Like many homeowners, you may be thinking about harnessing the ‘free’ energy of wind and sun to reduce your carbon footprint and utility bills. Good for you, and good for the planet! However, installing the equipment for these types of systems can be expensive and complicated. It’s important to weigh expenses versus outcome, and to explore other less costly ways to save.
What’s the Problem?
Before jumping into renewable energy there are three items to consider:
Your home’s location can be a show-stopper. Is there enough exposure to sun on your roof or yard? Your neighbor’s garage or tree is not going to move. Also consider the growth of young trees or any planned building projects.
To make your home more comfortable and energy efficient, there are probably 20 easier, less expensive projects with higher monetary return that should be done first.
A successful renewable project involves many complex technical details. Do the right thing first. Hire a professional team with experience in your city.
The renewable energy equation differs for existing homes versus new construction.
1. For an existing home there are many variables that can’t be changed. After making your home as efficient as possible you can then add a properly sized system (i.e. smaller). The process may require considerable yard space for equipment and/or roof reinforcement. However, energy needs can be partially offset with a less extensive system.
2. New homes can be built with a combination of energy efficient architecture, proper orientation to the sun, renewable energy systems and efficient appliances, lighting and electronics. These features may cost more than traditional new construction, but will save money (and the planet!) over time. Renewable systems might include solar photovoltaic cells, solar hot water and wind turbines.
Solving the Problem
If you own a home…
- First find all the ways your home may be wasting energy and eliminate them. Otherwise your renewable energy system will need to be larger and more costly to make up for the waste. A Certified Energy Professional can do a home performance assessment to uncover and solve energy waste and comfort issues. Look for an Energy Pro who can also assess the property for renewable energy opportunities.
- If you are planning a big remodel where walls will be opened up, make your home “renewable-ready” by running necessary wires and pipes from the roof to the mechanical room. A renewable system can then be easily added any time after the remodel.
- Community Solar Gardens are springing up! Buy shares and harness the sun without putting any equipment on your property. Check with city hall or your utility company for information.
If you are building a new home…
- It’s about location, orientation and selecting the right team (architect, builder, Energy professional, etc.) to turn your vision of an energy efficient, environmentally sustainable home into reality. If you can’t afford the renewables at the time of construction, make certain you make the home ready for renewables. See the Department of Energy link below for Zero Energy Ready homes.
- Read The Most Important Step
- Use a Certified Energy Professional to assess your home for energy waste and evaluate it for renewable energy possibilities.
- Talk to your utility company about options to buy renewable energy shares.
- For a new home, find professionals with experience in energy efficient design and construction.
- Review additional resources to build your confidence:
- Air Leakage / Air Sealing
- Energy Audit / Home Performance Evaluation
- Building a new home
- Zero Energy Ready Homes - DOE
- Minnesota Department of Commerce Home Energy Guide
- More Than A Beautiful Home