While there are any number of approaches or mindsets for going solar, here are the two approaches to going solar that we hear about most often. First, are those who know they want to go solar but who do not want to make any other changes, and second are those who want to reduce their overall energy consumption in addition to going solar. Ultimately I’m a proponent of reducing energy usage, then going solar, but if someone just wants to go solar, then worry about reducing usage in the future, I’m certainly not going to stop them.
Here are questions to consider and steps to take for the home owner who wants to switch to solar energy, and who wants to do so as quickly and easily as possible with out any other major changes:
1. Is your roof free of shade and/or obstructions. If your roof doesn’t get direct sunlight, it’s a non-starter. If there is a little bit of shade on it, parallel technology or micro inverters can help, but ideally you need a roof that gets direct sunlight and that doesn’t have any shade on it.
2. Is your roof fairly new and in good condition? Solar panels come with a 25 year warranty, so if you are going to need to replace your roof in 2 years, you may want to do that first, then put on the solar panels.
3. Assuming your roof gets good sun and is in good shape, the next step is to get quotes. We can help you get free residential solar energy quotes. Our recommendation is to compare 4 quotes from installers for price per AC watt installed. Solar panels put out energy in DC watts, but different inverters and different systems convert to AC watts at a different rate, and AC electricity is what your house uses, so that’s what you want to use when comparing quotesfrom solar installers.
4. Buy or lease the system? Take a look at our solar calculator to get a feel for what the savings could be for going solar with a $200 electricity bill. Then, depending on whether you want to maximize long term savings (purchase) or minimize up front costs (lease) go with which ever plan you prefer.
5. The installer will take care of everything else, and you get to sit back and enjoy watching your meter spin backwards while you enjoy clean, renewable, solar energy!
The other approach, which is the approach I advocate, is to do some work around the house to reduce overall energy consumption before going to solar. Then going solar will be even most cost effective. Here are steps we’d suggest taking prior to installing a solar energy system.
1. Hire a firm like Recurve to do a home energy efficiency audit, particularly if you live in a climate where you have to heat or cool your house. They’ll do an audit and will make recommendations on home retrofit projects (sealing leaky windows, replacing old appliances, improving air quality, more efficient heating & cooling, etc.) and you can decide which of the projects are worth doing now vs later and which will have an impact on your home’s energy usage. If you heat your home (and dryer) with gas, then these projects will likely impact your gas usage more than your electricity usage. But at the end of the day, any reduction in energy usage, electric, gas, or otherwise, is a step in the right direction.
2. Take the time to pick the low hanging fruit. We’ve all seen various lists of 10 ways to reduce you energy usage. Knock a few of them off the list. My favorite are replacing light bulbs with CFL’s (compact fluorescent bulbs) and putting in power strips with remote off switches. So for example, I have my TV, Stereo, DVD player (everything but the TiVo) plugged into a power strip with a remote switch and when I’m not watching TV I flip the switch and by turning off the entire power strip it eliminates any phantom power usage.
3. Monitor your usage. Either before or after you go solar, install a T.E.D. (The Energy Detective) or similar device so you can see what your minute to minute energy consumption is. Then you can determine which appliances, or devices draw the most energy and you can adjust your habits accordingly. Some solar installations will come with online access to see the energy produced by the solar power system, but I do not know if they are also currently set up to track how your house consumes energy. Therefore, I’d suggest getting a TED in addition to solar panels. But even if you don’t go solar a TED can help you save electricity and therefore save money.
4. Go solar! And by go solar I mean refer to the list above. Now that you’ve reduced your energy consumption and are more knowledgeable about where your energy goes and what your true need is, you’ll have an easier time evaluating solar energy proposals. If you’re at the point where you’re looking for free solar installation quotes from installers, we can help. Click here to get started.