Ten Great Solar Home Improvements

Your personal situation dictates the type of solar investment that's best for your own home, but some projects stand out because they're practical for nearly every homeowner, in both monetary and aesthetic terms. Here's a list of ten great solar investments:

  • Landscaping: Planting deciduous trees in the right location around your house gives you cooler summers and warmer winters. Planting bushes, shrubs, and trees as windbreaks allows you to enjoy natural breezes in your home.

  • Installing photovoltaic (PV) systems: When you install a large PV solar power system, you cut out a tremendous amount of pollution. For each kWh of energy you create with a PV system, you save three or four times that much utility-generated power.

    Strictly from a monetary standpoint, PV systems are becoming more competitive, and as energy rates rise, they will become better investments. In addition, when you install a full-scale PV system, you lock in your energy rates for a long time — at zero.

  • Using a solar swimming pool heater: When you install a solar heating system on your swimming pool, you can use your pool more than you would without a heater. The water temperature is much more comfortable, and you can swim over a longer season.

  • Covering your swimming pool: Swimming pool covers basically accomplish the same thing as solar pool heaters but cost about 3 percent as much.

  • Heating your water: Solar water heaters, when properly designed and installed, are great investments because they are much cheaper than PV systems, which are often out of the average person's financial range. Most homeowners can afford a few thousand dollars for a solar water heater system without taking out loans.

  • Using outdoor solar lighting: Putting in solar lighting is as simple as one, two, three. And if you don't like the way things look, changing the layout is as simple as four, five, six. Try both static lights and the changing-color decorative lights. You can get a whole range of different mounting schemes, so you can place the lights anywhere.

  • Covering windows: In the winter, windows allow a lot of heat to escape by conduction. Your house would be much more energy efficient if it didn't have any windows at all, but this is absurd. The solution? Put in window blinds that have good insulation and reflective properties.

  • Using overhangs: By using overhangs to shade your southern windows appropriately, you can increase natural warming in the winter and prevent overheating in the summer. You also can improve the natural light in your home by increasing the amount of sunshine you let in during the winter, when you want as much light as possible. Overhangs are very reasonable do-it-yourself projects. And if you keep things modest, you don't need to get a county building permit or permission from an association design committee.

  • Adding a solar room: You can add a solar room onto your home for far less cost than a conventional room. You can put in nearly any size you want, and do-it-yourself kits are straightforward and well designed.

  • Installing a solar attic vent fan: A properly designed solar attic vent fan can move a lot of air over the course of a day. The system works hardest when there's a lot of sunshine. You don't need to run expensive electrical power up to the fan, which means you can install one just about anywhere you want.

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