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If you want to live in a sustainable home, you've probably considered a home solar system. Maybe you even have home solar already. But did you know that sustainable home improvements like installing a home solar roof system, adding power storage, upgrading to electric appliances, and adding an electric vehicle charging station can be done one at a time? In this post, I'll explain sustainable home improvements that you can do as your time and budget allow.
A home solar roof system
If you own your roof and it's suitable for supporting solar panels then you've probably already started considering solar panels. Installing a home solar roof system was our first sustainable home improvement.
Go to EnergySage.com* to get several quotes.
How to pay for a home solar roof system
If a sustainable home improvement plan seems like a good idea, start by figuring out how you'll pay for it. One of the most expensive improvements will most likely be your home solar roof system. But the cost might not be as prohibitive as you think.
My husband and I decided on a power purchase agreement (PPA) when we installed our home solar system seven years ago, and our monthly bill is consistently $79. We did not put any money down. It was a great choice for us because we had just purchased our house and along with the other home improvements we needed to get done, we didn't want to put more cash down. In retrospect, financing the system might have been less expensive in the long run, but we did what worked best for our finances and family at the time.
Here are the most common ways to pay for a home solar roof system:
Buy it outright – You can buy solar panels with cash which usually saves you the most money in the long run, but it requires an up-front investment. You may qualify for a federal tax credit of 26% of the cost of solar panels.
Finance it – You can buy the solar panels but finance the purchase. Some people finance it using a home equity line of credit or a solar loan. You pay back the principal and interest over time. You may qualify for the 26% tax credit even when you finance it.
Lease it – With a solar lease, you lease the solar panel system the same way you would lease a car. You basically pay for the system over a set period of time and you can choose how much money to put down. With a lease, you do not qualify for the federal tax credit.
Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) – With a PPA the solar company puts the solar panels on your property at no upfront cost to you, but they own the panels. You pay a fixed monthly cost to the solar company, usually less than the electricity bill would be for the same amount of energy. At the end of the contract, you can buy the panels at a discount or extend the contract. Since you don't own the system, no tax credits for you!
Learn more about how to pay for your home solar roof system at EnergySage.com*.
Home solar system words to know
Photovoltaic (PV) – Sometimes you'll hear the term photovoltaic or PV. Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells. The photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into electricity.
Net metering – Sending power back to the power company for credit is called net metering. Net metering means you only get billed for the amount of energy you buy from the power company minus what you sent back to the utility for credit. If you use less solar energy than you produce you get credit for what you send the utility. Most states allow net metering, but not all.
Energy efficiency upgrades
Our next sustainable home improvement focused on energy efficiencies such as insulation and a smart thermostat.
Insulation helps you save energy. Look for Energy Star certified insulation to make sure it's efficient.
“Insulation impedes unwanted airflow in or out of buildings. In new construction or retrofits, it makes heating and cooling more energy efficient, with lower emissions,” according to Drawdown.org.
A smart thermostat
A smart thermostat is another energy efficiency home improvement that's relatively inexpensive and easy to do. You simply buy a smart thermostat such as Nest and the artificial intelligence does the rest. Installing a smart thermostat is a sustainable home improvement because it automatically turns off the heat or AC when you're not home. You can also program it to run at certain times to maximize energy efficiency.
Buy a Nest smart thermostat on Amazon*.
Change your air filters
Although this isn't exactly a sustainable home improvement, it's certainly an easy thing to do. Simply replace your air filters every three months to keep your central heat and AC flowing smoothly. Dusty and dirty filters make your HVAC system work harder which uses more energy.
You may have heard that some carbon-neutral cities are banning natural gas for new homes. In these cities, the new homes will be all-electric and much more sustainable.
All-electric homes do not use natural gas to power appliances and fireplaces. Instead, electric appliances and fireplaces are used.
Swapping out old natural gas appliances for the latest electric appliances are sustainable home improvements you can do one a time.
Electric and induction ovens – When your natural gas stove needs to be replaced, upgrade to an induction oven and cooktop.
Two-in-one washer/dryer – Looking for more space in your laundry room? The most modern washers and dryers are electric and two in one.
Heat pumps – “They can supply indoor heating, cooling, and hot water—all from one integrated unit. When paired with renewable energy sources and building structures designed for efficiency, heat pumps could eliminate almost all emissions from heating and cooling,” according to Drawdown.org.
Read A Zero Emissions All-Electric Single-Family Construction Guide for more information on all-electric products.
Home solar power storage
If you're already running your home on solar panels and you want to take it to the level, this is where power storage comes in. To power all those electric appliances, and also your electric car, you'll need home solar power storage. The Tesla Power Wall lets you store up to 7 days of solar power.
Electric car charging
Next up is powering your electric car or plug-in hybrid. This is where it all comes together. The solar panels power your electric appliances and the solar storage lets you store enough power to also charge your car at night.
Sustainable home improvements don't have to come together overnight. You don't need to do everything at once, and it doesn't matter where you begin. Just put a plan in place, take it one sustainable home improvement at a time, and eventually, you'll have the most sustainable house in the neighborhood.
It's up to all of us to make renewable energy go mainstream. If we do, we can make a dent in climate change, decrease pollution, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. I tend to be skeptical of anything that sounds too good to be true, but on this one, I'm definitely drinking the cool-aid.
Updated June 17, 2020