Are Solar Panels Right for Me?

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Are Solar Panels Right For Me?
Bob Bird
Bird Family Insulation

In 1976, as a senior in high school, I won a nation-wide competition for a white paper I wrote entitled “Ecology in America”.

It must have been the content that caught the judges attention, because apparently I couldn’t write very well. Later that year I failed English 099 (a remedial course) at University of Georgia!

Introduced to Mother Earth
The thought of harnessing the energy from the sun and water has always intrigued me. It was in 1976, at UGA that I discovered Mother Earth News. At that time the magazine was not the slick New York owned magazine that it became. Those early years of MEN planted seeds that brought dreams of self-sufficiency that to this day, still excite me! I’ve bought books, subscribed to way-too-many Youtube channels about this stuff, and day-dream about it.

So, solar energy, wind energy, and hydro generated energy is not a new subject for me.

My sister and her husband have a solar and wind powered ranch in Colorado. It’s very legit! When I’m there, you can find me staring at (and videoing) the voltmeter indicating the charge to Britt’s batteries. It’s fascinating! The entire property is off the grid; self-sufficient.

Self-sufficiency, I thought – was the goal of “going solar”. The motivation.

I don’t mind saying, the conversation has changed.

‘Going Solar’ Doesn’t Seem to Mean What it Used To
As a home-service contractor for over 21 years, I’ve driven all over metro Atlanta. And I see literally tens of thousands of homes each year, as I drive through subdivisions and neighborhoods.

And, I’m seeing more and more houses with solar panels on the roofs.

I’m confused. It doesn’t take much to confuse me with some subjects – but this one is not a shallow subject for me.

  • Why would a homeowner make a $30,000 investment for solar panels to be installed on his roof, when he still has:
  • No clothes line in the yard. Everything that gets washed, is run through the electric dryer.
  • No means to hand wash the dishes. All dishes, pots and pans are washed through the dish washer.
  • Only 9” of tired, loose-fill attic insulation.
  • Two (or more) gas-powered vehicles parked at the house.
  • 14 SEER forced-air heating and cooling systems.
  • Not installed smart strips for his electronic TVs, etc.
  • Builder’s grade, (cheap) double pane windows, or worse, single pane, double sash windows.
  • No battery bank to store the wonderful “free energy from the sun”.

My thinking is that one popular motivation for these adopters of solar is the tax credit(s) offered by city, state, and fed governments.

Being self-sufficient may have motivated the initial interest, but how else can we explain these energy-hog houses being fitted with solar panels, with no battery banks?

Isn’t the idea to use less energy? Remodel my house with improvements that make it more energy efficient? So I actually use less electricity?

MY Alternative to Solar Panels
We’ve done some remodeling at our 1976 era ranch home. And as we remodel, we’ve installed the new water saving devices and appliances. For about 5 years, we had an outside faucet that had a fast-dripping leak (I’m embarrassed to say) that I finally repaired.

Our water bill was always in the $70-$80 range for years and years. Of course, we had 6 and 7 people living in the house for some years. Now there are always 3 of us, and my Mom adds a 4th person about 6 months a year.

Our most current water bill was $19. (I think something was wrong with that reading – but I’ll take it)!

  • We made similar upgrades toward heating and cooling our home.
  • Light colored exterior.
  • High performance, double pane replacement windows installed.
  • R-50 Attic insulation.
  • Encapsulated and insulated crawlspace under the floors.
  • 17 SEER, two-stage, 95% efficient heating and cooling system.
  • Air ducts are balanced and sealed.
  • All LED lighting in the house.

Added improvements for energy efficiency include:

  • Two clothes lines in the backyard. Less than 10% of our laundry goes through the dryer.
  • HE washer.
  • HE dishwasher.
  • Our water heater is inside the thermal boundary of our home.

Areas of improvement include the refrigerator, and our storage freezers.

My electric bill is 50% of what it used to be as recently as two years ago. And I sure didn’t spend $30,000.

My Benefits vs Theirs

  • We are very happy, and comfortable, in our home no matter what kind of weather Atlanta experiences.
  • My home is dramatically quieter inside, due to my improvements.
  • The Indoor Air quality is dramatically improved, because of my improvements.
  • My home actually needs LESS energy to keep me healthy and comfortable than it did before my improvements.
  • My home is more durable and lasting because of my improvements.

‘Going solar’ has little or nothing to do with those benefits that I now enjoy at my home.

I’m not driving an electric car, and I don’t have solar panels on my roof. So, I may be a bit politically incorrect – but according to my value system – I’m doing my part as much as the folks with solar panels mounted on inefficient, energy-guzzling homes.

Are solar panels right for me? They could be – but not until I better understand the reasoning to invest $30,000 to save $60/month on my already very-reasonable electric bill! I don’t need the tax credits – that’s all smoke-and-mirrors anyway. In my opinion, government shouldn’t be meddling in a free market. But who said we have a free market?

I guess I’m that guy Lynyrd Skynyrd was singing about in their wildly popular hit song, “Simple Man!” Southern rock and roll, now that’s something that needs a tax credit… let’s get more of that!

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