep it there.

In theory, here in Ohio, we can do solar oven cooking just fine. Equatorial regions and deserts are best suited for solar cooking, of course (and you can read here about solar cooking initiatives that are actually saving the lives of female Darfur refugees by reducing their need to forage for firewood in places where roving bands of thugs and rape gangs are a very real and frequent threat). But anywhere there’s sun, there’s a chance for solar cooking.

And that’s where Murphy steps in.

My solar box cooker is a rain magnet.

We finished our first prototype right around the Spring Equinox. My original plan was to work out the kinks in prototype by the end of the school year, so that our summer activities would include interesting meals cooked with the sun. My kids were initially less-than-enthused about the idea until I showed them how even a few minutes in the sun would heat up the box. We had some good trial runs using a dark pan without a lid, with about a cup of water inside. Within half an hour of good midday sunlight, we get bubbles in the water, and it’s hot enough to brew tea.

But further experimentation has met with aggravation. Every time I get more ambitious than baking a potato in the box oven, one of two things happen. Either the clouds roll in within an hour of my placing the oven on the front porch, or the wind kicks up 20 to 50 mph gusts that blow my six year old sideways. I swear, the thing’s a magnet for severe weather.

We will persist, though. I’m teaching my kids that good ideas don’t always work the first time you try them. We’re learning that “works right out of the box” is the product of a long process of experimentation. The things we use and the activities we do that “just work” don’t “just happen.” Someone has to think them through, try out a few ways of doing them, and figure out what works best.

And my kids are also learning who Murphy is, and how to defeat that SOB.

Links for People Who Love To Cook

The Solar Cooking Archive – Includes plans for making several types of your own. We’ve tried a modified CooKit and a pizza box

Solar Cookers International – How solar cookers work. A good “basic principles” page that outlines converting light to heat and trapping it in a small space.

Links for Moms Looking for Summer Projects – Pizza Box Cookers

Classroom Project Instructions – try cooking mini pizzas or hot dogs on a wire cooling rack

Check out the ridiculously easy video:



athena Written by:

I write about quirky people finding their own crazy paths to happily ever after. I can’t wait to see what they come up with, either. My short contemporary romantic comedy, Forever Material, is about a Dating Diva who keeps breaking her own rules when it comes to Mr. Wrong and Mr. Right. All Romance EbooksSmashwordsBarnes and NobleAmazon She’s absolutely sure he’s not the marrying kind… He’s absolutely sure she’s right… But he’s still going to prove her wrong.


  1. May 23, 2011

    Ahh, sun tea!

    But I can’t you take all the credit for today’s rain – I washed my car the other day for the first time in months – of course it’s raining!

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