A solar energy system is an investment. First, the goal is to pay back the initial cost quickly by decreasing utility bills. Next, the goal is to begin generating income. However, most homeowners waste a huge percentage of energy they purchase from the utility. Before considering solar electricity, it’s a good idea to look at how much energy you are consuming, how much it costs, and how investing in conservation can affect the bottom line.
Energy conservation is a highly recommended investment that will ensure fast payback. Every dollar spent on conservation can save you $3 to $5 on the cost of a solar panel system that can bring your electric bill to zero.
Solar PV costs are quickly falling, not to mention the generous federal, state and local tax credits and incentives that help make it affordable. Still, it makes little sense to invest in PV equipment to generate energy that will be wasted. Many households waste half or more of the energy used.
Investments in conservation and efficiency pay back faster than investments in PV. There are similar federal, state and local tax credits available for improvements, ranging from caulking and storm windows to replacing inefficient appliances.
The less sun you have, the more imperative conservation becomes. Homes in states that are less sunny can get about one-quarter less solar energy per year than a home in a sunnier location. Cutting energy use in half by eliminating waste can make solar far more affordable.
What can you do to practically cut your energy consumption by half? Conserving energy is easier than you may think. Here’s some ways to get started:
Change Your Energy-Use Habits
It may sound trivial, but turning off lights and appliances when you are finished using them can save you around $44 a year.
Don’t leave your computer turned on all the time. A couple of personal computers with the printers, routers, scanners and such that accompany them can easily run up your electric bill. By turning them off when not in use, you can save an average of $289 in electricity each year.
Use power strips. Computer equipment, televisions, entertainment centers and pretty much anything that can be turned on by a remote control or a button (instead of a switch) can use energy even when turned off. Power strips can save around 1,779 kwh and $178 per year.
Invest in Efficient Lights and Appliances
Get rid of the incandescent lights and replace them with efficient substitutes. Fluorescent, compact fluorescent (CFL) and LED lights are more expensive to buy, but pay back the investment quickly and last longer. LED lighting is not yet as efficient as CFLs. It’s been calculated that investing a total of $65 in CFL lighting, homeowners can save 1,168 kwh and $117 in one year. Also, many local utilities have CFL rebate programs.
Purchase an energy monitor to identify inefficient appliances. For less than $30 you can buy a “Kill-o-Watt” meter to track the energy use of your appliances. The meter can be moved around the house to check anything you like. A new furnace or fridge can be a big investment, but after doing the math about energy use and cost using the Energy Star rating of the new appliance, the ROI results may be a bit shocking.
Invest in Thermal Efficiency
Most likely heating and cooling are your single biggest energy costs. Don’t let all the warm air escape into the outdoors in the winter or the cool air to creep outside in the summer. Even if you have an old furnace or air conditioner, the efficiency can be increased by not wasting energy.
Consider a thermal evaluation. It’s not as pricey as you think to have a home energy auditor visit your home with a thermal imaging camera. This can pinpoint the areas that need sealing and insulation so you can get the maximum return for a minimal investment.
Next, seal up air leaks. There is a Federal program known as “Cash for Caulkers” that has tax credits available for thermal efficiency improvements. Not to mention, there are many state and local incentives nationwide. Doors, windows, ducts, plumbing and electrical openings, and attics are likely spots where energy could be escaping from your home.
Upgrade insulation. Adding more insulation to your attic and floor is inexpensive. It’s an easy task if you prefer to do it yourself. Roughly $400 in insulation can save around $200 a year or more.
Install insulated window shades. Windows don’t offer much insulation compared to walls, floors and ceilings. Pulling down insulated shades in the winter can result in large energy savings. Likewise, in the summer they can be used to block sunlight and reduce air-conditions use.
Finally, don’t neglect water-heating efficiency. There’s no need to keep a tank of water hot 24/7 for when you need to take a shower or wash your hands. If you have a traditional tank water heater, try insulating the tank and pipes with thermal blankets. If your water heater is old and you’re ready for an upgrade, consider an on-demand (tankless) version.
If you are designing a new home from scratch, energy efficiency can be added at very little additional costs. Contact a LEED-certified green building consultant or architect before you build. If your new home is well-insulated and sealed, constructed to take advantage of natural heating and cooling, and includes modern and efficient appliances, your monthly energy costs will be drastically reduced right when you move in.