- Editor’s Note: The following photos and text were contributed by Kane County Board member Chris Kious, who recently made the move to install solar panels in his Algonquin home.
The serious talk of solarizing our house started when my wife, Linda, and I were visiting good friends in Elgin in late May.
We were doing our normal chatter about jobs, theater, politics and family, when our friends mentioned that they had just had solar installed on their 1950s house.
I was bitten by solar envy right then.
Our friends said the installation was relatively painless — as painless as any project on a 70-year-old house can be, at least — and they were banking extra energy in the grid that would offset the energy they required at night and during the winter.
We live in a 20-year-old house with the original roof. Most of my neighbors with houses of similar age had replaced their roofs, but ours was still hanging in there, so I was reluctant to waste what was left of a perfectly good roof just for the sake of going solar.
But I decided to look into it a little deeper when I heard about some of the incentives being offered by the federal government and the state.
I interviewed a couple solar providers, and the in-home visits with those providers gave us an idea of what to expect — what would be handled by the company, what the time line for installation would be, and what the financing would be.
During the interviews, I was told our house preliminarily qualified by having a south-facing roof
with no obstructions. We had lost our trees to the emerald ash borer a few years back.
So on June 4, after analyzing their programs and a quick check of the Better Business Bureau website, we picked a company that provided a zero-down program and handled the paperwork for both roof and solar panels: Solgen, a Washington state-based company.
Why Solar Is Affordable
Why is solar so affordable right now?
First, the Future Energy Jobs Act here in Illinois provides a block grant for residents to cover up to 35% of the cost of installing solar power. The size of the credit is determined based on the amount of renewable energy your solar panels will generate over the next 15 years.
That, along with a federal tax credit to reimburse another 30% of the system costs — including the new roof — turned a potential $30,000 expense into a $16,000 investment that was a lot easier to swallow.
I also learned that having a 100% solar house (never to pay for another KW of electricity) raises the selling price of the average house by about 4.5% — or about $8,000 in equity for us.
All of a sudden, the price of going solar was beginning to sound reasonable — especially since we were also saving the planet at the same time. (And, did I mention, the installer would handle all the paperwork?)
By our calculations, our average power bill of about $90 a month in the past would be replaced by a $70 payment to a finance company. (That payment is not including the new roof, which we were about to replace anyway.)
Visit From a Drone
About a week later, a tech from the Solar company came out to the house, assembled, programmed and placed a small drone in my driveway.
The drone, with a camera installed, lifted off the driveway, flew straight up almost out of sight, zig-zagged a pre-programmed flight path above the house and took enough pictures to make a 3D map of the roof of my house.
While he was there, the tech inspected the attic and central electrical system to make sure the structure of the house was suitable for solar panel installation. With an OK from the solar company, we were ready for the new roof.
Those were those hot days in summer, but the local roofer got the roof installed in one long, hot day.
The new roof required inspection, so about a week later, the roof inspection was performed by the village, and the roof was OK’d.
Putting In The Panels
We scheduled the panel installation to take place about five days later, delaying one day for one of those super-hot weather events we experienced in July.
A crew of four set up with all their tools and materials in two vans in the driveway and street in front of the house, and within five hours, the panels were in.
We waited two more days for the village to inspect the installation, and guess what? There was a glitch.
Apparently, the installers had used a lower grade of conduit than the village prefers so the installation was red tagged (not passed).
A day later, it took about three hours work with a three-person crew, and the conduit had been replaced.
On July 31, we awaited the final inspection and an OK from ComEd. On Aug. 1, the final inspection was complete, and all we had to do was flip the switch.
The solar power is on!
Final Thoughts And Takeaways
We’re only a week or two into our solar powered future, so it’s hard to tell how this will eventually work out.
I think the only thing I would change of the experience so far is that I would get a darker colored roof so that the panels are even less visible.
There are some new programs to help streamline and maybe save more money. (See this article on Kane County Connects.) But so far, we like what we see.
We now can monitor — with our cell phones and on our ComEd bill — the energy that is being created on our own roof, and I will say that sunny days make me even happier.
Stay tuned for more good news in the future.