People get so caught up in the image of “free” power from the sun or the wind, that they forget that the cheapest energy is the energy you don’t buy. For every dollar you spend on home efficiency you will take three to five dollars off the cost of your renewable energy system. It is that simple. Use less energy; buy fewer solar panels to supply that energy..
Here is a quick check list of things you should have done before you even think about installing a renewable energy system on your home. In fact, these steps will save you money even if you don’t intend to install a renewable energy system on your home.
Lighting and appliances: Make sure you are using the most efficient lighting you can. That most often means compact fluorescent and perhaps LED lighting.
Insulation and weather sealing: You want your home to be as sealed as possible against both the cold and the heat. This means weather sealing windows and doors, or even replacing them if you have the money to more insulated ones. … I recommend that you get an energy audit. Many utilities or municipalities offer then for free or for a low fee. Even if you have to pay for one, it is money well-spent.
Roofing: If properly installed, a solar system will last at least 25 years. How old is your roof? If your roof is in need of new shingles, or needs other repair, there is no point in putting a solar system on the roof that is going to need to be removed in five years to re-shingle. It is much cheaper to install the solar system while you install the new shingles, than to do the two separately
Home owner’s associations and neighbors: Do you live in a historic district? What is your HOA’s policy on wind turbines? Before you spend your money on the solar panels, invest in a little research and neighborly friendliness. Many historic districts were made in the 70’s during the first oil crisis, and many have bylaws dealing with renewable energy prompted by that crisis. Some only apply if your home is visible from the street. Some require a permit. Research is usually a lot cheaper than fines, or having to take down the system.
Heating system: Electric heat is not the way to go. That goes for electric water heaters as well. If money was no object, I would suggest you switch to radiant floor solar thermal heating. Not only will the bathroom floor be nice and warm in the middle of winter, but your cats will love it as well. If you can’t go with radiant floor, gas heat is the second best. One thing for sure: you want to have your heating system as efficient as money and resources will allow.
Once you have tackled all of these issues, THEN you are ready to call up your handy renewable energy installer and get those super-cool solar panels. Spending a significant amount of money on home efficiency improvements will radically reduce the size (number of solar panels, size of wind turbine etc) and therefore the cost of your renewable energy system. It will also lower your monthly bills, making the payback time on your investment that much quicker.