You've got some money saved and going solar crossed your mind. But you'd rather have new floors or walls, or invest in the little addition you always wanted. Why not do both?


Renee Macalino Rutledge | CalFinder Solar Contractors

EarthToys Renewable Energy Article
You've got some money saved and going solar crossed your mind. But you'd rather have new floors or walls, or invest in the little addition you always wanted. Why not do both?
5 Practical Applications for Solar Energy in the Home

By Renee Macalino Rutledge, CalFinder Solar Contractors

Solar energy is making strides in many a home, but most homeowners still think it's beyond them. Up-front costs in the tens of thousands loom large, and not every state's got an encouraging rebate program to speak of. Then there's the technology. Take the confusing reports of building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), for instance. BIPV products are made from thin film solar cells, reportedly growing in efficiency, but still far behind the productivity of traditional silicon panels. Are they worth the investment? Issues such as this create a mental block that prevents a lot of homeowners from getting started.

However, solar energy isn't just a scientific novelty for big laboratories and power plants. And when it comes to residential applications, it does not begin and end with expensive PV panels. Several options are readily available for harvesting sunlight toward a more energy-efficient home, and, moreover, for a practical price. For many of us, the real challenge lies in getting the information, making some room alongside time-tested, traditional values, and finally, getting over the disbelief. Let these very real possibilities help you:

1.) Upgrade your water-heating system using solar thermal power.

Solar thermal is finally gaining ground, making a name for itself alongside its more publicized "cousin" – photovoltaics. Solar electricity, however, entails a more expensive, less efficient use of renewable energy. You can use 70% of the sun's energy with a solar thermal collector, compared to a 12% conversion rate with PV panels. You do the math.

If you want to let the sun help you warm your water, you don't even need to buy a new tank. Solar thermal systems can be retrofitted into existing water heating systems. Using this method, you would only spend $3,000 to $6,000.

2.)  Start with a small PV system and work your way up.

Back to photovoltaics for a moment. After all, the point isn't to dismiss them altogether. The neat thing about these systems is you can choose the amount of energy you want to produce and the size of the system you want to start with. Paul Smith of Sunstream USA advises the following for homeowners on a budget:

"In most cases, a customer can attain a rebate that will cover approximately 40% of the cost of an array. When that sum is added to the state and federal tax credits, nearly 50% of the cost of an array can be covered. In most cases, residential customers can purchase up to a 10 Kilowatt system and receive a rebate. There is no reason why a customer couldn't buy a smaller array (Perhaps a 4 Kilowatt system) and then enlarge it at a later date. The customer would still be eligible for the remaining 6 Kilowatts of rebate money whenever they might decide to add to their existing array."

When it comes to recouping your money, keep savings in electricity costs in mind, as well as an increase in property value.

3.) Combine an existing remodeling project with passive solar methods.

You've got some money saved and going solar crossed your mind. But you'd rather have new floors or walls, or invest in the little addition you always wanted. Why not do both?

Passive solar homes have come to be known as "smarter" homes. Long before the solar panel was invented, our ancestors built their abodes in conjunction with the position of the sun. If you build your walls or floors with materials high in thermal mass, the house itself works for you, effectually absorbing, storing, and even distributing heat from the sun into your living spaces. All without mechanical devices or operational costs.

Concrete, brick, and water all have high thermal mass. Before we get too caught up in design, let's get back to that addition. Why not make it a sunspace? If you're strategic with placement, window installation, and the set up of your walls, your new addition can help collect heat when you need it, distributing it to the rest of your home and lowering your energy bills in the process.

4.) Forget CFLs, think LEDs.

Do you have any idea how long these little gizmos last? We're not talking 25 hours – more like 25 years. LEDs are perfect for the garden. They bask in the sun all day long, transferring energy into a battery, which then powers the lighting device at night. They don't even need to be plugged in. And they're made for the indoors, too. The cost? A Cypress Solar Powered Metal Garden Accent, 2 Light Kit by Brinkmann is $69.95. Solar security lights by Silicon Solar range in price from $39.95 to $229.95.

5.) Take the burden off your AC.

For as low as $400, you can purchase a solar powered fan for your attic. As you know, heat rises, and poorly ventilated attic spaces are culprits to your air conditioning system and your electricity bill. Like other solar-powered solutions, solar attic fan draws power from the sun. Requiring no additional power, it's absolutely free to run and keeps the air flowing freely through your home.

Thinking carefully about the way you use residential power, you'll find that solar solutions fit in where you may never have expected them to. Remember, solar power solutions require, light, not heat, to run. So even if it gets downright cold where you live, most regions in the U.S. receive enough sunlight to make solar power viable. Even the small steps, taken collectively, will reduce our country's dependence on foreign oil and protect our global resources from further damage caused by processing nonrenewable resources.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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