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Solar Decathlon 2005

Solar Powering Your New Home — Is It Right For You?

DIY Network

Every day the sun showers the earth with several thousand times the amount of energy we use. Even a small amount of the sun's rays that strike the roof of your home is several times the amount of energy that comes in through your electric wires. But, when it comes to powering a home, the standard is not solar, but to connect to the city power grid.

The good news is that with recent advances in photovoltaic solar power, home builders now have the option of installing solar power units, which integrate as roof shingles on the home, and can save homeowners up to 1 kilowatt per 200 square feet on monthly energy costs and create zero pollution costs. Of course, when the energy needs of a home are exceeded, the excess power goes back to the grid and someone else in your community is able to use it. In the end, everyone wins because significant savings are seen on energy bills.

There are some questions to answer when exploring a solar energy system for your home. Does your utility have net metering, a mechanism that allows excess capacity in generation to be stored in the grid for later use? If not, then a more expensive system with batteries may be needed. Also, is your goal to simply reduce a portion of your bill or is it to provide non-interrupted power during outages and disasters? If it's non-interrupted power, then a battery storage system is needed.

In addition to answering these questions, the following are some tips to determine whether an integrated solar energy system is right for you and your home's design:

To start, you will need a sunny place on your roof. For small homes, an area of about 10 by 12 feet is sufficient. For larger homes, it's common to have an area of up to 1,000 square feet.

To approximate how much power you will have to generate, multiply the average daily electrical demand in kilowatt-hours by 0.25. The result is the approximate size of solar array, in kilowatts, that you will need to meet your electrical demand.

When it comes to placement, you want to make sure there is limited shading from trees or other obstructions over the roof. This can reduce the practicality of using solar. Also, it's best to place the modules on a South-facing roof, but solar electric shingles can also be mounted on West or East-facing roofs.

In terms of value, homes with a solar system are more likely to receive a price premium in the resale market. So, a homeowner can save money each month on utility bills, as well as possibly when trying to move to a new home!

However, if installing solar power units on your home isn't an option, there are many things you and your builder can do to make a house more efficient. For more information on solar energy and other best building practices, visit, which features step-by-step project instructions and content related to DIY Network's five-part, on-air workshop, Best Built Home.