Topics:Green Living Solar Financing Solar Savings Solar Equipment Energy Efficiency Solar Incentives Solar Companies Solar FAQs solar power solar panels green living solar news
Summer is here, which means it's time for vacations, backyard BBQs, baseball games, and hangouts at the pool. However, these warmer months also provide a great opportunity to make efforts to reduce your environmental impact. Here are 16 expert-recommended ways to live a little greener during the summertime: 1. Buy local food “Make the most of farmers' markets during the summer months and buy locally. The further that food has to travel to reach you, the bigger the carbon footprint is left behind. Buying fresh, locally-sourced produce is an easy way to go green during the summer months. "Additionally, there’s reason to believe that eating seasonally is actually better for your overall health. Seasonal food has been picked when it’s ripe and fully developed, which means that it’s the prime time to get the most nutrients out of it,” advises Nate Masterson, Certified Health Expert and Sustainability Consultant at Maple Holistics. 2. Grow your own vegetables “Growing your own vegetables is a great way to live green this summer. It's great for the environment and should save you money as well! There's still plenty of time to sow some seeds before summer's in full swing, and this is a great time to plant runner beans, chilies, peppers, spinach, kale, melons and so much more,” says Tiernach McDermott, Horticultural Expert at Candide. “Easiest of all is growing microgreens. They're rich in flavor, you don't need any special equipment, you'll get your first harvest in a few weeks, and you can do all the growing on your windowsill. It doesn't matter if you've got a garden or not, everyone can grow microgreens!” 3. Introduce beneficial plants into your garden “Native plant species aren’t just for flower gardens, they serve an important role within the ecosystem by preventing erosion, filtering stormwater runoff, supporting beneficial insects and wildlife, and deterring the success of invasive plant species. "Plant beneficial species like cardinal flower, blueflag iris, and native sedges and rushes near eroded areas, drainage ditches, and around lakes and ponds to form a natural protective buffer. Maintenance is easy–allow these flowering species to grow about 18 inches tall and trim once a year,” recommends Paul Conti, Environmental Scientist at SOLitude Lake Management. 4. Start a compost pile “Composting your scraps serves multiple purposes. For starters, you aren’t sending as much waste to the landfill, which helps keep city dumps cleaner and reduces the carbon footprint that trash trucks leave. In addition, though, you also get fertile organic soil that is nutrient rich. You can use this compost soil on your lawn or to grow vegetables and herbs,” says Allen Michael, Editor at SawsHub.com. 5. Install smart sprinklers According to Josh McCormick, VP of Operations at Mr. Electric, a Neighborly Company, “a smart sprinkler controller can cut your outdoor water expenses by 50 percent! These devices use a combination of weather data and programmed information to determine your yard’s watering needs to make sure no water goes to waste.” 6. Insulate electrical outlets “Put your hand over an electrical outlet on an outside wall on a hot day and you’ll feel the rush of heated air! [To prevent this], insulate your electrical outlets, switches, and phone jacks on outside walls. Most hardware stores sell inexpensive foam outlet and phone jack insulation pads; just unscrew the face plate, slip the foam pad on, and put the face plate back. "Additionally, if you’re not currently using exterior-wall outlets, slip in outlet protectors. You’ll find these in the child safety section of your hardware store, and they block a lot of heat infiltration,” says Shel Horowitz, Green Consultant and Author at Going Beyond Sustainability. 7. Check your ductwork According to Glenn Wiseman, Sales Manager at Top Hat Home Comfort, “a simple change to your home that can help you be more eco-friendly while also saving on energy bills is to update your ductwork. Any leaks in the ductwork can contribute to high energy consumption and also a hefty bill. "Have an HVAC technician make sure that your ducts are tightly intact and are working correctly, as this will keep hot air out, keep cool air in, and ensure proper ventilation and air quality within your home." 8. Invest in an energy-efficient air conditioner “Using an energy-efficient air conditioner during the summer months isn’t just financially rewarding, but it can also help you reduce your carbon footprint and outmatch the cooling performance of less efficient models. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates that trading older units in for high-efficiency models can save as much as 50 percent on energy costs,” says Dave Miller, HVAC Technician and Green Energy Consultant at Heattalk.com. “Energy Star certification is what consumers should look out for; this is a program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy, which hold appliances to higher standards for energy use and efficiency. Not only can these certified units potentially save as much energy as 9 percent annually, but if every household in the US opted for an Energy Star certified AC, it could prevent more than 6 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions annually.” 9. Repel heat with energy-efficient, thermal blinds “When you are looking to maximise your home’s energy efficiency without harming the environment, energy-efficient shades are what you might be interested in, especially when your windows are facing south,” suggests Stephany Smith, Handyman Crew Member at Fantastic Services. “The less heat your home is exposed to, the less your cooling system has to work. Moreover, they keep your home insulated all-year round and bring real savings when your energy bill arrives. Besides, the benefits of deflecting the sun’s heat during the summer include not only lower energy bills, but also increased privacy, less furniture fading, and a more consistent inside temperature, all this while creating a more pleasant and aesthetic environment.” 10. Utilize LED lighting “To make your home or office more eco-friendly, switch to LED lights in areas where indoor light is necessary,” recommends Josie Abate, Interior Designer at Ambience Express. 11. Follow an eco-friendly laundry routine “When doing laundry during the summer months, use that summer sun to dry clothes [rather than an electric dryer. Not only will this cut down on energy use], but the sun an amazing stain remover that can get out the toughest of stains,” says April Duffy, Owner at Cloth Diapers for Beginners. 12. Green your commute "Warm weather has already arrived in some areas and is quickly approaching in others. Therefore, it's time to start thinking about ideas that you can incorporate that aren't so easy to do during the winter months. "For example, consider using public transportation to and from the office, or if you live close to work, cycling instead of driving. Both of these options can cut down on energy use and vehicle emissions, and cycling can even help get you in summer shape,” advises Andrea Loubier, CEO and Co-Founder of Mailbird. 13. Carry reusable dishes and utensils Laura Durenberger, Blogger at The Mindful Mom Blographer, says, “summer is perfect for festivals, fairs, BBQs, picnics, and other outdoor activities. The downside to these activities is that they often produce a lot of waste. Be prepared by bringing your own reusable dishes and utensils with you [to avoid having to use disposable items].” 14. Keep a reusable water bottle with you “Always remember your reusable water bottle. Not only will it save you money and help reduce your waste, but it’s also good for your health. It’s easy to become dehydrated during the summer months, but when you have your bottle on you, you’ll always have access to water. Many shops and cafes will even refill your water bottle for free if you ask them nicely,” says Georgina Cara, Sustainability Blogger and Content Creator at Gypsy Soul. 15. Go on a green vacation “One of the most fun ways to have a green summer is by going on a green vacation. Summer is for taking advantage of the sunshine and great outdoors, and there is no better way to do both than by embarking on a green getaway, such as visiting an eco-friendly glamping site,” suggests Jessica Armstrong, PR Manager at Glamping Hub. 16. Opt for ocean-friendly sunscreen Many sunscreens have chemical ingredients in them such as oxybenzone and octinoxate that are harmful to sea life, so “I recommend investing in coral reef-safe sunscreen,” says Leah Wise, Ethical and Sustainable Blogger at StyleWise.
New Jersey Solar Overview New Jersey has long been an early leader in solar energy and is consistently one of the top solar states in the nation. The Garden State’s solar market continues to experience strong growth, partially due to Assembly Bill 3723, which was passed in May 2018 and requires that 50 percent of New Jersey’s energy comes from renewable sources by 2030. The state’s aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standard, combined with other favorable solar policies and attractive solar incentives, makes New Jersey one of the most financially beneficial places in the country to install a solar energy system. Here’s an at-a-glance description of the current benefits and drawbacks of switching to solar in New Jersey: Benefits of going solar in New Jersey: Relatively high electricity prices = more savings with solar 30% federal tax credit 100% property tax exemption 100% sales tax exemption Performance payments of $180-$240/SREC RPS of 50% by 2030 with solar carve out of 5.1% by 2021 Statewide net metering policy with credit rollover and end-of-year payout Multiple financing options available Easy to connect to the grid Good for the environment Drawbacks of going solar in New Jersey: Fewer natural solar resources than other states Rebates for new construction only No state tax credit We break down and explain each of these items in the article below. Cost of Solar in New Jersey Prices of solar in New Jersey have fallen 47 percent over the last five years, and as of 2019, the average price per watt for a solar energy system purchased outright in the Garden State is approximately $3.10. For an average-sized 8 kilowatt system, this comes out to be $24,800 before tax credits and other local incentives are applied. After incentives are applied, the cost drops to about $16,500 on average. In terms of price per kilowatt-hour of energy used, those with solar panels in New Jersey will pay only about $0.08 per kilowatt-hour. This is low compared to the average price of electricity from the utility, which is currently about $0.16 per kilowatt-hour. Utility prices are expected to go up over the next several years, which means that New Jerseyans who switch to solar now will only see their savings increase over time. Considering this, as well as inflation and financial benefits from available incentives, the average home or business owner in New Jersey who purchases a solar energy system could expect to recoup their solar investment in about 5 years. After that, they will essentially be able to use the energy production from their solar panels to power their house or office building for free or for a very low rate. In fact, over the life of the solar energy system, the average New Jersey resident could reasonably expect to save upwards of $50,000. New Jersey Solar Financing Options Several solar financing options are available to New Jersey residents, including outright purchases, loans, leases, and power purchase agreements. Outright Purchases In New Jersey, buying a solar panel system outright will provide the biggest dollar-for-dollar savings in the long run, but it does require the system to be paid for in full upfront. However, since you’ll be the owner of the system when you purchase outright, you’ll get to take advantage of the 30 percent federal tax credit and any local incentives that are available, which will help you to recoup a good portion of those costs in the first year. In addition, you’ll own the solar equipment and the energy it produces. In about five years after it pays itself off, all the electricity produced by the system will be pure profit. Although this option is not feasible for everyone, you may want to consider it if you are capable of buying with cash. Some solar companies will even offer a discount if the system is paid for in full upfront. Loans Getting a loan to finance a solar system in New Jersey is a great way to go solar if you are interested in solar ownership but are unable to purchase the system outright. With a solar loan, you’ll be paying for the system over time but taking advantage of the perks and savings from the beginning. Many solar companies partner with banks or companies that specialize in providing loans for solar projects. These loan companies typically offer loans contracts ranging from 5 to 20 years and interest rates between 1.99 and 4.99 percent, depending on your credit score and the length of the loan. Common benefits that come along with getting a solar loan include the ability to take advantage of federal tax credits and available local incentives, as well as the option to pay off the loan early with no prepayment penalties. When you choose to go solar with a loan in New Jersey, you’ll actually start making money in the first year thanks to high electricity prices and Solar Renewable Energy Credit payments. Your savings will then increase each year as electricity prices go up. Essentially, the money you save on your utility bill as a result of having solar combined with the cash you receive by selling your SRECs will be higher than your loan payment. Once the loan is paid off, you’ll be able to power your home or business for free or for a very low cost for the remainder of the system’s life. Leases Leasing a solar panel system for your home basically means that you will be renting the system from a solar company or a third-party financier for the duration of a contract, which is generally 20 years, at a locked-in monthly rate. Leases typically do not require the homeowner to put any money down upfront, but because the solar company owns the system, the customer does not get to take advantage of tax credits, net metering, performance payments, or long-term financial benefits. Since electricity prices in New Jersey are higher than the national average, home and business owners can take advantage of decent savings by leasing solar panels because the lease payment will be lower than their electricity bill without solar. As electricity prices go up over time, so will solar savings. Plus, let’s not forget the positive impact on the environment. Power Purchase Agreements PPAs are similar to leases in that the homeowner typically does not have to put any money down and a third party owns the system. However, instead of renting the system at a locked-in rate, the homeowner buys the electricity produced by the system at a set rate. Due to New Jersey’s relatively high electricity prices, New Jerseyans can absolutely save money with a PPA, and those savings should increase each year as the cost of electricity goes up. New Jersey Solar Incentives While New Jersey is lacking in solar rebates and state tax credits, the state offers some of the best tax exemptions and performance payments in the nation. Tax Credits There are two tax credits you need to be aware of when getting solar. The first is the 30 percent federal tax credit that anyone in the United States who owns their solar panel system can qualify for. Because these credits are given on a 1-to-1 basis according to your tax liability, you will want to have an idea about what your federal tax liability is to know how many years it will take for you to take full advantage of this tax credit. The second is the state tax credit. This will differ depending on which state you live in. Unfortunately, New Jersey does not currently offer a state solar tax credit. However, New Jerseyans who purchase a solar energy system outright or with a loan are still eligible for the 30 percent federal tax credit. Tax Exemptions Some states offer tax exemptions on the sales and property tax of the solar panel system, while other states don’t offer tax exemptions of any kind. New Jersey residents are eligible for a 100 percent property tax exemption, which means that even though the value of your home will likely increase due to the addition of solar panels, your property taxes will not. Additionally, the Garden State offers a 100 percent sales tax exemption, which will save you hundreds of dollars right off the bat because you will not have to pay any sales tax on your solar energy system. Solar Rebates Many utility companies offer rebates to homeowners that own a solar panel system. These rebates are similar to those that you’d receive on an electronic or appliance purchase and result in money back in your pocket after the solar installation. Currently, there are no solar rebates available for homeowners with existing homes in New Jersey. However, if you are looking to build a new home in the Garden State and plan to use solar to power it, you may be able to qualify for rebates through the New Jersey Clean Energy Residential New Construction Program if your home is constructed in a way that meets New Jersey’s Energy Star standards. Performance Payments Performance payments reward solar owners for the electricity their panels produce on an ongoing basis. Utility companies will typically either offer a per-kWh bonus or pay you for your Solar Renewable Energy Certificates, or SRECs. One of the best financial solar incentives for homeowners in New Jersey is the performance payments offered in the state. New Jersey utilizes the SREC market to pay solar owners for the energy their panels generate. Each SREC is worth approximately $200 and the average solar owner can earn about six SRECs each year, which means solar owners will receive about $1,200 in cash each year simply for having a solar energy system. Solar owners are allowed to sell their SRECs for the first 10 years of owning their solar system, which means they’ll be able to earn about $12,000 over that period. However, New Jerseyans should be aware that New Jersey will not make its SREC program available to those who purchase a solar system after 5.1 percent of the state’s energy comes from solar power. Currently, about 4.2 percent of the state’s energy comes from solar, and New Jersey is expected to cross the 5.1 percent threshold sometime in late 2019 or early 2020. This means if you are interested in participating in New Jersey’s SREC program, you’ll need to act fast. New Jersey Solar Policy Information Legislators in New Jersey have done a nice job of enacting favorable net metering, Renewable Portfolio Standard, and interconnection policies, making it easy and attractive to go solar in the Garden State. Net Metering Net metering refers to utility companies crediting solar owners for the excess power that they feed back into the grid from their solar energy system. During the day while solar panels are generating power, the meter typically runs backwards and sends surplus energy to the grid, as many homes aren’t consuming as much energy as their system is producing. At night, when the system is no longer producing energy, most homes pull energy back from the grid to cover their electricity needs. Through net metering, solar owners are able to generate credits to help offset any bills they receive from their utility company for tapping into the grid. New Jersey’s statewide net metering policy is one of the best in the country. It states that the utility companies must monitor how much power your solar panels are generating and credit your next electricity bill at the retail rate for any surplus energy that you didn’t use during the month. Credits may be rolled over from month to month. If you are still carrying a surplus at the end of the year, the utility company is required to pay you for that energy at the wholesale rate. Renewable Portfolio Standard Utility companies are required by their state legislature to make sure that a certain percentage of their energy production comes from renewable energy sources, such as solar, by a specific date. If the utility companies in the state do not comply with RPS law, they will be heavily fined. Therefore, states that have a large RPS requirement usually have great incentives up for grabs from the utility companies in that state. New Jersey’s RPS, which is currently set at 50 percent by 2030, is one of the most aggressive in the country. In addition to this, the state’s RPS includes a solar carve out of 5.1 percent by 2021, which means that 5.1 percent of New Jersey’s energy production must come from solar power. This probably explains the awesome tax incentives and performance payments available in the Garden State. Interconnection Standards Interconnection standards have to do with the requirements involved when it comes to connecting a solar system to the grid. It’s important to know if your state has any additional requirements that must be met in order to get your home solar system plugged into the grid. In New Jersey, requirements for connecting to the grid depend on the size of your solar system. For systems under 10 kilowatts (most residential systems), the process is simple and there are no application fees, external disconnect switch requirements, or liability insurance stipulations. New Jersey Solar Statistics To date, more than 2,700 megawatts of solar have been installed in New Jersey, enough to power over 450,000 homes in the state with solar energy. New Jersey ranks eleventh in the nation for projected solar growth, and over the next five years, more than 2,000 additional megawatts of solar are expected to be installed in the Garden State. Currently, there are nearly 600 solar companies and over 6,400 solar jobs in New Jersey. Interested in a solar quote? Check out the top-rated solar companies in New Jersey and read reviews from verified solar customers.
Guest Post by Kayla Matthews In December, California became the first state to require new homes to be solar powered. Homes built after 2019 will now be built with energy efficiency in mind. Here are some things you should know about this new mandate: Does this mandate affect all building types? The new mandate applies to all residential buildings up to three stories high being built at the beginning of 2020 and beyond. Although it includes apartments, there are some exceptions. If the building is in a shaded area or an area where electricity rates are already lower than the cost of solar power, it could be exempt. There's also the option of having offsite solar production. A developer could build solar arrays to feed power to multiple homes or contract with a utility-owned solar farm. Will this new mandate make my construction costs higher? Energy officials estimate that the new mandate will cost homeowners an additional $10,000 when they're building a home. However, the average quote for California homes from EnergySage for solar panels as of January 2019 was $18,180. This price does come before any incentives or tax rebates, but the prices for the new solar panels seem to be roughly estimated for the present. The best case for homeowners is that the influx in solar panel production and installation will help reduce costs. Currently, only 9 percent of single-family homes have solar panels installed according to the U.S. Department of Energy. With this number rising considerably over the next few years, there should be a reduction in prices across the board. Will I have to build my new home differently? The new construction of homes beginning in 2020 will not be changed drastically aside from the installation of rooftop solar panels. However, the new provisions to the green homebuilding standards must also be considered. These requirements include building your home with thicker attic and wall installation, more energy-efficient windows and doors and improved ventilation systems. Also, these new homes will be encouraged to have added battery storage and heat-pump water heaters. California is actively pursuing its goal of net-zero energy, and it might just get there. How much money will solar panels save me? Solar industry experts say that the net savings from installing solar panels would be around $500 per year in reduced energy costs. Local and federal tax savings can also reduce the overall cost of solar and put more money in the homeowner’s pocket. As energy storage becomes more advanced, homeowners will benefit, as they'll be able to store and capitalize on their energy in more ways and continue to reduce utility costs. Will this mandate encourage other states to do the same? President Trump’s solar tariff has certainly affected the solar industry, but solar companies are adapting. With large-scale initiatives like the one in California, we could see our reliance on foreign trade for solar parts decrease drastically as we become self-sustaining with nationwide buy-in. As other states watch California play guinea pig, they may notice the benefits and join the movement. Progressive, environmentally minded states in the Northeast and Northwest will likely be the first to join. As the prices for solar begin to decrease, look for other states to follow suit. California is the ideal place to start a solar initiative — it has abundant sunlight paired with high energy costs. However, that doesn't mean other states wouldn't benefit from a large-scale solar initiative as well. Could rooftop solar replace natural gas? Gas companies are making it difficult for homeowners to replace natural gas with electric, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. California’s energy-efficient efforts are far from over, as homeowners generating solar power will now want to reduce their natural gas costs by electrifying all their utilities. Could solar power replace natural gas? Absolutely, but it will not be an easy road. Is this mandate beneficial to the average homeowner? The short answer is yes. The first installers of solar will undoubtedly pay more than homeowners have in 15 years, but they'll reap benefits financially (in the long run), economically and environmentally. Every scenario will be unique, and costs will vary, but California is opening the door for other states to make this a priority and reduce the nation’s carbon footprint.
From grocery shopping to food preparation and cleaning to decor, you can go green in the kitchen in a variety of painless, inexpensive ways and make the heart of your home more sustainable. Not only will implementing these minor adjustments have a positive impact on the planet, many of them will bring about financial and health benefits for you and your family. 1. Bring your own reusable bags grocery shopping Because the cost of recycling plastic bags is relatively high and many recyclers won’t accept them, they typically end up in landfills, where they can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, or in oceans, where animals such as sea turtles confuse them with food, eat them, and die. To combat this problem, invest in a few tote bags that you love and commit to using them. After you’ve unloaded the groceries in your kitchen, stow your totes in your car, purse, or another place you won’t forget them next time you need to make a trip to the store. In addition to the environmental benefits, utilizing reusable shopping bags has financial benefits as well; many grocery stores offer discounts or reward points to customers who bring their own reusable bags to the store. 2. Purchase in bulk Buying in bulk is good for the environment because it reduces the amount of packaging needed to contain the products, which means less waste output that has to be disposed of. It also cuts down on the levels of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere when the manufacturer is transporting the food to the store and reduces the number of trips you have to take to get groceries. 3. Buy local food Locally grown food refers to food grown within a geographical region that could be considered local to your particular area, whether its within your county, city, neighborhood, or own backyard. Locally grown food can include fruits, vegetables, dairy products, eggs, and even locally raised meats. Purchasing locally grown food helps the environment because it preserves small farm land, reduces carbon emissions by cutting down the distance that the food needs to be transported, and encourages genetic diversity. Sustainability researcher Lauren Larry, who also owns Lauren Larry Yoga, recommends visiting nearby farmers’ markets to pick up delicious locally grown food. 4. Grow your own herbs Growing your own herbs at home is a fun, eco-friendly way to make your kitchen greener, as well as do your part to take pressure off of the overworked global food system; it’s estimated that the planet will need to produce 70 percent more food by 2050 to sustain the projected population growth over that time. Herbs make great additions to meals and drinks, are easy to grow, and take up minimal space. Of course, you can plant them outside if you have adequate space, but if not, you can grow them right on your kitchen counter using a product like Urban Leaf. 5. Cook smart A significant amount of energy is used while cooking. To ensure that you don’t waste energy while you cook, use a microwave instead of an oven when possible and put lids on pots and pans to heat food more quickly. Green designer Pablo Solomon also suggests using hand-powered gadgets such as coffee grinders, vegetable choppers, and nut choppers when possible to save electricity. 6. Reduce waste The kitchen typically generates the most waste out of all the rooms in the house. If you are regularly tossing out food, it’s a good indicator that you’re buying and cooking too much. Instead, try to plan, purchase, and prepare your food so that it’s sufficient for your needs without having anything leftover that needs to be thrown out. To ensure you’re actually using the food you buy and making it last as long as possible, Catherine Agopcan, sustainability advocate and founder of The Do Something Project, which is a blog dedicated to minimalism and eco-friendly living, has some helpful advice: Keep foods with natural preservatives in the door shelves, as this is the warmest place because the door gets opened more Place foods that don’t require cooking in the upper shelves, as they tend to be warmer because heat travels up, even in the fridge Store dairy items in the lower and middle shelves, because these are the coldest areas of the fridge and will keep the food better for longer If you do have leftovers after you cook, store them in a reusable dish and eat them! Growth expert Stacy Caprio suggests purchasing beeswax-based coverings that act like plastic wrap to cover and store your food. These coverings are great for the environment because they can be washed and reused repeatedly, which helps reduce plastic wrap waste. 7. Start a compost pile Composting is beneficial to the environment because it helps keep organic matter out of landfills, which reduces pollution. When layers of trash at the landfill bury plant matter, it creates an airless environment that causes the plant matter to produce methane gas, which is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide, as it decays. Composting food waste also helps to feed and improve soil. While meats, dairy products, and grease do not necessarily compost well due to smells, insects, and animals, uncooked organic waste such as vegetable and fruit peelings, coffee grinds, cardboard, and paper all make great additions to a compost pile. If you don’t have adequate outdoor space in which to start a compost pile, many local farmers’ markets and other environmental organizations will gladly accept your compost. Or, as green designer Pablo Solomon proposes, you might even look into an under-the-sink composter that uses earthworms to create great potting soil. 8. Recycle Similar to composting, recycling helps the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from landfills and incinerators. It also decreases the need to extract new resources from the earth and replace logging, drilling, and mining of virgin materials with recycled materials that we no longer want, which reduces the energy needed to process and manufacture new goods. One of the simplest ways to start recycling is to set up a recycling center in your kitchen, which could be as simple as labeling and placing plastic bins underneath your sink or in a spare cabinet. If you have accessible recycling bins, it’s quick and easy to toss recyclables in the correct bin rather than in the trash can. 9. Ditch disposable dishes and utensils Another way to reduce waste in the kitchen is to stop using disposable cups, plates, bowls, and utensils that are thrown out after just one use. Instead, invest in real dishes and cutlery that can be reused for years and years to come. 10. Only run dishwasher when full Dishwashers have come a long way over the last decade in terms of efficiency, and studies have shown that these days, dishwashers are typically more energy and water efficient than washing dishes by hand. However, no matter how efficient your dishwasher is, running it at half full wastes twice the water and twice the energy, and that’s not good for the planet or your utility bill. To combat this, make sure your dishwasher is loaded to capacity before running a cycle. 11. Unplug appliances when not in use The average American has about 40 household appliances that they routinely leave plugged in. Even when turned off, many of these appliances continue to draw power if they are plugged in. In fact, according to the Department of Energy, anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of your household electricity use can be credited to devices that are plugged in 24 hours a day. To save energy (and money!), unplug your coffee maker, toaster, and other small kitchen appliances when you aren’t using them. 12. Eliminate paper towels While paper towels are convenient, they aren’t the best for the environment; disposable paper products reportedly account for more than 25 percent of landfill waste. Rather than having paper towels available in your kitchen, keep a stash of reusable dishcloths or tea towels on hand in an easily accessible place for drying hands and cleaning up messes. Sustainability advocate Catherine Agopcan also suggests replacing one-time-use paper napkins in your kitchen with cloth napkins that can be used over and over again. 13. Switch out sponges Not only do sponges quickly fill with germs, which can put your family at risk, they are also harmful to the planet and can take more than 50,000 years to break down at a landfill. Marianna Sachse, founder of sustainable children’s wear line Jackalo, advises swapping out kitchen sponges with wooden scrub brushes, as they work well, are durable, can be easily cleaned in the dishwasher when needed, and can be composted when worn out. 14. Purchase or make natural cleaning products Many conventional cleaning products contain ingredients that are toxic, hazardous, non-biodegradable, and from non-renewable resources such as petroleum, so they negatively affect the earth’s ecosystems. Additionally, when you release these products into the air in your home, they can contribute to air pollution, linger long after use, and result in a number of health problems for your family. For the sake of your family’s health and the wellbeing of the environment, thoughtfully select and purchase green cleaning products that contain non-toxic, eco-friendly ingredients and are produced by sustainable manufacturers, or consider creating your own natural products. Thousands of simple homemade cleaning product recipes can be found online. For example, according to Iris and Zach, co-directors of Gingerhill Farm Retreat, a farm community dedicated to exploring sustainability, self-sufficiency, and stewardship of the land, white or apple cider vinegars are both excellent alternatives to conventional cleaning solutions, tea tree oil diluted in water effectively disinfects counter services, and lemon juice is excellent for removing grease and stains. Health and wellness coach Stephanie Wiscott recommends integrating essential oils, which are naturally antimicrobial and antibacterial, into your homemade products to beef up their cleansing properties and give them a delicious aroma. 15. Get a water purifier Cutting back on bottled water in your home reduces plastic waste, but many people still choose to purchase and drink it because they live in areas where the tap water doesn’t taste good or isn’t safe to drink. In fact, as many as 63 million Americans may be consuming harmful H2O. To get safe, tasty water and help the environment by cutting down on your household’s single-use plastic bottle waste, invest in a water purifier. Water purifiers like those available from Bluewater remove toxic contaminants such as lead, chemicals, pharmaceutical residues, and microorganisms from the water via reverse osmosis, as well as drastically cut down on the water wastage common to traditional filtering technology. On a similar note, if your family enjoys drinking soda, look into getting a water carbonator such as those offered by SodaStream rather than frequently purchasing canned or bottled soda. With every one of its carbonating bottles, SodaStream prevents 3,700 single-use plastic bottles and cans from being used and discarded. 16. Replace plastic containers with glass According to Jordana Viuker Brennan, Founder and Senior Consultant at Confident Buildings, a company that helps people improve their home’s efficiency and environmental quality, plastics such as storage containers, plastic wrap, baggies, and water bottles should not be in contact with food or liquids for extended periods of time because harmful chemicals in the plastic can be released into the contents stored in them. Instead, invest in glass jars, as they are safer to store food, tend to last longer, and allow you to see how much of an item you have left so you don’t unnecessarily waste food. 17. Do away with Teflon cookware Non-stick and PTFE pots and pans contain Teflon, which can release toxic fumes that harm air quality and human health when under high temperature conditions. Rather than purchasing non-stick cookware, select cast iron or stainless steel alternatives. 18. Upgrade to Energy Star appliances If you’re remodeling or replacing the appliances in your kitchen soon, choose Energy Star certified products. To earn the Energy Star label, products must meet strict energy efficiency criteria set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Because Energy Star appliances use less energy, they contribute to fewer harmful greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and save you money on your electricity bill. Additionally, do not purchase larger appliances than you need. Miguel Suro, founder of personal finance and lifestyle blog The Rich Miser, recently downgraded a tall, industrial quality refrigerator that came with his home to a smaller, french door fridge and found that the new fridge is more eco-friendly and uses much less electricity. He also noted that the smaller capacity of the new fridge removed the temptation to buy too much food that his larger fridge presented, which often resulted in unnecessary waste. 19. Install a low-flow aerator on your faucet About 10 to 15 percent of a typical home’s water usage can be credited to faucets. To conserve water (and save money on your water bill!), consider replacing the aerator on your kitchen faucet with a low-flow alternative. Low-flow aerators are different from traditional aerators because they mix the water coming out of the faucet with air, which results in less water used per minute. Additionally, low-flow aerators use a high pressure technique so that you don’t have to compromise water pressure levels in order to reduce usage. 20. Switch to LED bulbs If you haven’t already, replace the incandescent light bulbs in your kitchen with LED bulbs to save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and lower your electricity bill. LEDs use only about 20 percent of the energy of standard incandescent bulbs to provide the same level of light, as well as last approximately 25 percent longer. 21. Utilize sustainable furniture and building materials If you’re in the market for kitchen furniture, consider choosing something made out of reclaimed wood, which is environmentally friendly because it salvages materials that would otherwise go to waste, requires fewer resources to manufacture, and preserves ecosystems by reducing the need to cut down living trees. Reclaimed wood can also be used for other purposes in the kitchen, including flooring and cabinets. However, wood is not the only thing that can be reclaimed. If you’re remodeling or looking to update other parts of your kitchen, you can help the environment by incorporating a variety of salvaged materials. Architectural salvage companies such as The Old House Parts Company offer many options for sustainable building materials, including reclaimed hardware for cabinet pulls, hinges, and door knobs, as well as salvaged countertops, flooring, lighting, sinks, and fixtures. As far as countertops go, “it’s important to consider embodied energy, which is the sum of all energy required to produce countertop materials. Typically, lower embodied energy is a good indication of greater sustainability,” says Matt Daigle, CEO of Rise, a leading online authority for sustainable home improvement. “Granite countertops while durable, have a relatively high embodied energy when transported from afar, but if you’re able to source stone from a local quarry, it’s a great sustainable option that can also be returned to the earth when it’s no longer used for a countertop. “Concrete and wood have the least embodied energy of the countertop materials. Wood has significant sustainability advantages, as it’s a renewable material that takes little energy to produce and process. When sustainably harvested, it stores carbon dioxide in the wood itself for the life of the countertop, decreasing the impact on the climate. When a wood countertop is taken out of service, it can be refinished and reused for other projects. You may also want to consider an up-and-coming countertop trend: paper composite countertops, which are made from recycled and/or sustainably grown paper and paper-making byproducts and a formaldehyde-free resin." 22. Choose eco-friendly fibers Natural fibers such as cotton, wool, silk, and other plant and animal materials are good for the planet because they are renewable, biodegradable, and carbon neutral, so they can be sourced and used without depleting or damaging the environment. If you’re in need of new fabric items for your kitchen such as chairs, tablecloths, placemats, curtains, or rugs, try to select those made of natural, eco-friendly fibers. 23. Add greenery According to Nicola Croughan, an interior designer at Blinds Direct, one of the easiest ways to make your kitchen more eco-friendly is to use plants and fresh greenery as decoration. If you’re short on counter space, hanging plants are a great option. Plants will purify and filter toxins from the air, vastly improving the quality and providing plenty of health benefits. Greenery will also make your space feel lighter, brighter, and more welcoming. Interested in making your home even more eco-friendly and increasing your electricity bill savings? Click here to learn more about residential solar power!
report_problem Sungevity is no longer in business. "Sungevity laid off 400 people in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and Sungevity's companies - Horizon Solar Power and Solar Spectrum, along with Sungevity, ceased operations in November 2020." – Sungevity's Wikipedia Page Founded in 2007 by Danny Kennedy, Andrew Birch, and Alec Guettel, Sungevity was a solar company originally based in Oakland, California. Sungevity set itself apart in the solar industry by developing and utilizing a proprietary remote solar design tool, iQuote, which could provide home and business owners with price quotes and system design options without having to send an employee to visit the home. By 2014, the company had raised $70 million in equity from investors, and in 2016, Sungevity was acquired by private equity firm Easterly Acquisition. At that time, Sungevity was the fifth largest U.S. rooftop solar company in terms of market share. At the beginning of 2017, the company laid off senior and mid-level managers, as well as the majority of its staff, without notice. Shortly after, Sungevity filed for a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which is intended primarily for the reorganization of businesses with heavy debt burdens in an effort to become profitable. The remainder of the company was sold to private equity firm Northern Pacific Group for $50 million, and the firm’s newly created company, Solar Spectrum, acquired Sungevity’s infrastructure, technology, installer network, supplier warranties, and certain agreements. In August 2017, Northern Pacific Group acquired majority stake in Southern California solar installer Horizon Solar Power with a plan to eventually have both companies (Solar Spectrum and Horizon Solar Power) operating as separate legal entities under the umbrella of the Sungevity brand. The merger of Solar Spectrum and Horizon Solar Power resulted in the company becoming the second largest provider of residential solar systems in California and the fourth largest in the country. In April 2018, the Sungevity rebrand was made official, and Solar Spectrum and Horizon Solar Power began working together under the Sungevity brand to enhance growth. Although some have been skeptical about the company’s choice to resurrect the Sungevity name after the bankruptcy, there’s no arguing that Sungevity is one of the most recognizable brands in the solar industry, and the firm’s leadership team is hopeful that the positive impact the company made during its 10-year run will outweigh its more recent history. Today, commercial solar services are available directly through Sungevity, while both residential and commercial solar services are available through Solar Spectrum and Horizon Solar Power under the Sungevity umbrella.
Am I allowed to make this just a very long review of my Vivint Solar installation experience? I want to believe, as a blogger here at BestCompany.com, that I have the right to exercise that privilege. If you've been following my Vivint Solar saga (see "My Vivint Solar Installation: 7 Things to Expect" and "Vivint Solar Review: 5 Unexpected Questions From My Pre-Installation Experience"), you know that Vivint Solar has been courting me since early December, we slogged through the process until late May, and that just a few days ago, they were scheduled to do the actual installation. Well, it is now official-and by 'official', I mean I have actual, tangible solar panels mounted on my roof. Vivint Solar has come and gone, leaving their handiwork fixed to the top of my house. This means, of course, it's time to report in and give solar newbies an idea of what they might expect from a Vivint Solar installation. [Disclaimer: my account is by no means a guarantee of what other customers might experience with Vivint Solar. This is merely my own experience and could be totally different from what other customers would experience.] At any rate, here is my retrospective on my own solar installation with Vivint Solar, what went down, what went well, and what surprised me. 7:05am: Vivint Solar rises early So the automated call I received from Vivint Solar told me to expect their crew to arrive between 8:00 and 11:00am. Then my sales guy-we'll call him Burt-called me up and told me they'd arrive at 7:30am. When did they actually show? At 7:05. Yes, they caught me unprepared, stilled dressed in my jammies, hair flattened-in classic bed-head formation-against one side of my cranium. I'd planned on moving the automobiles from my driveway before 7:30am. Instead, I found myself in the awkward position of moving my vehicles in my PJs while the crew watched from their truck. Needless to say, the Vivint Solar install crew (at least in my area) likes to get an early start. I'm assuming this is because of their tendency to complete installations to one day, which turned out pretty well. But more on that later... 7:30am: Vivint makes themselves at home Right away, they begin marking off the perimeter of my property with Vivint orange caution tape. It looks like my house has become ground zero for an outbreak. All that's missing are the hazmat suits and some see-through plastic tunnels to go in and out of the house. No sooner have they marked their territory than they knock on the door and ask me to show to the attic entrances. I'm ready for this, since it was mentioned in the calls their automated calls, and show them to two attic entrances in the house. In seconds, a technician has set up a ladder in my kid's room and he's wriggling up into the dusty darkness of the attic. From this point on, Vivint guys walk in and out of the front door, to the bedroom or the office (where the other attic entrance is) without knocking or asking permission. Every time they do this, I have to resist my protector's instinct to grab the nearest baseball bat. Thankfully, after a few times, I start to not notice and no one is assaulted. 8:00am: The shouting and the drilling begin It doesn't take long for the installation to begin in earnest. Very quickly, the sounds of guys shouting from the attic, shouting from the driveway, shouting from the roof, drills burrowing into the roof, and heavy objects being dropped are all around me. I'm just waiting for a boot or a giant screw to punch through the ceiling and shower me in dust, but it never does. 9:00am: An unforeseen complication arises After a flurry of shouts between a guy on the roof and a guy in the attic, one frustrated, dust-caked installer approaches me. He informs me that, unexpectedly, our trusses are not positioned vertically, as is the usual way of doing things, but are laid horizontally. This meant they would have to install one more set of panels on the front of the house, instead of on the back, as planned. In other words, they're going to make a change on the fly and get back to me. I'm only mildly alarmed but choose to lean on their expertise. The shouting, drilling, and trespassing continue... 3:00pm: Some bad news The Vivint Solar crew never stopped working. Not an exaggeration. They kept working, drilling, shouting, and dropping things all the way from the morning time up until mid-afternoon, when one of the workers approached me with the look of a bringer of bad news. I'm a parent and am all too familiar with this look, which usually means something has been broken. Such was the case here. In wriggling in and out of the attic entrance in my office, the installers had cracked a big chunk off the molding around the entrance. My first thought was, "I knew this was going to happen. Here is the damage that I had feared all along. And I bet this is where they try to get out of fixing it." They said they were sorry and would definitely fix it. If I had any extra molding on hand (I did not) they could fix it right then and there. Instead, we opted to have them make a note of it on their report and send someone out later to replace the cracked molding. As a temporary fix, they glued the broken piece in place with some silicone, took photos for their report, and even went out of their way to tell the installation manager about the damage right in front of me. Honestly, I was surprised. Of course, I wasn't happy about the damage, but I was impressed that they took responsibility. Also, far from being the careless, uncaring jerks I'd envisioned in my worst solar installation nightmares, these guys were actually friendly and considerate. Arrangements were made to have a repair worker come out to fix it, and sales guy Burt showed and invited us to go outside for the big reveal. 4:08pm: Time for the grand tour Amidst a flurry of workers cleaning up and packing their tools away into their truck, we moved out onto the lawn and then across the street until I could see the few panels on the front of the house (the majority being on the back side of the house). The Vivint Solar team had taken great pains to keep the wiring and piping from becoming an eyesore by running as much of it as possible through our attic. And there were the solar panels that had to be moved last-minute to the front of the roof, looking like they were meant to be there all along. Just to prove my merit as a homeowner, I fired as many stern questions at them as I could think of: "How do you protect my roof from leaking where you drilled all those holes?" "What happens if my kids shut off the solar panels?" "How do I know you're really going to come back and fix my molding?" Every question was answered with ease. When I got tired of pretending to be a hard case, I gave into the euphoria of having a solar system on my roof. This is when I came across the most indelible image of the whole install experience: the Vivint Solar team excitedly breaking out a bag of Jimmy Johns sandwiches. One of them turned to me as he unwrapped his sandwich and said, "Late lunch. We didn't want to break these out until we finished." Yes, my heartstrings were pulled. To one with a hobbit's appreciation for and preoccupation with food, like myself, putting off a meal to complete a job is the ultimate sacrifice. They had worked straight from 7:00am to 4:00pm on my roof in the June heat to get my system on my roof in one day-even if it meant postponing lunch. Once more, I couldn't help but like these guys. While I was in a good mood, Burt rushed my wife and me out onto the driveway for a photo, sure to go up on the Vivint Solar Facebook page. 5:10pm: A way-late intervention from a competitor Less than an hour after Vivint Solar cleared out, my post-install zen was interrupted by a knock at the door. It was two guys from Vision Solar who just happened to be in the neighborhood, learned from one of our neighbors about the install, and just had to fulfill their neighborly duty and warn us away from Vivint. On the verge of tears, they unleashed a boatload of righteous indignation over how Vivint shouldn't have installed panels on our northern-facing roof and how we weren't going to get our tax credit and how Vivint was bringing the whole solar industry down. Of course, they had no literature to substantiate these claims, only the assurance that "I've been in this industry for a long time." He looked like he was just shy of 25 years-old. I heard them out, assured them I would bring their concerns up to Burt, and then bid them farewell, puzzled as to why they would even attempt a steal like that after panels had already been installed on my roof that very day. If anything, it was yet another reminder of how competitive the solar industry has become and how muddled and negative it can make the experience for all customers. Overall, however, I was happy with the install. Compared with the sales and paperwork experience I had endured, the install provided a huge boost to my perception of Vivint Solar. With any luck, their responsiveness in getting the system inspected and approved and then keeping the system running strong for years to come will mirror what I saw during the install. So it's off to the inspection and system activation phase, which is supposed to take 4-6 weeks. I'll post a full account when the power is turned on.
So my Vivint Solar installation has finally arrived! If you've read my previous post, "Vivint Solar Review: 5 Unexpected Questions From My Pre-Installation Experience", you know that the blessed event has been a long time coming. Over the last seven months, I've waded through some patchy moments and some bouts of doubt to finally reach this point. Honestly, I'm having a hard time believing it's actually happening. Last week, I discovered a voicemail message on my phone. It was from someone at Vivint Solar, informing me that my installation had been scheduled, to let them know if the date didn't work for me, that an adult needed to be at home, etc. If it worked for me, they would show up to get things started. I checked my calendar, and everything matched up. So the installation is officially on. Twenty-four hours from now, I'll have a bay of solar panels bolted to my roof. Even as I'm reeling, however, from the realization that this is actually happening, a few things about this whole wind-up to the installation have surprised me. Yes, they seem like business as usual for Vivint Solar. But they can also be educational for anyone considering a solar installation with Vivint Solar. Here are the seven biggest things you can expect: 1. Communication Blackout As I've noted in past posts, when they were trying to get me to sign their contract, Vivint Solar visited me again and again, peppered me with phone calls, and sent me emails about once a week. Once I'd signed that contract and been approved for financing, however, the visits, the calls, the emails-they all evaporated into thin air. And it stayed that way for 3-4 months. When this happens, you feel like a scout or spy dropped behind enemy lines under radio silence, and you start to imagine the worst. I found myself wondering if my sales guy had moved to another company or if it had all been an identity fraud scam. And then there were days when, I have to admit, I found myself secretly wishing that maybe I'd been silently excused from such a sizable financial obligation-one which might or might not turn into a good investment. 2. A Long Permitting Process When the blackout ended, it was with an email from a customer care representative who let me know that they were still working through the permitting process. Just an FYI. It was unclear how long this process had been going on, but if the last three months of silence were any indication, it was a long process (especially when it was endured in silent isolation). Not that this is unique to Vivint Solar. If the solar reviews on our site are any indication, it's actually typical across most major solar companies. Any time paperwork has to be processed with utilities or governments local, state, or federal, things are going to be stretched out far beyond the tolerance of an instant gratification junkie like myself and most people in the Western World. 3. A Phone Call Out of the Blue A couple weeks after the aforementioned email, I received what I think was an automated call from a woman at Vivint Solar. She let me know that they had scheduled my install for the following week and when they would show. She also told me an adult would have to home and the driveway cleared. If that date and time wouldn't work for me, she said, I should call her back ASAP, and she left her direct number. Two questions instantly materialized in my head. How did they come up with that date and time, without even consulting me first? And would that date and time work for my wife and kids, who were currently enduring summer vacation at home together? Luckily, the date and time worked out, so I didn't call my automated caller back. She left another message-the same exact message, in fact-and I began to wonder if maybe I should call her back to confirm that everything was cool. That was when I got a call from a guy we'll call Wilford. His name and voice sounded familiar, and he was talking to me about my upcoming install. A few minutes later, I put two and two together: it was the sales guy who had visited me, hounded me over weeks and months to get me to sign his contract. He said he had a special offer for me. They were going to fast track my install to the following week and wasn't that great! I felt a little bad to tell him that I'd been told that I was already scheduled for the following week. I could practically hear, over the phone, the wind leave his sails. 4. Early Start The phone messages from customer service told me to expect them to arrive between 8:00 and 11:00am. Wilford told me to expect them at about 7:30am. [Update: They actually showed up at a couple minutes past 7:00am, and I had to clear my driveway in my pajamas.] 5. Hard Hat Zone To get me prepared, Wilford explained that the perimeter of our house would be taped off and turned into a hard hat zone. That meant no kids playing in the yard. Minimal traffic going to and from the house. [Update: They actually brought special branded (Vivint Orange) caution tape and cordoned off everything within twenty feet of my house. When our family did leave the house, we first checked for any signs of falling solar panels, counted to three together, and then made a mad dash for the van.] 6. A Quick Install Read enough online reviews for solar companies and you come to expect the eternal solar install that stretches from days into weeks. Surprisingly, the Vivint Solar team had scheduled-and claimed to need only-one day for their install. [Update: Their team of eight people started at about 7:05am, worked straight through the day, and were packing up their tools by 4:00pm, leaving a completed solar system in their wake. Impressive.] 7. A Long Wait During my call with Wilford, I asked how long it would take, following the install, to finally get the system up and running. He said about 4-6 weeks. Another rep said 60 days max. Either way, we're looking at 1-2 months of waiting to see what those babies can do, wondering if they're going to deliver or not. Judging by many online solar reviews, 1-2 months is actually average. Occasionally, you find those nightmare scenarios where the system still hasn't been activated six months or even a year later. But those seem to be the exception, not the rule. To get the skinny on how my installation went, read my post "My Vivint Solar Installation: A Post-Install Retrospective."
Solar has never been easier to get installed on your roof. Thanks to breakthroughs in how to finance these, let's admit it, costly installations, solar is no longer within reach of only those wealthy enough to pay out of pocket. Now, solar is a possibility for any homeowner with decent credit. Any one of a number of solar companies are happy to help you get the financing to set up a solar system on your roof and take responsibility for the repairs and maintenance. In fact, they've made it downright easy to go solar. Maybe a little too easy. I mean, think about it. Yes, it's great that solar can save the environment from the pollution created by fossil fuel-burning power plants (interesting fact: if all suitable roofs in the U.S. were covered in solar panels, it would create 40% of the power Americans consume every year). But what can a solar system do to your bottom line? If it works the way the solar companies predict it will, you should save an increasing amount of cash every month for the next 20 to 25 years. But what if your solar system doesn't live up to their promise? What if that company doesn't meet their lofty promises? You can be stuck with some very major financial consequences. Unfortunately, most solar companies tell you just enough to get you to sign their contract, without making sure you completely understand what you're signing up for. If you can't count on the solar companies to make it clear for you, you're going to have to get tough and force them to answer those critical questions, starting with these four: 1. How do they calculate how much you will save? Once your solar salesperson start pitching numbers to you, it's easy to get overwhelmed and just want to take their word for it. However, the sad truth is, solar companies will often act in their own interests and overestimate the performance of your future solar system. They do this by shuffling around the different numbers: How much you pay for electricity per month How much power your system will generate per month How much utility rates will rise in the next 20 years How much you will get in tax credits And they do this in a way that can be hard to follow for anyone who hasn't worked for a utility company. This, of course, works against the customer, who won't know how much their system will produce until the system actually starts working. By then, they're locked into a large loan and at the mercy of the solar company for service. One Vivint Solar customer, Ben Brenner told of living this very nightmare. "My salesman, Brett G., told me I could save 50% off the cost of my electric," Ben said. "The system they would install on my roof would generate 50% of my total electric (total annual savings = approx. 25%; generating half my electricity at half cost)." In his Best Company review, Brett went on to chronicle how, after the installation was complete, his total annual savings were more like 10%. Even worse was the response he got from Vivint when he asked about the discrepancy. Ben continued, "When I discovered and brought up this huge discrepancy to Brett G., he told me, 'Well you are getting a tax credit ... and that is calculated in the savings.'" What you can do about it: First, demand to see the math in writing and keep asking them to show it until you feel comfortable with it. Second, if the math doesn't add up no matter how many times they show it to you, don't be afraid to move on to another solar company. 2. Are there any hidden fees or costs? Some solar companies will pull you in with the promise of some kind of financial incentive, maybe a special, limited-time offer, only to make you pay for that incentive through some sneaky, under-the-radar number juggling. It's sort of the equivalent of the dentist who advertises a $500 iPad to every patient who comes in for wisdom teeth removal, only to add the $500 to the patient's bill under some innocuous category like "administrative fees." One Blue Raven Solar customer recently called out this fledgling solar company for doing this very thing: "They showed me a proposal where they were giving me a $5000 down payment. They marked up my system $5k and said they are paying for it. They said as long as I give them referrals they wouldn't charge me. Really? Thanks guys. So, a $20,000 system with them costs $25,000 and then they 1099 me for the $5k that they 'gave' me." Other hidden costs or fees can take the form of interest rate increases later in the life of the loan. These will be hidden deep in all that loan paperwork, where it will be very hard to find them. What can you do about it: Make your salesperson explain each item on their proposal. If you don't know what any term means (like "administrative fees") make them explain it. As with #1, don't sign anything until you feel like you understand every item in their proposal. Still feel lost after multiple explanations? Don't hesitate to take a break and run over the numbers with someone you consider very savvy with numbers, accounting, etc. 3. What is their reputation when it comes to installations? A lot can go wrong with a solar installation. I mean, we're talking about a crew of workers climbing around on your roof, drilling holes, deploying wiring, and screwing several, maybe dozens, of large solar panels to your roof. What could go wrong? That's a rhetorical question, of course. Much could-and does-go wrong with solar installations. In fact, some less reputable solar companies seem to leave behind them a trail of wrecked roofs and malfunctioning solar systems. John Eht, a Sunnova customer, complained on our site about the number the solar company did on his roof: "It had come to our attention that there are several errors pertaining to the installation of our solar panels on our pole barn roof. The most upsetting, but certainly not the only one, is the fact that we now have holes in our roof where, as the sun sets, you can see daylight through. We were assured when this project began that your crew was professional and fully capable of installing the system on this particular type of roof. It is evident this is not the case." And even when some solar companies don't inflict damage on your roof, they will take so long that customers begin to think they imagined the whole thing. Often installs can delayed for months beyond the promised date, to the point that the customers have to start paying for their loan before their solar system is creating any electricity, leaving them in the infuriating position of paying for their loan and a big, honking, savings-free power bill. "AWFUL," exclaimed Janice Woods of Lexington, South Carolina, a Vision Solar customer. "Took almost 6 months to get a 10kw system installed and turned up." What can you do about it: Online reviews are the best place to spot those solar companies that have a track record of damaging or protracted installs. Those customers' misfortunes can be your gain. 4. What is their reputation when it comes to repairs/maintenance? When you commit to a solar system, you're typically committing to a 20-year partnership. That's longer than many marriages. So it's only natural to wonder if you'll really be able to count on your solar company through thick and thin for those two decades. Will they really monitor your system for optimized performance? Will they show up promptly when your system breaks? Will they make you wade through a morasse of call center lackies and accountability-dodging bureaucrat to get billing problems resolved? Frankly speaking, solar companies, as a whole, aren't known for their stellar customer service. Yes, there are some gems, but most of them are all over you when it comes to getting you to sign that contract but are nowhere to be found when it comes to service, repair, and maintenance issues. One troubling complaint filed with the Better Business Bureau against Vivint Solar tells of a homeowner who was told he could turn on his solar system in July, only to find that it didn't generate a single watt, even six months later. Bills from his local utility company and withdrawals from his bank haven't ceased, naturally. And calls to Vivint Solar have proven only more frustrating. Technicians have come, noted a few problems, but follow-up has failed to materialize, even several weeks after that visit. "Meanwhile, energy bill continues to grow," says the customer. "All the while, I'm paying for a service I cannot use. Plenty of sunshine the last six months, but we can't use it. I'm very disappointed as there is no urgency to fix this. How do you sell a product that doesn't work and do not want to resolve the problem?" What you can do about it: As with the previous suggestion, it is recommended that you spend some time perusing customer reviews. Those solar companies who struggle to deliver quality maintenance leave a trail of bad reviews behind them. Getting Through the Growing Pains This isn't to cast too dark a cloud over the nascent solar industry. There is a ton of promise there, and a small collection of these companies are surprisingly good at educating customers before signing and then servicing their needs afterward. These hiccups-and I would include some of the more irresponsible, and likely short-lived companies, in that category-are really just growing pains in a new industry that will eventually become mature. With that maturity will come lower costs, better service, and fewer faux pas. We just have to make through Solar's painfully embarrassing adolescence.
So a Vivint Solar guy shows up on my doorstep. He introduces himself — we'll call him John — and, as with most salespeople, I have my guard up. But I have to admit: Ever since doing a series of articles on the virtues of solar, I've been curious about it. In fact, we had been visited previously by a guy from a solar company called Blue Raven. He didn't really have any details about their services, failed to convince us, and never really followed up with us. End of story. Anyway, back to the Vivint Solar guy. John asks if he can get a minute of our time. The answer is no. Dinner time at our home is strictly observed. But he can visit some other time. Remember, though, that this is December, so John is going to have some serious competition to get a spot on our calendar. We schedule for late December, just before New Year's. As the scheduled appointment draws near, we don't actually feel like meeting with John during our post-Christmas hibernation, and we're off to do some fun family stuff and will probably be far too exhausted to sit and talk about something as taxing as solar energy, so we put it off again. In fact, the appointment gets pushed off again and again, until finally, the stars align and we find ourselves sitting in our living room across from John. We're interested (but still testing the waters) and agree to have a Vivint technician come to our house to survey our roof, just to see how much power we could generate with a solar system. The survey comes and goes-we barely noticed. And next thing you know, John and another guy from Vivint-he has a very reassuring, engineer-ish vibe about him-are sitting with us, showing us plans of where they would install the solar panels... ...and showing us some mind-numbing graphs of how much power such a system could produce and how much it could save us every month. They whip out an iPad and we start filling out some kind of application and... Fast forward a couple months and I just signed a loan for a solar system to be installed on my roof through Vivint Solar. Frankly, I'm still a little disoriented. On their website, this is how easy they make it look... But the process and the explanations have been anything but clear. Honestly, I'm still wondering if I'm going to regret letting a crew of men screw a bank of big shiny plates to my roof, or regret taking on a big chunk of debt to pay for them to do it. Truth is, I've had a lot of questions throughout the pre-installation process. Most of them have been answered, but some still linger, such as... 1. Can I really trust these guys with my power needs? No matter what any solar company says, getting a solar system on your house and understanding the benefits of it are anything but simple. From the beginning, John had a hard time helping us understand just where the promised savings were going to come from. There were fleeting glimpses of it, but it would quickly get swallowed up in the murkiness of the process. Even after they put a colorful printout with lots of graphs in front of you, it's still hard to keep straight just how the savings work out. Like if I'm at a party and I try to explain to people why I'm getting solar, I'm at a loss to connect all the dots, and they look at me like, "And you're still going to get it?" I wander away, scratching my head. This pattern has continued throughout the credit application process-you know, the time when you really want things to make sense. And then there is the out-of-place pressure to refer friends and neighbors. There was even a bright orange sign that appeared on our lawn without our consent. My house is located on a very visible corner right at the entrance to our subdivision, so I couldn't blame the guy for trying. Needless to say, I took down the sign, but not before I got a warning from the HOA reminding me that such signs are forbidden on lawns. All of this has come together to create a feeling that Vivint Solar is a tad out of touch when it comes to helping customers understand what's happening and what's coming next. It creates a nagging lack of confidence in Vivint. If this is how they are when they're trying to sell me, how responsive and understanding will they be when I need repairs done five years from now? 2. How will this affect my credit? When you see the dollar figure, you can't help but pause. Our system, for instance, would cost approximately $26,000 before interest. That's the cost of a large vehicle. True, the loan is stretched out over 20 years and the interest rate is low enough. But you still have to wonder how such a large loan will impact your credit score. Unfortunately, this is one question that is never addressed in Vivint Solar's brochures or the packet they give you after the survey. And John never addressed it verbally, either. Luckily, I had a chance encounter with a Vivint Solar salesperson in training, who explained to me that the Vivint Solar financing arrangement never negatively impacts your debt-to-income ratio. Therefore, it never negatively impacts your credit score. Added bonus: as utility rates rise and your solar system saves you more money, it can actually bring your debt-to-income ratio down. 3. Is this really going to help me save on my electric bill? Yes, "going green" is good and all, but this is really where the rubber meets the road for cost-conscious folks like me. Yes, Vivint Solar's testimonials page is full of cheery pronouncements of how much Vivint has saved satisfied customers, including this one: But how does this all translate into real savings? Clear answers to this question are curiously absent-or just hard to find?-from the materials we've received from John. One prominent graph on the website and in the packet shows the cost of electricity on the grid going up year after year while the cost of electricity for people with solar stays pretty much level. This is where the savings really start coming into play, but what if you don't plan to stay in your home 10 or even five years? The next owners of your home will surely thank you. Technically, it does save you money on your electric bill. A lot, actually. But whatever you end up saving on your bill, you end up paying for the financing. This is how I understand it. Let's say, for demonstration purposes, that I'm paying $100 per month for electricity. Then I get a solar system which generates almost all the power I need; my monthly power bill shrinks to a nice $15. Awesome, right? But I also need to pay for the loan to put that system on my roof, which is $75 per month. So in the end, I end up saving only $10 per month. The good news is, projections for my solar system show me saving up $40 total every money during some months and just breaking even during other months. And if my system fails to generate what it's supposed to and at least break even, Vivint Solar will send me a check for the difference. Also, I get a sweet $3,000 tax credit for investing in clean energy. I think. 4. How will the solar panels affect my home's resale value? So the guy around the corner just completed his installation. And yes, it did take only a day per their advertised 24-hour installation... My neighbor's solar system is not what one might call "easy on the eyes." While beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, I'm having a hard time ignoring how those panels stick out like a sore thumb-and not in the good, "curb appeal" kind of way. Sure, I'm willing to tolerate the panels on my roof because (I think) I understand the financial benefits they will bring, but what about people who just want a nice, ordinary home? John and my wife subscribe to the belief that having a solar system on the roof and the promise of cheap electricity it brings will be seen by homebuyers as a big bonus. But I can't help thinking that not everyone is smart enough or as caught up on green technology to understand the benefits. Heck, I barely am. So I'm not so sure I agree. 5. I have to check with my HOA? Not listed anywhere in the materials provided by Vivint Solar and given just a cursory mention during one of our conversations, I have to go to bat with my HOA on behalf of Vivint Solar. It turns out solar is new to my subdivision, the HOA needs to residents to convince them that it's okay, yada, yada, yada. This seems like a weird thing to ask of someone who isn't even a full-fledged customer yet, especially after you've just dropped a $26,000 bombshell in their lap. If Vivint Solar is going to promise to take care of everything for you-and they do promise this on their website-they shouldn't make you lobby the HOA for them. The Next Chapter? I have no idea what happens next. I got approved for the loan. They made me send them a few documents via email. They approved the loan. I signed the loan and sent it back to them and then... silence. John hasn't gotten back to me. So the murkiness surrounding Vivint Solar continues. Will I wake up one day to find a crew drilling holes in my roof? Will it be next week? Next month? Only time will tell. John probably won't. To see what happens when Vivint Solar finally gets ahold me, read the post "My Vivint Solar Installation: 7 Things to Expect."
The line being peddled by solar salespeople nowadays is that installing solar on their house is going to save homeowners a ton of money and free them sparing energy bills. But is this really true? How much do solar systems actually save customers? The annoying (but true) answer to these questions is, "It depends." It depends on the system you choose. It depends on how well your system lives up to your solar company's guarantees. It depends on how you pay for that solar system. To really understand if solar panels are going to save you money, you have to understand the different financing options, how each one saves you money, and what can can wrong with each option. 4 Ways to Pay for a Solar System Do a quick read of Sungevity's, Sunrun's, and SolarCity's websites and you notice pretty quickly that their financing options are noticeably similar. Currently, it seems, there are only so many ways to get a new solar system installed on your roof. Four, to be exact. 1. Purchase For those fortunate folks who have the cash set aside for just such an occasion, you can pay for your solar system in full up front. With all three of the top solar companies, this purchase comes with a 20- to 30-year warranty but no service or maintenance from the company. As is to be expected, once you buy your solar system, you own it in full. With that ownership comes a solar tax credit (if purchased by the end of 2016) and the equity that builds in your system over time. 2. Loan Either through your solar company's internal financing or through a third-party lender, you can take out a loan to pay for your solar system. This option also gets you a 20- to 30-year warranty and, since you own the system, the solar tax credit (if purchased by 2016). Some solar companies, like Sungevity, will also throw in 24/7 monitoring to make sure your system is producing its guaranteed output. 3. Lease For little or nothing down, customers can get a 20-year lease with any of the major solar companies wherein they literally lease the solar equipment. This means that they don't own the solar equipment, so they don't get the tax credit. But they do get a warranty, maintenance, service, and a system performance guarantee on that equipment for the 20-year period. In addition, these leases usually come with protection against rate increases. SolarCity, for instance, offers lease customers fixed payments for the life of the lease. It's worth noting that Sunrun actually lets customers prepay or pay as they go on leases. 4. Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) In this arrangement (usually about 20 years in length), the customer pays just for the power they use from the solar system on their roof based on a low, fixed rate, usually a certain price per kilowatt hour. Since the company owns the solar system in this arrangement, they maintain and service the system. They also get the solar tax credit, not the customer. As they do with leases, Sunrun lets customers prepay on PPA's or just pay as they go. How Solar Saves You Money Just to be clear, all of the financing options above have the potential to save you money in the long run on your electric bills, but they do them in different ways. Here's how: Purchase Yes, you can expect to pay a lot up front with this option. And it takes about 7 to 10 years for your savings to equal the amount you spent on a solar system, according to SolarCity's website. On the bright side, after that, all the electricity you get from your solar system is officially free. If you didn't have to pay that $300 power bill, you can imagine how quickly those savings would add up. Also, because these solar systems usually come with a 30-year warranty, you're covered against any surprise equipment defects. In addition, because you own the system outright, you also get the one-time solar tax credit, which comes out to 30% of your total system price. [Important note: this tax credit expires in 2016] Loan Without having to put too much cash down up front, you get to enjoy cheap solar right away, and many companies gear your monthly loan payments to be at or below what you would've been paying for your usual power bill. In addition, as with the purchasing option, because you own the system outright, you also get the one-time solar tax credit, which comes out to 30% of your total system price. [Did I mention this tax credit expires in 2016?] Finally, this option also gives you a warranty, typically for the 30 years of the loan. This saves you money you might have had to pay on faulty equipment. Lease The savings that most solar companies will tout here is that, even though you end up paying a set monthly amount for your use of their system and a remaining power bill for whatever electricity you use beyond what your system produces, it's still usually less than what you would pay if you were getting all your power from a traditional utility. The biggest savings here can be expected as your utility rates stay the same while the utility rates for regular utilities goes up over the next 20 years of the lease. These savings go up if you opt for the prepayment plan that many companies offer. This, of course, requires that you have 20 years worth of costs laying around. Finally, because companies typically cover warranty, maintenance, and service, you save on the costs that would usually come from faulty or broken equipment. PPA Savings here come in a few ways. First, you pay only for the power you use from the solar system on your roof. Second, that power usually comes at a lower rate what you would pay with a normal utility. Third, solar companies keep those rates low for as much as 20 years. Also, PPAs always come with a warranty and service and maintenance and that means you never have to shell out money to get your equipment fixed. When you're looking at these savings, solar can look like a no-brainer for any homeowner, but things don't always go as planned. 6 Things That Can Go Wrong With Solar Savings While solar customers typically express satisfaction with their savings, those savings do rely on a certain balance. As long as the system is performing as promised, utility rates stay higher, and customers keep their consumption in check, the solar savings can go on and on and this balance is preserved. Lose even one of these components, and customers can see their anticipated savings evaporate. 1. Uninsured Breakdowns All financing options provide warranties to cover equipment failure, but warranties don't cover damage from things like bad weather or vandalism. When these unfortunate events occur, both loan and purchase customers might find themselves forking out a lot of money to fix their equipment. Since leasing and PPA customers are covered for service and maintenance, they wouldn't have to worry about this risk. 2. Expiring Tax Credits Solar tax credits have been tossed around as a solar incentive since they became available in 2009. However, those would-be customers might find themselves disappointed if they don't make their move by the end of 2016, when the tax credit expires. 3. System Underproduction Because of some miscalculations regarding how much sun your rooftop gets, you can get a system installed, only to be shocked when the system doesn't put out the power you need to cover your household's needs. If you purchased your system outright, this means it's going to take longer to break even. If you bought it with a loan, you could be stuck with your loan payments and a sizeable monthly power bill from your local utility. Similarly, lease customers and PPA customers could be stuck with the solar bills and more expensive power bills from their local utilities. 4. Utility Rates Go Lower Solar companies seem to be assuming across the board that traditional utilities are going to keep their rates higher, but happens if utilities lower their rates to compete with solar? A shift like this could turn the tables on solar customers, leaving them paying more for power than their neighbors who stuck with their local utilities. 5. Increased Consumption Sometimes, solar companies will assess that a customer's solar system should be able to cover their current electrical needs. But what if that customer starts using more power, more than their system can produce? Soon, whatever savings that customer might've gained goes to paying off their second power bill to the local utility. This usually comes as a shock to the customer, who thought they didn't have to worry about power anymore. 6. Bad Starts When a newly installed system kicks into gear without a hitch, savings are seen right away. But if the system doesn't work or work properly, customers can find themselves paying for a fully functioning system with partial or no benefits. Measuring the Risks of Solar Was the purpose of this post to dissuade homeowners from going solar? Far from it. By informing homeowners about the options, possible savings, and possible risks of solar panels, they can make smarter decisions about what kind solar system they invest in and how they pay for it. And that makes a long-term choice that homeowners can live with much more likely. To see how the top 27 Solar Companies stack up to one another, visit our Solar Companies page for ratings and reviews from real customers!