What should I do to make my home more energy efficient before going solar? —— Improving your home’s energy efficiency

Making your home energy efficient before going solar can be one of the best investments you can make. There’s a few things that will get the most bang for your buck: investing in a home energy audit; improving your insulation; and assessing the efficiency of your windows, appliances, and HVAC. Before you start installing solar panels on your home, it’s also important to do a little prep work to make sure your home is ready, including sizing your system and assessing your roof. Here’s what you can do to create an energy efficient environment for your solar installation.

What is energy efficiency and why should I care about it?

In short, an energy efficient home will use less energy to achieve the same output. Energy efficiency is worth pursuing as it reduces unnecessary energy consumption, lowers your carbon footprint and demands for non-renewable resources, and will also save you thousands of dollars on utility bills. When it comes to solar installations, having an energy efficient home will also prevent you from having to build an unnecessarily large system.

Energy efficient homes typically have airtight construction, high performing windows, LED lighting, energy efficient and Energy Star-rated appliances, good insulation, and proper sealing of windows and doors. Architects that design homes with energy efficiency in mind are typically designed with their natural surroundings in mind. The design and floor plan will take into consideration natural light, existing flora, and climate in order to reduce energy usage.

What are some things I should do before installing solar panels?

Before you take the solar plunge, you’ll want to do three main things:

  1. Conduct a home energy audit to determine what you can do to improve your home’s efficiency.
  2. Calculate your energy needs to properly size your system.
  3. If you’re mounting panels, assess the age and condition of your roof.

Conduct a home energy audit to determine what you can do to improve your home’s efficiency.

Home energy audits, or home energy assessments, should be the first step you take before installing a system to determine how you can make sure your panels aren’t just collecting energy that’s going to be wasted. A home energy audit is a simple and powerful way to find out where your home is losing energy and what steps you can take to improve its efficiency.

Calculate your energy needs to properly size your system.

It’s crucial to take the time to properly size your system. If you overbuild your solar system, you’ll waste thousands of dollars components you don’t even need. If you underbuild your installation, your system won’t be able to meet your needs. What you want is to design a system with just the right amount of capacity.

To achieve this, we recommend using the Renogy solar panel calculator to determine what size system you should build to meet your home’s energy needs. Simply input information about your energy needs and lifestyle into the solar sizing calculator to help you decide on your solar panels. You’ll just need to know what total watts your electronics will consume, how long you plan on running your appliances, your charge controller efficiency, and average sun hours per day. The solar panel calculator will then be able to tell you the minimum and recommended system size you should install.

If you’re mounting panels, assess the age and condition of your roof.

You’ll also want to make sure your roof is in suitable shape for solar panels. If your roof is nearing the end of its lifespan, you’ll want to replace it before installing solar. A solar panel system will last you 30 to 35 years. So, if your roof is between five and 10 years from needing replacement, it’s a good idea to hire a professional to assess the condition of your roof. Replacing your roof before installing solar means you won’t have to tear everything out just a few years into having your installation, which will save you lots of money in the long run. Every roofing material has a slightly different lifespan. As some general guidelines, clay tile, slate, and copper roofs can last up to 50 years, wood shake roofs have about a 30 year lifespan, and cement shingles last about 20 years.

What exactly is a home energy audit?

A home energy audit, or home energy assessment, calculates how much energy your home uses, where it is losing energy, and what fixes you should prioritize making to improve its efficiency. When home energy auditors come to your house, they will conduct a thorough assessment and may use a variety of different tools to detect areas of energy loss such as surface thermometers, furnace efficiency meters, thermographic scans, and blower doors.

How do I get the most out of an energy audit?

To get the most out of your energy audit, we recommend doing a little prep work.

  • Make a list of any known problem areas in the house, such as drafty rooms.
  • Prepare a summary of or print out your home's yearly energy bills.
  • Write down what your average thermostat settings for summer and winter are.

What are some things I can do to make my home more energy efficient?

  1. Conduct a home energy audit! Again, we can’t emphasize this enough. A home energy assessment will help you accurately determine where your home is losing the most energy and what improvements would be the most beneficial for you and your home.
  2. Improve insulation. Poor insulation is one of the biggest culprits of energy loss. Uninsulated attics for example can lose plenty of heat. By doing the work to improve this, you could see great improvements in home energy efficiency. Be sure to check windows and doors and seal up any air leaks from those points. Closing up those cracks or gaps and adding insulation can save up to 10% on home heating and cooling costs.
  3. Replace your windows. Poorly-fitted, old, or single-pane windows can also lose a lot of heat during the winter. Double pane windows are typically much better at holding in the heat better than single-pane windows and aluminum frames. Some cheaper fixes include using thermal curtains at night and opening them up during the day when it’s sunny out to let in naturally warming sunlight.
  4. Upgrade your appliances. Be sure to look for appliances that are Energy Star rated if you have older appliances you plan on replacing. These appliances may have higher upfront costs, but they’ll save you lots of money in the long run.
  5. Install a programmable thermostat. Programming your thermostat to automatically run cooler at night and during the workday when you’re gone will prevent you from unnecessarily overheating your home.
  6. Tune Up Your HVAC. Heating and cooling costs are one of the biggest expenses of home ownership. Invest in an annual tune-up of your heating and cooling system, and you’ll ensure your furnace and A/C are running at maximum efficiency.
  7. Replace your lightbulbs. Highly-efficient and long-lasting LED light bulbs are the way to go. ENERGY STAR-qualified LEDs use only 20%–25% of the energy and last 15 to 25 times longer than the traditional incandescent bulbs they replace.
  8. Change up your laundry practices. Washing machines and dryers are also huge energy consumers. Things you can do to lower those energy demands include washing your clothes in fuller loads and on lower settings. You can also hang drying your clothes to save energy that would be used by operating the dryer.
  9. Use a tankless water heater. Unlike traditional water heaters, tankless water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank and provide hot water only as it is needed. This means they use much less energy. If you have a traditional water heater, you can lower the thermostat to make sure you’re not wasting money heating it to a temperature you don’t even use.

Conclusion

Making your home energy efficient goes in line with why many people go solar in the first place: to live a lower impact and sustainable lifestyle. By improving your home’s efficiency and decreasing your energy usage, you’ll also be able to build a smaller home solar installation that will keep you and your family happy for years to come.