Tag Archives: solar

Is Solar Right for You?

I am sure that the thought of installing solar is about as thrilling as mowing your lawn or remodeling your bathroom. But, like adding a new shower stall or cabinets, solar can be a home improvement that has its advantages- by paying for itself and then some! Here is the How To find out if solar is right for you!

Is Now a great time to think about solar power?

If you decide that solar power makes sense for you, now is a good time to check out your options. Most of us already think that solar power is a great  idea. Your ability to capture free sunlight and convert it to energy? Just think of the possibilities! You’ll save on our electric bills and not waste our natural resources that we have available! It seems everyone wins!

Solar power to others may seem too expensive unless you are a modern day McGyver who can build almost anything. Other home improvement projects just seem to be higher on project lists than installing solar. This has all changed in the last few years. Solar is definitely on the increase and many systems are much less expensive than they used to be.

Here are a few examples of the affordability of solar:

  • Federal and local subsidies bring the cost of solar down even further. The US federal renewable-energy tax credit—which expires at the end of 2016—cuts the cost of a solar power system by 30%, and state and local incentives also further reduce the price. So, a system that costs the average $21,400 would end up being about $15,000 after the federal credit, and local credits would make it cost even less. If you save $1,500 a year on your electric bill with solar, it’ll pay for itself in 10 years or less. (And the savings would continue for future homeowners, which would make the system a selling point for your home when you decide to sell it.)
  • More financing options means solar is more affordable for more people. With new leasing plans and solar loans, you don’t have to have thousands of dollars in cash upfront. You can rent the system and still save on your energy bills or get a loan that allows you to own the system with $0 down and no installation costs. In other words, you can go solar without tying up a lot of cash.
  • The cost of solar panels and systems have dropped significantly in the past few years. Between 2011 and 2014 the cost of systems have dropped around 60 percent.

Remember, that the  federal tax incentive for solar installation is set to expire at the end of 2016.

How Much You Could Save with Solar Power

In some cases, solar power could eliminate your electric bill entirely (after recouping the installation, system, and maintenance costs), and in other cases the solar panels will simply cut your utility bill by between 10% and 50%. (Solar panels are useless during the night, so you’ll still need to depend on your local utility company unless you get solar batteries to store excess power.) How you pay for the system and how your home is set up will factor into how much you can save.  Average monthly electric savings are between $100 and $200, so the average homeowner could recoup the investment in several years.

If you have a roof that faces south, southeast or southwest and you pay at least 12 to 13 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for electricity, solar is probably a good option If your roof is more than 20% shaded, you may need a ground-mounted system.

If you’re not in California or another sunny area, don’t worry. Even areas in cold climates or with many cloudy days (such as New England and the Pacific Northwest) could still benefit from solar, since systems can capture sunlight scattered by clouds or humidity, not just direct sunlight. Also, apparently, solar panels work even more efficiently in colder temperatures.

Estimate Your Savings

As much as solar power might sound like a no-brainer, not everyone will benefit from it, and taking on debt for it might not ultimately pay off. To find out if solar is right for you, head to EnergySage and/or Solar-Estimate to calculate your estimated savings. These sites use Google Maps to look at your roof surface, incorporate federal and state incentives, and estimate the increase in property value if you buy the solar power system outright. Use caution with Solar Estimate. It seems they require you to submit your phone number and I have seen reports that some contractors will call you about installing solar.

Grab your latest electric bill to calculate the savings using these calculators. To get a more accurate estimate, however, you’ll need to get a solar installer to come to your home and check out your roof personally. Houses that are covered by trees or other buildings might not be suitable for solar power.

How to Pay for Those Solar Panels

If you decide to go forward, you’ll get the most return on investment if you pay for the system with cash and plan to stay in your home for a while, but there are other financing options. Here’s a quick overview of them:

  • Buy the system outright or get a loan to purchase it: You’ll see 100% of the utility savings as soon as you recoup the cost of the investment. If you use a loan to purchase the system, it’ll take longer to recoup the investment than paying for it upfront, but you can still cut your electric bill by 40% to 60%, Money says, even after factoring in the loan payments. Compared to leasing or a purchase agreement, you’ll save more on your utility bills every year and also likely increase your home’s property value. However, keep in mind you’ll also have maintenance costs.
  • Lease the system: You pay a fixed monthly amount for using the system and get a guaranteed amount of electricity in return—at about 10% to 20% lower than your current utility costs. Most leases include maintenance of the system, but you won’t be able to get any tax breaks or rebates with this method, since you don’t own the system.
  • Power Purchase Agreement (PPA): With a PPA, you pay for the amount of electricity you use, much like you do already with your utility company. As with a lease, you don’t need to make a downpayment and you don’t own the system. It’s just a different contract type that’s like a lease but the amount of energy you pay for would likely vary by season.

In all three cases, the solar power system works like this: The solar panels capture sunlight, a solar inverter converts it into current that can be used in your home, and the electric panel in your home (which might need to be upgraded) feeds the energy from the inverter to your home’s circuits. The electric meter monitors your energy usage, so if your panels generate excess power, that gets sent to the utility company, which will give you a credit for the energy.  A Solar Inverter in a nutshell is a photovoltaic system. You are now powering the grid!

As with any other home improvement project, shop around and get several quotes from installers before committing. Ask about the warranty and maintenance on the system, look for certified installers (“certified photovoltaic installation professionals” to be precise), and ask for referrals or recommendations from people you know.

With our cabin in the mountains we plan to depend on the local electric co-op in the beginning and use solar when we can. The rates with our local Co-Op are pretty reasonable.


A Place To Call Home!

A Place to Call Home….How to find it?

Many people look for that perfect place to find and call it home. I hope to help you along the way in finding that perfect spot just for you. My wife and I spent quite a bit of time looking for property and deciding where our homestead would be. We insisted on a place where we could end up with some peace and serenity, yet be able to build our homestead where it would be functional, yet affordable.

We decided that we wanted to purchase where the land was affordable, the costs were less, and we could spend that extra money on our homestead and cabin and not worry about giving most of it to Uncle Sam.

We wanted to have the freedom to roam our property, decide what we wanted to do and not worry with overburdening regulations. We wanted something quite different from the daily traffic grind, neighbors on top of each other, HOA’s, mounting urban regulations, and increasing property taxes.

We decided to try our luck with the mountains of Tennessee.  Everyone has their choice of where they would prefer to be and that’s okay. Perhaps you want to be near family again or that a certain area appeals to you. For us, we chose the high ground of Tennessee to start our search. Why? It came down to the desire for mountain property, the experience of a change of seasons, the land was affordable, and taxes were much less than surrounding states.

We began by taking a short vacation to the Volunteer State and the Great Smoky Mountains. We rented a great little cabin for two days near Greeneville Tennessee, while we had made arrangements to meet with a Land Specialist later in the week to look at property. After looking at several pieces of property in the Cumberland Plateau, we decided to continue to explore this great state and enjoy the family vacation.

After our return home, we decided to evaluate our options and decide what we wanted to do. Do we decide on a purchase or don’t we?  Where would we be happy at!  We eventually decided on purchasing five acres near Crawford Tennessee. We could spend time clearing the property ourselves and decide where each little piece had to go. We spent over a year deciding and making plans, as well as making payments on the property. After a year of planning we purchased our new camper and decided to head back to the property and “get to work”. Well, that was short lived!

In the interest of getting to the good stuff with helping you find your way and get started, I’ll just ask you to visit my wife’s blog at www.cheriannjones.com and find out what happened!  She will also appreciate the visit!

Finding Your Property-

Whether you want one half acre or 100 acres, first decide where and why you want to live there. There are many choices in finding property. Perhaps a family member or an acquaintance has property they will let you settle your homestead on. Many properties can be expensive and many can be affordable. Finding a realtor is an option, but remember, the idea is to save money and spend less. Realtors are in the business to make money, and some have high commission fees. Very few of them deal in rural homesteading property. We decided to search for property using alternative methods like internet searches and Craigslist Ads for private owner financing property for sale. Be careful while using this method since the property may be affordable and the size you want, however sometimes the land is just not usable for building or homesteading. To give you an example, the first property we found we contacted the owner, and decided while In Tennessee we would go look at it. The price was right, the size and the location were good, but the property was straight uphill, and We mean uphill.  You can’t farm it much less build anything on it.

We finally found a Land Specialty Company located in Tennessee. They have a no thrills website, yet told you enough to get you interested. They are owner financing, and have useable property in most size and price ranges. The great thing is they finance with a low down payment, military and veterans discount, and reasonable monthly payments. If for some reason you aren’t satisfied with your purchase, you can return the property to them or trade for another. Best of all, if you purchase from them, and make a referral, and they purchase, the company will waive one of your monthly payments. No bank will do that for you!

Here is the link in case you are interested!   www.countryplacesinc.com

Once you have found your land-

A good place to start is the county or city tax collectors office. You can easily research online to find most information about any parcel of land. The people selling you the property can also be valuable in providing this information, but don’t always rely on that either.  Double check the information on your own just to be sure. Most tax collectors offices can tell you how much taxes you will be paying annually on the property and whether a title search has been done. Title searches can tell you whether the property is free and clear of any liens or other issues. Most of the local government sites have an online database to search for property or parcel information. If you can’t find it online, call them. Many times you will only need a physical address and an owner name.

You can also contact the city or county government and obtain the contact information for the local utility companies serving that area. You will need that information before you purchase to know whether that property has available water, sewer, and electric service. While purchasing our first piece of property we took our realtors word for it that all of these services were readily available and close to the property. We found out different, and I don’t want you to make that mistake too. Double check everything!

We easily had electric at the corner of the property, however, we found much later that the nearest water line was about a half mile away.  We didn’t want the added expense to run that much water line to the property. Well water would have been another option but that can get expensive in drilling and pumps. And, there’s no guarantee the company drilling will find water. If you want to try your hand at well water, be sure to check with any neighbors who have been there for along time.  Most of the “old timers” can tell you whether it’s worth it or not! Who knows!  If you happen to find property in the mountains, a spring fed water source can be valuable if one is on the property.

While we are at it, be sure to look closely at the property boundaries on a survey map. Any property being sold will have a map drawn by a licensed surveyor. Pay  careful attention to the boundaries.  During our search we found that the neighbors property line included a roadway adjacent to our property, which we had initially planned to use for driveway access. This can make a big difference in right of way access or not. That owner was not willing to grant a right of way along this route, and we found access at the main road was not possible without additional expense because it washes out during heavy rains. This was the deciding factor, for us, in trading the property for another. The Land Company was more than willing to do that for us. Many people, like us, search for land that we want to eventually use for gardening, raising poultry or livestock, or replacing our honeybee hive. We wanted a “homestead” with as few restrictions as possible. Many areas have dwelling size restrictions, requirements on connecting to water and sewer, and keeping or having farm animals. That was one of our requirements in searching for property to have some minimum restrictions. In our case, the final property we purchased only required a minimum square footage of 650 square feet of living space. There were very few restrictions on domestic farm animals, only that we can’t engage in commercial operations.  That was not an issue for us as our only interest was for personal use and consumption. You can find many codes here at www.municode.com

The three most important things in choosing your future homesteading property is to (1) Walk the boundaries and get a layout of the land. The boundaries, especially if mapped by a surveyor, will be clearly marked. (2) Do your research on utilities and access to the property before making a commitment to purchase (3) decide if you can afford it and that the property is adequate enough to do what you want to do with it. Most areas have some type of building codes and restrictions to deal with.  The areas we chose in Tennessee, especially the rural areas, have very few restrictions except for electric and sanitary waste disposal. These are safety issues and expected almost everywhere requiring permits and inspection. You really don’t want someone else’s waste seeping into your ground water do you?

Disposing of Waste-

Many people choose homesteading for the freedom to live as you want to live without any restrictions or interference.  You have choices almost anywhere when deciding how you want to dispose of waste, especially human waste. I wrote about composting toilets in a previous blog and how they work. Many states and locales allow composting toilets with certain requirements. In our case, they are allowed as long as the toilet is certified by the manufacturer as meeting certain standards, and the property has running water, meaning, a public water system.  In our case, we are choosing an in-ground approved septic system. Our process was fairly easy from the percolation test to finding a licensed contractor. The first step after deciding on our property was to have it “ perc” tested, or Percolation test. In Tennessee, in urban areas you are required to obtain a permit through the County or City health department. In rural areas, permits are obtained from the State of Tennessee. Once we submitted the application and paid the required fees, the Inspector came out and conducted the on-site test. It took about 30 minutes.  The “perc test” simply tests the soil for absorption of liquids into the ground from the septic system drain field. Most of the solids remain in the main tank and need to be pumped out by a licensed disposal contractor who disposes of the solids properly.

If you are required to have an approved septic system, it is worth the minimal investment. Some will not want to spend the money and self dispose of their waste, but, that’s something I wouldn’t recommend over long periods of time. Many areas obtain their drinking water from underground aquifers and these contaminants seep into the ground into those water sources. We chose a 1000 gallon lowboy septic tank which is more efficient and the installation is less work for the contractor, especially if the ground has rock. Removing rock is an added expense. Be sure to check with your local health department to learn what is required and the process.  It can get very expensive if not followed properly. Disposal of waste is a safety issue for everyone!

Electric or Solar-

While many homesteaders would prefer to go off-grid and get their electricity from solar power, it can get quite expensive. While the solar panels get their energy from the sun, that energy needs to be stored somewhere for use, and that’s usually in the form of batteries. What you use the energy for can determine how large your system needs to be. Some areas give tax credits for solar installation while some utilities even buy the energy from you. Honestly, the return they can give you isn’t all that great but it’s better than nothing I suppose!

We would probably use solar at some point as a backup in the event the power went out or use it to power other low demand sources for our homestead. For now we will use the local power company.  When choosing the local power company, or in our case, the only choice was a local Electric Membership Co-Op. Personally, I would prefer them, because customers are voting members and have a say in the direction and operation of the company. Many times they are cheaper with their rates and service.  Not everyone will have that ability and will be stuck with some of the major power providers.  One of the Engineers with the local Co-Op met us and gave us some good information about what needed to be done to get power to our property. It was a positive experience and they seemed happy to work with us to make that happen.

We did find that we needed to contact the adjacent property owner to get permission to trim some limbs on their property to run the power lines to ours. The neighbors agreed!  The only cost to us will be around $100 .00 to have the limbs trimmed. Not a bad expense at all!

Stay Tuned!  In my next Blog post I will provide you with creative ways to help pay for your Homestead!


Happy Hunting!