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Solar Power In The Home

home solar powerWhat You Need To Know About Home Solar Power Before You Buy Solar Panels For Your Home….A solar panel, also called a photovoltaic module, is a device that converts light into electricity. The stronger the light that the panel is exposed to, the more electricity it produces.

The panel itself is made up of a series of smaller solar cells, which when wired together, make up the panel or module. This panel is then encased in a durable, weather proof, protective enclosure that is designed for easy mounting, wiring, and assembly. When a group of panels or modules are connected together, they are called a photovoltaic array or solar array. This modular method of assembly allows for quick and easy replacement should one the panels become damaged or prove to be defective.

The electrical current produced by the solar panels is direct current, also called DC for short. DC is what is produced by the batteries you use everyday, such as the types found in your car, cell phone, mp3 player, flash light, etc.

The current that is supplied by your electrical company to the receptacles in your home is called alternating current, also known as AC. The electrical appliances in your home, such as the lights, refrigerator, microwave, etc., require AC current.

As you can see, when it comes to home solar power, you need a way to convert the DC current produced by your solar panels into the AC current required by your household appliances. This conversion in accomplished by means of a device called an inverter. A solar inverter converts the DC from your solar panels into AC.

The solar inverter is usually mounted either in the garage, or outside on the side of the house. Ideally, the inverter is located as close as possible to either your main electrical panel, or your electric meter. This keeps the length of the conductors (wiring) to a minimum. Copper wire is very expensive, and the longer the distance you have to run the wire, the larger the conductor needed (this is due to a phenomenon called voltage drop. To learn more about voltage drop click here).

A grid-tied PV system, the most common type of system installed in the United Stated, the output of the inverter is wired directly to your homes’ electrical wiring, either at your main electrical panel, or at your electrical meter.

Second, only to the solar panels themselves, the inverter is typically the second most expensive component of a residential PV home solar power system.

What Are The Advantages Of Solar Panels

Here are some cool facts about solar energy as well as some of the great advantages of home solar power:

* Zero noise pollution. Solar panels have virtually no moving parts, so there’s nothing to wear out, replace, or brake!.

* They require very little to no maintenance. Usually, just an occasional visual inspection.

* They are a true form of “green energy”. They don’t emit any noxious gases or substances, and they don’t pollute the environment.

* No fossil fuels! They don’t use any fossils fuels, yet they turn sunlight into electricity. For free!.

* They are extremely durable. All modern solar panels are typically warrantied for at least 25 years, and continue to perform efficiently for far longer then that.

* Solar Panels are an investment. They increase the resale value of your home. And if you are building a new home solar panels are a wise, money saving option to incorporate in it’s design.

* They are very reliable. Even under extremely harsh conditions, solar panels have proven themselves time and again.

* Solar panels are very safe. They harm neither you or the environment.

How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?

The total cost of a complete Photovoltaic (PV) Home Solar Power installation will vary with the size and type of system you need. At current prices, a typical “Grid-tied”, residential PV system without battery backup will cost about $7 a watt. That being said, when speaking of the average size home, solar power can cost anywhere from $20,000, to $50,000, for a professional PV installation. However, someone willing to tackle the job him or herself can cut the cost by as much 50% to 75%.

Is Home Solar Power Right For You?

Before you can determine the size and type of PV system for your home, you must perform a Solar Site Evaluation, also known as a Solar Site Analysis.

A site evaluation consists of the following:

* A compilation of geographic information about the potential installation site.

* Determining the utility and permitting information for the sites location.

* A structural assessment of the roof on which the array will be mounted.

* The mounting locations of what is known as the Balance of System or BOS equipment. (the previously mentioned Inverter, batteries if any, Utility Access, etc.)

* General site information, including information from site’s current power bill.

* A solar resource assessment and shading analysis.

With the information gleaned from the Solar Site Analysis:

* You can estimate the energy requirements of your home.

* Calculate the amount of energy that can be harvested from the sun at this location.

* Determine the maximum size system that your home can accommodate or need.

Coupled with all of this information, you can now determine your systems cost.

Keep in mind that when dealing with solar power for homes, the amount and duration of Southern exposure to the sun plays a vital role in the amount of electricity that your system will deliver.

What About Solar Energy Tax Credits

When you are considering converting to a solar power home, various solar rebates, solar energy tax credits, and other solar power incentives, make the installation of home solar power as an alternative energy source for your home a very attractive proposition.

At present, the Federal Government is offering lucrative solar power incentives to install an alternative energy system on your home. Many states offer additional solar rebates as well. In many cases, these rebates can offset most, if not all of the cost of the solar panel installation on a typical home.

Good News For Home Solar Power…The Solar Energy Federal Tax Credits….Were Extended through 2017!

On October 1, 2008, the Emergency Stabilization Act of 2008 was signed into law. The 30% Commercial Solar Investment Tax Credit now applies to residential PV installations. In addition, this tax credit was also extended all the way through to the year 2017. Previous legislation pertaining to residential home solar power installations had put a $2,000 cap on the tax credit. As of January 1, 2009, this cap was lifted, making you eligible for a tax credit of up to 30% of the total cost of your PV installation!

Take a good look at some of the reasons why there has been such an increase in the demand for solar power for homes in the last couple of years. Much of this demand is due to these interesting facts regarding this revision to the energy tax credit:

* If the federal tax credit exceeds your tax liability for that particular year, any excess amount may be carried forward and applied to the next taxable year.

* If your PV System is installed and put in service between January 1, 2006, and December 31, 2016 the home that you install the system on does not have to be your primary or principal residence!.

* This Federal Energy Tax Credit also applies to solar hot water heaters (solar thermal), the installation of new energy efficient windows, insulation, and various other energy saving measures.

These are just several of the great reasons to turn your house into a solar power home! Even when dealing with an older home solar power becomes a valuable option. And if your considering buying or building a new home solar energy should definitely be a consideration when it comes to resale value.

Can I Do It Myself, Or Do I Need To Hire A Professional?

Whether you choose to hire a solar contractor, or choose to install the solar panels yourself and make home solar power a reality in your life, all depends on several critical factors.

First of all, are you mechanically inclined? That is, are you really good with your hands?.

Are you comfortable working on your roof? Keep in mind that the majority of the work will be done while crouching and kneeling on a steeply pitched or inclined surface?. How about crawling through your attic space where daytime temperatures often exceed 130 degrees in the summer?.

I’m not trying to scare you or deter you. I just want to let you know what you’re getting yourself into if you are thinking about whether to attempt the installation yourself or not.

The skills needed to mount the hardware safely and securely to your building structure (usually the roof trusses), require a knowledge of basic mechanics, as well as of the structure involved.

Many states, counties, and local municipal authorities require that your installation meet a minimum set of engineering criteria. In many areas, you must provide your local permitting department detailed specifications on various mechanical and electrical parameters before a permit is approved.

Depending on your location, specifications on wind loads, the weight of the roof mounted array, the specific mechanical methods of fastening, various electrical specifications, as well as many other parameters, all must be specified and submitted to the local Authority Having Jurisdiction, or AHJ in your town or city.

If it is a “Grid-Tied” system (a grid-tied system is connected to your utility companies wiring), it must be inspected by your local Electrical Inspector, as well as your Utility Company.

Do you still want to tackle the installation yourself?

* If you are skilled with most hand and power tools.

* If you can accurately read a measuring tape and follow basic schematics and plans.

* If you are comfortable working on your roof, and in your hot attic.

* If you are willing to do some studying and learn about a great new technology, as well as learn a few new skills along the way…

If you can honestly answer “yes” to the above four points, then you can definitely install solar panels on your home!.

The Need For A Qualified Electrician

When it comes to tying your home solar power installation into your inverter, your homes electrical system, and your utility companies’ meter, you should hire a licensed electrician.

This aspect of the installation has the potential to be quite dangerous, even deadly! Only someone who has the necessary training and qualifications to work on live electrical installations should perform this task.

Not only is an electrician highly trained and experienced in this task, he is well versed in the grey areas of the National Electric Code (NEC).

The NEC, or National Electric Code, is the official publication for the governance of the electrical codes in the United States. Revised and published every 3 years, it details every imaginable installation application and scenario. Including the installation of solar panels. Every single state in the Union has adopted it into law. It is the American electrician’s bible.

The NEC’s primary and foremost concern is with safety. It is what the electrical inspector uses to determine whether an electrical installation “meets code” or not. The NEC has an entire section pertaining to the installation of Solar Photovoltaic Systems.

How Are The Solar Panels Attached To My Roof?

On a typical home solar power roof mount installation, a framework of light weight metallic “rails” are attached to the roof. The exact method of attachment varies with the type of roof, but in residential applications the rails are usually fastened directly to the roof trusses. The need to mount to the trusses arises from the fact that the combined weight of the entire array can add a considerable load to the building structure. In addition to the solar array’s weight, wind, snow loads, and even hurricanes in some parts of the country have to be taken into consideration when designing the mechanical aspects of the PV array.

The ability to locate and “hit” the trusses requires considerable measuring and layout skills to the find specific attachment points needed to secure the rails to the roof structure.

After the rails are attached, the solar panels are set on the rails. They are usually held in place with specially designed clips, which bolt directly to the rails. There are many mounting systems available that are pre-engineered for installing solar panels on various types of roofs.

Many states and local permitting authorities require that the mounting system be engineered to withstand wind and snow loads that frequent that particular location. Often, an electrical and/or mechanical blueprint depicting these calculations must be submitted to the Authority Having Jurisdiction, or AHJ. In some locations, the AHJ requires that this documentation have an engineer’s stamp.

What If I Have A Tile Roof?

In order to be able to attach the mounting rails directly to your roofs trusses, the fastener (usually a lag bolt), must penetrate your roof shingles (or tiles if you have a tile roof). It is imperative that this penetration or hole be properly sealed.

When dealing with clay, ceramic, or cement roof tiles, the installation is a little more difficult and involves the actual removal, cutting, and drilling of a substantial number of tiles. Many professional solar contractors employ a roofing sub-contractor to perform this task.

Often it is easier to remove all of the tiles that fall under the solar array first, then after mounting the hardware, cut and drill the tiles as necessary while replacing them. This ensures that the roof’s water-tight integrity will be maintained, while absolving the solar contractor from liability for future leaks if they were to appear.

Often it is better to buy a “packaged” system for your installation. These “packaged” systems come with all the components needed for the installation of your system. They may cost a little more, but they eliminate the need to calculate, engineer, and procure each part for an entire system from scratch.

You will also receive better technical support if you run into any problems because all of the components were purchases from the same source.

What About Warranties?

Since every major solar panel manufacturer warranties their products for at least 25 years, the solar panels will often outlast your roof. That is, depending on your roofs’ age and condition at the time of installation.

You can therefore see the need to have your roof inspected and repaired, before having a solar array installed upon it. This inspection is one of the first steps of the Solar Site Evaluation I mentioned earlier on this page.

When properly designed and constructed, the home solar power array can be disassembled and removed (for a price of course), should your roof ever require re-shingling or repair.

Incidentally, even though the typical solar panel is warrantied for 25 years, it’s actual life expectancy is far longer. The only thing that really happens over time is that solar module’s electrical output slowly diminishes as the module ages. The solar panels will continue to produce a substantial amount of electricity far into the future! So, if you want to eliminate your reliance on fossil fuels, home solar power through the installation on solar panels on your home is definitely a viable, long term solution.

Updated: March 9, 2013 — 4:20 am

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