Five Conservation Measures to Consider Before Installing Solar Power
Thinking of Installing Solar Power? Consider these 5 things first:
Installing solar power should be the last step a homeowner takes to make their home energy efficient. Solar power for homes is being marketed very aggressively in many parts of the world as a way to reduce rising energy costs. For most homeowners there are many efficiency measures that will provide a much larger return on investment.
If you haven’t replaced those old incandescent bulbs in your home, start now. The price of LED bulbs has dropped dramatically over the past year and standard bulb sizes can be found in the $3-5 range. A 60W equivalent LED uses only 8-12% of the power that an incandescent bulb uses and about half the power of a compact fluorescent. The return on investment is dependent on the habits of the homeowner, but in many cases the simple payback is less than one year, meaning that within a year the LEDs will pay for themselves and the remaining savings are money in your pocket. Add to this the fact that LEDs can last 40X longer than an incandescent and the decision should be easy.
Heating and cooling account for 50% to 70% of the energy used in the average American home. If you want to substantially reduce energy costs, decrease the amount of energy needed for heating and cooling your home. Proper Insulation reduces average home heating and cooling costs by about 20%. Older homes will benefit more from proper insulation than newer homes, but unless your home was built with a strong emphasis on efficiency, adding insulation will probably reduce your heating and cooling expenses.
In a well-insulated home, a barrier is created between all conditioned space and unconditioned space. This will include the attic (including insulation for the HVAC duct work), exterior walls, and floors above cold spaces. Each area may require a different type of insulation, but each type will have an R-value. The R-value of insulation refers to the material’s resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the more effective it will be insulating your home.
You already know that heating and cooling make up the majority of the energy costs in a US home, but did you know that 20-40% of the air that moves through a duct system is lost to leaks, holes, and poorly connected ducts? Not only is the result higher utility bills and difficulty keeping the house comfortable, but the “backdraft” of particulates can also be a health hazard. Fumes from household and garden chemicals, insulation particles, and dust can enter your duct system, aggravating asthma and allergy problems. Sealing ducts can help improve indoor air quality by reducing the risk of pollutants entering ducts and circulating through your home as well as save energy.
Duct sealing has always meant getting into the attic with sealing tape and insulation. Today many professional contractors are offering AeroSeal, which is different because it works from the inside out. It is really quite ingenious. The contractor sets up his equipment and seals all of the vents. Then they inject a polymer into the system within an aerosol spray. The aerosol particles begin collecting on the edges of holes and cracks in the duct work and seal the leaky duct work from the inside using only 1 to 2 oz. of sealant material.
Home Automation and Controls
How much energy does your home use when you are away? How much energy does your living room use when you are asleep? When is the last time someone used the spare bedroom? Automation and controls help you save energy when you do not really need to be using it. The quickest path to reducing your energy consumption through automation is with smart thermostats, lighting controls, and smart power strips.
A smart thermostat is the evolution of the old programmable thermostats. The problem with the old technology is that most people used them just like a manual thermostat. Smart thermostats use several technologies to know when you are at home and when you are away and will adjust the temperature as needed. Lighting controls such as occupancy sensors and motion detectors help by ensuring that lights turn off when no one is there to use them. Likewise, smart power strips also use motion detectors to sense when you have left the room and can shut off TVs, electronics, and other plug-in devices around the home that often use energy even when powered off.
Windows and Doors
Replacing the windows in a home is expensive, but a 10-20% increase in efficiency can mean savings as well as an improvement in the the comfort and safety of your home. Since this list is about things to consider before installing solar, I would be remiss if I didn’t include this undoubtedly major project. If your budget is tight, energy efficiency improvements to existing windows can also help, but I would recommend that older windows be replaced before considering solar.
I’m a big fan of solar power and the solar industry. I firmly believe that we can power the world with renewables. However, during the solar boom we have had in the 21st century, I see many households choose cheap power production over system efficiencies. There are many energy conservation opportunities available to us. Not only will these measures make your home more comfortable, healthy and safe, the efficiencies will be apparent no matter how you choose to power your home.