How to Get Your Biggest Savings From The Sun

by Vincent King · 11 comments

Green is the new black.

Buzzwords like “green living,” “eco-friendly,” and “environmentally friendly” are everywhere. Sure, you’ve checked into those products already, but you might decide that these solutions are pricier than their toxic counterparts.

Green homes are popping up everywhere. But it isn’t just trendy, it’s smart. Yet, being eco-friendly, while also saving money, can be tricky. Returning to the Earth should be an affordable alternative, but the hard numbers clearly say otherwise.

You want to do your part and save money. Is it possible to do both at the same time?

Yes, absolutely.

The government offers you incentives for choosing a greener lifestyle. And taking advantage of these incentives is a great way to get you started.

Getting There Is The Challenge

Take the government up on its incentive packages and you can make your home an Earth-friendly place to live. Just know that even if you save later, there will be an initial cost to get there.

As of this writing, the federal government is offering a 30% tax credit on three types of systems that can help you do your small part to save the planet, and your bottom line. Geothermal heat pumps, solar energy panels and residential wind turbines will all earn you a 30% credit on your taxes until the end of 2016.

An investment of $7,000 can yield a $2,100 tax credit. That calculation makes jumping on the green tinted wagon totally worth it.

But how do you know which system is right for you?

There Are Two Great Options For Most

While savings varies based on two factors (location and current energy costs), you can sum it up this way: an average current usage of 1000KWH per month at a $200 cost can save you up to $50 per month when you install and use solar panels that provide 250KWH of electricity per month.

But to understand your gains with precision, you must know what you’re going to save according to where you live. For example, southwestern cities of the US get much more sunlight than, say, Seattle, Washington, so residents of those cities will see a larger return on their investment than those living in less sunny spots.

Solid proof that solar energy does work, if you’re willing to make the initial investment, are cities like Cedar Hill, Texas. They installed solar panels on their government buildings and saved their taxpayers a hefty $21,000 per year.

But solar panels are not the only way to go, as solar heated water is another choice. Water heating, commonly produced by electricity, makes up roughly a fourth of the total energy needs for a normal single-family home. And while these systems are not cheap (at an average of $7,000 to install), they can save you up to a whopping 85% on water heating each year. This is a return on investment after only 5 years. Not a bad waiting period for such massive savings.

Solar energy and solar water heating are great ways to save on your energy bills, but you must know where to start.

Investigate and Implement

You can get a better estimate of your savings by using a solar energy calculator and finding out how your energy use stacks up. This will tell you how much you can save today by installing solar panels and solar water heating systems.

The site will ask you a few questions, then give you information based where you live and how much you currently pay. They’ll also tell you what size units you’ll need, how big your roof will need to be, and how much your total cost will be, after incentives.

If you want to check into a solar water heating system instead, you’ll want to check a solar water heating calculator.

You’ll need more specific information for a calculator like this, but the outcome will help you determine how much energy you use to heat water in your home, and how much you will save if you choose to use a solar powered system for your needs.

It’s hard to see money leave your pocket, but done right, living green can put more in your wallet, every single month.

Would you consider the expense of solar powered systems to save money in your home?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • jim says:

    Wow – I know a few people who have installed solar panels and they are not even coming close to paying for themselves – now or anytime in the near future. Colorado, no less – with tons of sunshine. I think they’re a waste of money, resources, time and “energy”.

  • Marc says:

    Clotheslines cannot be prohibited in Florida where I live. I use a single line on a retracting reel (Ace Hardware) in my planned community. It’s in the rear yard on the south side of my home. Nearly no one can see it.
    ROI on any renewable energy system (PV, heating,wind, geothermal, etc.) is relative to your individual/family energy/resource consumption habits and demand. I teach my RE classes to change lifestyle and habits first, THEN consider how to offset the residual fossil fuel consumption demand with an appropriate renewable energy system or systems.

  • Persepone says:

    Well, I’ve been waiting for the clothesline police to show up for 12 years now… Clotheslines are “forbidden” in our area. But they do save money, they do make clothes smell good, etc. Also, I think sunlight kills germs, etc. that all those dryer chemicals do not. Having said that, realize that your local police/fire may need to know of the existence and location of your clotheslines should they ever need to come on to your property in emergency.
    I do not understand the logic that forbids clotheslines. I think it is aesthetic but that makes little sense to me. We are a tourist area with beaches–and just drying the towels outdoors would save huge $$ and wear and tear on the towels. We do own a dryer–we just don’t always use it.
    Even hanging clothes indoors to “finish” drying can save dryer time and also help to humidify your home in winter heating season. Little racks are cheap.

  • Helen says:

    What about drying your clothes in the sun? I am astonished that so many Americans use a dryer (which uses huge amounts of electricity) instead of, when possible or allowable, putting clothes in the fresh air to dry.

    • AJ says:


      I don’t use a clothesline due to laziness and bird poo, but do hang my clothes in the laundry room and let nature dry them. I put them in the dryer for four minutes just to get them starting to dry and then they get hanged.

      A little story about energy saving: I moved into my home a few years ago. Every time the electric company did an actual meter reading, it ended up less usage then the estimated reading from the month before. I called the company up. They said the estimates were based off last year’s usage (old owners). The representative even asked if any lived there!

      Concerning solar panels; everyone needs to learn a lot or have a very trusted contractor on hand. I have both. There are two different types of panels, each with it pluses and minuses depending on your climate. The ROI wasn’t making any sense till just this month. The contractor recalculated the numbers and had tax incentive ideas that make sense for me. The final cost will be $3350 and will provide 50% of my current annual usage. At current prices, the ROI is 6.6 years. At only $3350 – not some out of this world amount, it makes sense for me to go for it.

      My state tax incentives made all the difference. Each state is very different, so your mileage may vary widely.

  • Marbella says:

    We need to move to solar heating, wind power, water power etc. The more we install all the more put money into research and development for better systems to save money and energy.

  • Jean says:

    Those are definitely some good incentives offered by the government. Hope there are a lot of takers. But like someone already said, return on investment is an important factor. I think once these technologies get a bit cheaper, we should see it get more popular.


  • Thad P @ says:

    If it makes economic sense in 5 or less years, I could be persuaded.

  • Jeff Crews says:

    My parent’s house had solar panels when we moved in. However, they were a little messed up. They never saw the value in fixing them up, so they still sit there today. I always thought they could sell them for decent.

  • Felicia says:

    Hi Vincent,

    I am new to your blog and I must say you have a lot of great articles here.

    To answer your question, Yes I would consider the expense of solar powered systems to save money in my home. I actually have been looking at building an Earthship home. Talk about going green and saving money.

    I will definitely follow your posts.

    Thank you

  • DSO says:

    I think its all about ROI. I know I don’t spend $7k to heat water over the course of 5 years so I wouldn’t get that kind of return. From what I’ve heard it takes about 15 years to get your money back if you install solar panels on your house. Its all about how long you plan to live there.

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