My Solar Journey Is Beginning

This spring I’m doing energy efficiency updates to my own home. I’m preparing for the installation of solar on my own home.

It all started with a new roof

I am like many of our customers. When we bought our house 5 years ago the roof had about 5 years of life left. If need be I could probably get another 3-5 years out of my roof with some maintenance and close attention.

The only problem is that I’m ready to install solar, so I need to do the new roof now. I often suggest to our clients that they don’t have to replace the entire roof to go solar. You can replace the roof under where the solar is going to be installed, and then replace the remainder of the roof years down the road when it’s ready.

You just really don’t want to install on an old roof, and then have to pull down your array and put it back up if you can avoid it. You add a lot of unnecessary cost to the equation when you go about a solar project that way.

One of many issues with our house is that the roof faces east and west. My first preference is usually to install on the west face for higher production, and then the east face. Because we have trees in the back yard to the southwest, the east street-facing roof will produce more electricity. And no, I am not cutting down my trees, they provide much more value to me than a few more kilowatt-hours.

Which roof am I installing on? Both. Why? Because both roof faces are small, and I want aesthetically pleasing arrays. So I need to replace the entire roof. Like any good home construction project there has been some “scope creep.” That’s when one project snowballs into another and another.

Scope creep

A good friend runs a home performance contracting business, Vesta Home Performance. I’ve had him out a couple of times to look at our place. We have no insulation in the walls, and sawdust for insulation in two small attic spaces. And we burn oil for our heat source. Our low hanging fruit is ripe for the picking in this house.

Because the way our upstairs is constructed the best way for us to add insulation is on top of the roof. We’ll add about 9 inches of rigid foam insulation before constructing a new roof on top of that. Then the solar will go on top of that.

We’re going to air seal and blow in some insulation into our wall cavities while the roof is off. We would of course like to go ahead and add another bedroom, bathroom, blow out the kitchen, change the roofline, and creep and creep and creep…

For now we’re going to focus on the envelope of the house so we can swap out our oil for an electric heat pump. We have a long road to divest ourselves of oil in our personal lives, but we’re on the way. Eventually we’ll get to some of the other projects, but not all of them.

We have a small house and our goal is to make it as livable as possible without breaking the bank or the planet in the process. We going to be here for a long time, and we’re okay with cozy and “good enough.”

Some excuses are better than others

Even with a long-term plan guiding us, it is hard not to let the scope creep just a little bit. I figure this is as good a time as any to upgrade our main service panel (breaker box) even though it’s not necessary for the solar array. I would like to make preparations for a future electric vehicle.

I wouldn’t mind adding another Solatube for more sunlight in the house and a bathroom vent too.

Even though I’ve been in the contracting business for about 10 years now I know better than to think I know everything. I’ve got to get a little help.

Bring in the pros

I’m setting up a meeting now with architect friends and solar clients Red Cottage Studios. They are helping us pull together a master plan for the house so we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot by messing up the sequencing on any of our long-term projects.

I’ll keep you posted as our project moves forward. Our team interfaces with clients going through this process all of the time, but this is the first time I’m in the client seat. I’m looking forward to sharing my experience.