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. Oftentimes, 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-powered houses
There are many confusing messages out there about solar and solar homes as well as which ones rank better for energy efficiency. Specifically, there are a few common solar-based technologies – building-integrated photovoltaics, passive solar, and solar 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 household’s electricity needs – which on average is about 900 kilowatt-hours each month 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 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. 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. This form of energy efficiency compliments solar systems as it reduces the kWh demands placed on a solar system.
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-powered 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.
Interested in learning more about how to build a solar home? Our article, Solar panels for home: what to know about residential solar panels, provides a six-step process in converting your home into a solar-powered house. By following the steps listed, you can find the best system for your home.
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.
Is a solar home worth it?
There is no question that there are many upfront costs associated with a solar home. These vary based on the technology being used from solar panel installation to solar hot water systems. Even though these initial costs may be high, a solar home should be viewed as a long-term investment. This investment may be costly at first but in the long run, may save money when payback periods and rebates are considered. You’ll also be less susceptible to fluctuations in the energy market, which leads to a greater degree of financial independence.
Frequently asked questions about solar homes
Adding solar panels or a solar roof to your current home plans, or adding it onto an existing home, can cost between $15,000-$25,000, depending on home size, location and what kind of system you are looking for. Making changes to home plans that create a more energy-efficient home doesn’t typically cost much more than an ordinary home build. The key is to build purposefully in order to take advantage of things like thermal energy and geographical location.
Absolutely. While solar panels can be a big upfront expense, ultimately they pay off due to electric bill savings over time. And, designing and building a solar home that requires less electricity will result in less of a demand in the first place.
With planning, yes. If a home is designed to be energy -efficient, it’s possible that it can be fully solar-powered. Adding a solar system can have the same result if the home’s roof is optimal, or if a ground-mounted solar system is a possibility. However, in order to power your home with solar energy at night or during inclement weather, you’ll need to install an energy storage system; otherwise, you’ll still need to use energy from your utility.
This largely depends on how much electricity your home uses. On average, US homes use a little less than 11,000 kWh of electricity per year. For most homes, 20 to 25 panels will power your home with solar energy.
The cost you pay for solar on your home depends on location, equipment, installer, available rebates, and more. As far as a ballpark number, you can expect solar panels to cost $15,000 or more, depending on the exact installation.
Just like the cost of solar, depending on your location, equipment, upfront price, and more, your unique payback period for solar will change. In general, solar-powered homes are worth it, and most shoppers on the EnergySage Marketplace break even on their solar investment within seven to ten years.
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 is 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.