Proper numerical simulation of the Earth’s climate change requires reliable knowledge of solar irradiance and its variability on different time scales, as well as the wavelength dependence of this variability. As new measurements of the solar spectral irradiance have become available, so too have new reconstructions of historical solar irradiance variations, based on different approaches. However, these various solar spectral irradiance reconstructions have not yet been compared in detail to quantify differences in their absolute values, variability, and implications for climate and atmospheric studies. In this paper we quantitatively compare five different reconstructions of solar spectral irradiance changes during the past four centuries, in order to document and analyze their differences. The impact on atmosphere and climate studies is discussed in terms of the calculation of short wave solar heating rates.