Why I’m building am Solar Home

I got involved in the solar energy back in 1978 when it was a new and exciting technology. What I discovered was that using modern materials and techniques was new, but the operating principal behind solar were dead simple and age old. We designed thermal solar collectors for domestic hot water and pool heat, a greenhouse for northern climates, solar food dryers and radiant heating systems. We participated in a lot of unique projects such as double envelope homes, active and passive solar homes, a solar art gallery, earth sheltered homes, and other cool projects. That industry dried up in 1981 when oil prices came down and NEP came in. At that time the cost of a solar electricity was around 10 times the present cost so we barely ventured into that arena. Today Solar Electric is the ticket and the cost of a system promises to pay you back in roughly 10 years. That’s not a bad investment, but its not the reason I’m building a solar home. Since my venture in Solar I worked building concrete structures (high-rises, hospitals etc) and then spent the past 30 years in real estate sales and development. I learned a few lessons about economics and the most poignant one was that a penny saved is worth more than a penny earned (or the potential to earn) for a few reasons. Firstly in business and life what you make is not your profit – you first must pay your overhead, wages, operating costs and then taxes to make a profit at the end of the day. This ratio is usually about 1-6 so a penny that you save (or don’t need to make) is actually equivalent to 6 earned pennies. Saving is better than earning. It also aligns with a philosophy of sustainability and minimalism which just happens to agree with me.
The other gem we can glean from this is that saving or not having to spend a penny on something is a certainty with no risk attached to the process. That is, if I save a penny I am certain to have saved a penny, but if I plan to make 6 cents there are risks and variables in the marketplace that can conspire to reduce my profit to less than a penny at days end. There is no risk when you don’t spend a penny – you just don’t. As you may know, many investors, institutions and the public pay a great premium to reduce risk (insurance policies, safer investment vehicles etc) yet we seem to minimize the no-risk plan of simply saving and reducing our consumption.
Building a low energy home provides a secure, no-risk hedge against inflation and is actually a very good investment if we account for the absence of risk derived from the savings. Coupled with a retirement strategy reducing and controlling your future outputs makes a lot of sense and provides peace of mind for a secure retirement.
With all those reasons who wouldn’t build solar? But all the above reasons are not why I’m building a solar home. The main reason has a lot to do with simply doing the right thing for the environment and our community. Because it is in a pretty great neighborhood I will be using it as a demonstration home in the hopes that more people and builders will incorporate these principals into their projects.
The process has been interesting and we’ve learned a lot.
From these lessons I will be crafting a few further articles to share our experiences, good and bad in the hopes that we can help others thinking of building a low energy, high performance home.
Stay tuned for more to come in the next few weeks.