Dear Jim: I want a solar cooker to help keep my kitchen cooler and save energy. It would also help in case of a power outage or emergency. Can I make one that really works or should I buy one? — Rhonda G.

Dear Rhonda: It is wise to try to do some of your baking and cooking outdoors in a solar cooker oven during the summer. Baking and cooking use a lot of energy. In winter, cooking does help heat your home. In summer, though, cooking results in a double energy cost because your air conditioner must run longer to remove cooking’s extra heat and humidity.

Solar cookers really do work. Many families in the world use solar cookers exclusively. Once you get used to cooking and baking in one, it is almost as easy to use as the oven in a kitchen range.

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In addition to cutting your utility bills, using one will protect the environment by reducing greenhouse gases.

Solar cookers allow you to prepare food during a power outage, even if it is not a bright sunny day.

They can get hot enough to sterilize foods and drinking water. This can be useful when flooding or some other event may pollute the public drinking water source. Insert a meat thermometer through the side to make sure it gets to a safe temperature.

You can buy a good quality, easy-to-use solar cooker in about the $150 to $300 range. Many are designed to collapse for easy storage. This makes them ideal for camping or other outdoor activities when electricity is not readily available.

Some inexpensive, super lightweight ones are made of reflective film which you inflate to create the proper shape for solar cooking.

For the most convenience, consider getting a hybrid type of solar cooker. These cookers can bake bread, boil water and roast meats solely with the heat from the sun. They include backup electric heating elements for very cloudy days.

It takes me about 50 percent longer to steam rice in my solar cooker than on my kitchen range.

Most solar cookers include some type of collapsible or folding reflectors to direct more of the sun’s rays on the cooking pot or baking oven.

One powerful model uses a parabolic reflector (similar to a spotlight) to concentrate the sun’s heat. Another uses flat folding shiny panels. Still another uses a shiny inflatable reflectors to increase heat gain.

If you are energetic and want to involve your children a learning project, build a solar cooker/oven yourself. The simplest ones consist of a large cardboard box with a smaller box inside of it. Crumpled up newspapers can be used for insulation between the two. Place a clear plastic cover over the open top.

For more solar heat, cover three pieces of cardboard with aluminum foil to function as reflectors. One reflector tilted up steeply from the back directs more heat into the top. Position the two side reflectors to direct more heat up to the back reflector. This can almost double of the amount of solar heat to the food in the cooker.

A more substantial design is made with plywood and fiberglass insulation. Slant the clear front depending upon your latitude. It should face the sun more vertically the further south you live. Saw one-inch-diameter vent holes with adjustable covers in the sides to control the cooking temperature.

Companies that sell solar cookers, kits and plans include Clear Dome Solar, Reflections, Solar Cookers International, Sun BD Corp. and Sun Ovens International.

Dear Jim: My house has wood shingle siding now. A few of the shingles are rotten and in poor general condition. I would like to add new vinyl siding. Do I have to remove all the old shingles first? — Hal J.

Dear Hal: You do not have to remove the old wood shingles first. They will form a solid base for the vinyl siding and create an extra layer for additional insulation. Replace the badly deteriorated shingles first.

For increased energy efficiency, add half-inch rigid foam board insulation over the old shingles first. Use two-inch galvanized nails to attach the siding to the wall. Be careful not to nail it too tight to the wall.

Send inquiries to James Dulley, The Press of Atlantic City, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244,or visit www.dulley.com.

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