Dreaming of a new home that runs on the sun? Building solar into your design plans makes sense, more than ever before. Modern technology makes it cost-effective and sensible to build a 100% solar-powered home, with no utility bills and minimal carbon footprint.
We’re learning more every day about the cost and health benefits of building a home that runs on 100% renewable electricity. Planning ahead to make your new construction home powered by the sun is an easily attainable goal, especially when your architect, building company, and solar company all work together from the start.
Climate Scientist and Stanford University Professor Mark Jacobson built this zero-emission ultra-efficient home with the intention of powering his entire lifestyle with the sun. Photo Credit: Dwell
A recent study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that installing solar at the same time as home construction can significantly cut costs. Whether you’re a builder working on designing a home that’s ready for solar, or a property owner in the midst of construction, there are “solar ready” design guidelines that can make the process easier for everyone.
This guide is designed for those in the process of building a new home, but if you're thinking about making your current home zero-emission or ultra-efficient, you can absolutely adapt your existing house using the same principles.
Why Solar Now?
First off, it’s important to note that solar-powered homes are more economical than ever before. In fact, the International Energy Agency recently called solar the “King of all Energy Sources.” It’s also important to understand that solar power is essential to help us move away from fossil fuel-based energy sources as quickly as possible in the face of the climate crisis. The data continues to mount, pointing toward solar as a sensible solution both for your wallet and for the health and welfare of future generations:
- The 26% federal tax credit (ITC) is still available through December 31, 2022. For 2023, it drops to 22% and in 2024 it sunsets completely. Now is the time to take advantage of this valuable incentive which directly reduces your total federal tax liability.
- Photovoltaic module prices have declined by 90% over the past ten years, making solar the least expensive form of energy on the market. In fact, no other electricity generation technology has been able to keep up with solar’s pace of cost reduction over this period. Multi-silicon solar module prices dropped from over $2 per watt in 2009 to just over $0.20 per watt in Q3 2019. That 90 percent price reduction is one of the most critical factors driving the global expansion of solar.
- Solar panels are incredibly reliable. Solar panels come warrantied for 25 years and are expected to have a service life of 40+ years. Solar panels from the 1970s have tested as still producing most of their original power output, and today’s panels are engineered to a far higher standard. With no moving parts, a solar panel system is one of the most reliable, long-lived mechanical systems you can invest in.
- Installing solar on your new home will actually increase your property value. Research has shown that homes with solar panels sell for significantly more than similar homes without them. In fact, solar panels can add tens of thousands of dollars to your home’s value.
- Climate scientists are becoming increasingly alarmed at the accelerating pace of the climate crisis. The most recent report from the International Energy Agency highlights the need for speed, and also emphasizes that the climate crisis can be solved without any new investment in fossil fuel and its infrastructure.
Build Smart from the Start
Choosing to focus on energy efficiency and all-electric appliances are important factors when planning your new solar-powered build. When you plan ahead for a heat pump, electric hot water, an induction stove, and energy efficiency measures, your solar experts can help you size your array correctly so that your solar system can power all of these appliances and functions.
Stanford Professor Mark Jacobson's ultra-efficient kitchen features an induction stove, energy-efficient lighting, and heat pump electric hot water. Photo Credit: Dwell
- Solar electricity for heating and cooling. While it’s great to save money on your electric bill, solar really becomes a valuable investment when used to power heating and cooling equipment, such as modern cold climate heat pumps and heat pump water heaters.
- Energy Efficiency is Key. The Department of Energy has great information about building energy-efficient homes. Their guidelines include using a whole-home system approach, and ways to upgrade to ultra-efficiency by combining state-of-the-art energy-efficient construction, appliances, and lighting with commercially available renewable energy systems, such as solar water heating and solar electricity. Check out this fascinating look at Climate Scientist Mark Jacobson's experience building his ultra-efficient home in Stanford, CA.
- Electric Induction stoves have been found to be significantly healthier for indoor air quality, and also have loads of benefits for serious cooks looking for exact control over temperature and timing. The best part is that induction stoves run on electricity, so when your home runs on solar, you’re cooking with sun power instead of gas. Here’s how induction stoves work. And here’s why they’re important for the planet and for our health.
- Planning ahead for electric car charging infrastructure and building that into your electrical system from the start makes sense. Check out our guide to planning your electric vehicle purchase and sizing your home’s solar energy system to cover your car’s power needs.
Designing Your Roof for Solar: Optimal Roof Structure and Orientation
When designing a home that is solar ready, pay attention to:
- Steepness and orientation of your roof. A south-facing roof that is angled at between 30 and 45 degrees is the most ideal for solar. Read more about roof orientation here.
The layout of roof vents, chimneys, dormers, etc. Obstructions like these can limit the number of panels your roof can hold. Ideally, a continuous flat roof surface without vents or chimneys is best for solar. Put plumbing vents and chimneys on the north side of the roof, if possible.
- Shade trees (or other obstructions) have a serious negative effect on solar production.
- Roofing Material Additionally, while most roof types are suitable for solar, there are a few materials that can be difficult for solar installers to work with. Slate tiles and cedar shingle roofs are fragile, which means that installing solar on them could require extra equipment (and result in additional costs).
Planning Ahead for Optimal Electrical Wiring and System Placement
There are also important electrical considerations to take into account and plan ahead with your architect and builder, including:
- Installation of electrical conduit from your main electrical panel location to roof. You’ll need to run a conduit between your solar panels and your electrical panel. Planning ahead with your builder to run the conduit on the inside of the walls can help with the look of the project as well as the efficiency of the system.
- Space near the main electrical panel for PV inverters and other equipment. While most of your solar panel system is on the roof, there are some components that need to be installed near your electrical panel. Not only is it key to leave adequate space for your solar inverter alongside your main service panels, but if you’re planning to have home battery backup, it’s ideal to plan a space where all of this equipment can reside together. If these items are installed post-construction, often holes in the drywall will need to be cut, but if it’s planned in advance this extra step can be avoided.
- Specification of main service panel and circuit breakers. Ensure that your electrical setup can handle a solar panel array and battery backup system by planning ahead for 200 amp main service panels. If your new home requires two main service panels, and if you plan to add battery storage, you can situate all of these with enough space and in the ideal location for wiring and code safety. Additionally, if you don’t want whole-home battery backup, you can pre-arrange the breakers in one service panel to hold the important appliances you’ll want the battery system to back up.
You can learn more about each of the considerations above in greater detail from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office.
Give us a shout to talk about planning ahead for your new-build home. When your solar company, builder and architect are all working together to provide you with the best, most cost-effective plan, everyone wins--especially Mother Earth!