My wife and I are starting on our new home March 1, 2008 and are desiring to utilize as much in the way of Alternative/Renewable energy as is practically possible. My question is; where would you recommend non expert/informed parties start in efforts to educate and inform for such a purpose? We are old-time Mother Earth News subscribers and are taking advantage of our local library but are hoping to find a source(s) that give pro/cons of particular approaches, systems etc… . Any and all help is greatly appreciated!
Years ago there were very few solar and energy saving devices sold for the homeowner and home builder, and your selection was based on what was available, and you usually had to modify other wiring to allow inter-connection. Today there are many more energy saving and solar products to choose from, and some can be in conflict with each other if you are not aware of the many options. For example, some home automation systems are installed to save energy, but some of these systems do not work well with alternative energy power systems. Some of the newer backup generators are designed for constant connection to a standard utility grid and are almost impossible to inter-connect with many solar inverters and their automatic generator start controls for battery re-charging. The selection of your home’s appliances can sometimes save more in energy than what you can achieve with a solar system trying to power lower efficiency appliances. If you really are interested in a home design that is state-of-the-art energy efficient, all of the building systems and their design will be critical. This includes, appliance selection, lighting selection, HVAC system type and efficiency, well pump selection, well expansion tank selection, alternative energy system selection, gray water recycling, window selection, wall and ceiling insulation, roof color and type, home orientation on lot, shading from nearby trees or hills, size of piping and number of elbows, room and window orientation to solar path, window shading and over-hangs, heat recovery air ventilation, geo-thermal, and many many more things to consider.
If you want to do this right, first select an architect to work with you, and make sure they have experience in low energy type residential design. Ask for references and examples of recent projects. Next, you need to involve a solar energy consultant if you are planning to include any type of active, passive, or photovoltaic solar system. I suggest that the solar consultant work for you and not the architect, but this person needs to work with the architect, make suggestions on any architecture details or space allocation that may be required to incorporate an alternative system, and be involved with the selection of all lighting and appliances. I have worked with hundreds of architects and have found that many think they know more than they really do regarding solar systems, and will usually try to obtain free design advice from a local solar dealer with a promise that the architect will specify their brand of solar hardware. If the solar consultant is hired by or working for the architect, then it is much harder for the solar consultant to know what the homeowner wants and how best to achieve these energy goals.
If you try to go it alone, you will find that many of the Internet based solar retailers are there to sell products, not offer design advice, and many will have no idea what you need. A really good solar dealer will ask for a design fee up front to provide this initial design assistance to you and your architect, but this fee is usually credited towards the cost of a system if you purchase one later from them. This is because it takes many hours of design effort to select the best solar products and appliances for your specific project, and if there is no guarantee that you will actually make a purchase from them, most really good dealers will not provide this service for free. Remember, you get what you pay for and a really good solar dealer will select the products that are best for your specific needs, not what he happens to have in stock.
I assure you that you will save far more in installed system costs later than you will ever spend for initial design assistance. I receive many calls from homeowners who tried to order a solar system on their own, only to find out the individual components they ordered will not connect to the other products they purchased, were the wrong voltage, or had the wrong cable connectors. There are many solar “dealers” across the US and in most major cities, but only a few have achieved the highest rating of NABCEP certified. This certification not only requires extensive knowledge of all types of solar energy systems and their design, but also the dealer must install a certain number of systems each year that have been inspected and approved by local building inspectors. They must also take additional classes each re-certification cycle to maintain this solar installer certification. This is a national certification and there may only be a few NABCEP certified solar installers in your state so check their web site –> www.nabcep.org/