Homeowners are increasingly looking to solar power to make their homes more efficient. Unlike the majority of energy produced in the U.S. by coal, oil and natural gas, solar power is renewable and nonpolluting energy source. Additionally, it can provide personal and national energy security as it eliminates or cuts down your energy bills and reduces U.S. dependence on imported fuels. Harnessing solar power to light and heat your home isn't just a matter of installing a few solar panels on the roof---it can mean upgrading your hot-water heating system or applying green building design principles to new homes or remodels. (See References 1)
Solar electricity, sometimes referred to as photovoltaics or PV, involves using the light from the sun to excite electrons in solar modules to generate electricity. Solar modules require very little maintenance, are extremely durable, and are made to last a lifetime. You can choose either off-grid systems or grid-tied systems, with or without battery back-up. (See References 1) Consult a North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) solar professional to determine the right kind of system to meet your needs (see References 2).
Solar thermal systems use heat from the sun for a variety of household uses such as water heating, pool heating and space heating via radiant floors. Installing a solar domestic hot-water system can drastically reduce your electric or natural gas water heating bills and provide financial paybacks in less than eight years. Solar thermal systems have been designed for use in nearly any location, including areas that do not receive much direct sunlight. (See References 1)
Passive solar design includes using light and heat from the sun without mechanical devices. Ideally, all new homes would be properly oriented to the sun and designed with passive solar concepts in mind for maximum energy efficiency. Examples of passive solar design include south-facing windows, glazed windows, overhangs and heat-absorbing thermal mass located on walls and floors that receive direct light from southern windows. (See References 1)
Before investing in a solar system for your home, consider ways to increase your home's energy efficiency. Every dollar you spend toward energy efficiency will save you approximately $3 to $5 on your initial renewable energy system costs. Add insulation to your attic and exterior walls; seal cracks and leaks; and upgrade old appliances and heating and cooling systems with Energy Star models. Reduce your energy consumption by turning off lights and opening windows, or put on a sweater instead of cranking your heat. (See References 1)
Hailing from Austin, Texas, Beth Berry has been writing since 1995 about sustainable farming, fiber arts and parenting. She brings expertise in organic gardening, landscape design and domestic arts to her writing. Berry holds a Bachelor of Science in environmental science from Abilene Christian University and is a master seamstress.