A Look at the Hottest Residential Solar Energy Options

There are several different alternatives available for homeowners hoping to become more energy efficient. Solar energy, in particular, can be an excellent choice for Bay Area homeowners, with options ranging from passive solar design to solar water heaters to photovoltaic panels. Here’s a look at some of the options that can be incorporated into your custom remodeling project.

Passive Solar Heating

One way to make your home more energy efficient is through passive solar heating and cooling techniques. Passive solar building design relies on the collection, storage and distribution of solar energy through the optimal placement and design of interior and exterior walls, windows and floors. For example, one can use reflective coatings on exterior walls and roofing. Overhangs, insulation and careful landscaping can all lower energy use. Deliberate placement of windows and effective ventilation are also important elements. For a whole-home remodeling approach centered around passive solar energy, it’s critical to make changes to the areas in your home that use or lose the most energy. Passive solar heating and cooling requires little maintenance and no mechanical system installation, but it’s important to plan early in your design and build process for best results.

Photovoltaic Systems

A photovoltaic solar system involves the installation of solar panels. They can be integrated into your building materials and roof shingles, or installed on top of the roof for a more traditional solar look. Some solar-powered items for your home remodel include a water heater, pool heater and flooring. The home can be partially or entirely powered with solar energy. If you choose to do a whole-home conversion, you can stay connected to the utility grid or go “off the grid” and provide your own collection, regulation, conversion and distribution. There are various federal and state incentives, rebates and tax credits available for different systems.

Outdoor Landscaping

If you’re looking for a smaller-scale use of solar power, try solar lighting outdoors for your garden, patio, front walk or pool area. This makes your outdoor living spaces safer and more inviting for parties and barbecues, as well as just spending time outdoors in solitude. Put solar lights in areas that receive a considerable amount of sunshine to maximize the strength of your lights. LED lighting is the most efficient form of outdoor lighting as compared to fluorescent and halogen lights. Some solar landscape lighting systems require battery replacement about every two years.

To learn more about the different methods and degrees of going solar, talk to our Harrell Remodeling design and build team. We can help you decide which option will work best for your Bay Area home.

Prioritizing Energy Upgrades

When people who own older homes think about green remodeling and reducing their energy bill, quite often the first thing they think of is adding solar panels (aka PhotoVoltaics or PV).  This isn’t a bad thing, because how could generating clean power from the sun be a bad thing?  However, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to making cost-effective energy upgrades and taking the time to dig a little deeper into the particulars of a given home may reveal that solar panels should actually be installed further down the line.

The new mantra in energy upgrading is “reduce before you produce”, because the most cost effective energy dollar is the one you don’t have to spend.  In most homes, particularly those built in the 70’s or before, there are numerous opportunities to reduce energy losses, instead of generating unnecessary power to compensate for them.

Depending on where the home is located and the climate involved, to save money, one course of action might be to get a home energy audit.  In many communities, these detailed performance tests and the recommendations for improvements that come from them are often subsidized by local and state governments and utilities, which further reduces the overall cost of upgrading.

One study in one area suggested the following priority for the particular home involved:

  1. Windows
  2. Wall insulation
  3. HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning)
  4. Roof insulation
  5. Solar

The recommended improvements for the house next door could be completely different, depending on improvements or remodeling that may have already occurred.

So if you want to make the most of your energy upgrade dollars, consider hiring a professional firm who can guide you through the process, looking for ways to “reduce, before you produce!”