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What is a solar home?

What does it mean to have a solar home, or to “go solar”? Photovoltaic technology adoption is rapidly spreading and becoming more accessible, and more and more homeowners are going solar daily. In this article, we will explore what it means to have a solar home.

Key takeaways about solar homes

  1. Solar homes are fully integrated households with rooftop solar or ground-mounted solar panels as well as solar storage and other solar technologies.

  2. Solar panels are the most common way to have a solar home

  3. Having a solar home provides significant benefits like saving money on your electricity bill and lowering your reliance on fossil fuels by lowering your energy use

  4. Selling your home once you have installed solar technology can increase its value

  5. Solar shoppers should use the EnergySage Marketplace to browse for all types of solar power systems based on price, efficiency, brand, quality, and more.

What’s in this article?

Solar home basics: what are they?

Most commonly, a solar home refers to a household that has a rooftop photovoltaic (PV) array or ground mount solar system installed in order to generate usable electricity from the sun. Oftentimes, solar-powered houses include solar batteries with inverters attached to the PV arrays to store energy produced from solar panels. In certain cases, having a solar home could mean that your property produces enough electricity and stores it effectively enough to have a very minimal power grid reliance, or enough energy independence to go completely off the grid. For this reason, many homeowners associate the term “solar home” with any household that is completely powered by solar energy, though it can also reference grid-connected and hybrid solar systems.

Types of solar-powered houses Type of houseProsCons Solar panelsSolar panel available, increasingly less expensive and generally efficient at providing solar electricity.Not right for every roof or property depending on size and shape. BIPVThis type of solar technology is visually appealing and blends in well with an existing home.BIPV can be quite expensive to install and maintain. They are also generally less efficient than traditional panels. Passive solar technologyThis technology compliments others by using already available heat to maintain temperatures in your home.It does not truly power your home and only helps with heating. Solar hot water systemsSolar hot water systems are a great way to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and cool/heat your home.They do not function as well on cloudy days and can have high upfront costs. Off-grid solarGoing off the grid means the promise of being independent from outside utilities and being self-sufficient.This is quite difficult to achieve for an average home.

There are many confusing messages out there about solar and solar homes as well as which ones rank better for energy efficiency. Specifically, there are a few common solar-based technologies – building-integrated photovoltaics, passive solar, and solar hot water systems – in addition to traditional photovoltaic solar panels and can also be considered “solar home” solutions:

Solar panels

The most common way to use solar energy in your home is to install solar panels either on your roof or as a ground-mounted system. Through a chemical and physical process known as the “photovoltaic effect”, solar panels convert incoming sunlight into usable electricity. In many parts of the United States, homeowners can completely offset their household’s electricity needs – which on average is about 900 kilowatt-hours each month of electricity use with a solar panel installation, leading to thousands of dollars of savings over the lifetime of a solar system.

Do you have questions about solar power systems ? Learn more by visiting EnergySage’s home for educational content about solar installations.

Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV)

Building-integrated photovoltaics, or BIPV, refers to solar technologies that are incorporated into the original structure or materials of a building. Solar panels are considered building attached photovoltaics (BAPV), as they are retroactively fitted to buildings and homes and thus are not part of the original building envelope. Products like the Tesla Solar Roof and Certainteed Solar Shingles, as well as products yet to come like solar windows, all fall under the BIPV umbrella. Some of these technologies are available or will be soon, and others (like solar windows) are still a ways from becoming a realistic energy solution for most consumers.

Passive solar technology

Passive solar is a home energy concept that relies on heat from the sun. In a passive solar house, heat is collected as the sun shines through south-facing windows, and it is retained in “thermal mass”, or materials that best store heat (concrete, brick, stone, or tile, usually). Unlike solar panel systems, passive solar doesn’t provide any electrical power to your home – rather, it can reduce your reliance on a heating or cooling system to maintain the climate in your home, which enables you to use less energy. This form of energy efficiency compliments solar systems as it reduces the kWh demands placed on a solar system.

Solar hot water systems

Yet another way to use solar energy at your home is to install a solar hot water system. Like photovoltaic solar installations, solar hot water setups use panels to capture energy from the sun. However, solar hot water systems don’t use the photovoltaic effect to produce electricity; rather, the panels used in these types of setups capture solar thermal energy and use it to heat up the water in your house. Solar hot water is a great way to transition your home away from traditional water heating systems that use fossil fuels like gas or oil.

Off-grid solar

Going “off-the grid” with “DIY solar” is a popular idea in the world of renewable energy- referring to a home which is completely not attached to the electric grid and fully self-sustainable. This is more easily attainable for a boat, RV or other vehicle but is not easy to accomplish for a standard home. Using a certified installer means going with someone who has extensive knowledge of the installation process as well as the necessary legal benefits. If you’re thinking about going off the grid using solar, the EnergySage Marketplace can help you get started.

What benefits do solar-powered houses provide?

No matter the type of solar technology you install, you can realize significant financial and environmental benefits. Solar panel systems and BIPV setups can directly reduce your monthly electric utility bills. With a home designed for passive solar, you can save money on air conditioning and heating while preventing air pollution from fossil fuels or air conditioning unit use. The same goes for solar hot water – by transitioning away from fossil fuel-based heating technologies and into clean energy systems, you can save money, while reducing electricity usage and your carbon footprint. .

Interested in learning more about how to build a solar home? Our article, Solar panels for home: what to know about residential solar panels, provides a six-step process in converting your home into a solar-powered house. By following the steps listed, you can find the best system for your home. Another option is to pair your solar panels with battery storage which will provide battery backup power for your home.

Is a solar home worth it?

There is no question that there are many upfront costs associated with a solar home. These vary based on the technology being used from solar panel installation to solar hot water systems. Even though these initial installation costs may be high, a solar home should be viewed as a long-term investment. This investment may be costly at first but in the long run, may save money when payback periods and rebates are considered. You’ll also be less susceptible to fluctuations in the energy market, which leads to a greater degree of financial independence. Paying for a solar home can also be made easier with financing options like the solar federal tax credit.

Frequently asked questions about solar homes

How much does it cost to build a house with solar power?

Adding solar panels or a solar roof to your current home plans, or adding it onto an existing home, can cost between $15,000-$25,000, depending on home size, location and what kind of system you are looking for. Making changes to home plans that create a more energy-efficient home doesn’t typically cost much more than an ordinary home build. The key is to build purposefully in order to take advantage of things like thermal energy and geographical location.

Is it cheaper to have a solar-powered house?

Absolutely. While solar panels can be a big upfront expense, ultimately they pay off due to electric bill savings over time. They also come with warranties for between 10 and 25 years. And, designing and building a solar home that requires less electricity will result in less of a demand in the first place.

Can a house be fully solar-powered?

With planning, yes. If a home is designed to be energy -efficient, it’s possible that it can be fully solar-powered. Adding a solar system can have the same result if the home’s roof is optimal, or if a ground-mounted solar system is a possibility. However, in order to power your home with solar energy at night or during inclement weather, you’ll need to install an energy storage system; otherwise, you’ll still need to use energy from your utility.

How many solar panels are needed to power a house?

This largely depends on how much electricity your home uses. On average, US homes use a little less than 11,000 kWh of electricity per year. For most homes, 20 to 25 panels will power your home with solar energy.

How much do solar homes cost?

The cost you pay for solar on your home depends on location, equipment, installer, available rebates, and more. As far as a ballpark number, you can expect solar panels to cost $15,000 or more, depending on the exact installation.

Are solar-powered homes worth it?

Just like the cost of solar, depending on your location, equipment, upfront price, and more, your unique payback period for solar will change. In general, solar-powered homes are worth it, and most shoppers on the EnergySage Marketplace break even on their solar investment within seven to ten years.

Solar electricity is one way to make your house a solar home

Both BIPV and passive solar are unique technologies which rely on the sun’s energy. While BIPV technology is accelerating in development and production, the most reliable way to power your house is with solar electricity, building attached photovoltaic technology, or solar panels. On the EnergySage Marketplace, you can compare quotes from pre-screened, local solar installers for solar photovoltaic installations. If you first want to see your solar potential based on local incentives and sunlight hours, check out our Solar Calculator for a personalized solar estimate.

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