The Solar Powered Home
There are two reasons to green your home by installing solar power systems
– whether it be small, supplemental systems such as solar powered water
heaters, or large systems that will power the entire home.
First, you will save money by reducing your need for electricity from your
local utility provider. Granted, how much money you save will be
problematical. Your monthly electric bills will go down…but that savings must
be subtracted from the cost of the system itself. It will take several years for
you to recoup the cost. (However, the value of your house should go up,
after the installation, so if you choose to sell your home, you can recoup
your investment more quickly in that way.)
Secondly, you will be reducing your carbon footprint and impact on the
Saving Money and the Environment
The cost of energy is always going up. Gas prices are higher, electricity is
higher…everything is higher, and as is the nature of things, that trend will
In an effort to save money, many people are looking for alternative ways to
power their homes. Some methods are better than others.
Take for example wood burning stoves.
Trees are a renewable resource. So why not get off the power grid, or at
least save a lot of money, by installing systems that provide heat by burning
Many people have done so, but unfortunately, burning wood isn’t the answer
– it results in unhealthy “particle pollution” and emits carbon monoxide.
In addition, many people don’t realize that the ash, left over from the wood
after burning, can be used for agricultural purposes. Instead, they just toss
it into a landfill, adding to the pollution.
Firewood is a “renewable” source of energy, but it is not a “sustainable”
source – it harms rather than benefits the environment.
The solution is rather to convert to wind or solar energy.
In this book, we’re going to deal with solar energy.
About This Book
• Chapter One gives you the basics of solar power!
• Chapter Two goes into more detail about solar power.
• Chapter Three introduces you to lots of things, not necessarily solar,
that you can do around your house to make it more comfortable and
to save money.
• Chapter Four talks about easy outdoor and indoor solar projects.
• Chapter Five discusses gets you started with solar powered water
• Chapter Six talks about money matters…how long it will take you to
recoup your investment in solar.
• Chapter Seven discusses the intricacies of installing a solar system
• Chapter Eight discusses going off the electricity grid
• Chapter Nine talks about greenhouses and sunrooms
• Chapter Ten discusses swimming pools and solar energy
• Chapter Eleven discusses wind and water power
• Chapter Twelve discusses buying a preexisting solar home
• Chapter Thirteen discusses solar power and multi-person homes
• Chapter Fourteen provides a summary of what we cover in this book
• And finally, some links to some good websites
The Basics of Solar Power
Uses of Solar Energy
• Generate electricity. A solar electric generating system can enable
you to reduce your electric bills to zero. (Expensive option)
• Heat spaces. With strategic use of blinds, awnings, and sunrooms,
you can heat your home in winter inexpensively.
• Heat water. The sun can warm your water, and the water can warm
• Pump water. Pump water into a tank when the sun is shining, and
then use the water at any time.
• Light your landscape. Solar lights around your yard prevent
• Light your indoors. Rather than use on-grid lamps, use solar ones.
• Power remote locations, such as a cabin, RV or boat.
• Cook. Build solar-powered ovens and heaters with which to cook food.
Here’s a few facts about energy usage in general… at least when it comes to
the United States.
According to the Department of Energy, the average household expends the
following percentages on its energy consumption.
• 44% on heating and cooling
• 30% for lighting, cooking and appliances
• 18% for water heating
• 8 % for refrigerators
Of all the energy used in the United States, 39% comes from oil, 23% from
natural gas, 24% from coal, 6% from hydropower dams, 7% from nuclear,
and only 1% from renewable energy such as solar.
Americans get 51% of their electrical power from coal, 20% from nuclear,
18% from natural gas, 2% from petroleum, 9% from renewable energy
Think of the money to be saved … and spent on other things … by converting
Passive solar energy utilizes the sun's energy without mechanical devices.
South-facing windows provide natural lighting and heat for a home. Leave a
small swimming pool filled with water out in the sun and it will heat up
pretty quickly, and so on.
Active solar energy uses mechanical devices to collect, store, and
distribute energy into your home. An active solar energy water heating
systems, for example, will use a pump to circulate water through the
This solar power is converted into three types of energy.
• Solar thermal energy is created by converting solar energy into
heat. This is used for water heaters, and the solar collectors that use
these are filled with water, or some other fluid. (This will be explained
in more detail later.)
• Photovoltaic solar power is created by converting solar energy into
electricity, using photovoltaic (PV) solar cells. These solar collectors
are configured differently than thermal energy collectors.
• Concentrating solar power use lenses or mirrors and tracking
systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. The
concentrated light is then used as a heat source for a conventional
power plant. (Homeowners will not need this technology, and it need
not concern us here.)
Here are some terms you need to know:
Absorption: The taking up and storing of energy, such as radiation or light.
Solar panels absorb the energy of sunlight.
Insulation: To prevent the passage of heat or electricity into or out of a
Radiation: to emit rays, as of light or heat. Sunlight is radiated from the
Reflection: The return of light or heat after striking a surface. It results in a
mirror image of the source, rather than a scattering of it.
Scattering: To cause to separate and go in different directions. Molecules in
the atmosphere scatter light, causing rainbows, or red skies at morning or
Transmission: To permit light or heat to pass through. Glass allows the
transmission of light.
Some mediums allow radiation to pass through, but insulate heat. These are
the mediums that are used for solar collectors. Sunlight is allowed to enter
the system, but after it’s converted into heat, it can’t escape.
When a medium does not transmit or reflect all wavelengths of light equally,
it is called a filter. For example, windows can be made that allow visible light
to pass through, but block, or filter out, ultraviolet light.
The Earth’s Atmosphere
The earth’s upper atmosphere generally reflects up to 35% of solar radiation
back out into space, or absorbs before it reaches the earth’s surface.
The greenhouse effect, which has come to have a pejorative meaning today,
is actually a necessary part of life on earth. The carbon dioxide, water
vapor, and methane in the earth's atmosphere traps solar radiation but
allows incoming sunlight to pass through. It also absorbs the heat radiated
back from the earth's surface, which warms the earth. Without this effect,
the earth would be a cold place to live.
It is only when the atmosphere contains too much carbon dioxide, increasing
the greenhouse effect, that problems such as global warming arise can arise.
Hot In Summer, Cold In Winter
It’s not really necessary for you to know what causes our seasons (although,
broadly speaking, it isn’t because the earth is further away from the sun
during winter, but because our planet is tilted 23° on its axis.)
But we don’t need to know the causes for the seasons to implement solar
power. All we need to know is that sunlight is prevalent during the summer
months, and less so during the winter months, and that any solar-powered
system must take this into account.
Solar Power Into Heat
Solar powered systems perform their function in a variety of ways. As stated
earlier, some convert energy into heat, others right into electricity,
depending on what the system is to be used for – generating electricity or
For those solar powered systems that require sunlight to be converted into
heat, the heat is then transferred into a receptacle where it is changed into a
form usable by the system.
Heat is transferred by:
Conduction: Heat moves from a hotter surface to a cooler surface via
conduction. Most good conductors of electricity are also good conductors of
heat, as for example copper. Glass, on the other hand, is a poor conductor
of both heat and electricity, and is used as an insulator.
Convection: Heat is transferred between a solid surface and a moving fluid
that comes in contact with it. (Fluid is defined as any substance that can
flow, so air is a fluid.)
How a Solar-Powered System Works
Solar heat collectors absorb solar radiation, and then convert that radiation
into heat. The heat is then transferred into a usable medium, most typically
water or antifreeze fluid (which won’t freeze in cold weather).
The heat must then be stored, and since copper, painted black, absorbs,
stores and conducts heat efficiently, it is the medium most typically used.
And, since the heat mustn’t be lost, it must be insulated, with fiberglass
insulation, for example.
There are two basic types of active solar heating systems. They differ
according to the type of fluid heated inside the solar collector: liquid or air.
Liquid Systems: The solar collectors used in liquid space heating systems
are the same as those used for domestic solar water heating. The most
common type of solar collector used is a flat-plate collector, but evacuated
tube and concentrating collectors are also used.
The solar energy is captured by a heat-transfer fluid, such as water or
antifreeze, and then circulated through the solar collector by a circulating
pump. As the fluid flows through the collector it is heated by the sun. A
controller operates the pump so that the temperature of the fluid is only
increased by 10-20 degrees F.
This heat is then stored in water tanks or the thermal mass of a radiant slab
system (Thermal mass is material, like rocks or concrete slabs) that absorb
the heat, store it, and then slowly release it. In water tank storage systems,
a heat-exchanger is used to transfer the heat from the heat-transfer fluid to
the water in the tank.
Then, this solar thermal energy is distributed throughout your home. This is
done in a variety of ways, but all using the same basic principle of circulating
heated water through pipes. As it travels, the water transmits its heat, and
then returns to the storage tank as cooler water, ready to be reheated.
Here are some of the distribution methods used with liquid systems:
Radiant Slab Systems circulate the fluid through radiant tubing embedded
within a concrete slab. The heat radiates from the slab to warm your home.
The slab is also used as thermal mass to store the heat.
Hot-Water Baseboards heat space using both radiation and convection.
The hot water is piped to "fin tube" baseboard units.
Central Forced Air Systems have a liquid-to-air heat exchanger placed in
the air-return duct to the furnace. This preheats the air to reduce the
amount of energy that the furnace needs to use in heating the air to the
The solar collectors used in solar air heating systems use air as the fluid for
capturing the solar thermal energy and transferring that heat to your living
In the most common setup, called a closed-loop system, the collector draws
cool air from the house, heats it, and returns the now heated air to the living
The other type of setup is an open-loop system. This system draw in cold
outdoor air, heats it, and then transfers it to the living space.
The closed-loop is the most efficient and the most used type of system for
The heated air is distributed by fans or blowers. A temperature sensor inside
the collector monitors its internal temperature. When it reaches a certain
temperature, say for example 110° F, a signal is sent to a thermostat inside
the home. If the temperature inside the home is below the desired level, it
turns on the fan.
When the internal temperature of the collector falls to a certain level, say
90°, or the living space reaches the desired temperature, the thermostat
turns off the fan.
The solar thermal energy is stored with thermal mass inside the home.
During the day, the thermal mass absorbs the heat provided by the solar air
heating system. At night, it slowly radiates the collected heat into the living
space. The more thermal mass, the longer the home stays warm after the
Solar Powered Systems
The most expensive solar powered systems are those that take the home
completely off grid, and all power in the home is provided by solar energy,
aided by wind energy, hydroelectric power if available, and other resources
such as wood heat or cooking propane.
The intertie system has the home still collected to the power grid/utility
company, but most of the energy is created by solar power, and any excess
energy is sold back to the utility.
Smaller systems include heating the home using a solar powered water
heater. This can stand on its own, or be used in conjunction with the
electricity producing system.
These systems are discussed in further detail in chapter four.
Can Any Home Use A Solar Powered System?
The amount of power that collectors can absorb from the sun is contingent
on a number of factors. What is the climate in a particular location? Is it
sunny all the time, or are there frequent periods of rain or fog? What is the
latitude? Does the sun have free access to roof or ground collectors, or are
there tall buildings and trees in the way. These details will also be discussed
in chapter four.
Your geographical area: Databases show the statistical weather patterns
in your area. This includes cloud density and frequency, average
temperature, and air density. Your latitude also dictates how much sunlight
your home receives. Everyone lives in a “microclimate,” – a miniature
climate based on the local terrain and landscaping. One “microclimate” can
be totally different than another one just a mile away.
Size and orientation of your solar collector. The greatest solar exposure
comes from a specific roof angle, which depends on your latitude, and a
specific azimuth angle – true south. If your home is less than ideal in these
regards, the amount of money you’ll get in your rebate may go down. (You’ll
also get less productivity.)
Hemispheric reflector. This is a device that is used to measure the relative
location and shading effects of trees, chimneys, other buildings,
mountains..or any other physical things that can affect the amount of
sunlight your solar collectors receive.
Efficiency of the system: Manufacturers must define a system’s
efficiency…but this number is dependent on where the controllers are
located. The government subsidizes energy production, not a specific
Tax Issues: Many states have laws that prevent your property taxes from
rising due to the increase in value of your home from a solar investment.
Conduct research to see if your state is one of them. In addition, find out
just how long this tax break lasts – if it has an expiration period.
Talk to your taxman: Because solar is relatively new, your tax person may
not be up to speed on the various ramifications of going solar. But it’s their
job to find out for you – in particular because they’ll be several forms to fill
Here Comes The Sun
Your own, personal access to sunlight is problematical – it all depends on
where you live. Even in relatively small areas, weather patterns vary due to
topography and landscape details. Two identical solar systems, built and
operated in an identical manner, may yield different energy outputs over a
period of time, even if they are separated by only a few miles.
In order to add the appropriate solar system to your home, therefore, you
need to know everything about the conditions there.
What is your climate like? Climate includes the average temperature,
average precipitation, and average wind speed, throughout the course of
Climate and how it affects solar power:
Regardless of your climate, you can still take advantage of solar power. Yu
just need to do things differently.
Sunlight: How much sunlight does your location receive on an annual basis?
Air density: The air is thinner in mountainous regions, thus scattering less
Cloud cover: Solar energy is diffused through the clouds, and may still be
collected, but the angle of the solar panels is not as critical.
Frequent fog: Is morning fog common in your area?
Smog: Is worse than fog
Snowfall: How much snowfall does your location receive in winter.
Temperature: Although you’re using solar energy, you don’t want the
collector panels – in particular those using water, to get too hot.
Wind: Wind can be a factor in how much energy you can store
Your climate also dictates how much energy you need, and when you will
need it. In temperate climates, the requirements for heating and cooling
energy is typically lower. In northern climates, the problem is not so much
cooling your house in summer, but heating it in winter.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory website has a solar resources
section, which will allow you to obtain a data log for your city (or a nearby
one.) This will give you an estimate of the BTU’s/square meter/day you can
expect to receive.
In the United States, the NREL (National Renewable Energy Lab) conducted
a project to correlate sparse solar radiation data with available weather data
at nearby sites. These correlations were used to estimate solar radiation for
239 sites in the US with extensive weather records. The data for the 239
sites is available in a 250-page publication called Solar Radiation Data
Manual for Flat-Plate and Concentrating Collectors.
This information is available in HTML and PDF format from the website
Individual PDF files are available for the main body of the manual and for
each of the 50 states, the Pacific Islands (Guam) and Puerto Rico.
Compressed files containing the individual PDFs for the manual and the site
data tables can be downloaded in three formats: PC, Macintosh and Unix.
Maps derived from the data in the tables are also available for viewing.
There are five tables: southfacing fixed-tilt collectors, 1-axis trackers, 2-axis
trackers, direct-beam concentrating collectors, and average climatic
conditions. Units are metric (kilowatt-hour per square meter per day). Most
tables give average, maximum, and minimum values for each month. The
fixed and 1-axis tracker tables are broken down into tilts of: horizontal,
latitude minus 15 degrees, latitude, and latitude plus 15 degrees.
In addition, the National Climactic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina,
has the world’s largest archive of climate data.
Create a Sun Chart
A sun chart shows you how much direct sunlight you can expect your
location to receive over the course of an average day.
The sun chart is plotted using two angles – the azimuth (the angle from true
south) and the elevation (the angle from the horizon.) Add a skyline – all
those things that may prevent direct sunlight from reaching you – buildings,
trees, towers and so on. Each location on your house has a different skyline.
If you want to get really technical, rent a solar pathfinder
(www.solarpathfinder.com) which enables you to figure out those times of
day when shade will be a problem.
This non-electronic instrument is an easy-to-use tool that accurately
measures the shading of any site, allowing the user to see what could shade
the system throughout the year. Because the Solar Pathfinder™ works on a
reflective principle rather than actually showing shadows, it can be used
anytime of the day, anytime of the year, in any kind of weather. Even the
position of the sun at the time that you conduct the analysis is not relevant.
In fact, the unit is easier to use in the absence of direct sunlight. You can
even use it at night, provided there’s enough moonlight to see by.
A key component of the Solar Pathfinder™ is a transparent, hard plastic
dome set on top of a solid base (the instrument "platform"). You look down
onto the dome and see a panoramic view of the site reflected on the dome's
surface. All of the obstacles to sunshine at that location are seen in this
reflection. Then, a paper sun-path diagram, showing the sun's route through
the sky for every month of the year and every hour of the day, is placed
underneath the dome. Slots in the side of the dome allow you to trace the
outline of the reflected obstacles onto the diagram, revealing exactly what
obstacles will shade the selected site and when..
DSIRE is a comprehensive source of information on state, local, utility, and
federal incentives and policies that promote renewable energy and energy
efficiency. Established in 1995, DSIRE is an ongoing project of the NC Solar
Center and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council funded by the U.S.
Department of Energy.
Sunlight and Sunlight Intensity
Not only is how much direct sunlight your location receives important, so is
the sunlight intensity. When the sun is lower in the sky, the solar radiation
passes through more atmosphere before reaching your home, and is subject
to scattering and absorption. The sun is most intense when it’s directly
overhead. And summer sunlight is stronger than winter sunlight.
Sunlight also changes with the weather – as for example when its cloudy or
foggy outside. If your climate is often foggy or hazy in the morning, you’ll
need to compensate for that.
Collector Cross Section
A fixed solar cell collector needs as much of its service area exposed to
direct sunlight as possible. How you orientate your collectors with regard to
the sun-chart angles is of crucial importance. If you mount your collectors
facing north, you will get more sunlight than if you’re facing south. If you
mount your collector facing toward the west, you will get afternoon and
evening system output.
Regardless of where you live, the difference between the sun’s peak angles
in the sky from December to June is 46 degrees. Regions closest to the poles
experience seasons when the sun never shines, and six months later, when
the sun never goes below the horizon.
The optimum elevation angle for your solar system depends on your
latitude. Typically, the optimum tilt angle is equal to your latitude.
When mounting your collectors, the sunlight determines position.
If your roof faces southwest and the pitch of the roof is 45%, that’s how
you’ll mount your collector. (Yes, you can customize your mounts, but that
gets extremely expensive.)
The best orientations face due south. As far as altitude is concerned, orient
the panels to the altitude of the sun in the middle of the equinoxes (around
March 20 and September 20). This angle depends on your latitude.
If you need more power, you install more surface area. This is cheaper, and
indeed, more reliable than installing moving mounts that track the sun. The
idea is to maximize the cross-section at all times. Moving trackers are
expensive and have moving parts, so it is possible for them to fail, and they
After reading this chapter, you probably think that dealing with all the
necessities of solar power can get pretty complex. And you’d be right. So it’s
important that you conduct as much research as possible into what you’re
getting into before you take the plunge.
Because of its complexity, it’s usually best to hire a licensed contractor, who
is experienced in solar, to do the job for you.
Ways to Conserve Energy
And Save Money Around the Home
Before you go to the expense of greening your home, there are quite a few
things you can do to raise the “comfort” level of living there. The cost
savings for some of these might be negligible, but your comfort level will
definitely increase, and that will make the day-to-day living in your home
Everybody wants their home to be comfortably warm in winter, and
comfortably cool in spring, summer and fall. And they want to pay as little as
possible to acquire that comfort.
Even if your home is powered by solar energy, you still don’t want to waste
any of it.
So what can you do to both save energy and make your home more
comfortable, before you even start working with solar?
Seal your home against air leaks, and let nature help with the rest.
Perform an Energy Audit
Where are all the drafts in your home coming from? Some of them are so
big you can probably feel them yourself when you’re sitting in front of your
TV , but other drafts, which can cost you money in wasted energy, may be
so small that you won’t know about them unless you actually go looking for
Perform an energy audit to find out where all the air leaks are in your home.
The easiest way to do this is to use what’s called a pressure test.
The test works best on a cold day, when it’s warm outside. Turn off all
heating and/or cooling sources, and close all the windows and doors. Close
any vents or skylights you have, too.
Next, turn on any exhaust fans – the fans that are supposed to suck air out
of your home and transfer it outside. These are typically mounted over the
range in the kitchen, and in the bathroom and laundry room. This will help
create some negative pressure. If don’t have any exhaust fans, open up one
window, and place a portable fan inside it, blowing outward. (You might also
consider adding some exhaust fans, as they really help!)
After a few minutes, you’re ready to go around your house feeling for air
leaks. You can do this just using your bare hand, or, to make it even easier
to catch even those slight drafts, fill a bowl of water and carry it around with
you. Dampen your hand occasionally, then place it next to the sides and
bottoms of doors and windows, around electrical outlets and ceiling vents,
and any place else you can think of. The dampness will allow your hand to
feel just that little bit cooler, should you detect a draft.
If you find leaks in your electrical outlets, make sure you turn off the
electricity before you open them up to seal up the leak! Electrical outlet and
light switch insulators are available from hardware stores, and will do the job
Don’t forget to inspect under your kitchen and bathroom sinks. Use foam
insulation to seal gaps around the plumbing pipes. This will also help to keep
out both hot and cold air, and discourage rodents and insect life as well.
If you have an attic, make sure you check the door or hatch to see that
there are no leaks there, as well. Put weatherstripping around the door or
hatch as well. (Turn on the light in the attic, then go below and turn off the
lights. If you can see the light in the attic, you need to weatherstrip the
door.) Consider placing insulation in your attic if you don’t have any.
Check your Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system and the
ductwork, to make sure they aren’t leaking. Your ducts should be insulated –
if that insulation is torn or shredded at all, replace it. Hot water pipes must
be well insulated.
Although you don’t want air leaks in your house, be aware that your attic
does need to have some air movement. Check the vent systems to make
sure they’re not clogged with dust. If you don’t have any vents – put some
Check Your Home Exterior
In addition to the inside of your house, don’t neglect to check the exterior as
In particular do this in wintertime. Do icicles forming at a particular spot on
your roof all the time? That’s a pretty good indication that there’s an air leak
above that spot, causing the snow to melt. That’s energy that’s being
Check outdoor water faucets, electrical outlets, and so on. Check the joins
where two different types of building material meet – between your siding
and the foundation, for example, or between the roof and the siding. Repair
Do you have cable? Caulk the place where the cable enters your home.
According to experts, a 1/8" space between a standard exterior door and its
threshold loses the same amount of energy as a two square inch hole in a
wall. By closing up these gaps, you can save you up to 15% in heating and
One of the easiest ways to block out drafts is to apply weatherstripping to
the bottoms of doors and windows.
Weatherstripping comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can be either
removable or permanent.
You will want to choose a type of weatherstripping that will withstand the
weather, temperature changes, friction and wear and tear associated with its
For example, weatherstripping applied to the bottom of a door can drag on
carpet (if you have one) and erode over time. Weatherstripping in a window
sash must be able to accommodate the sliding of panes—up and down,
sideways, or out. You don’t want the weather stripping to interfere with your
normal operation of the door or window.
Felt and open-cell foams are the least expensive kinds of weatherstripping,
but are susceptible to weather, visible to the naked eye, and are actually
rather inefficient. However, because they are so easy to apply, they are
popular to use, especially in low-traffic areas.
Vinyl is slightly more expensive and durable. It also resists moisture. Best of
all is metal weatherstripping, however – such as bronze, copper, stainless
steel, zinc and aluminum. This type of weatherstripping last for years, thus
making them more affordable over time, as you don’t have to keep applying
the cheap stuff, which can add up.
We don’t need to tell you that your windows are a major part of the
aesthetics of your home. But if they’re old, they can be a tremendous waste
of energy – allowing either cold or warm air to pass through with relative
Purchasing a new set of replacement windows can be expensive, whereas
window coverings can do the job as well.
You can control the amount of light and heat that enters your home with a
judicious use of window coverings.
Exterior awnings over doors and windows provide a little bit of shade, that
can provide quite a bit of cooling. They look nice, too.
If you make use of blinds on the inside of your windows, this will give you
the insulation you desire during the winter. The sun shines in through the
window, strikes the blind, and can’t radiate out again – it’s trapped between
the blind and the window.
That’s fine for winter, not so good for summer when you’re trying to keep
Consider using solar screens on the exterior of your windows. These screens
block out the ultraviolet rays that allow heat into your home. However, you
need not fear that you won’t be able to look out and enjoy the scenery, and,
you can still open your window to enjoy a cool breeze.
You won’t need these screens when winter rolls around, since you’ll then
want the sunlight to come in to heat up your home, so install them in such a
way that they are easily removable, easily stored, and easily re-used.
Trees and Shrubs Provide Shade
Trees and shrubs may be a pain to mow around, but they can provide a
great service when keeping your home cool in summer.
If you plant deciduous trees – those that lose their leaves in winter – you
will receive a double benefit. The leaves block sunlight from your home
during the summer, and during the winter, the bare branches allow the
sunlight unfettered entrance.
Trees and shrubs keep your home cooler because they provide shade for the
exterior walls of your home. That shade can be 20 degrees cooler than a
sunlit area right beside it. That coolness translates into coolness inside your
home, as well.
Shade trees or shrubs over the patio, porches and sidewalk will keep them
cool during the day. From what materials are your porch or deck made?
Brick, concrete, stone and wood absorb and retain heat during the day, and
can continue to be warm into the night. By lowering the temperature by use
of shade trees, bushes or even lattices, you’ll be lowering the temperature
inside your home, as well.
If you live in an extremely warm climate, consider shading the south side of
your home. (Of course, if you’re going to have solar panels on your roof, you
need to consider how tall the shade trees are going to grow, as you don’t
want to block the sun from reaching them!)
The best shade trees grow from about 20 to 50 feet in height, and spread
their branches wide. Your local utility company or city parks department can
recommend appropriate tree species. You’ll want the fastest growing trees
you can get, of course. However, don't plant trees within 10 feet of the
foundation of your house, or your sidewalks, or septic tank drain lines as the
root system can cause damage. Don’t plant them close to power lines,
Trees and Shrubs Provide a Windbreak
There’s another reason to plant trees on your property – in strategic areas.
They provide a natural windbreak. In the winter, when those cold north
winds come streaming toward your home, they can cool it off something
fierce, causing your heating system to work overtime.
By planting a row or two of trees and shrubs, in the right spots, you can stop
the wind in its tracks.
A barrier of trees or shrubs can serve other purposes as well. Depending on
where you live, you can surround your yard with trees, to keep out the noise
from the street, provide a barrier to prevent pets from entering or leaving,
and prevent snow from drifting onto driveways or sidewalks.
Latticework Shade and Windbreaks
If you want shade and relief from wind without planting trees, a solution is
to place latticework or trellises in key locations, as for example on the west
side of your porch. Train vining plants to grow along the lattice work, and
very rapidly you’ll have green shade for most of the year. Be careful with
these, however, as their root systems can extend into your lawn and literally
More Ways to Save Energy
Taking Advantage of Breezes
Paying for air-conditioning is one of the most expensive draws on your
power bill. But the comfort given from being able to move around in a
comfortable home environment is usually considered worth it.
However, there are ways to cool your home without having to run an
expensive air-conditioner all the time.
Consider the use of prevailing winds. In winter time, you want to use
windbreaks to prevent that wind from sucking the warm air right out of your
house, but in the summertime, you can make use of cooling wind.
Any location has what are called prevailing winds – winds that blow in a
certain direction and at a certain speed most of the time. These wind
patterns change with the seasons.
By making use of these prevailing winds, and opening and closing various
doors in your home, you can have a cool breeze blowing through your home.
• If all your windows are closed, obviously you’ll get no breeze in your
• If only one window is open, you’re not going to get any breeze, either.
• If you open two windows opposite each other, you may think you’ll get
a breeze, but you won’t, unless there’s a prevailing breeze coming
from the direction of one of those windows.
• By placing a fan in a window opposite the way the wind is blowing, and
turning it on, you can make the breeze blow a little bit faster, and
therefore provide more cooling.
Window fans are less expensive than air-conditioners, and can be very
efficient. Mount the fan in the most appropriate window, aiming outside so
the air is pulled outward.
Ceiling fans may or may not provide comfort. Hot air rises, so most of the
heat is up in the ceiling, so by turning on a ceiling fan you’re swirling that
hot air around the room. However, such a fan does provide convective
cooling. Bigger fans are quieter than smaller ones.
Solar powered fans
PV modules can provide power directly to portable table top fans, as well as
Solar powered fans are especially desirable if you’d like to have cooling
comfort in any outbuildings – such as greenhouses, or gazebos. Hard-wiring
electricity requires building permits and payments to electrician, whereas
portable solar powered fans can go anywhere at any time, and you need ask
no one’s permission.
A variety of items in your house have air filters. Change these filters on a
regular basis – check the manuals or operating instructions to see what the
recommended time periods are. Your refrigerator will have cooling coils –
clean the dust and crud off them at least twice a year. Do you have ceiling
fans? Clean off the dust every few months – it builds up and can hinder the
efficiency of the unit.
Changing from 100 watt bulbs to 60 watt bulbs can result not only in money
savings on your electric bill, but also in less heat being generated.
Traditional light bulbs are being replaced by those “spaghetti-coil” light
bulbs, or, as they are more correctly known, compact fluorescent light bulbs.
These bulbs are supposed to last longer than normal bulbs (though many
people have reported that they seem to burn out just as dast). In addition,
these bulbs contain hazardous chemicals, so they need to be disposed of in a
recycling center, not thrown into a landfill. And if one of these bulbs breaks,
be very careful about approaching it.
Ditch the Dryer
Most homes that have washers have dryers too, but if you live in a house
with a back yard with enough space, consider foregoing the dryer and
hanging your clothes out in the fresh air to dry.
Install motion detectors in each room of your house, attached to the lights.
This isn’t so much to discourage burglars, but to save energy. There’ll be no
more forgetting to turn off lights when you leave a room – the lights turn off
automatically. And when you enter a room, you won’t have to fumble for a
light switch, the lights will just come on.
Turn Off the TV
Do you turn on your TV out of habit, and leave it on even when you’re not in
the room? Try turning it off. Children may be more guilty of this carelessness
than adults. Try to educate them that they’re helping the environment!
What is your water heater set at? 160º? Try setting it at 120º. Taking
showers instead of baths can save quite a bit of water, energy, and money.
Don’t run your dishwasher unless it’s completely full. In your kitchen sink,
do you have to run your hot water for a time before it actually becomes hot?
Rather than letting that water go to waste, try to save it to use out in your
garden, or for later rinsing of dishes.
Restrict oven use in the summer, to avoid adding its heat to what your air-
conditioner already has to deal with. (If you have a George Foreman grill, or
a slowcooker, cook with them in your garage, as well.) Microwaving
generates much less heat into your kitchen. Toaster ovens use less energy
than ovens, and generate less heat. And for some items, a solar-powered
oven can work quite well. We’ll talk more about this in chapter 2.
Solar Powered Appliances
Many appliances in your home can be exchanged for solar powered ones. We
talk about this in chapter 2.
Awnings placed over doors and windows can help a great deal with cooling
your home, simply by providing cooling shade. And they look nice, too.
Automatic thermostats for your heating and air-conditioning system provide
great savings, not to mention convenience.
Although you’re going to be using solar panels and blinds and such on your
windows (you are, aren’t you?), if you have the discretionary funds, consider
replacing some windows with more high-tech ones that are more energy
Swimming Pools and Hot Tubs
If you have a swimming pool or hot tub, there are a few things you can do
to save money. A swimming pool will cool off thanks to the wind, so plant
some bushes on the windward side of the pool to prevent this. Look into
getting insulated covers for your hot tub.
In this chapter, we cover the “easy stuff,” projects you can do around your
home that do not involve a lot of expense.
Outdoor Solar-Powered Projects
Yard Lights Powered by Solar Energy
There are a variety of reasons to have landscape lighting around your home.
You might want to illuminate the sidewalk up to your front or back door, to
prevent any accidents. Outdoor lighting discourages burglars. Spotlights can
also make your home look more attractive.
If you want to use traditional lighting to accomplish this, it’s necessary to dig
trenches for the electric cords. With solar powered lights, you simply place
the stakes (to which the solar-powered lamps are attached) in the ground
wherever you want them.
If you’re afraid of these lights being plucked out and stolen, secure them in
their locations by standing them upright in containers full of cement, and
burying those cement containers in the ground at appropriate intervals.)
These solar landscaping lights are self-contained systems. The photovoltaic
(PV) module can be located on top of the light, which enables it to absorb
the most sunlight possible, or the panel can be located just below it, as with
miniature trail lights that only extend a foot or so above the surface.
These lamps typically don’t provide a great deal of light, but they generally
provide enough for your needs.
If you like the pleasant look, and sound, of a fountain in your yard, a solar-
powered one will save on energy.
It’s possible to build a solar-powered fountain from scratch, but buying a kit
for the purpose is best if you are a beginning do-it-yourselfer. A kit comes
with the following items:
• Power source
• Water reservoir
Outdoor fountains can be as small or as large as you desire. They come in all
shapes and sizes to suit any budget.
Many landscape fountains use a black rubber liner that fits snugly over
almost any contour. They are easy to install, seal well, and last a long time.
Wide, shallow reservoirs are better than deep, narrow ones.
You must keep your solar fountain topped up with water, because you can’t
let the pump run dry. The easiest way to do this is to connect a drip valve
from a landscape watering system into the lower reservoir. Make sure to
leave a drainage path, in case the lower reservoir should overflow.
Most people like to blend in their fountains with natural scenery, so they
don’t look man-made. They surround the fountain with natural rock and
plants, and perhaps put a few goldfish in the water.
The cost to build a solar fountain averages out at about $300.
By purchasing a complete fountain or pond kit, you’ll receive detailed
instructions, a parts list and labor instructions. If you’re a beginning do it
yourselfer, these types of simple projects will give you the experience you
need before you move on to more complex projects.
If you are already confident in your ability to work with solar, purchase a
pre-fabricated fountain without a pump – and then install your own electrical
Portable Solar Power
A variety of normal household goods on the market today can replace their
conventional-powered brethren. As long as you can store these items in
sunlit places, they will always be able to provide power when you need
Solar Flashlights and Lanterns
Store a solar flashlight or lantern on a handy windowsill, and it will always
be ready to turn on at a moment’s notice. Such flashlights can then give up
to three hours or so of use during the night, or whenever needed. These
types of items are initially more expensive than conventional flashlights, but
you never have to buy batteries.
As far as the lanterns are concerned, many also come with conventional
power sources, so that if necessary they can be plugged in to provide light.
Many manufacturers combine solar powered lanterns with radios, so they
can be used in case of emergencies, should hurricanes or storms take down
power lines for any length of time.
Solar Powered Lawn Mowers
A solar/battery-powered lawn mower, with a full charge, can mow for about
an hour. These mowers weigh as much as conventional mowers, but do cost
more. The benefit of solar-powered mowers is that there are no emission
fumes, and they are practically noiseless. Solar-powered leaf blowers are
Campers, boaters, users of swimming pools, even people with mobility
issues who can’t easily get in and out of a tub, can benefit from a portable
A sturdy plastic bag, designed for the purpose, is filled with several gallons
of water and then placed in direct sunlight. The water within heats up
rapidly. The bag should be equipped with a thermometer in order to test the
temperature – the water can become too hot for comfort, even scalding.
Once the water is deemed to be the right temperature, suspend the bag
from a tree or other appropriate device, and have a gravity-fed shower.
Screens can be placed around the shower area for privacy.
Solar Powered Security For Your Home
In order to prevent unwanted intruders, there are a couple of items you can
install, each of which can be run on solar power. For example, install motion
detectors that sense when someone is moving around outside, in locations
where they have no right to be. Upon detection, a water fountain can be
triggered to go off, soaking the erstwhile intruder – whether man or animal
(dogs or deer!)
Motion detectors can be used for more prosaic reasons as well. As soon as a
legitimate visitor to your home steps past the sensor, their path to your door
will light up for them. A motion-sensor activated light next to your door will
make fumbling for your keys a thing of the past. Motion sensors mounted
over garage door will provide illumination that disappears as soon as you
turn your car lights off.
Motion detectors are also ideal for dark basements. Rather than having to
fumble in the dark for a light, the motion detector automatically turns the
light on for you…and turns it off again after you leave.
When Are Batteries Needed?
If you need to use a solar device at night, when no sun is shining, you’ll
need a battery to power it. PV panels put out DC voltages only. If you need
AC voltage – which is what is used to run household appliances, you’ll need
DC stands for Direct Current. This is “the continuous movement of electrons
from an area of negative (−) charges to an area of positive (+) charges
through a conducting material such as a metal wire.” Batteries are an
example of direct current…the electrons move in only one direction.
AC stands for Alternating Current. As the name implies, electrons in AC
alternates direction. This back-and-forth motion occurs between 50 and 60
times per second, depending on the electrical system of the country.
Because it’s easy to change the voltage, AC current can be used over longer
distances than DC current, which is why it’s so much more widely used.
(High voltage is sent from the power station, and reduced to a safer, lower
voltage once it reaches the house.
On those occasions when AC current needs to be converted to DC current, a
“rectifier” is used. However, for solar power purposes, it is necessary to
convert DC current to AC, and the device that accomplishes that is an
The inverter is a high-power electronic oscillator, so named because early
mechanical AC to DC converters were made to work in reverse, or
"inverted", to convert DC to AC. Inverters come in various sizes, to handle
various voltages. Prices start as low as $30 for simple systems, up to over
$600 for more powerful systems.
Solar Well Pump
A solar well pump system works on the same principles as do fountains.
During sunlight hours, well water is pumped into a reservoir located above
your house (or on top of a hill). The reservoir will fill up on sunny days, but
should have enough capacity to work through a few cloudy days. Water runs
out of the reservoir by gravity feed, until the reservoir is completely drained.
Many people have several forms of transport – a car for their normal daily
commute, and a truck, car or RV that sits around for extended periods of
time without being used. These little-used autos might need their batteries
recharged now and again, and you can do this with a solar-powered battery
There are a variety of solar-power chargers. They work by being plugged
into your cigarette lighter jack, although some do come with alligator clips to
hook up to your battery terminals. You lay the module out on the dashboard
to absorb the sunlight, and it will send a maintenance-charge to the battery.
In addition, these chargers don’t overcharge the battery, so there’s no need
to remove it until you actually use the vehicle.
Solar Light Tubes (Tubular Skylights)
Dark kitchens? Dark corners in the family room?
A solar tube lighting system collects sunlight from your roof, and transmits it
down a shiny pipe into a diffuser, which then broadcasts the light into the
room below. Using these tubes, your rooms can be kept cool as well as full
Because light from the sun is affected by clouds, or fog, and so on, its
intensity varies. Large diameter solar light tubes can put out as much light
as a dozen 100-watt light bulbs. With little or no heat.
These light tubes cost abut about $250, uninstalled, but the comfort they
provide begins immediately, and the savings in electricity bills begins
immediately as well, so that they’ll pay for themselves over the course of a
couple of years..
In order to install these tubes by yourself, you’ll need to be willing to cut
into your ceiling – and you’ll need a jigsaw and a sheetrock saw, as well as
These solar tubes will come with complete installation instructions, but it
might be best if you hired a professional to install them.
1. Buy a complete kit – don’t cobble together parts yourself.
2. Make your plan, of how to cut through your attic and your ceiling, and
measure three times before you cut once.
3. Make sure you seal the newly installed tube against the weather.
4. Ensure that you have enough extension tube to reach from your ceiling
to the room below.
Rather than using an overhead light in each room, the trend these days is to
have smaller lamps scattered around. With a solar-powered, battery-charged
light, you can unplug those lamps from the grid and save a bit of money into
Cooking With Solar
Although a solar-powered oven doesn’t allow you to regulate temperatures
as precisely as that of a conventional oven, they can be used to cook a
variety of foods, thus giving your conventional oven a rest on those really
hot days when you don’t want to add any extra heat to your home, which
will cause your air-conditioner to have to work overtime to compensate for
This is another do-it-yourself project, if you don’t want to purchase a
commercially made oven. All it takes is:
• A large, double-walled corrugated cardboard box. 20” X 20” X 20” is
an average size for such an oven.
• A sturdy piece of cardboard, appropriately sized, for a cover.
• Hardboard insulation
• Ten square feet of heavy duty aluminum foil
• Black spray paint – the kind formulated for barbecue pits
• Barbecue thermometer
Cut the hardboard and aluminum foil to size. Glue the aluminum foil to the
hardboard insulation, and spray paint it black. Then, glue the hardboard
insulation to the interior of the box. Do the same to the cover for the oven.
Then, place the oven on a sturdy outdoor table in an area where it will get a
lot of direct sunlight. Put an appropriately sized cookie sheet on the bottom,
to act as a drip pan.
Now, what can you cook in such an oven?
Canned goods are the food of choice, things that just need to be heated, but
not to an exact temperature. For example, beans, chili, vegetables, soup.
Simply place the food in a black aluminum baking pot with a lid. The interior
of the oven will be extremely hot, so make sure it has large handles that are
easy to grab with oven mitts.
You’ll need to experiment a few times to see how long you need to leave the
food in the oven before it’s nice and hot.
If you don’t care for building your own oven, there are of course solar-
powered ovens available commercially.
Supplemental Solar Powered Systems – Heat Generating
1. Solar Powered Water Heaters
2. Radiant flooring
When it comes to being a do-it-yourselfer, installing your own solar-powered
water heater is a doable job, more so than a large-scale electrical system.
Should you eventually decide to go with that large scale system, it won’t
need to be quite as large, since you’ll already have your water heater set up
In addition, as far as monetary concerns, your solar powered water heater
will pay for itself more quickly than will the electrical system.
Water Heating Systems
The principle behind the use of a hot water heater and an electrical system
is the same…water is used to provide that energy, and it flows throughout
your home in pipes. And typically, this water is scalding hot.
Regardless of where your water heater is located, the collectors that power it
will typically be located on your roof. (Depending on your location, you can
place solar collectors on the ground, but you need a lot of room for this.)
They will be situated in such a way that they will receive the most sunlight
possible. Depending on your local climate, flat-plate solar collectors are
generally used. Another type of collector is an evacuated tube collector,
which is excellent for use in those climes where the weather dips below
freezing in winter.
It is possible for you to install these collectors yourself, but be aware that
the collectors are very, very fragile, and very heavy, and if you’re not used
to climbing about on your roof, it’s best to have a professional do this task.
Once you have the collectors set up, you will run pipes from the collector to
the water heater, and then pipes from the water heater back up to the
collector. Typically, these are copper pipes. Copper pipes work well to a wide
range of temperatures, and resist corrosion. However, they must be
mounted very securely, as they will become very heavy when filled with
Things to Consider
Pipe sizes: When filled with water, a very thick pipe weights much more
than a very thin one. On the other hand, a thick pipe makes the system
more efficient because the pump doesn’t have to work as hard.
Make sure that you map out the flow of liquid before you install the pipes.
By minimizing how much pipe you have to use, you will save money on the
purchase of that pipe, and the system itself will simply work better. Since
pipes running up the side of your home or along the ground (if you use
ground-mounted solar collectors) are considered unsightly, the house pipes
are usually painted the same color as the home, and those on the ground
are usually buried, which helps prevent freezing except in the coldest of
weather, makes for good insulation, as well as hiding them from view.
Be aware that pressure can build up in the bottom of pipes, if they are run
up to a second- or third-story roof. Air must be purged from the pipes when
turning on the system.
Insulation: The pipes that run from your collector to the water heater, and
back up to the collector, need to be insulated to prevent heat loss.
Fiberglass insulation is suitable for indoor use, but because it absorbs water,
it cannot be used on exterior pipes. Use HT Armaflex instead.
Flanges: Flanges are used to keep the pipe in place, as you thread it
through roofs or walls. Be very aware of weight loads, since the flanges will
need to be able to hold that pipe in position at all times. If the flanges give
way…scalding water will start to spray – and that’ll be the least of your
Valves: Valves keep the pressures and temperatures at the appropriate
Thermometers, flow meters and pressure gauges: These tools enable
you to monitor your system, to ensure that everything is working properly.
Check valves: These valves allow fluid to flow in one direction only. The
flow is controlled by a little gate. Swing valves are most typically used, and
the best ones are made of bronze. The gate is gravity forced, so swing
valves only work when they are horizontal or tilted upward.
Don’t use spring-loaded check valves – they end up overloading the pump.
Pipe connectors: The connectors, or unions, as they are called, join two
pipes without the need for solder or permanent connection. These are used
with all collectors, because it makes it easy to remove the collector from the
system for servicing or replacement, without having to cut the pipe.
Drain valves: Drain valves are part of every solar water system. They allow
you to drain the fluid out of the system for maintenance, and for safety
during bad weather. There are many different kinds of drain valves, but ball
valves are the most reliable.
As you might expect from the name, this valve features the use of a little
ball, which has a hole, or port, through the middle of it. When that port is in
line with both ends of the valve, flow occurs. When the valve is closed, the
hole is perpendicular to the ends of the valve, so the flow is blocked. Ball
valves are “shutoff applications” – they are either “on” or “off.”
Contrast them with proportional valves, such as gate valves (the faucets
used on backyard hoses) which have a twist handle. Twist the handle a little
way and the gate rises a bit, allowing a trickle of flow. Twist the handle
further, the gate rises more, the flow increases. These valves can leak, and
thus are not typically used on solar heaters.
Relief valves: These valves protect against pressure buildup.
It is very important that you exercise caution around relief valves, because
they can pop open at any time, and spray the area with whatever’s in the
pipes or tank that they are protecting. Water in a hot water solar will be
super heated. Therefore, always use a drainage tube with a relief valve so
that if the valve does open, the flow can be channeled to a safe location,
such as under an enclosed porch.
Tempering valves (mixing valves): These valves have three ports: cold
in, hot in, and mixed output. A twist handle controls the output temperature
at your faucet.
Tempering valves provide anti-scald protection and are an integral part of a
solar water heating system.
Motorized valves: Motorized valves are controlled electrically. They can
be either on-off or proportional. In most system applications, off/on is all
that is required, and these valves are less expensive and easier to operate.
Vacuum breakers: Vacuum breakers allow air into a system when it is
depressurized. They are used to quickly drain systems, such as rooftop pool
collectors. If you live in an area where you need to drain your system to
prevent freezing during winter, you will need a vacuum breaker.
Pumps and Thermosiphons
If you have a passive system connected to your water source, it is the
municipality that pumps your water for you. Well users have a pump deep at
the bottom of their well.
A passive thermosiphon is a device set up with a tank mounted above the
thermal collector. Because hot water weighs less than cold, as the water in
the collector heats up, hot water rises into the tank while the heavier, cold
water moves down into the collectors. Thermosiphons are a completely
passive system, and so they are commonly used in isolated locations where
electricity is not available. Because they have no moving parts, they are
reliable and efficient.
Active systems, on the other hand, always use a powered pump. A
temperature probe, or probes and a control circuit turn the pump off and on
at appropriate times.
Controllers and What They Do
A controller on a domestic water heater system registers temperature, time
of day and other factors. These controllers are usually digital, and can be
easily programmed. They can prevent scalding fluids, and they control
valves to evacuate systems in freezing conditions.
Differential temperature controllers make use of two separate temperature
probes, located in different parts of the system. They open and close valves
automatically in response to the criteria with which they’ve been
Do You Want To Be A Do-It-Yourselfer?
Cost: By doing your own installation, it is possible to save money – if you do
the installation correctly. If you’re an experienced handyperson, go for it. If
you’re just getting started on your career as a do-it-yourselfer, start out
with smaller projects before graduating to this task.
System problems and installation risks: Most problems with solar water
heaters occur because of faulty installation. Even licensed contractors make
mistakes – but if they do, they are obligated to fix them without charge.
They will also have to pay for the repairs to anything in your home that is
ruined because of a faulty installation. If you make a mistake, on the other
hand, any and all repairs come out of your pocket.
Safety risks: Lifting the solar panels to your roof is a major task.
Warranties and insurance: It’s important to pay attention to the fine print
on any system you purchase. In some case, if you do your own installation,
rather than have a licensed professional do it, it voids the warranty.
Therefore, check with the manufacturers to ensure that this will not be a
problem for you. In addition, check with your insurance company to see
what kinds of damages, if any, are covered if your system is improperly
Tax incentives and rebates: In order to get incentives and rebates, it is,
again, usual for the system to have to be installed by qualified and licensed
County codes: Whenever plumbing or electrical work is involved, your local
building inspectors are going to want to have to inspect the work to make
sure it is up to code. This is just common sense – although you have to pay
for the inspection, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing
the job was done right.
Installing the Hot Water System Yourself
If you’re going to be installing your own hot water system, you must have a
detailed knowledge of the plumber’s art. It is important to understand all the
valves and system pressure requirements. Pipes need to be routed to the
collectors and then back to the working volume. Weight considerations are
important. The correct feedthroughs, flanges and clamps need to be used.
The soldering of copper tubing can be complex. If you’ve never soldered
before, practice on some spare tubing until you become proficient.
If you design your system yourself, you may either over-estimate or under-
estimate the capacity. Block diagrams – the system description, including all
the parts and where they go in relation to each other, and in relation to the
mounting environment – must be designed perfectly. The valves, pumps,
and collectors must be in the correct location. Then you need to build the
system according to the plan.
Before you begin the installation of your system, make a detailed list of the
tools you’ll need. Perhaps the most important issue to consider – how are
you going to – safely—lift the collectors up on the roof?
If you have the space, consider mounting your collectors on the ground.
Ground mounted collectors are, obviously, easier to access for service and
upgrades. (But, they are also more easily destroyed by rogue wildlife or
falling branches, if not properly protected.)
Even if you’re planning on doing your own installation, get a couple of
quotes from professionals. In addition, see if you can’t find a few people who
have installed the same type of system that you’re thinking of using, and
ask if you can see it – and if those individuals are satisfied with the way it
Soft Water Saves
In systems with copper and metal parts, using softened water is essential.
Hardened water calcifies and corrodes the pipes.
Scalding and Solar Water Heaters
Note that the danger of scalding is very real with solar water heating
systems. Water over 160° F temperature can burn your skin very badly. On
no account must children be allowed anywhere near the system.
Well-designed systems take these dangers into account. County codes
require the use of a temper valve, which mixes hot water with supply water
to reach the desired user temperature.
A wide range of different collector constructions are available, with varying
performance characteristics that depend on the application and quality of
Efficiency: The measure of how well the collector converts radiation into
usable heat. The goal is to collect the heat, not emit it.
Running higher quantities of fluids through a collector, or running them
faster, does not result in more heat collection – that’s determined by the
available radiation. However, running more fluids does keep the collector
cooler, which means less heat loss, and therefore better efficiency.
Make sure you take a look at the estimated lifetime of a collector unit. Some
do not last more than a couple of years, after full exposure to the sun.
Others are guaranteed for more than ten years. The least expensive units
will typically be the ones that don’t last very long.
It all depends on where you are placing your collectors – in an easily
accessible area where it is possible to switch them out regularly, so that
there’s not much inconvenience to you, or in a not-so-easily accessible area,
such as your roof, where you’ll want them to last for a long time.
Types of collectors
Flat-plate Solar Collectors
A flat-plate solar collector is, in essence, a flat rectangular box. A copper or
aluminum absorber plate, painted black, is set into the bottom to absorb the
maximum amount of sunlight. Rows of fluid circulation tubes, usually
copper, are in direct contact with the absorber plate. Sunlight heats the
plate, heat transfers to the circulation tubes and into the fluid. The absorber
plate is insulated from the housing, and sealed (also known as glazed) by a
glass or plastic cover, which allows maximum sunlight to enter, and
minimum heat to escape.
These are the most widely used type of collectors. They heat water
efficiently, have no moving parts or maintenance requirements (except for
keeping the top window clean and free of debris.) They are not affected by
wind or rain, usually melt off snow, and can endure brief freezing conditions
without damage. These units can be configured in series or in parallel, to
double or even triple capacity. (In order to distribute the weight on your
roof, you want several small collectors, not one large, very heavy one.)
• Exercise extreme care when working around any collector. The parts
get very hot, as does the fluid.
• These collectors weigh a great deal. Consider the load-bearing
capability of your roof. When being mounted, many hands are
• Mounting hardware should be purchased as part of a kit, with the
collector. Don’t forget that if you put certain metals in contact with
each other, they corrode due to chemical reactions between the
metals. This is avoided by using compatible material which is provided
in a kit.
• The glaze is fragile. Work carefully.
Evacuated Tube Collectors
An evacuated tube solar collector consists of a row of glass tubes (termed
envelopes) from which the air has been removed. The vacuum within makes
for excellent insulation. Copper rods inside the tube are connected to a large
copper tube inside the enclosed top part, or header, through which water or
some other appropriate liquid flows. The copper rods get very hot on a
sunny day, and the heat moves directly into the copper mass in the header
and then into the fluid. Reflectors located behind the tubes are an addition
can make the collector even more efficient.
These collectors do not freeze, and work well at any temperature. They are
not affected by wind or rain. However, they do not shed snow, and the tubes
are very fragile – no brushing away snow or trying to scrape off ice! They
are expensive, though.
Setting up an Evacuated Tube Collector
For household systems, copper pipe should be used. It’s easy to work with,
flexible, can withstand wide range of temperatures, resists corrosion, and is
easily available. However, copper is heavy – especially when filled with
water, so take care with the mounting process.
Mounting the Unit
Mounting solar panels on the roof of your home will:
Maximize your solar exposure. There’s no need to worry abut shading from
your house or trees
Allow you to use the pitch of the roof to angle your solar controller to
intercept the most sunlight without the need for complex brackets
Shields a portion of the roof form direct sunlight, moving that heat to a
different location. If you were to cover your entire roof with solar panels, no
direct sunlight would ever hit your roof. Your attic, and indeed your entire
home, would be cooler.
Before you mount panels on your roof, however, there are many things you
have to consider.
• What is the load bearing capacity of the roof?
• When will you need to put a new roof on your home? Working around
solar panels adds to the expense.
Weather: With the expense of putting solar collectors on your roof, you
don’t want them destroyed by bad weather. Most solar collectors include
warranty restrictions against freezing damage. If you need to follow certain
restrictions against freezing, how you mount the collectors is very important,
as you don’t want to void the warranty. If you need special valves to drain
your system, make sure the valves are easily accessible.
In addition, if your panels aren’t mounted properly, gusts of wind can shear
them right off.
Proximity to the domestic water heater tank: The closer your collectors
are to the water heater tank, the better. The farther from the storage tank
you place the collector, the more inefficient the system will be. In the winter,
heat loss from un-insulated pipes may offset heat gains.
Squirrels and other wildlife: Unfortunately, animals can cause quite a bit
of damage to solar panels. Squirrels and raccoons will gnaw on anything
gnawable. Bird droppings can be a problem. For panels sited on the ground,
cows and goats can step on them if not properly barricaded.
Vandalism: Animals destroy, knowing not what they do. Unfortunately, it’s
always possible that humans might like to destroy your solar panels as
well…whether intentionally or as kids.
Potential failures and drainage issues: A small hole in a closed-loop
circulating system will cause all fluids to drain.
Available space: Redundancy is always a good thing. Instead of using one
large collector, use two that are half the size.
Available sunlight and desire for efficiency: With adjustable mounting
brackets, it is possible to make manual adjustments to the solar collectors to
very the elevation angle over the course of a year. This is necessary because
the winter sun is lower in the sky than in summer.
Appearance: Roof lines influence the appearance of your house, and the
addition of solar panels will change the way your entire home looks.
The most popular types of solar water-heating systems are the following:
The integral collector system (ICS)
The ICS is an ideal system for mild climates, because it is the simplest and
most inexpensive system to install. It can be used only mild climates,
however. Because the collector holds the water that it is also heating, it’s
possible for it the pipes within to freeze – and break, in very cold weather.
The ICS system is a passive one, meaning it doesn’t have an internal pump
to keep the water moving. These systems are therefore plumbed directly
into the cold water supply of your house, into a pipe location between it and
the water heater itself.
After installation, when someone opens a tap, water will flow from the
collector into the water heater. Should the water from the collector be at the
right temperature, the domestic water heater won’t need to switch on to add
At night, or when there is no more need to heat the water because it’s
achieved the set temperature, a drainback system drains the fluid out of
both the collector and the exposed pipes, and puts it into a special tank.
Because of this feature, these systems can be used in cold climates.
Closed-loop antifreeze systems
In a closed-loop antifreeze system, fluids other than water are used to
collect the heat. A heat exchanger than transfers the heat into the domestic
water supply. These systems are the most complex and the most expensive,
but work in all climates. However, with complexity comes greater need for
maintenance. For example, the antifreeze solution can turn corrosive if the
weather gets really, really hot.
While there are a few other systems available, such as a recirculation
system, a thermosiphon system, and an open-loop flooded system, they
don’t work as well as the three systems listed above, and are to be avoided.
So, which type of system should you use?
It all depends on the following climate factors.
How cold does it get? This is the crucial factor in deciding which system to
install. Because water expands when it freezes, pipes can burst. For
example, in 29º F weather, even water in a well-insulated ¾” copper pipe
can freeze in about five hours.
A closed-loop antifreeze system is best for those areas where it freezes on a
consistent basis. In those locations where you go below zero only once or
twice in a winter, the other systems work fine as long as you remember to
drain the water out of them before the temperature gets below freezing. For
this reason, it’s important to have drain valves in easily accessible locations.
How hot does it get? Pipes can burst when they freeze, they can also
burst if the water within them starts to boil. This particularly afflicts ICS
collectors. Other systems can compensate for this by opening a hot water
faucet somewhere in the house, which will allow cool water to feed through
the system. (The hot water of necessity goes down the drain, unless you
conserve it, but since it was heated via solar energy it doesn’t cost you
anything in that regard.) Closed-loop antifreeze systems are in no danger of
burst pipes from boiling water.
There are two other factors to consider:
Bigger isn’t better: Heat is measured by the British thermal unit (BTUs).
One BTU is the amount of energy needed to heat one pound of water one
degree Fahrenheit, measured at its heaviest point.
Solar power collectors are rated as to how many BTUS per day they
generate. Because of this, these numbers are used as a comparison
between systems more than anything else. Larger and more expensive
systems should provide significantly higher BTUs than smaller ones.
Statistics show that the average household uses about 10,000 to 15,000
BTUs of water per person per day. Because your hot water output varies
over the seasons and weather conditions, install a system that’s smaller than
you need, rather than one that’s larger. The extra capacity is rarely needed,
and a smaller system will of course save you money.
Water supply quality: Consider installing a water softener before you
install your system. Mineral buildup will degrade its efficiency.
New Water Heater, or Supplemental System?
If you’ve only recently purchased a new conventional water heater, chances
are you won’t want to shell out any more money to replace it with a new
solar powered system. However, when it comes time to replace your old
water heater, then is the time to replace it with solar.
Try Before You Buy
Before acquiring a system of your own, try to go out into the “real world”
and examine those systems that other people have installed. Talk to these
people, learn of their experiences, and if they made any mistakes. It’s
always better to learn from other people’s mistakes than from your own.
Tips on acquiring a system:
Purchase a complete system from one manufacturer, don’t cobble things
together piecemeal. The system must have a complete set of monitoring
devices – from temperature gauges to flow meters.
Purchase quality. You don’t need to buy a top-of-the-line system if you
don’t need all that power, but all the materials you do purchase must be of
the best quality. It’ll last longer, and it’ll work better.
Investigate your contractor. If you’ve contracted out this work, get
several references and talk to the people who gave them. Check the
contractor’s record at the BBB. More than that, make sure they are affiliated
with the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
Read your contract. The legalese is a pain, but it’s important that you
know what is in the contract. You want to know the type of performance the
system is supposed to give you.
Talk this over with your contractor. What recourse will you have if the
system doesn’t deliver the expected energy savings?
Doublecheck the insurance. Who provides the warranty on the system –
the manufacturer or the contractor? Does the contractor guarantee
installation? Who pays if a faulty system destroys your house. Who pays if a
contractor injures himself, or herself, while on the job? In addition, see if
your insurance rates will rise because of the addition of a solar water heater.
Government involvement. Research to see if you need a building permit,
or have to have an inspection on your newly acquired system. This will very
likely be the case.
Resale value. How does the addition of this system affect the resale value
of your home? Will the warranty on the system transfer to the new buyers?
Radiant Heat Floor Systems
Some projects in this book can be done by the do-it-yourselfer, some can
not. Installing a radiant heat floor is not a do-it-yourself job.
To put it simply, a radiant heat floor system consists of a loop of plastic
tubing that runs beneath the floors of your home. When hot water flows
through this these tubes, the heat radiates upward and warms the rooms
above. This is perhaps the best way to heat your house…the floors stay
warm in wintertime, without the need of rugs, and the rooms in general stay
How It Works
Hot air rises. So, with conventional forced-air systems, hot air comes
through the vents and immediately rises to the ceiling. This heated air can
dry out your skin, not to mention your furniture.
Radiant floors provide heat from ground level. There’s no need for fans, and
no need for filters. You’ll be able to adjust your thermostat several degrees
lower than normal, because the rooms stay that much warmer.
As a matter of fact, there are three types of radiant floor heat: radiant air
floors (air is the heat-carrying medium); electric radiant floors; and hot
water (hydronic) radiant floors.
All three types are then further subdivided by the type of installation: those
that make use of the large thermal mass of a concrete slab floor or
lightweight concrete over a wooden subfloor (called "wet installations"); and
those in which the radiant floor tubing is sandwiched between two layers of
plywood, or is attaches under the finished floor or subfloor ("dry
Radiant air floors are not used in houses, hydronic floors are the most
Even if you don’t want to replace your current flooring with radiant heat,
consider using it in any new addition that you might plan.
Radiant heat can also be used inside the walls of your home as well. These
panels, either mounted on the wall or ceiling, are usually made of aluminum.
They are heated with either electricity or with tubing that carries hot water,
although the hot water systems can leak and cause damage in wall- or
ceiling-mounted systems unless they are installed properly and of the
highest quality materials. The majority of commercially available radiant
panels for homes, today, are electrically heated.
Even though you are probably going to install solar energy more for the
clean energy than any other reason, it behooves you to know the costs
involved. Your energy bills will go down, but the return on your investment
will take several years.
Here are the factors to bear in mind:
Equipment: How much does it cost for the equipment? Do you need
financing which leads to interest costs, and so on?
Installation Costs: It’s one thing if you have the skills to install solar
energy yourself. However, if you need to employ experts, the rate may be
either hourly or fixed-cost.
Refuse: Do you have to pay to have the project trash hauled away?
Maintenance: How much will you need to pay for servicing of the
equipment over a regular time period. Are parts covered by a warranty? If
so, how long is it for?
Taxes, permits, fees: When are they due, how much will they be, will they
increase over time?
Taxes: Many states have enacted legislation that allows you to install solar
equipment, without increasing your property tax bills. However, don’t
assume this holds true in your state – make sure! After all, you are adding
to the value of your home – and eventually solar will reach the point of
popularity where rebates will stop, incentives will stop, and the taxman will
Benefits from going solar are many.
You will receive rebates and subsidies offered by utilities, sate and federal
governments, and manufacturers. You will subtract these from the cost of
the system. Be aware that the monetary amount of these rebates and
subsidies will vary, depending on how closely to the “ideal” of solar power
you can come. If your system doesn’t operate at 100% peak efficiency but
rather at 70%, due to latitude or other factors, your rebate and incentives
might be only 70%, too.
If you’re installing equipment for a home office or business, you may be able
to depreciate certain items.
Measure Your Savings
Keep track of your energy bills on a monthly basis to see how much they go
Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy
This is a comprehensive source of information on state, local, utility and
federal incentives that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Clean Power Estimator
This is an economic evaluation software program that the California Energy
Commission licenses for use from Clean Power Research. It is for use by
people in California.
The Energy Grid
This tool lets you estimate the number of watts of power you can expect
from your solar system in a given geographical area.
These estimates are made using extensive databases of solar ratings,
regional weather conditions, and applicable incentives.
In addition, remember that if you convert your home entirely to solar, and
are on the power grid with an intertie system, you can sell back your unused
electricity to the utility. However, the amount of money they pay you for this
Solar power and its risks
Repairs and maintenance: Solar equipment is complex, and since the
collectors – the most important part of the system – are outdoors, and
sometimes in extreme climates, it is possible for the system to break down.
If this occurs after the warranty expires, your cost to repair it must be folded
into the cost of the system in the first place.
Efficiency decreases over time: PV panels usually see a 15-percent
decline in their efficiency in ten years. Water systems will decline as well,
especially if you’re using hard water or have well water with a lot of
sediment. Keeping them clean is a time-consuming process.
Lifetime: Eventually, every system will reach the end of its lifetime. PV
systems are warranted up to 20 years, water systems for up to 15 years.
Although many systems do outlast their life expectancy, it’s best to plan as if
Inexperience: If you install your system yourself, bear in mind that you
might make mistakes, or not set up the system as efficiently as it could be
done. The experts install these systems for a living, and know all the tricks
of the trade which you might not be aware of. If you don’t install the system
for maximum efficiency, you may be losing out on power, and you may have
to pay for an expert to come in and adjust your system.
Newer Technology: Newer technology typically is more efficient than old.
Potential buyers of solar houses may desire one with a newer system than
that which you have installed.
Taxation: At the moment, savings from installing solar equipment are not
taxed (but who knows what the government will do in future as its need for
income grows?) Talk to your tax person about the advantages of going solar
if you are in a high tax bracket.
Solar water heaters take maintenance. Will you do this, or will you hire
someone to do it? Dangers are introduced into your house – electric shocks,
scalding water, falling off a roof. Falling off a ladder.
Some solar equipment is not aesthetically pleasing. Pipes running up the
side of your house (for the water) can give it an industrial feel. Photovoltaic
panels may look odd.
Selling your home
Since solar powered systems are now viewed as improvements, typically
your home will be worth more than should you decide to put it on the
market. However, it all depends on if the prospective buyers want to take on
the maintenance responsibilities, and deal with the aesthetic issues, if any.
Financing Solar Investments
If you’ve got enough equity in your home, you can take out some of that
equity to finance your conversion to solar.
If you don’t want to go through the expense of purchasing a solar system,
consider leasing one.
Consider leasing your solar system
Let’s say that you go solar, but it turns out you don’t like it – for whatever
reason. If you’ve bought the system, you’re stuck with it. The only way to
get out of it is to sell the home. On the other hand, if you lease the system
first, you can discover if you like it, and if not, you simply allow the lease to
expire and the equipment will be removed.
In these programs, the company doing the leasing has the responsibility for
installing, maintaining, and monitoring the solar system. The energy output
of the system can be monitored through a website, which the homeowner
also has access. This allows performance issues to be addressed very quickly
by the company, without the customer having to notify them. The
homeowner benefits from the monitoring system by easily knowing the value
the system is providing. However, you don’t get the tax rebates that are on
offer should you actually buy a system.
Investing When Old Systems Wear Out
If your water heater breaks down, you have no choice but to get a new one.
Then is the time to get a solar-powered water heater, if you have not made
the switch already. At the time of this writing, a solar water heating system
costs abut $3,000, whereas a conventional water heater costs about $1,400.
But the solar water heater will pay for itself over the course of several years,
whereas the conventional water heater does not.
Investing in a Full-Scale PV System
If you have good roof exposure for sunlight, consider installing an inter-tie
system. This is connected to the power grid, so that any extra power that
you generate is actually credited to your power bill.
In California, utilities are required by law to pay you for your excess
generated power at the same rate they charge you. In some states,
however, the utility companies pay you only a percentage of the rate that
they charge you.
Installing Your Solar System
Conservation: Perform an energy audit and perform all the energy
conservation measures that are brought to light. This will save money,
reduce pollution, and will ensure that you get the best possible return on
your solar system.
Interior blinds and window coverings: These items simply make rooms
more comfortable to live in.
Solar screens: Solar screens keep radiant heat out of your house. Their
efficiency depends on your window configurations. Large, southern-exposed
picture windows are the best candidates, but they are sometimes difficult to
cover completely without substantial aesthetic issues.
Landscaping: Trees planted in your yard can work to cool the house, when
they are tall enough to block sunlight from entering your windows.
Solar battery charges: These easy-to-use and inexpensive devices allow
you to recharge your own batteries, so there’s no need to purchase
Solar attic fans: Do-it-yourselfers can install a solar attic fan.
Inter-tie systems: With a system such as this, you will receive free power
forever (as long as the system is working, of course!) and you also reduce
carbon dioxide pollution.
How To Save Money
Buy kits when you can. Even when a contractor does an installation, ask
for them to use complete kits whenever possible. System performance is
better. Contractors generally favor certain manufacturers and types of
Get an installation estimate: Sometimes the price difference between
buying a kit and installing a kit isn’t that much different from having the
entire system professionally designed and installed. Professionals can get
parts more cheaply than you can, and they can install it quickly and
efficiently. But, they have to make their profit.
Get at least three bids: When talking to contractors, get bids from at least
three of them. Compare those bids, especially if the prices are markedly
Don’t go for the lowest bid: The lowest bid is not always the best bid.
Newcomers to a field may charge less, just to get the business, but they will
not have the experience to give you a quality installation job. Get references
from each bidder – and investigate them.
What You Can Install, and What A Professional Should Install
Inter-tie PV-generating systems
A grid-intertie system must be installed by professionals. In this system,
your power generator is connected to the public utility grid, which allows you
to sell excess power back to the utility.
Plumbing and electrical work
Because this kind of work has code requirements and safety hazards, the
average do-it-yourselfer should not attempt this kind of work.
If you intend to sell your house in the future (and if you do not want to, your
heirs may have to), this can be hampered if you do work that is not up to
code. Improper work can also affect your homeowners insurance.
In addition, many of the government incentives, and tax incentives, require
that these systems be installed by licensed professionals.
Before you install solar panels on your roof, you need to know that your roof
can take the added weight. Especially, solar water heating panels, when full
of water, are extremely heavy.
Solar panels are installed on roofs, and there is always the possibility that
people can fall off! Even professionals have been known to slip off a roof
now and then. And it’s not just a question of walking around on the roof –
you’ll be maneuvering heavy equipment.
In addition, local ordnances sometimes prohibit solar panels from being in
view from the street. (However, as solar power is pushed more and more by
the government, this restriction will undoubtedly be abolished.)
Solar water heaters need to be installed by people who understand its
dangers and maintenance requirements.
Water heaters are problematic in hot weather. When a solar panel sits in the
direct sun long enough, the water can and will reach boiling point. Solar
panels have ruptured in the past from steam pressure. If you’re in the path
of such a rupture, that steam can kill. At the very least, it can do some
serious damage to the house.
Children must be kept away from solar water heating systems, and the pipes
that run from it. Ensure that the valves can not be turned by curious fingers
– get them with padlock loops.
Batteries are safe, effective and reliable when used properly, but when they
are not used properly, they can be dangerous. If the terminals of a big
battery short out, a tremendous arc of current will flash – which can be
deadly. In addition, unsealed batteries can emit poisonous fumes. Also,
these batteries must be disposed of in proper environmental fashion.
Going Off Grid
Stand-alone PV Systems for Remote Locations
Stand-alone PV systems, with batteries, are excellent to use when no power
grid is available, for example at remote cabins, or on boats or RVs.
For cabins, install a medium sized system for permanent use, or construct a
For those individuals concerned about losing power in their homes – as
might happen in the aftermath of a hurricane, or after a particularly violent
storm, a stand-alone PV system makes an excellent back-up generator. It is
quieter than a gas-powered generator, and needs no ventilation, and doesn’t
emit any pollution.
Installing a Major Solar System
Taking your home off-grid by installing a complete solar powered system is a
huge step. This is not the kind of work that the average do-it-yourselfer can
However, before you choose a contractor to do it for you, you should learn
as much as possible about the process, just as if you were going to do it
yourself, so that you can understand all the steps involved.
Do your research. That means doing more than reading this book. Every
solar power manufacturer will have a website in which they discuss their
system. Read through each site carefully, making notes of everything. You
have to be this precise, going off-grid is a major step and a major
Part of doing your research is to also deal with people face to face. Call
around and talk to a variety of contractors who do this type of work. Talk to
people who’ve gone off-grid themselves, and see what problems they’ve
encountered and lessons they’ve learned.
Make parts lists and specifications. When you understand the tools and
materials that will be necessary to build your solar system, you’ll have a
better grasp of why your contractor is charging you what they’re
charging…and you’ll know if you’re being charged for something you don’t
need. At the very least, you’ll know enough to ask for an explanation.
Talk to county officials. Every county will have some kind of
“Environmental and Development Services” department, which are the
people who will inspect any major additions to your home to make sure they
are up to code.
Talk to your utility people. If you’re going to be going off-grid, you can
make money by selling any excess solar energy you generate back to the
utility companies. But these companies have certain requirements that you
have to fulfill – after all, they don’t want your system causing a problem with
their other customers.
Codes and Regulations
Before you can start any major construction project on your house, you need
to make sure it conforms to the local codes and regulations. In addition, you
have to pay fees for permits, and then you have to pay for inspections, and
then your property is going to be appraised and its possible your property
tax may go up because of it.
Some people do not bother to go through these necessities, and may even
get away with it. But it is the law that you do follow codes, and regulations,
so just do it! In addition, if things go wrong, and you haven’t followed
procedures, you’ll have little recourse to recoup your money. And, of course,
if you want to take advantage of the rebates and warranties that various
companies give you, you need to follow these procedures.
Don’t rely on your contractor to tell you what you need to do in this regard.
They will probably know, especially if they’re experienced – and you should
only hire experienced contractors – but find out for yourself as well.
Visit your local county building department and ask some questions:
• How long does it take to get a permit after you apply for one?
• How many forms are required, and what are they?
• What are the fees?
• What inspections are required?
• How do you request an inspection?
• What happens if your job doesn’t pass an inspection?
Ask the same questions of your utility company.
Although I advise you to find out as much as possible about your solar
project, that is not to say that you should not trust your contractor to know
what they are doing, especially since you will only hire an experienced
contractor, with knowledge of all the latest techniques, rules and
A contractor can do all the work for you:
• Design your system
• Create drawings that meet the standards for the issuing of permits
• Obtain the necessary permits
• Acquire parts, and enough people to do the job
• Manage any sub-contractors
• Insure that all inspection criteria are met, or fix things if an inspection
ends in a rejection.
• Ensure quality control, both of the construction in process and of the
site surrounding it
The bidding process
It doesn’t matter how small your job is, you should always get at least three
bids, just to see what your contractor can do for you. When it’s the case of a
major system, it is imperative that you get multiple bids.
Don’t make false promises, however. Tell each of the contractors that you’re
accepting multiple bids. If they raise a fuss about this, scratch them off your
list of people to work with.
Be wary of hiring family members to do such a job – even if they’re in the
business. Unless the whole thing is treated as a business arrangement, bad
feelings will inevitably occur.
Once you’ve got the bids, don’t just look at the final price and choose the
lowest one. You need to go through each bid carefully to see exactly what is
Each bid should include a list of prior clients. Visit several of these clients
and ask to see the workmanship, and ask if there were any problems with
the job, and so on. In addition to talking to the people, look at the job itself.
Was it efficiently done?
Don’t just talk to people whom the contractor lists…if at all possible, talk to
people they don’t list. See what these people have to say.
It’s somewhat risky to base your final decision on whether or not you simply
like one contractor, as a person, over another contractor. Con-men
specialize in being friendly and outgoing and instilling trust, after all.
However, all other things being equal, of course you’ll want to work with
people whom you feel comfortable with.
When comparing bids, you’ll also be comparing prices, of course. If one
contractor’s bid is much lower than the others, find out why. Contractors
who don’t carry insurance, or who hire certain types of workers, can afford
to bid lower than their competitors – but do you really want them working
on your house?
Questions to ask your contractor
Just as you are asked questions when you go in to interview for a job, so
you must ask questions of each potential contractor, so that you can
compare their answers.
If possible, have a friend with you when you interview each contractor, so
that you can compare notes and impressions. Ask the same questions of
• What does the contractor want and expect from you?
• What problems, if any, do they foresee with your particular job?
• Ask about the warranties and guarantees they offer.
• Do they use single or multiple sources of supply?
• Under what circumstances would a contract be cancelled?
• When can they start, what is their time estimate, and what is the
procedure if they start falling behind on their work?
Once you’ve decided on which contractor you’re going to use, draw up a
contract, so that everything is in writing. Accept no changes verbally,
everything must be put in writing. This is simple common sense to protect
yourself – and the contractor, should something go wrong.
Make sure the contract specifies when payments are to be made. While you
may have to put down a deposit on the work, do not pay off the job in full
until it has been completed to your satisfaction.
Working With Your Contractor
When talking to your contractor about awarding him or her the job, make
sure they know that you plan to visit the site on occasion to see how things
are turning out.
Treat the construction people well, regardless of how well they’re being paid.
Provide a portable rest-room, have a cooler available for soft-drinks. You
may think this is the contractor’s responsibility, but it always shows a nice
touch if you provide it.
Visit the site on a regular basis. Don’t get upset if delays occur – they are a
natural part of such a business. Always maintain a positive attitude, and
communicate freely with your contractor should you be unhappy about any
A Full Scale PV System
It can cost up to $100,000 to install a full-scale PV system in your house.
Prices typically go down as technology continues to improve, and the
government and manufacturers offer rebates, but still realize that such a
full-scale system is a major investment.
There are two types of PV systems:
• Intertie: These work in conjunction with your utility grid
• Standalone: These require batteries
The interie system is the most commonly installed system. It should be
installed by a professional contractor, and it is your power company that
connects it to the power grid.
Be aware, however, that if the power grid goes down…so does the power to
your house. The utility companies need this to happen because if your house
continues to generate electricity, it can endanger line workers, and destroy
transformers and other equipment.
Here’s the reasons to invest in an intertie system
Subsidies: As has been commented on throughout this book, subsidies,
rebates and tax breaks are available for a whole host of “green” purchases,
from the smallest solar power system to the largest. The time to take
advantage of these subsidies is now.
Carbon footprint reduction: 40,000 pounds of carbon dioxide in a year is
a lot of carbon dioxide, and with your house powered by an intertie system,
you won’t be emitting it. In addition, by being connected to your city’s power
grid, you’re selling your unused power to the utility…which is letting
someone else use it, thereby reducing their carbon footprint as well!
Cost: It is inevitable that energy costs will continue to rise. They will rise
just because that’s what prices do, but they will also rise as the government
puts a tax on any energy not generated by a sustainable system – in a
legislative effort to change people’s behavior. By investing in solar now, and
getting off the grid, the quicker you will start saving money on your utility
bills. It will take time for these savings to offset the cost of the system, but
eventually it will occur. And it will also free up money monthly for you that
you can spend on other things (such as the payment for the system!)
Appreciation: The value of your home will rise after the installation of such
Electric Companies and the Intertie System
State and federal governments have legislated (in 2005) that utility
companies must allow those of their customers who use solar energy, to sell
their unneeded energy back to the company. It was this legislation that
really allowed the PV industry to take off.
The way the utility company pays you for your excess power is someone
complex (just as is the way they charge you for your electricity - higher at
peak periods of daily usage than at other times) so talk to your utility
representative and see what they can do for you in this regard. And have it
put in writing.
The Basics of PV Systems
PV modules will typically be installed on your roof. (Although they can be
mounted anywhere that you have space for them.)
An inverter converts the DC volate from the PV modules into AV voltage,
which is compatible with your household AC current, as well as the grid
power coming in from the utility company. The inverter is generally mounted
in your garage, or near your power meter.)
Junction boxes, with wiring, finish off the system.
The single biggest expense for the system is the PV panels. Indeed, for a
typical installation, the PV panels are responsible for about 60% of the cost
of the system. They also take up the most space.
A stand alone system means you’re not tied to the grid at all. Some people
do this even if they live in a location where they can go intertie, simply
because they do not want to be on the grid. Usually, the systems are used
by those who live in remote areas where there is no utility power at all.
Even if you’re in a location where the utility companies will bring power to
you if you request it, the cost can be prohibitive – you’ll have to pay for the
cost of the lines, the trenches, the poles, etc. With solar power, there’s no
need to do it.
If you go off-grid completely, you’ll use propane for heating, cooking and
refrigeration. Wood stoves are often used. Gas-powered generators will
supply electricity for watching TV, but they noisy and aromatic, and of
course, pollute the environment.
The solution is some form of solar energy, and a rack of batteries to store
power for future use.
Off-grid systems are more expensive, because of the batteries needed, the
charge controllers which control the function of the batteries, and other
equipment that is needed. In addition, the system requires a lot of
All things being equal, off-grid PV systems cost about two times as much per
kilowatt hour as does an intertie system.
According to statistics, most potential home buyers aren’t interested in an
off-grid home, so that limits your options should you ever desire to sell.
However, standalone systems are also given rebates and subsidies these
Here are the items you need for an off-grid system:
Charge controller: This feeds current into the battery bank at the required
voltage. Do not stint on the quality of your charge controller – they are
responsible in large part for the life of your batteries.
Battery bank: The battery bank consists of six or more individual batteries,
connected by cable sin either a serial or a parallel arrangement.
Inverter: This piece of equipment changes DC to AC voltage, so that you can
use the energy to power your household appliances. If you use DC power
exclusively, the inverter is optional.
Loads controller: DC power is used for boats, RVs, and car appliances. AC
power, or “load” is used for standard household appliances. The DC loads
controller, therefore, maintains the proper currents and voltages into the DC
AC Generator: This is a backup power supply. Most off-grid systems have
them in order to prevent blackouts when the sunshine is lacking for a long
period of time.
Transfer switch: This switch alternates the power source between either the
inverter output (when battery power is available) or the AC generator.
AC loads controller: This controller includes the appropriate fuses and
switching means and maintains the voltages and currents used by the AC
appliances connected to the system.
AC or DC
DC is more efficient because batteries use direct current, and is usually what
is used for small power systems. DC appliances are used for RVs and boats.
Directly linking DC requires large diameter wire, however, which can be
costly. 12VDC is the standard voltage.
AC is by far the more widely used voltage – it’s what your standard
household appliances run. AC voltages run at 120 VAC.
The battery or battery pack is the heart of any off-grid system. Everything
you want to do is dependent on that battery power.
There is a wide range of batteries available for those who go solar. Each has
different characteristics, and cost can run from inexpensive to extremely
expensive. Battery technology, like solar technology, continues to evolve.
Lead-acid batteries provide the best “performance-vs-cost” for the kinds of
energy storage needed by an off-gridder. Cars use lead-acid batteries.
They’re designed differently for solar applications, of course, as what’s
required is a low-power outlet for long periods. In addition, lead-power
batteries use practically all of their “depth of charge”.
Battery capacity: How much total energy a battery can contain. This
consists of amp-hours (Ah). To figure out the total energy capacity, multiply
the amp hours by the voltage. A 100 Ah battery at 12 volts, for example,
gives 1.2 kilowatt hours of energy. However, this is not a true measure of
the time period…other factors can cause the energy to deplete more quickly.
With the current state of technology, batteries are inefficient. They lose
energy. The average loss of this energy is 20 percent. In other words, for
every 100 watt-hours that your solar collectors put into a battery, only 80
watt-hours are returned. The rest has dissipated. As batteries age, this
energy loss increases.
Batteries come in either six or twelve volt capacities. They can be connected
in series or parallel, so that voltage goes up by 6 – 6 VDC, 12 VDC, 18 VCD,
etc. However, it doesn’t matter what the battery voltage is if you go with an
AC inverter to run AC appliances. Just make sure the system you’re running
is compatible with the voltage of the appliances you’ll be using.
Another reason why batteries are inefficient is because they self-discharge.
Typically, 5 percent of a battery’s power is lost each month, just by sitting
around doing nothing.
Batteries must be discharged and then recharged on a regular basis,
otherwise the internal chemicals can crystallize, which will then make it
harder to recharge the battery.
Batteries, used correctly, last for about four years. A battery monitor system
will enable you to keep track of battery performance. It will tell you how
much capacity your batteries have, and how much they’ve been used. This is
information you need to know.
Do not let batteries drain down to past 30% of their available energy before
being recharged. They’ll last longer this way. It’s best to purchase large
Although using solar power is greening your home, the batteries you need to
use have their own carbon footprint. They contain dangerous chemicals, and
indeed, can even produce poisonous gas.
Because of this, your battery bank should be placed in a sealed container
and stored underground…or at the very least in your garage rather than in
Children must be kept away from batteries at all times. After the batteries
have reached the end of their life-span, you must take them to a recycling
The danger isn’t simply the chemicals batteries contain, of course. Batteries
put out huge amounts of current. A battery can discharge enough current
(as for example if you drop a hammer on it) to melt metal.
Pricing Your System
Before you decide on a system, you’ll need to know how much energy you’re
going to need. In order to do this, you make a list of each and every one of
your appliances, and how many hours each day you expect to run them. List
the wattage of each appliance (each appliance should have a tag that gives
this information.) Otherwise, use a standard watt meter to take the
You also need to figure out which appliances, if any, you’ll be running
Duty cycle is a measure of how often your system is used. If you have a
weekend cabin which you only use two days out of seven, the duty cycle is
28 percent. If you use the system every day, the duty cycle is of course 100
Estimate how many hours of sunlight will be available to your solar
collectors. Remember that in winter, sunlight is weaker than in summer.
And, of course, this varies. If you live in a rainy climate, you’ll receive less
sunlight than if you live somewhere where raindrops are few and far
Here’s a list of items you’ll need for the system
10 PV modules
1 Integrated power control system (consisting of
charge controller, inverter, switches, etc.)
1 30-amp two-pole safety disconnect with fuses
1 Rack-mount system for PV modules (adjustable for
As required Wiring
8 Gel storage batteries with interconnect cables
1 Plywood box for safely containing batteries
Sealed gel storage batteries are the best kind of batteries to use. They cost
more, but they give the safety and reliability that your system needs.
Greenhouses and Sunrooms
Don’t limit your use of solar power to warming your home, or running your
electricity. With the use of a greenhouse, you can maximize the amount of
food you grow for your own use (or simply grow beautiful flowers to enjoy.)
In order for your property to make proper use of a greenhouse, the following
requirements need to be met:
• A greenhouse doesn’t necessarily have to be green in color, what it
does need to have is a location where it will get lots and lots of
• The ceiling and walls need to be constructed with as much glass, or
“greenhouse film” as possible
• The temperature within the greenhouse must be regulated, neither
getting to hold in the heat of the day or too cold at night.
• Ventilation must provide oxygen for plants
• Water must be easily accessible
• Flooring should be water resistant and easily cleaned of mud
Greenhouses are necessary to grow plants and flowers during the winter
months. As a matter of fact, greenhouses can be too hot, and that’s why the
temperature within does need to be regulated, with vents and radiant
barriers. In addition, during the heat of a summer day, solar reflectors are
sometimes mounted on the roof, just to block out some of the sunlight.
Greenhouse kits are available from a variety of retailers, and can range in
cost from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.
Greenhouses do not have to be that sophisticated, for example. Small
greenhouses can be made of plastic tarp spread over an aluminum frame,
for example. There’s no need to mess with building codes, and air
movement can be provided by solar powered fans. The simplest types of
greenhouses can be built starting at about $300. (Of course, the material
which you’ll be putting inside the greenhouse will cost more – plants, tables
if desired, and so on.)
The greenhouse is typically located some ways away from the main house,
for a few reasons. Firstly, it must be placed in a location with appropriate
A sunroom, on the other hand, is more often than not are built right up
against the side of the house, to increase living space.
A sunroom, if well-designed, can provide almost 60% of a home’s heating
requirements during the summer months. This even in very cold climates.
Sunrooms have solid roofs – too much sunlight can lead to too much heat
which can become uncomfortable, of course. The sun is allowed to enter
through skylights and vents.
Sunroom kits are also available from a variety of retailers. Extruded frame
aluminum sunrooms are the most common. They come in a variety of
designs, from consisting of all windows to having insulated fiberglass panels
in between each window to give greater stability. The roofs will be of some
solid material, and the floor may be carpeted or tiled.
For sunrooms, prices start at about $10,000.
These types of rooms are well within the scope of a do-it-yourselfer.
Because you won’t be running electrical wiring or plumbing into this room,
there’s no need to worry about building codes. (On the other hand, if you
live in an area with a homeowners association, you will need to get
permission from them to build such a room.)
You’ll build the room against the house, but won’t connect it to the houses –
no electricity, water or continuous wall connections.) Because of this, it will
be considered as a porch, rather than an additional room of your house.
Your sunroom should be built on the southern or western front of your
house. (Imagine eating dinner in your sunroom while you watch the sun
slowly sink beneath the horizon.) The sun absorbers and thermal mass (the
material you use to absorb the heat, and slowly release it to heat the room)
will go on the north side.
Consider building your sunroom over an already existing porch or deck. This
makes the process much easier and quicker!
Wind and Water Power
Windmills and hydro-power generators are also sustainable sources of
energy. Wind is caused by changes in air pressure, which is caused because
different regions of the earth heat and cool at different rates. Hydropower
comes from rain stored in reservoirs, creeks and so on, and of course rain is
caused by evaporation. Water vapor always exists in the air. As warm air
rises, the water condenses to form clouds. The more water in the cloud, the
sooner it will start to rain.
Unlike solar energy, windmills and water power are available at any time of
the day or night. Wind comes and goes, however, and although water
resources don’t change much over the course of a single day, they vary over
seasons – and droughts have significant effects on the amount of water
Rebates are available for those who want to use windmills and hydro-
Wind turbines, in a size compatible with your home, have vanes which are
pushed by the wind. This turns a propeller, which forces the alternator to
rotate, which generates AC (alternating current) power.
• Wind power can be generated any time
• Wind is available almost everywhere
• The energy can be stored in batteries for later use
Indeed, if you’re fortunate to live in a place where wind is constant (as for
example some parts of Wyoming, off of major lakes, and so on), your wind
turbine will never stop spinning.
• A wind turbine has a high-profile – it needs to be on a tower at least
100 feet high, so can be damaged by extremely strong winds.
• Some communities prohibit the installation of wind turbines, as
• The rotors are noisy
• Moving parts are not as reliable as stationary parts.
• Obstructions such as trees, houses, and so on can hinder the wind.
If you don’t have access to a large body of water, you will not be able to
take advantage of the enormous power that it can generate.
• Water power generates more kilowatts per cost than any other energy
• Batteries are typically not needed
• Power can be generated day or night, in any weather
• Hydro-systems are relatively maintenance free
• Drought can affect the amount of water available to you
• Up-front costs are very high
• You must be near a large-enough water source
If you do decide to explore the possibilities of hydroelectric power, you need
to find out just how much electricity your water source will be able to
Moving water: Measure the flow – how much water passes a given point in
one minute, and the speed with which it does so. You will also need to
obtain rights to use the water – which at times can be difficult.
Stationary water: In order to generate electricity from stationary water,
you’ll need one of two types of pipe systems. High fall (head) - low volume,
and high volume - low fall (head). And here again, you’ll need to obtain the
right to use the water.
Generating hydroelectric power is a very complex subject, beyond the scope
of this book, so I’m only covering the very basics here.
Flow volume is measured in cubic feet per second (cfs) or gallons per minute
(gpm). Higher flow of course means more available power.
The “head” is a measure of the pressure of falling water. Higher head means
more available power. The higher the head the better, because less water is
needed to produce a given amount of power. If less water is needed, then
smaller, more efficient, and less costly turbines and piping can be used.
"Low head" refers to a change in elevation of less than 10. A vertical drop of
less than 2 feet makes a hydroelectric system unfeasible. A high flow rate
can compensate for low head, but a larger and more costly turbine will be
necessary. Turbines just don’t operate efficiently under very low head and
In addition, you might not even have the water rights that you’ll need. To
check on this, contact your County Engineer -- check your phone book under
County Government Agencies.
Also ask questions of these agencies:
Army Corps of Engineers: www.usace.army.mil
Department of Agriculture: www.usda.com
U.S. Geological Survey: www.usgs.gov
Swimming Pools and Solar Energy
If you happen to have a swimming pool in your backyard, you know how
much it costs in maintenance. By using solar power, you can cut down on
Here are some tips.
Warm your pool with a solar cover. You purchase these covers by the square
foot, since pool sizes vary. Using this cover may enable you to take
advantage of your pool for several months longer than if you did not use
such a cover…all the way into the colder months before the snow starts
flying, in fact!
Pools have a large surface area, so the wind cools them down tremendously.
By placing a cover over the pool, you allow it to absorb heat and then
transfer it to the water. It’s not necessary to completely cover the
pool…placing a rectangular cover over a kidney-shaped pool, so the ends
stick out, is just fine.
It is most important for pools to be covered at night, to prevent heat loss.
Covers also limit the evaporation of your pool water.
Pool covers need to be put on and taken off your pool, and that can be labor
intensive (unless you want to purchase an automatic system that does it for
you… but that can be expensive!) However, think of the excellent workout it
Small Children Alert
Swimming pools are considered an attractive nuisance. Do not make it easy,
indeed, do not make it possible, for a child to be trapped underneath the
Heating Your Pool With the Sun
Because swimming pools already have pumps and controllers in their
filtration system, connecting them to solar panels is relatively easy. A
properly designed system heats your pool more inexpensively than gas or
electric heaters…but a poorly designed system can defeat the whole
purpose…wearing out expensive pump motors more quickly than should be
Just as you went through your house to make it more efficient before you
installed your solar powered systems, so you should take a look at your
swimming pool and make sure it operates as efficiently as possible before
you start adding solar to it.
Bends are bad: Take a look at your piping. If there are any sharp bends,
be aware that that’s impeding the flow of the liquid, and costing you money.
Swimming pool pipes are PVC pipes – it’s easy to take them apart and put
them back together in a more efficient configuration.
Ball valves are better: Take a look at the valves on your system. If they
are gate valves, replace them with ball valves.
Filters fade away: Too many people neglect the filters, not only on
swimming pools but in their homes as well. Dirty filters make it harder for
your system to work, and so they must be replaced on a regular basis.
Depower the pump: Many people run their swimming pool pumps longer a
day than they need to do. Even if you are getting your power from a solar
generator, the motor is still getting wear and tear. Try running it for a third
less time each day than you normally do. For heating your pool using solar
power, you don’t actually want a particularly powerful pump. The longer the
water stays in the collector, the hotter it gets.
Connecting the solar panel to the pool
You can purchase solar collector panels at your local pool supply store.
Typically, a 4 foot by 20 foot panel costs about $200, and flex hoses, to
connect the panel to the pool, usually don’t cost more than $10 or $20.
Depending on the size of your pool, you’ll need more than one panel. If the
pool is above ground, it loses heat more quickly, and this will have to be
Position the solar panel so that it receives the most sunlight. It’s at this time
that you’ll also set the pump to run. If possible, place the solar panel out of
the path of the wind.
Take a look at your pool system. There’s a pump, a controller, and a filter,
and PVC pipes through which the water flows. Connect a couple of flex
hoses to this pipe, past where the filter is located. Install a valve as well, so
that you can control how much water from the solar panel feeds into the
Complete Swimming Pool System
If you’ve got the discretionary funds, consider installing a complete
swimming pool heating system. In these types of systems, the solar panels
are mounted on the roof, and the pump that you use has to be able to fore
the water back up the pipes to the roof. This takes a lot of power.
When the pump is on, the controller measures the temperature at the
collectors and the temperature of the pool water. When the temperature at
the collector is in the sufficient range, the motor will begin to circulate the
water from the collectors to the swimming pool and back.
Each night, the system is typically drained of water. Night time temperature
drop, which cools the water. It’s better for the water to move into the
collector the next day, when it can then be appropriately heated and sent
back to the pool.
Buying a Solar Home
If you’re planning on buying a home that someone else has already
converted to solar, you need to treat it as you would any other household
This means that in addition to the usual inspections carried out on these
occasions – for pests, roof damage, and son on, you will also want to have
tests done to ensure that the solar systems are working properly.
To this end, you’ll need to make sure that your inspector knows his or her
stuff when it comes to solar. Various solar organizations will be able to give
you a list of names of qualified inspectors.
In addition, talk to the people who installed the system, to ensure that you
will still be covered under any warranties once you buy the house.
One thing to be aware of when you’re buying a solar home is that, typically,
people who have just installed solar are not going to be moving. So what
you’ll be buying is probably an older system… with older technology. If you
take on the house, you’ll be responsible for any repairs or new parts that are
Here’s a specific list of information to find out before you purchase a
pre-existing solar home:
Have an energy audit completed by a professional. Inspections are normally
done after an offer is made and accepted…which seems to be putting the
cart after the horse. Surely you’d want to inspect the home before you make
an offer on it? However, that’s the way things are done. What you can do is
request to see all the energy bills for the home since the solar was installed.
Evaluate the existing equipment for age, reliability and upgrade potential.
How old is the HVAC? The stove? Washer and dryer?
Evaluate the outside of the house…does it have shade trees appropriately
placed? Are there window and door awnings. A sun porch? A trellis?
Be aware that a solar powered home will typically be priced more than a
similar home without solar power. And that you’ll be receiving no rebates for
purchasing a previously-installed system. However, of course if the home is
connected to the power-grid, you’ll continue to benefit from selling back
your excess electricity.
Financing the Purchase
In today’s economic climate, it may be difficult to get a loan to buy the
house. It all depends on your credit score, and the soundness of your bank.
See if the homeowner can’t give you a good deal to sweeten the pot and
ensure the sale.
Solar Housing of the Future
In this book, we’ve discussed adding solar systems on to an existing home.
However, eventually, purpose-built solar-powered homes will eventually be
built, although this seems to be some ways down the road.
Solar power will not be limited to single-family homes, however. Apartment
buildings and businesses are also getting into the act.
For example, TreeHugger reported on May 6, 2009 that an apartment
building called Los Vecinos has just opened in San Diego. It is the first LEED-
Certified Platinum, 100% solar-powered affordable housing in San Diego,
and offers 42-units.
The $17.6 million project opened its doors on May 6 to visitors to welcome
the new neighbors, who are already living in the building, to the
The complex, located in the Chula Vista section of San Diego, provides three
floors of 1, 2 and 3-bedroom housing units. The complex also has a 1,500
square foot recreation center complete with space for classes offered such as
finance, computer literacy and how to "go green."
Eligible residents make between $16,600 and $58,800 per year (60% or less
of the area's median income). The solar array covering the entire roof was
installed by Solar Power Inc and is a 93 kW system. Each apartment gets a
certain number of solar panels hard-wired directly so it gets whatever credit
the system produces; the bigger the apartment, the more panels.
The property was once a vacant motel, it is now a model for green living of
Here’s some of the projects that were covered in this book.
1. Performing an energy audit and sealing leaks can save you money on
your energy bills and add to your comfort, before you do anything else
to your home.
2. Heating your water via solar power is the quickest way to save money
on utility bills, and see your investment recouped.
3. Adding the right kinds of window treatments can also keep your home
cool in summer and warm in winter, with little initial monetary outlay.
Adding awnings to the exterior, over windows and doors, can do their
part as well.
4. Using solar powered portable lamps to read at night, or to provide
illumination while you dine, chat with friends, and so on, can save
5. The appropriate landscaping can help keep your home cool in summer
and warm in winter.
6. The appropriate landscape lighting can make your home more
attractive, and add to its security.
7. A full-scale PV power home system is expensive, but as a long-term
investment it is well worth it.
Solar power is a complex subject, and this book has only scratched the
surface of the topic.
If you’ve decided that solar power is for you, your education does not stop
here. It’s not just a question of checking out more books on the subject, but
of going out and talking to people who currently use solar, and talking to
your government representatives, to ensure that you are going to get out of
this type of system what you expect.
The time is now for solar…so educate yourself on the subject, and if you feel
you’re ready, take the plunge.
http://www.ases.org/ American Solar Energy Society
http://www.solarenergy.org/ Solar Energy
http://www.solardecathlon.org/ Solar Decathlon
http://www.homepower.com/home/ Homepower Magazine
http://www.energytrace.com/ Energy Trace webzine
http://www.solar-homes.us/ Solar Homes
http://www.solarpowerhomesusa.com/ Solar Power Homes USA
http://solar.sharpusa.com/solar/ Sharp Solar Electricty