The Sunny Side of Solar Heating
Can solar heating your home save you money?
By Debra L. Karplus
“I was too early on solar power—let’s not be too late”, states Robert Redford, well-known actor, director and environmental activist. Redford appears to have a clear perspective on home heating needs for today. Solar heating is a concept whose time has perhaps arrived, in this era of the world’s diminishing natural resources and individual’s evaporating savings.
If you live in an area where the weather can sometimes become uncomfortably hot, you may have heard people joke that “it’s so hot you can fry eggs on the sidewalk”. Probably you’ve never actually seen or heard of someone trying to prepare food in this seemingly absurd way, but in reality, solar energy, that is, energy from the sun, has been used for centuries. Your grandmother may have dried the bed sheets on a clothesline on sunny days or possibly dehydrated food to preserve it by using the powerful heat of the sun. Today the technology is more sophisticated than in the years past.
Passive and active solar heating are the two methods for heating your home from the sun’s energy.
The basic concept of solar heating is simply that solar energy is converted into useful energy that can be used for home heating. Like most any methods for heating your home, it works most efficiently when the home has adequate insulation. Passive solar heating can be direct or indirect and takes advantage of the local climate, using sunlight without mechanical systems; thus the name “passive”.
Active solar heating captures the sun’s energy, solar radiation, collects it, and absorbs it using a system specifically designed to actively solar heat your home. It uses solar panels called photovoltaic (PV) cells. You may have noticed these funny-looking large rectangular window-like pieces sitting above the roof of a house in your neighborhood. There are other components to this mechanical system, some installed outside and some installed inside the house near your current furnace, that heat the liquid or air that is absorbed in solar panels. Besides these components to the system, you’ll need a thermostat for indoors that is more complex that the device you currently use for your indoor gas heat. An active solar heating system can provide about forty to eighty percent of your home’s heat.
Your system should be professional installed by experienced experts trained in active solar training.
You can search the Internet to locate installers in your area. Some companies that deal in home heating and air conditioning systems also have the materials and the skill to install an active solar heating system in your home. Or ask someone in your community who uses solar heating, for some recommendations of competent installers.
What specific materials you need for your home varies dependent on you climate, house size and its design. Expect initial costs to be approximately thirty to eighty dollars per square foot, several thousand dollars for the system, installed with a warranty, perhaps ten years, on labor and parts.
There are some minimal ongoing costs to keep your active solar heating system operating properly.
The yearly cost of maintaining your system should be notably cheaper than your expense to exclusively heat your home with a gas furnace. The company that installs your system should be able to provide service to inspect it annually. They should inspect system parts, look for leaks, and carefully scrutinize the condition of your roof.
Before installing an active solar heating system for your home, you should consider a few other logistical issues.
Contact your city or county office to be certain that your solar heating system will be in compliance with local municipal building and zoning codes. Check to see if your roof has the capacity to handle the heavy load of solar panels. Also, be certain that the company that manages your home owner’s insurance knows about the system and will insure it. Finally, peruse the website of the Internal Revenue Service, IRS, at www.irs.gov to see if your solar system will be eligible for any tax credits on IRS form 5695, Residential Energy Credits that is filed with your IRS 1040 income tax form.
Heating your home using solar energy is something your may want to explore in terms of feasibility and yearly savings. There are numerous helpful websites that explain how solar heating works. Or contact an installer in your area. Solar heat may be the perfect way for you to stretch more dollars.