A friend of mine decided to install solar panels on her roof a few years ago and has been raving about it ever since.  I wanted to see what all the commotion was about so I decided to do some research on the topic and share my exploratory revelations.  Here’s a look at my chat with her on the topic- she highly recommends ‘going solar’ to any homeowners that intend to stay in the same house for at least 8 or 9 years.  Oh and she lives in the Northwest, near Seattle, so even if you don’t live in the sunniest climate, solar panels may just be the best kept secret for your next home addition.

Karen's house

Meet Karen Gaam:

Why did you decide to go solar?

   We were looking to replace the roof and the heating system since electric heat is very costly.  We thought about solar but figured it was way too expensive.   Ron went to an alternative energy fair at a local community college.  When he spoke to solar installers he realized that the rebates and incentives were such that the system would pay for itself in a relatively short time (about 6 and a half years now– 8 and a half from when we started). The environmental aspect is more important than the savings but the incentives and subsequent savings are beyond my expectations.  We forget how much sun we actually do get here in the Pacific Northwest on these long spring and summer days!

What is the savings?

    Our power bill averaged about $180.00 per month in a 1400 square foot house.  We haven’t paid a power bill for over a year and a half.  In the summer we generate enough power to cover our own needs and sell some back to the general grid.  In the winter, we still have enough in rebates to cover all expenses.  Also, we received incentives for going with local panel makers.

How much does it cost?

    The initial outlay was about $60,000.  However, because of federal and local incentives we will receive up to $4,000 years in federal incentives (cash), huge tax breaks, and the savings from not paying a power bill.  This system should pay for itself in about 8.5 years from when we started and after that it will just keep on giving!

What parts of the service did you find most trying or delightful?

    There was very little that was trying about this.  We had great contractors.  I think that comes from good research and the choices you make at the start.  We were fortunate to have the money up front to pay for the system (otherwise we would have utilized very low interest loans offered by our public utility district) and that one of us understood just about every aspect of the process.

What would you tell a homeowner who’s never considered solar energy in their home?

    Even in the Seattle area solar is wonderful.  Imagine what it could do in a year-round sunny area.  I am hoping that the current administration will renew the federal incentives that were available so that more people can make use of the process.  Between the incentives and the low cost loans solar will hopefully become more utilized. Check with your local Utility Company to see what they offer in incentives and low cost loans.  Do the math.  Look ahead.  You may find that an initial outlay makes for a very reasonable approach for the long term.

Hopefully Karen’s story can shed some light on the current state of the solar energy industry!

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