Is Solar the Right Move for You?

Colorado enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine each year. You would think with all that solar exposure every house on every street would have at a least a few rooftop panels to soak up this free and abundant energy source.

So what’s stopping us from tapping into solar power?

Many people like the clean-energy idea of solar, but admit they know little about the technology and worry about obsolescence, aesthetics and cost. So how do you know if installing a solar energy system is right for you?

Learning basic solar terminology is a good place to start. The two most common residential solar energy systems use the sun to produce heat or electricity. Solar thermal panels absorb warmth from the sun to heat water in your home for things like hot tubs, boilers and hot water heaters. Solar photovoltaic panels capture sunlight to create electricity for everything in your home from appliances to computers to air conditioners. Homeowners can use one system alone or both heating and electric systems in parallel.

Next, determine if your house is a good match for solar. Your panels should receive southern sun exposure between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on a roof that’s in good condition or on land large enough for ground-mounted panels. It’s a good idea to make energy efficient improvements to your home before thinking solar.

Solar homeowner and local real estate agent Ralph Eberspacher agrees. “Tighten up your home’s efficiency envelope first or you’re just chasing energy loss with solar, and your payback period is going to increase.” Eberspacher is already seeing a return on his investment. Although he moved into his solar-powered home in November, the efficient property had already “banked” energy credits since August. “It’s pretty cool to move in and not get an electric bill.”

So what about the worries of obsolescence, aesthetics and the cost of installation? Many of today’s solar panels are guaranteed for 25 years so they have a good chance of outlasting your home ownership. As far as appearance goes, ask to see a professional installer’s portfolio or drive by a finished project and judge for yourself.

If cost is a concern, now might be a good time to go solar. According to local solar company, Echelon Energy, system costs have dropped between 25 and 75 percent over the last two years. The company cites low material costs and fantastic incentives like federal tax credits and state, city and utility rebates, for the significant cost savings. And if you plan to remodel, we suggest you involve solar early in the process to ensure a smooth installation.

We barely scratched the surface about solar. If you still have questions, consider the free public seminar “Is Solar Right For You?” at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at HighCraft Builders, 429 S. Howes St., Fort Collins. Industry expert Stephen Shepherd with Echelon Energy will share some information about how solar works, system sizes and requirements, installation process, costs, incentives and more. Visit for more information and to register


To see our column in the Coloradoan click here.