What does it mean to have a solar home, or to “go solar”? Photovoltaic technology is rapidly spreading and becoming more accessible, and more and more homeowners are going solar daily. In this article, we will explore what it means to have a solar house.
Solar home basics: what are they?
Most commonly, a solar home refers to a household that has a rooftop photovoltaic (PV) array or ground mount solar system installed in order to generate usable electricity from the sun. Often times, solar-powered houses include solar batteries attached to PV arrays to store energy produced from solar panels. In certain cases, having a solar home could mean that your property produces enough electricity and stores it effectively enough to have a very minimal grid reliance, or enough energy independence to go completely off the grid. For this reason, many homeowners associate the term “solar home” with any household that is completely powered by solar energy though it can also reference grid connected and hybrid solar systems.
Types of solar houses
There are many confusing messages out there about solar and solar homes. Specifically, there are a few common solar-based technologies – building integrated photovoltaics, passive solar, and sola hot water systems – in addition to traditional photovoltaic solar panels and can also be considered “solar home” solutions:
The most common way to use solar energy in your home is to install solar panels either on your roof or as a ground-mounted system. Through a chemical and physical process known as the “photovoltaic effect”, solar panels convert incoming sunlight into usable electricity. In many parts of the United States, homeowners can completely offset their home electricity use with a solar panel installation, leading to thousands of dollars of savings over the lifetime of a solar system.
Do you have questions about solar panel systems? Learn more by visiting EnergySage’s home for educational content all about solar installations.
Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV)
Building-integrated photovoltaics, or BIPV, refers to solar technologies that are incorporated into the original structure or materials of a building. Solar panels are considered building attached photovoltaics (BAPV), as they are retroactively fitted to buildings and homes and thus are not part of the original building envelope. Real products like the Tesla Solar Roof and Certainteed Solar Shingles, as well as products yet to come like solar windows, all fall under the BIPV umbrella. Some of these technologies are available or will be soon, and others (like solar windows) are still a ways from becoming a realistic energy solution for most consumers.
Passive solar technology
Passive solar is a home energy concept that relies on heat from the sun. In a passive solar house, heat is collected as the sun shines through south-facing windows, and it is retained in “thermal mass”, or materials that best store heat (concrete, brick, stone, or tile, usually). Unlike solar panel systems, passive solar doesn’t provide any electrical power to your home – rather, it can reduce your reliance on a heating or cooling system to maintain the climate in your home, which enables you to use less energy.
Solar hot water systems
Yet another way to use solar energy at your home is to install a solar hot water system. Like photovoltaic solar installations, solar hot water setups use panels to capture energy from the sun. However, solar hot water systems don’t use the photovoltaic effect to produce electricity; rather, the panels used in these types of setups capture solar thermal energy and use it to heat up the water in your house. Solar hot water is a great way to transition your home away from traditional water heating systems that use fossil fuels like gas or oil.
What benefits do solar houses provide?
No matter the type of solar technology you install, you can realize significant financial and environmental benefits. Solar panel systems and BIPV setups can directly reduce your monthly electric bills. With a home designed for passive solar, you can save money on air conditioning and heating while preventing air pollution from fossil fuels or air conditioning unit use. The same goes for solar hot water – by transitioning away from fossil fuel-based heating technologies, you can both save money and protect the natural environment.
Solar electricity is one way to make your house a solar house
Both BIPV and passive solar are unique technologies which rely on the sun’s energy. While BIPV technology is accelerating in development and production, the most reliable way to power your house with solar electricity building attached photovoltaic technology, or solar panels. On the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can compare quotes from pre-screened, local solar installers for solar photovoltaic installations. If you first want to see your solar potential based on local incentives and sunlight hours, check out our Solar Calculator for a personalized solar estimate.
Three Tips for Solar Shoppers
1. Homeowners who get multiple quotes save 10% or more
As with any big ticket purchase, shopping for a solar panel installation takes a lot of research and consideration, including a thorough review of the companies in your area. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recommended that consumers compare as many solar options as possible to avoid paying inflated prices offered by the large installers in the solar industry.
To find the smaller contractors that typically offer lower prices, you’ll need to use an installer network like EnergySage. You can receive free quotes from vetted installers local to you when you register your property on our Solar Marketplace – homeowners who get 3 or more quotes can expect to save $5,000 to $10,000 on their solar panel installation.
2. The biggest installers typically don’t offer the best price
The bigger isn’t always better mantra is one of the main reasons we strongly encourage homeowners to consider all of their solar options, not just the brands large enough to pay for the most advertising. A recent report by the U.S. government found that large installers are $2,000 to $5,000 more expensive than small solar companies. If you have offers from some of the big installers in solar, make sure you compare those bids with quotes from local installers to ensure you don’t overpay for solar.
3. Comparing all your equipment options is just as important
National-scale installers don’t just offer higher prices – they also tend to have fewer solar equipment options, which can have a significant impact on your system’s electricity production. By collecting a diverse array of solar bids, you can compare costs and savings based on the different equipment packages available to you.
There are multiple variables to consider when seeking out the best solar panels on the market. While certain panels will have higher efficiency ratings than others, investing in top-of-the-line solar equipment doesn’t always result in higher savings. The only way to find the “sweet spot” for your property is to evaluate quotes with varying equipment and financing offers.
For any homeowner in the early stage of shopping for solar that would just like a ballpark estimate for an installation, try our Solar Calculator that offers upfront cost and long-term savings estimates based on your location and roof type. For those looking to get quotes from local contractors today, check out our quote comparison platform.