Small Steps in Solar Power

If you're not ready to invest in photovoltaic panels for your home, install smaller solar products to let your utilities soak up the sun while you bask in the savings.

Solar landscape light Installing solar powered outdoor lights is one easy way to take advantage of this clean energy source.

Most people agree collecting free energy from the sun is a great idea, but not everyone is able (or willing) to commit to whole-house rooftop solar systems for their home. But here's a bright side: Many products are available today that allow homeowners to take smaller — but still significant — steps toward solar powered energy savings.

"My philosophy is that we can take steps to conserve as much energy as possible through more economical [solar devices]," says Al Hashimi, managing director of Northlake Solar, a Mandeville, La.-based company that sells and installs solar systems and solar powered products. "We try to bring your utility bill as low as possible before you go 'full-solar.'"

The best news: not only will you save money on your electric bills, but many tax incentives are available for these smaller solar products, as well. It all adds up to this renewable energy source finally getting its day in the sun and becoming a popular source for product power. (Check the U.S. Department of Energy Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency — DSIRE for short — online to find out what incentives your state offers.)

So how should you integrate solar power into your home? Here are some of the more popular solar devices available today:

Solar Attic Fans

Solar attic fans are growing in popularity, and with good reason. These rooftop climate warriors push hot air out of your attic space using only sun-powered electricity, keeping your house cooler and lightening the load on your air-conditioning unit.

"It's important to have one square foot of free venting for every 300 square feet of attic space," says Xavier Walter, CEO of The Energy Team, a Southampton, N.J., group of energy-efficiency experts and contractors. Walters says solar attic fans definitely add up to savings, particularly in warm climates. "An electric attic fan can cost $10 to $20 a month during the summer, while a solar attic fan costs nothing to operate."

This basically makes the solar attic fan an MVP of the solar powered players: not only does it cost you nothing to operate and keep you more comfortable, it turns the tables on the sun's heat-filled rays, using them to help your home chill out.

Solar Lighting

Sure, solar powered landscaping lights aren't a new idea — they're sold inexpensively at pretty much every big-box store now. But that doesn't mean they aren't a great way to save money and energy — or that they're the only solar lighting solution for the home. From floodlights to flag pole lights to even solar holiday lights, you can bring a little light into the night courtesy of the sun.

Solar Hot Water Heaters

Another power-player in smaller solar systems is the solar hot water heater. Most systems use active solar heating, which includes circulating pumps and controls to manage water distributing and temperature. Solar hot water heaters use rooftop solar collectors to capture thermal energy that's then transferred to a heat exchanger that heats the water in the storage tank.

Though most solar systems have an electric backup, they often generate more than three-quarters of a home's water-heating needs. Wonder how your home might benefit from a solar hot water heater? Rheem, a solar hot water heater manufacturer, offers an online calculator that tells you how well a solar water-heating system would work in your area.

Solar Pool Pumps and Filters

Pools and sunshine have a pretty tight-knit relationship, so it makes a lot of sense to convert electrical-powered pool parts to solar energy. And the monthly savings in the utility bill will feel as refreshing as a dip in the pool on a July day: many pumps and filters can siphon $100 a month out of your pocket, and popular solar pump and filter systems can be had for under $1000. Do the math: For most pool-popular climates, that adds up to only two seasons before you make back in savings what you spent for the unit.

Solar power makes a lot of sense, not just in the U.S., but all over the world. And that's one of the main reasons we should continue to see solar powered product innovations in the years to come. "The sun's energy is renewable, it's clean, it's infinite, it's free," Hashimi says. "We have the technology to convert that energy into power. As improvements in this technology continue, it will also be very affordable."


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