Nothing beats a solar-friendly home. The explosion of interest in solar energy continues and for good reason. Harvesting clean, fresh energy from the sun provides so many benefits that it is impossible to ignore. Systems are more affordable than ever, plus they are dependable, long-lasting, help the environment and make excellent home improvement investments.
While the number is increasing every day, we have a long way to go. I often hear visitors or newcomers to the valley say they are amazed at the number of homes that do not have solar energy systems. They reason that with the amount of sunshine we have, everyone would have them. Aside from cost, which is not so much of a barrier now, the fact is that not every home is a great candidate for solar energy.
With the home market heating up, this is a good time to review the features to look for when solar energy is part of the plan.
What is a Solar-Friendly Home?
There is no standard definition but from my perspective, there are two complimentary solar strategies, active and passive. Each one stands on its own, but a combination of both yields optimal results.
Passive Solar Energy
Passive solar means that the home will enjoy benefits from the sun simply based on its design. In our area, this typically means that east and west-facing windows are minimized to avoid the summer’s “solar oven effect” each morning and afternoon. South-facing windows are desirable since they are mostly shaded during the hot months and harvest warmth and light during the winter. Ideally, the building’s widest sides should face north/south to minimize east/west exposure. Streets that run close to east/west typically yield the best candidates for solar homes.
Active Solar Energy
Active solar involves the use of a system, like an array of photovoltaic (PV) panels, to actively harvest and transform solar energy into electricity. In this case, the home’s primary requirement is a section of roof with enough area to accommodate the panels, and that ideally faces a southerly direction, necessary for acceptable energy production.
Mounting PV panels at an angle also helps keep them clean since occasional rain will wash off the dust.
Most PV systems are roof-mounted since that’s usually the most cost-effective method. The best PV-friendly roof offers a “clean slate” unencumbered by vent pipes, chimneys, skylights or AC units; and it faces somewhat south. PV panels that are oriented due east or west will also work, but annual energy production can be 15% or so less than with a southern orientation.
Complex roofs with multiple sections at various angles may look more interesting, but they can be an impediment to cost-effective solar installations. The good news is that this limitation has been lessened with new micro-inverter systems that allow more flexible mounting arrangements, while avoiding the associated energy production penalties of the past. Flat roofs are fine but for best results, mount PV panels on brackets so they are angled toward the south. Flat-mounted panels are less efficient and get dirty quickly.
PV panels don’t work in the shade so make sure there are no trees, buildings or other obstructions that may have an impact throughout the year. If you are unsure, a qualified professional can perform a solar survey on your home to measure annual shading in the target area.
Perhaps the most overlooked part of a successful solar-friendly home is efficiency. To maximize your investment, do efficiency upgrades first! A professional home energy audit will help identify the best opportunities for improvement. From insulation, caulking and weather-stripping to lighting, air conditioning and appliances, nothing should be overlooked.
An efficient home not only minimizes the size of the PV system necessary to zero out your electric bill, but is often more comfortable as well.
Solar power is not complex, but it helps to know what to look for to make sure your potential home will be a good match. By paying attention to these simple rules of thumb, you may one day realize the dream of many homeowners: a home that produces all the energy it needs – with perhaps enough left over to charge an electric car. When it comes to a solar-friendly home, that is a winning combination!