-- Thanks to Alden Hathaway, an accomplished solar and renewable energy professional, who informed me about the DC Solar Homes tour.
I went on a DC Solar Homes tour over the weekend. It was very interesting tour. I learned a lot in just in a short two days how those homeowners were able to get their energy bill either to zero or a little bit above zero. DC, MD, and VA have the Net Metering in place, which means that if your solar-powered home produces more electricity that you need, you can sell it back to the utility company at market value. However, talking to these solar geeks, they said that "..Virginia won't allow you to go down better than zero energy or going negatives, because if you go negative for 12 months, at your anniversary the utility company will keep your credit for the money." In other words, going negative for a year won't help anyone but the utility company. It helps fatten their bottom line.
The best advice I heard from these energy geeks before anyone explores solar option, is:
".. don't even think about going solar until you utilize the energy efficiencies of all your appliances first. Because putting solar panels on your roof is cost prohibitive."
It makes a lot of sense. The money matters: Heating and cooling take as much as 45% of your utility bills. Therefore, the first step towards designing energy-efficiency for your home, should be to replace the current power hungry appliances to energy-efficient appliances, such as the Energy Star appliances. Washer. Dryer. Refrigerator. Etc. That is the start before even going solar.
Some of the simple things we all can do to reduce energy consumption and not spend a fortune.
- Energy efficient lighting. Use fluorescent bulbs since energy to provide light in a home is typically as high as 20% of energy bills.
- Utilizes passive solar technique before going on active solar by installing solar panels. You can use the power of the sun to warm your house, specifically if your house is on southern exposure.
- Help circulate the cooling air by using ceiling fans.
- Use window shutters to keep the heat from the sun to warm the rooms, or keeping it cool in the hot summer days.
- Collect rain water to water your garden.
- Weather strip windows, doors and joints.
Of course, there are many more things you can do to conserve and save.
Touring different houses, you somewhat get an idea that there all kinds of possibility that we all can do, not only to conserve energy consumption, but also do good for the environment. I am sure the energy companies are not happy when more people getting into solar and other alternative renewable energy. Because, the energy industry is a "$3 Trillion" business, according to the Clean Tech Revolution. They won't give away their shops anytime soon, okay...
But, if we, the people along with alternative energy companies keep putting pressure on them with our demands for clean, renewable energy.. one of these days, they will have to provide it whether they like it or not. They have to adapt to the new clean technologies, for example in this case is solar. Otherwise, they'll be left out in the dust..
Though, there were 40 homes on the tour, you can't possibly see every home because of time constraint. These are the homes I was able to get a peek of what they do to their homes that make it energy-efficient. These homes below are not totally off-the-grid but rather grid-tied. You got to. Or else, you won't be able to take advantage of the Net Metering program. Also the homes you are about to see below are either built from the ground up or retrofitted homes.
Home #1: 15126 Shannondale Road in Purcellville
Features: PV (Photovoltaic) cells, solar hot water, passive solar, geothermal heating/cooling, energy star appliances, battery backup.
This house is a near zero energy house. A true south facing home to maximize the benefit that it gets from the sun.
click to see larger (+) image
Home #2: 12606 Trillium Glen Lane, Lovettsville
Features: passive solar, active solar, efficient appliances, super insulation, geothermal heating/cooling, environmentally friendly construction materials (a true green home).
Solar inverter by Xantrex
Home #3: 5909 Calla Drive, McLean
Features: PV, solar air heater, clothesline, skylight, efficient appliances and lighting, rainwater collection, organic garden composting.
<< Solar powered oven
What's interesting about this tour is that the owner decided to use the extra energy and plug it in to power their electric car. So that they will use all the extra energy produces by its solar. Otherwise, the electric company is the one that will enjoy the benefits. The front loading dishwasher from Fisher & Paykel that you see above -- is a common fixtures in all of the energy-efficient homes that I toured.
Home #4: 706 N. Ivy Street, Arlington
Features: PV, solar water heater, sunspace, wind turbine, fuel cell, solar heated greenhouse, display of solar products.
<< Wind power turbine is use in this house. The house belongs to a truly "energy nerd!" He's got all the energy related gadget in the world on display.
The view from a neighbor's house. Solar panel is installed above the second floor addition on this Sears kit house >>
Home #5: 861 N. Jefferson Street, Arlington
Features: PV, rain-barrel, solar oven, recycled blue jean insulation, electric lawn mower, line dry laundry.
The line dry laundry or clothesline is the technique people use in the other parts of the world, where the sun warm the environment on most days of the year, including country of my origin. We use the sun to dry our clothes because we couldn't afford to buy washer and dryers.
Overall, the solar homes tour had been a great learning experience for me. I learned so much about solar energy in just two days! I am looking forward to see the upcoming Solar Decathlon in DC this weekend.