Robert Lamoureux: Is adding solar panels worth the cost?

Robert Lamoureux has more than 40 years of experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Email questions to Robert at [email protected]
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Question No. 1

Hi Robert, 

I have a home in Santa Clarita that runs, in my opinion, high on the utility bills in the heat of the summer. I am thinking about installing solar. Wondering what your opinion is on this. 

Linda C.

Answer No. 1

Linda, 

I have a very different opinion on solar than a lot of people, being in the industry for as long as I have been. I also have a home that is on the larger size, including additions that I’ve done, and have also done the math regarding solar. 

In my opinion (please know that this is an opinion), I don’t believe that the cost vs the payback is worth it. 

If you do some of the following things to your home, you’ll see a huge difference in your summer utility bills and won’t have the additional burden of the long-term costs associated with solar. 

First, put tinting on any south facing windows. You can use a clear tint that is wonderful, it won’t obstruct your light or view, but it helps keep the heat out. Window shades that have reflective backside coverings are great and, if you have skylights, there are shades for these that are not displeasing visually and keep heat out. 

Be sure that your air conditioner is up to date and efficient, also that it is serviced annually to be sure it is in top working order. If you need to update your air conditioner, be sure that you go over the SEER rating with the contractor, making sure that the calculations for your size home are done and that you are choosing the proper size unit for your needs. A good A/C contractor will do these calculations for you and let you know if going with a larger unit would pay off or be a waste. 

If you are having to do a new install, it will likely mean that you need to also update your air handler, which most folks know as their furnace. These two units work together, so often need to be replaced simultaneously. The result, though costly, is much more energy efficiency and lower costs. Do have your ducting checked, as well. If your home is old, it is possible that ducting could be inadequate for many reasons including collapse. 

Another useful item in your home is ceiling fans. They help move the air and give the effect of a cooler room. Digital thermostats are wonderful, especially Wi-Fi-enabled ones, because you can control them from a phone and keep things as you wish, even when you are not home. 

Some folks choose to keep air off in the daytime when they aren’t home, but what happens if the air isn’t kept at a steady higher temperature, the heat load in the home gets so high that, once you return and turn the air on, it takes hours to get to a comfortable temperature because all of the walls, insulation, attic area and even furnishings in the home have absorbed so much heat, the equipment has to work that much harder, and for longer, to cool it down. It is best to keep a steady higher temperature during the day and, when you are heading home, you can remotely turn the temp down so it is comfortable when you arrive. 

The last item I’d highly recommend is a whole-house fan, if your attic is large enough with enough venting. You’ll need a contractor to do calculations for you regarding size and venting, but this is an item that can give you such great relief on the evenings where the outside air cools down to a nice temperature. These pull the cooler outside air into an open door/window and cool the house, venting up into the attic, and simultaneously send the warmer trapped air outside. This is also a great thing to do when it is even hot overnight but cools down in the early morning. You can run it for a short time in the cool morning to vent the warm air in the house and attic, giving it all a good start to the day so you aren’t fighting the heat first thing. 

All of these things are far less maintenance vs. a solar system. If you factor in annual cleaning and any roofing issues/maintenance needed due to the system being installed, in my opinion, the cost is less as well.

Do your own research, though, factoring in these things, and come to your own conclusion. Good luck to you.

Robert

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