As much as we want a solar panel system for our house, they're still not currently priced where it makes economic sense for us — solar panel systems are still too expensive for the amount of energy that we use. I'm hung up on solar because they're really cool and it just feels like the right thing to do (invest in). But it's really hard to justify given their current expense.
We received a quote a couple years ago for 16 175 Watt, BP solar panels which would generate 3,529 kWh a year or 294 kWh a month average. We fluctuate between 170 to 360 kWh but we usually stay under 300 kWh a month and average in the 240-250 kWh range for the year. Homes of our size are in the 400 to 600 kWh range so an average of 500 kWh.
On the finances side, we're looking at $36 a month electricity bill or $440 for the year. The cost estimate for a 16 panel solar system was $20,000 which would go down to $14,000 after the state rebate and Federal tax credit.
I like 7 – 10 year break evens which would mean the cost of the solar panel system would have to be in the $3,000-$4,000 range which is in the range of installing an HVAC system or tankless hot water system so not far fetched that one day it'll be this cheap to install. The $14,000 is about $10,000 more than we could financially justify. From a "save the earth" perspective, our efforts to continue to conserve energy (LED lights, insulation, programmable thermostat, efficient windows, efficient appliances) is still the better way to go.
It's possible that we'll increase our electricity usage and of course we're at risk for electrical rate increases, but at this time solar panels still need to go down in price unless we make it a DIY project and buy and install solar panels ourselves. For $3,000, DIY would make sense. Given the interest in solar companies though, solar panel systems will get cheaper as more panels are available and made cheaper and more companies are available to install them.
LED light bulbs like the one above are cool. The one we got is 2.5W and it's equivalent to a 45W incandescent light bulb. There are 7 led lights inside that power the thing. LED lights should be what we all move to but the investments made in cfls (contains mercury, higher wattage) has everyone buying cfls first. LED lights are already showing up in street lights and will also get more popular in car head lights. They're also great in flashlights.
We're using one of the LED bulbs for the porch light, one over a vanity as a night light, and one other for my end table– so high use areas that need just enough light. The lights are a bit expensive and the brighter ones even moreso. But the ones we got should last a long, long time. And at 2.5W, can't really complain there.
The rest of the house we're using 7W to 13W compact fluorescent bulbs.
We also need (and on the lookout for) 3-way LED or CFL bulbs for lamps. The 3-way CFLs that are out now are way too big to fit in a lamp.
We're figuring, in lieu of solar panels, we can reduce the amount of electricity we use by having efficient appliances and lighting, turning off our electrical equipment when not in use, and insulating the house. Google has several more good energy saving tips.
* I'm in a bit of a writer's funk. Maybe the WordCamp this Saturday will get me out of it. I've got a few more posts on products in general and then the rest of the year will be focused on work related stuff with hopefully some updates on a bathroom remodel once we get started at the end of June.
My parents got one of these whole home IQAir air purifiers installed in their house. I like IQAir's room air purifiers too, e.g. the HealthPro Plus — looks like it's won some awards and both the whole house and in-room purifiers are probably worth a look if you've got health issues. I guess these are what they've been installing in homes for the Extreme Makeover Home Edition shows.
I like radiant heating systems the best (which we don't have and don't plan on doing for our house) because they're the most efficient and provide the best type of heat, but it doesn't help when it's hot and you need an air conditioner. For most people, forced air heating and cooling system is best and might as well check out the IQAir purifier while you're at it.
There are a couple of cool energy check lists to look at:
We had a $1200 energy bill last year, about 50/50 electric to gas. Unfortunately this was an increase of 20% over last year, we increased our usage by 20% :-( However, the average energy bill for a household in the US is $1900 – $2000 a year.
Our usage was about 4500 kwh and 415 therms in 2008 and going to use this as baseline going forward.
For PG&E customers, all this information is available online.
The goal is to decrease usage and costs by 20 – 25% next year and 50% in 5 years.
Infrastructure things we had already done:
- Energy star appliances (heater/air conditioner, dishwasher, refrigerator, washer/dryer) though our dryer is now electric versus gas
- CFLs with most of our lighting except three way lamps, led under cabinet lighting, and "candle" type lights in the living room
- Insulated floors
- Double pane windows
Things to do:
- Insulate attic and install attic fan
- Research insulation for exterior walls
- home energy audit
- Continue evaluating use of solar panels and tankless water heating
Our last major home improvement for our very simple 2 bedroom 1 bath home in Oakland is the bathroom. When we bought the house, the bathroom and kitchen were new but done very cheaply. We remodeled the kitchen last year, and we did landscaping the year before that.
We're going stay in the same style and period for our bathroom remodel which is a bungaloid — a house kind of like a Crafstman style bungalow but not exactly. We're going to with a 54" clawfoot tub from Sunrise Specialty in Oakland. We'll probably go with wainscotting, a basketweave tile floor, a Toto toilet, and we have to replace the sink, vanity, and window. We may redo the drywall and add insulation.
Sunrise Specialty only sells to dealers and so we'll probably get our tub and all the fittings from Acorn Kitchen and Bath in Oakland or Omega Salvage (super cool place) in Berkeley. The tub will run a little over $2,000 new. The fittings will run another $1,000.
We hope to start work in June and get everything done as soon as possible.
Granite countertops and stainless steel appliances…Not exactly. More like paper countertop and black appliances.
We got the backsplash installed this weekend. It's an Oceanside recycled glass tile (creme brulee). We're getting cork floors from WeCork installed later this month, we need to install some hardware on the cabinets, paint the refrigerator, update the lighting and maybe paint. And then we're all done. Maybe, possibly. Earlier this year I said we'd be done by end of March. Oops.
Almost after (once we install the floors and cabinet hardware)
This is a Blue Star range with convection oven and 22,000 BTU burners upfront. The hood is a Vent-A-Hood. The countertop is Paperstone. Our cabinets were in the house when we bought it. It's Timberlake from American Woodmark, the Tahoe Oak Honey via Home Depot.
Summary: Solar panels for a small home needs to get down to a $4,500 to $7,000 price point for it to make economic sense for home owners — a 7 to 10 year break even. It may get to that price point eventually due to demand, decrease in prices of solar panels, improvements in technology (like solar roof shingles), group/community price breaks, and continued tax breaks and rebates.
Details: For 2 to 3kWh systems, current price point is estimated to be about $20,000 for installation. With State rebates and Federal Income Tax credits totaling $5,000 to 6,000 you're looking at $14,000 – $15,000 for the system. You're getting about 300 to 450 kWh a month. If you are currently using 400 kWh a month, that's about $50 a month or $600 a year. This means your break even point is about 25 years. This doesn't include the home value appreciation due to your solar panel investment.
We average 325kWh a month, about $35/month. Other info:
Borrego Solar seems like a good company. I've seen Solar City around the area as well.
People we've worked with and recommend.
Michael Stabile (day to day stuff)
Pelican Plumbers (big stuff, copper pipe replacement, etc)
Heating/Cooling and Plumbing
Harry Clark Plumbing (even bigger stuff)
Early Light Electric
Reed Brothers Security
1-800-400-LOCK Continue reading "home repair/improvement resources – Oakland"
What I've learned about home appliances over the years. Not that much, but enough.
- In general, Kenmore appliances (from Sears) are the way to go. Solid products (mostly private-labeled) and solid customer repair service. A lot of appliances are private label Amana or Bosch. Fagor is a Spanish appliance company and their appliances look nice. Not sure about quality.
- Always good to go to the back of dept stores and see floor models and returned appliances for big discounts 30-40% off. We've gotten a bunch of stuff that way. If you buy a set or multiple appliances, bargain for more of a discount. Good to buy during a holiday sale weekend.
- Also, look for the EnergyStar label. However, non-EnergyStar appliances are already more energy efficient than appliances from 10-15 years ago. Look for rebates from your electrical and water companies, you could get $100 to $300+ back.
I like BlueStar a lot. Crazy expensive, near restaurant grade heat and temp control but they look *much* better than Viking and others. Induction cooktops are really cool (highest energy efficiency and temp control) but about 5 – 7 years from being affordable. Don't get self cleaning ovens.
Whatever brand you get, get a top mount refrigerator (where freezer is the bottom). The $200 difference is worth it. Ours is just Kenmore-Amana.
Bosch all the way (again ours is Kenmore-Bosch). Interior should be stainless steel.
We have Bosch labeled and Kenmore-Frigidaire. Both washers are front loaders, the higher the rpm 1000 to 1200 the better. Front loaders are more efficient with its use of water and spinning water from the clothes for faster drying.
Go for vented (most common) rather than condensation dryers since the vented ones will dry faster.
The all-in-one washer/dryers are supposed to take a long time to dry so the higher capacity ones that are coming out are supposed to be best.
Go for the extended warranty and repair.