4 Reasons Solar Power is a Hot Topic

It’s that time of year again, where it heats up to an ungodly temperature that causes sweating in astronomical proportions that require multiple showers a day. Makeup tends to slide off your face the moment you step out the door, not unlike the Indiana Jones holy grail face-melting scene. The beating sun sends Houstonians fleeing for shade, bodies of water and into underground tunnels to embrace the lifestyle of pests in Biblical plague proportions. Although we lament the harsh rays and sweltering heat, summer is a great reminder of how powerful the sun is – if only we could harness it’s power somehow…

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But wait! We can!

Tell me more!, you ask.

What better way to say “Up yours, sun!” than to steal its death rays and convert them to free energy?

Yes, down with the death rays! Down with expensive bills!

All you have to do is install solar panels on your house!

Yeah!! Solar panels! Give them to us!!!

All you have to do is invest a cool $20k and you’ll see payback in just 15 years!

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Yeah!! Wait, what?…I don’t mind tunnels that much after all.

 Now don’t be so quick to retreat into your hermit haven of shade. Let’s take a look at the benefits of not just solar in general, but of the specifics for our dream home.

The Big Picture: 4 Benefits of Solar

Solar power is stable – meaning you can calculate your power as a fixed cost, rather than on fluctuating fossil fuel prices. Utility rate inflation is a thing, y’all. You may know it better as “Why the heck is my bill twice as much as last time!?”. With solar, you can predict your expenses and save that dough for margaritas under the solar canopy. You’re welcome.

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It increases the property value. Because what’s the one thing that every single neighborhood group complains about? Property values. Just be sure to gently remind your neighbor that you’re single-handedly boosting their numbers the next time they get passive aggressive about your trashcans being in view from the street.

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You can reduce your carbon footprint. It’s like planting trees and eliminating driving miles. We all know our five-year-old self still wants to impress Captain Planet.

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They’re super cool. These technologies are pretty much the future, now. There are hybrid solar-kinetic tiles, walkable PV panels and full-spectrum transparent panels in the works. Not to mention thin, flexible PV that can be used on curved surfaces, or even fabric. Welcome to the future.

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Okay…Saving the planet is nice, but I want to be more than a planeteer, and I don’t wanna be broke…show me the money!

We’ve been working with Walker Fair at Texas Solar Outfitters, located down the street from our new house. Talk about local – doesn’t get more sustainable than that. He’s been very helpful with supplying information, including a 15-page analysis of our system, plenty of advice, a tour of the shop and more than enough patience through our ever-delayed building process. Based on the report, here’s the specifics of our solar electric system (I’ve rounded the numbers to keep it simple for conversation so we don’t get lost in decimals. Let’s leave that to the math teachers).

Lumos Solar Patio Cover – 18 total panels to provide 5,500 kWh annually.

–       Anticipated 1/3 offset of energy purchase from traditional sources with our system

–       Up front cost of $20k

–       Tax incentives back of $6k

–       Payback – 15 years

–       Cash gained over system life: $15k

–       Property value appreciation: $14k (not taxable in Texas)

–       CO2 Savings over system life: 114 tons (equivalent of driving 228,000 auto miles, or planting 2,656 trees.)

–       Net cost after incentives: $14k

That’s nice, but solar panels are ugly!

Inappropriate Solar

Won’t disagree with you there. Most traditional mounted solar installations aren’t attractive. There have been great strides to integrate solar – at least visually -with traditional building materials (shingles, clay roof tiles). That still doesn’t mean they’re nice to look at. That’s where design comes in. Suffice to say that I was initially hesitant on solar for our home due to aesthetics. But my husband insisted lovingly suggested we reconsider. My first iteration of the design dumped the solar panels on one side of the roof deck, never to been heard from again. Fortunately, as the design progressed, I asked myself the question: why do the panels have to sit on the roof deck surface? Good question, self!

Quick rewind: we had several programming goals, one of which was “no wasted space” and the other was to maximize outdoor living opportunities. Now, we could argue that filling up a roof deck with solar panels isn’t exactly wasteful, but when you can pay a small premium over ‘regular’ solar panels and get these super-sleek see-through ones, the possibilities open up. By lifting the panels above the roof deck surface, we were able to create a canopy of partial shade. Remember that whole face melting problem? I’ll spare you the gif, but let’s just say these canopy designs will combat Premature Facial Melting. (Talk to your doctor or solar provider about treatment options that are right for you). Finally, by raising the panels we are able to fully utilize the roof deck as a room (albeit a slightly sauna-like room during the summer). Economically, we can say that this unlocks a $25,000 value by allowing full use of the 500 square foot roof deck that would have otherwise gone to ‘waste’ for equipment.

Behold, the glorious sun (and solar panels that will absorb its death rays for our monetary and comfort benefits):

Lumos system we will use

Attention span fading…summer heat is getting to me…let’s wrap this up.

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In the end, we were able to accomplish several goals by incorporating solar into our dream home design:

  1. Save the planet
  2. Realize a return on our investment through higher property value (= borrowing power), and lower utility costs
  3. Achieve programming goals of highest and best use of our roof decks by extracting value from those square feet that would otherwise be sitting wasted as a solar panel holder.
  4. Provide shade to our roof decks, thereby increasing the quality of those spaces

At the end of the day, can anyone really put a value on gazing out at the skyline while sipping margaritas from under the shade of a solar canopy as you save the planet?

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Didn’t think so.

Cheers.

Take a look at the other participants of this month’s #ArchiTalks, on the theme of Summer:

Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture (@businessofarch)
Summer is a Great Time To Market Your Architecture Firm!

Evan Troxel – Archispeak Podcast / TRXL (@etroxel)
Lake Powell

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Summer — Architecture Imagery

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
#Architalks 20 “summer” and architecture

Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
4 Secrets To Getting The Most Out Of Your Summer Internship

brady ernst – Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
Dear Boy in the Plastic Bubble,

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Summer Surprise

Michael LaValley – Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
An Acrophobic Architect’s Illuminating Summer of Roofs

Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Seasonal change

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
… and the livin’s easy

Kyu Young Kim – Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu)
Summer in Seoul

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
[Dis]Connected Summer

Adam Denais – Defragging Architecture (@DefragArch)
5 Things to Make the Most of Your Summer

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
An Architect Summer

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/summer-is-for-the-young-at-heart/

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Summer : A Review

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
summer working, had me a blast

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Seasons of Summer

Jes Stafford – MODwelling (@modarchitect)
The Dog Days of Summer

Sharon George – Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
Glass in Architecture – Summer Wonders

Drew Paul Bell – Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Summer Rhythms

Jeffrey A Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Do I Need to Hire an Architect?

Samantha Raburn – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
An Architectural Spark for your Summer

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
An Architect Summer



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