Solar Power Home Improvement – Prepare Your House First

Despite the fact that fuels used by many power companies are falling in price, along with most commodities in the current market, many communities are experiencing rising electric prices as fuel costs were negotiated during the peak fuel price period of this past summer. My local power company has recently asked for a major rate hike (greater than 25%), and was approved for a three-year rate hike plan with 10.2 percent of the rate hike to apply this year, a likely 10 percent rate hike the second year, and the balance applying in the third year. However, as a result of the current economic situation, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was signed into law on October 3, 2008. Part of this Act contained provisions for extending the renewable energy tax credits, a tax credit of 30 percent of the cost of a solar energy system, up to $2,000 (the cap disappears for systems placed in service after January 1, 2009).

With the tax credits extended, effectively reducing the cost of renewable energy systems, and the cost of energy expected to rise strongly, this is a very good time to invest in a solar power system for your house. Especially since many states allow residential power generators to “roll back” their power meters, effectively selling back to the electric company, often at a higher rate than the residential customer would pay for power obtained from the electric company, power that they generate but do not use on site.

However, before you rush out to get a system, there are a few things to consider first: the suitability of your site for solar power production, solar panel system selection, power inverter selection, financing, warranties,…

Let’s assume that you have determined that your site has enough sunlight available throughout the year to make a solar power system useful. Even with the tax credit, a solar power system is still a large investment. To reduce the cost of your system and to shorten the time that it takes to pay for itself in energy bill savings, consider some more traditional home improvements first. The largest use of energy in the home is climate control, especially in regions with hot summers, cold winters, or both. Any energy usage that can be eliminated before installing a solar power system can lead to a significantly smaller and less costly solar system, which returns its investment much more rapidly.

Three areas that can help reduce power demand considerably are: sealing air gaps in the attic and along walls; adding insulation; and replacing old windows and/or doors with new, energy-saving units. Depending on the particulars of the house, any one of these may be the largest cause of high energy usage, so it’s difficult to determine which to start with, although since sealing air gaps requires physical access to the attic floor, this is usually best done prior to adding insulation. Many electric companies offer free or low-cost energy audits to help home owners determine their current power usage causes and potential corrective actions.

Both insulation addition and window and door replacement are also eligible for a tax credit (if they are placed in service after January 1, 2009). For windows and doors, the tax credit is 10 percent of the cost of all Energy Star compliant windows and doors (excluding installation), up to $200. For insulation, the tax credit is 10% of the cost of insulation (must meet 2000 International Energy Conservation Code and excludes cost of installation), up to $500. However, a cap of $500 tax credit is imposed for those upgrading both insulation and windows and doors (the $500 cap does not apply to the solar power system). These are just the federal tax incentives, there may be state or local incentives, as well.

Some of the new windows on the market can save a substantial amount of energy over previous designs, incorporating insulating frame materials, multiple glass panes, low-emissivity glass, spaces between the panes filled with an insulating gas instead of air, and spacers between the panes of glass to keep them from moving closer over time and reducing their insulating efficiency.

Home Improvement Ideas for an Energy Efficient Home

Many people think about whirlpool tubs and designer kitchens when they consider a home improvement plan, but there’s increasing interest in energy efficiency as an attractive feature in a home. With gas and electricity prices on the rise and green issues now high on many people’s agenda, energy efficiency can increase the selling price of a home.

Improving a home’s energy efficiency doesn’t necessarily mean investing in an expensive solar power system. A few simple changes and improvements can result in more effective use of gas and electricity, and lower monthly bills. Unlike some home improvement projects, making better use of energy is something you can develop over time. The following home improvements can bring substantial savings over a year.

Plug leaks and improve insulation.

Most homes are poor at retaining heat, and this can get worse as a home shows signs of age. Small leaks and gaps around windows and doors are often the cause of valuable heat loss. Cracks in external walls and loose roof tiles are another common source of warm air escaping.

A range of products is available from any DIY store to tackle the problem of losing heat from leaks and cracks around your home. Expandable sealant and weather stripping are cheap to buy and easy to apply. This is a home improvement project you can complete in a weekend. If window frames are beyond basic repair, consider replacing them. Fitting new windows to your home isn’t cheap, but it’s a home improvement project which will deliver returns on the investment.

Look at energy efficient lighting.

Incandescent light bulbs are being phased out in some countries as they use so much energy. Modern compact fluorescent bulbs and light emitting diode bulbs are just as bright, and use around seventy percent less energy. Switching to energy efficient bulbs throughout your home can be expensive, but the savings on electricity bills will soon cover the initial costs.

Lighting is one of the main uses of energy in most homes, and it’s worth looking at how you light each room and what the room is actually used for. It’s possible to make better use of natural daylight in some rooms, and there may be very little need for light bulbs. Painting rooms in pale colours and clever use of mirrors can make a room appear might lighter.

Introduce some alternative energy.

Solar panels have fallen in price in recent years, and installing a basic solar energy system is cheaper than many people believe. There’s a misconception that a home has to be a in a warm climate to make use of solar energy, but daylight rather than bright sunshine is all that’s needed. If you have a south facing roof and live in an area with good daylight hours, you have the potential to generate some electricity from the sun. You can start with just a few solar panels and build up a system over time.

Green and renewable energy technology is developing at a rapid pace, and geothermal energy is becoming a practical option for home heating. A geothermal heat pump can be used to heat or cool your home and supply hot water. A small wind turbine is another option for creating some green energy for your home. Anything you can do to reduce your home’s reliance on traditional energy sources will save you money and make your home more attractive to most potential buyers.

Make use of technology.

Intelligent thermostats and smart meters are now commonly available, and they can deliver significant savings on your home energy bills. Most families waste around twenty to thirty percent of the energy used at home, and modern technology can help you to understand this and make better use of the gas and electricity you are paying for.