Solar Power for Your Home

David Hughes
Solar Energy Expert David Hughes

Solar power for your home can become a reality with today's technology. David Hughes, founder and CEO of Affordable Solar and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Affordable Solar Power for Your Home, shared, "After 20 years in the industry solar, it's still magical to put a solar panel in the sun and get electricity with no moving parts. Zero carbon emissions are a bonus point. It keeps the place cleaner for the kids."

Is Solar Possible for Everyone?

David explains, "Solar can provide all the power and energy you need to run a normal American home." As an example, the average energy requirement of New Mexico is 600 kilowatt hours per month. A typical four kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system would eliminate the electric bill in this average home. The Affordable Solar company has installed systems that run factories with 300 employees. There is a system out there for any home's needs.

Retrofitting Your Home

Most residential solar installations are retrofitted. The first step is to consider the quality of your roof. For a composition shingle roof that is more than 10 years old, get it replaced. While replacing the roof the solar mounts can be installed at the same time which will save you time and money.

Find the Right Installer

Check the company with the Better Business Bureau and ask for referrals. "The installer should guarantee the installation and performance of the system for at least one year," explains David. If possible, find an installer with a NABCEP solar certification. For the DIY home owner, David emphasizes, "If you are doing it yourself, work with a dealer who has NABCEP certified staff because you are going to want and need the technical support."

Investment and Cost of Solar Power

When Affordable Solar does the work, the PV modules account for 50 percent of the system cost. However, module prices continue to drop. So if you checked prices a year ago, check them again. You might find them even more affordable. If you live in a highly populated area, the costs will also be less as the competition can play a factor. So use it to your advantage. Also research both federal and local incentives as those will also help cover some of the costs. David explains, "that $24,000 four-kilowatt system with a 30 percent federal tax credit and 20 percent to 40 percent local incentives mean an out-of-pocket cost of roughly 10,000 dollars."

Return on investment (ROI) certainly depends on what your initial cost is as well as sunshine levels, but for most homeowners they pay for the cost of their solar in five to 10 years. "I consider PV to be a bond-like investment because the return is guaranteed. Electricity costs are only going to go up." Says David.

Landscaping Is Important

The amount of sun your solar panels receive significantly impact your savings. The key is to reduce as much shading as possible. David advises, "Consider putting up an awning or patio cover to avoid roof penetrations and create a nice, relaxing area that makes energy and shades the yard."

However, where you live is a factor and if you already have enough sun, you might want to keep trees for other energy savings. "If I had to choose between cutting shade trees around the house and a solar electric system, I'd keep the trees. They're my solution to the New Mexico summers."

Housing and Operating Solar Power Systems

The equipment definitely needs space. A four kilowatt system will typically take up about 400 square feet. To reduce maintenance, use a system that includes batteries. If installed correctly, the hardware should last over 25 years. David explains, "Battery based systems do require maintenance like checking the water level in the batteries and a periodic equalization charge. Sealed batteries are sometimes called "maintenance free", but even they require twice a year voltage check. Expect to replace the batteries every five to eight years. They represent about 10 percent of the system cost. Unless you are in a remote area or have concerns for Armageddon, avoid batteries."

Future of Solar Power

While the costs will continue to drop, don't wait to start a solar system. As the prices drop, so will the government incentives. And the longer you wait, the longer it will be before you really enjoy the savings that solar power can bring. "Incentives are designed to increase demand and so drive down costs so start saving money now."

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Solar Power for Your Home