Solar Options for New Construction Homes
When building a new home, you have the opportunity to build it right from the get-go, saving yourself thousands of dollars in utility bills over the decades (as well as offsetting the associated fossil fuel emissions).
New construction does not need to be expensive to be sensible. The cost to improve a building's insulation values and install solar equiment are quickly recouped by energy savings. Generally, high efficiency new homes consist of the following properties:
- Air tight, well insulated building envelope allows you to save the precious BTUs generated by your heating system in winter or cooling in the summer.
- High efficiency appliances make the most of the energy they consume. Electricity is appealing because you can generate it for free with solar panels on your roof.
- Renewable energy systems offset the energy you do need. A properly designed solar array and an all-electric house = freedom from utility bills, forever.
The Appeal of Electricity
Our in-depth guide on renewable space heating options breaks down the options for new and existing homes based on the relative insulation values of those homes. While fully automated pellet boilers and condensing gas appliances offer excellent performance and cost savings over oil, only electric heating offers this: the ability to generate your fuel source on your rooftop.
Now that solar costs less than the utility company, the economics of an all-electric house are more appealing than they have ever been. When paid for in cash, a solar electric array will pay for itself in around 10 years. If financed at competitive mortgage rates, then the solar investment is cash-flow positive from day one.
Example: You install a 7kw solar array for $3.5/watt, for an installed cost of $24,500, or $17,150 installed after 30% tax credit (and further discounted if state rebates are available in your area). This system will produce roughly $1,422 of electricity each year ($118/mo). Financed at 4% over 30 years, this system will cost around $82/mo - a full third less than the utility rate of electricity!
Factors to Consider When Installing Solar on a New Home
While we think it makes the most sense to consider solar in the context of a new home that is also energy-efficient, we have plenty of experience integrating solar with conventionally built homes as well.
The primary factors to consider when installing solar for a new home:
- South-facing roof - Probably the most important attribute for new construction is that a home be built with an adequate south-facing roof. The roof does not need to face perfect (195°) solar south, +/- 90 degrees is still viable for solar). A roof pitch between 5 - 12 is ideal. Lower sloped roofs bias towards summer production, higher roofs bias towards winter. Roof features such as dormers, vent pipes, chimneys, and other roof mounted utilities interrupt the roof-span and make it more difficult to install solar arrays.
- Shade-free site - The south-facing roof space should be located in a shade-free area of the site. Ideally there will be a clear solar window from 9am-3pm, year round, to maximize solar performance. ReVision Energy solar technicians can provide a shade analysis using the SunEye™ site assessment tool during a complimentary solar evaluation.
- Access to utility room - A solar array will require a pipe run and/or a wire run depending on system configuration. New construction is an ideal time to integrate pipe or wire runs within the home's frame.
Solar During the Building Process
We are happy to have introductory conversations throughout your process of identifying lots and determining what kind of home you would like to have built (we can also recommend some preferred builders and architects if you'd like). Where we usually start formally is when a client has a set of building plans, and wants to talk in more detail about their desired mechanical systems and how solar will fit into their home design.
We work with many types of projects, from homeowner-contractors to homeowners who are working with a variety of professionals. Generally it is helpful to have all stakeholders available during early meetings so that we can offer suggestions that save time, money, and effort over the course of your project.
We have worked on hundreds of new construction projects on some of the highest efficiency buildings in the region, and bring this expertise to every project that we are involved on. Our goal is for you to be blown away with your experience with solar, and professionalism at every step of the way is key to that happening.
A Selection of Successful Projects
The 363 Home in Portland, Maine demonstrates how a small, sustainable residence built with a moderate budget can fit into an older neighborhood in support of a more sustainable lifestyle. "My daughter, Jessica Russell, is a quadriplegic," says architect John Gordon. "Therefore, equal and careful consideration was given to accessibility issues within the house. Its high-performance requirements are two-fold – environmental and accessibility."
The 39 solar panels on the roof of the MEH model resale home will produce roughly 12,000 kWh each year, enough to power all of the 'plug' loads in the home as well as a mini-split air source heat pump heating system. The home features a suite of Energy Star appliances including range, dryer, and refrigerator. An efficient electric water tank will provide hot water for dishes, laundry, showers, etc.
George Longstreth chose ReVision Energy to work with his architect, Hans Warner, to design a 8.28kw solar electric system to be mounted on the home's south-facing roof along with 2 flat plate solar hot water collectors for his domestic hot water supply. The PV powers a geothermal system consisting of two heat pumps, one for 1st floor radiant heat, and another for cooling and 2nd floor heating.
An energy-efficient house appeals to a person's rational side. It does more with less. It requires less energy, thereby reducing the burden on the owner of securing, paying for, and shouldering the consequences of that supply ... Working among the various ideas surrounding sustainable architecture, we came to the conclusion that energy use should be the primary measure of whether a house is "green" or not ... An energy-efficient house's savings over its lifespan CAN outweigh all other choices a person makes regarding energy use.
The GO Home in Belfast, Maine is slated to be the first "Passive House" in Maine. ReVision designed and installed the solar electric and solar hot water systems. The GO Home was designed as a solution to the high fossil fuel energy consumption of many Maine homes, which generally require large amounts of fuel to heat due to inefficient building techniques, drafts, and poor insulation.
Interested in talking to a solar professional about your new home construction project? Contact us today or see some of these other resources: