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Solar Power Systems
Please note: this page contains reviews and opinions sent in by Berkeley Parents Network subscribers. Your own experience may be different. Please always check references first!
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We definitely need a roof so I'd like recommendations but what about installing solar panels as well? I know nothing about either so I'd be interested in hearing from the BPN network to find out if going solar ended up being worthwhile. Is there there extra upkeep needed for solar panels? Do the roofers work with the solar panel installers? Are there any resources to see if going solar would be right for our house? What about special considerations for when we have the roof installed? Who would you recommend for doing the roofing and solar panel work? If we go solar, we really can't spend a lot of time doing special maintenance and I really don't want to end up with a leaky roof and the roofer and solar panel company installers blaming each other. Anonymous
If you do put on a new roof, I would recommend going with asphalt shingles. That is going to make installing a solar roof a lot easier with less chance of a leak.
We replaced our roof with lightweight concrete tiles (not spanish tiles, but flat tiles that look like shingles) a few years ago and then put on solar. The solar installers had lots of trouble working on the roof because when they stepped on the tiles wrong they broke. Eventually everything got installed properly and we are very happy with our solar roof.
There is no maintenance with a solar roof so don't worry about that. Eventually the inverter that converts the DC power to AC power will have to be replaced, but a contractor will do that.
We got our solar roof when there was still federal and state rebates so it made a lot of sense from an economic point of view. The rebates covered about 1/3 of the cost. We will pay off our solar roof in about 8 years. After that the money we save on electricity will be gravy. I'm not sure what rebates are available now.
We looked at leasing, but really you are just borrowing money from the solar company. If you can afford it, owning your roof has a better return on investment. Our roof is producing slightly more than kilowatt hours than they predicted and the value of that electricity (because of the way PG&E's time of use metering works) is more valuable than their simple calculation using the average cost of electricity.
Like any contracting project, get three bids. Even if you think one company is better before you start, you'll learn something.
Some roofing companies also do solar, but we didn't go that route. If you put on asphalt shingles, there is no problem putting on a solar roof unless your roof is very steep.
Solar companies will look at your roof on Google Earth and let you know for free if your roof is a good candidate for solar. That is where I'd start. Contact three solar companies and get a free evaluation. They'll also want to know how much electricity you are using. If you aren't using over a certain amount, it won't pay to get solar.
When you get bids for replacing your roof, I would let the roofing contractors know that you are going to put on solar.
We ended up going with Solar City. They did a good job even with all the trouble with our tile roof. -solar roof household
The best time to get solar for you roof is definitely when you are replacing it. The solar installers will work with in conjunction with the roofer and ensure that the roofer maintains the warranty for the roof. If there are leaks, the roofer is solely responsible. As for maintenance, there is basically none. The only thing to worry about is the panels getting dirty, but rain will wash them off just as well as you with a hose. Ideally, you'll want a large south-ish facing roof without any vents, without trees shading it. There are ways to work with non-ideal situations as well, so don't rule yourself out if there is a chimney in the way or something like that. Any solar installer worth their salt will give you a free estimate of both cost and power production, and check your electrical service and roof to make sure both are good as-is for adding solar or if an upgrade is likely. You'll also have to think about a lease vs. owning the system outright. In general, the benefit to a lease that it's cheap to free up front, but owning the system saves you significantly more over the life of the system. The installer should also take care of the permitting and any dealings with PG&E or the city, etc. And you should get a copy of anything they submit.
I would have at least a couple of installers give you a quote, and make sure you're comparing apples to apples in terms of power, cost, warranty, included services, short-term benefit and long-term benefit. Ben
We went through paramount roofing and solar the sales guy we dealt with was Garrett Johnson 916-740-4288. Petersen Dean is also one of the companies involved. they do all the research about how the sun hit your roof, slope of the roof, shadows etc.
Like you, we have no interest or time to maintain/trouble-shoot solar panels. So we leased them for 20 years. Do do have to agree to get up on the roof and clean the panels twice a year. when you lease, you do not get the tax rebates but, depending on the contract you sign with them, you get flat or reduced electric bills for that period of time. We paid the highest up front cost without buying them outright, but there are many different levels you can do including paying very little up front, all the contracts have advantages and disadvantages) right now our electric service is costing us nothing because we are producing more energy for the grid than we use. the hook up costs a couple dollars a month so we came out ahead over $30 last month. this will be applied to our winter bills when our production will be less and we expect we'll owe a couple months worth of old electric bills by the end of the year (april 2014 since we just went live a month ago). You should know that it is a long process. We started last October. there are many steps. the solar guys did almost all the work - permits, contracts, etc but there was a lot of waiting for us. The service is great, they are available any time for questions and I can log on to see how our production is doing any time. We did not get a new roof - didn't need one. but they do roofs as well. good luck gone solar
Our Alameda Green Certified solar company name was referred to as: A-1 Solar in the 5/23 recommendation. If you would like to contact us in Berkeley, you'll find us listed as: A1 Sun, Inc. Thank you. Larry Giustino firstname.lastname@example.org
we just bought a small house and since it needs a new hot water heater, we thought why not go solar for our hot water. It seems to be a daunting process to figure out and most places we've called have tried to interest us in solar heat (a much more expensive project than we're interested in) or have told us they only do big projects, not small single family homes. Does anyone have advice on who to call, someone who does good work and can also help us thru the rebate application process. anon
My husband and I live in a 75-unit condo complex; our building contains three flats. We're interested in solar energy, but the local Sungevity people said they only install systems in single-family buildings, and another outfit we consulted said our building was too small. Does anyone out there have experience with good local firms (including those who rent out the panels, etc., instead of selling them) who are willing to work with apartments and condominiums? Melanie
I'm thinking about going solar, but there are a lot of solar companies out there. Can anyone recommend a reliable/affordable solar company. I live in Lafayette.
Advice on comparing bids: As far as I could tell, there is no significant quality difference across the brands of panels used by reputable companies. But because different companies use panels with different ratings, it can be difficult to compare costs. The best way to do this is to compare the cost per watt. Set up a spreadsheet with each companyâ€™s bid for the total system capacity and the total cost. But be careful to compare bids using the same rating system, as there is more than one type of unit used to express capacity. I made sure all the bids were expressed in KW CEC - that is California Energy Commission kilowatt ratings. Divide the total cost by the total number of watts (the CEC rating times 1000). The differences then are readily apparent. For instance the full per watt cost of the systems I considered ranged from $7.83 to $10.75. After rebate and tax credit, the final cost per watt of the system I selected was $4.19.
Other factors: cash rebates from local jurisdictions and/or power companies vary, and are subject to change, but are significant. The companies you interview can advise you of the rate that would apply to you. As an added incentive some companies will file the paper work and get the reimbursement themselves, deducting the amount from your out-of-pocket costs. (Vista Solar and Sungevity both did this at the time I was looking.) Others simply supply you with the paperwork to file and get reimbursed yourself.
I went with Vista Solar because their bid was by far the most attractive. I was very happy with their work. They have a computer monitoring system that allows me to see how much energy my panels are generating, on an hourly, weekly, monthly etc basis. Their chief of installation, Joel Lusk, lives in the East Bay and has extensive local experience as well as positive BPN refs - which is how I found my way to the company. I hope this is helpful. optimoms
We are interested in installing photovoltaic roof panels but also need to replace our roof. We'd appreciate any advice on whether this is a good time to install solar panels (rather than waiting for technological advances!) and also on consultants/contractors (should we do roof first, then panels, or can it be integrated into one job?) Berkeley resident
Doing along with a roof. The optimal installation is to coordinate the roofing job with the panel installation, so that the panel supports are integrated with the roof. First the roofers put down the sheathing, then the solar company installs the panel supports and flashing, and finally the roofers return to do the shingling. Thus the two companies need to coordinate their work schedules, which in my experience they are happy to do.
I got multiple bids for both parts of my project, and selected Nicholas Roofing and Vista Solar. I was very please with both companies. Contact me for further information or for advice on comparing solar bids. optimoms
My name is Christina C. and I am with an environmental non-profit based in Berkeley, Rising Sun Energy Center. We run a summer program called California Youth Energy Services. It's a free service which provides homeowners and renters all around the bay area with a free energy efficiency audit and free energy saving equipments (such as CFLs, clotheslines, and efficient flow showerheads, etc.)
We can do all of this for free because we also hire and train local youth for the summer to become energy specialists and perform this audits. We are funded as a workforce development program for youth.
I am writing because we were hoping to get the support of the Berkeley Parents Network. Hopefully some of you have heard of us or have taken advantage of our services before. If not, we encourage you to come by our office on 2033 Center Street to check out our operation and sign up for a summer appointment!
We also have a new program that we are launching called Smart Solar, which is funded by the city of Berkeley to be an unbiased informational resource for residents who are interested in adopting solar for their homes. I could send you some information on this program as well if you think community members are interested.
Christina C. http://www.risingsunenergy.org/
Any regrets with installing photovoltaic (solar) panels? How expensive is the maintenance? trying to be green
Hello, We'd like to install a solar electric system. Its really hard to distinguish one system from the next when doing an internet search, so I was wondering if anyone highly recommends the company they used? Thanks a bunch!! Elaine
I live in Berkeley and am interested in having solar power panels installed for my house and am looking for people who have already done this and had a good experience with the company they chose. I understand that Berkeley is in the process of approving a loan (lien on the house) to home owners who can repay over 20 years and might want to go that route. Any info is appreciated. Thank you! Heidi
We are determined to install solar panels on our El Cerrito house this year, and are looking for a company that can both design and install a system. Have you had any experience with this? Can you recommend (or recommend against) a particular company? Thanks for any input! Solar Happy
Solar Lights Maintenance: I have a motion-detector solar light on my house to light my driveway and several along my walkway which have ''burned out.'' I've searched the directions that come with them to see if there are bulbs or re-chargeable batteries that need periodic replacement but can't find any info. Anyone know if they just have to be tossed and replaced or is there something that can be done? Thanks. In The Dark in Berkeley
We live in the Montclair hills and are thinking of having photovoltaic solar panels put on our roof (a large part faces south and it's unobstructed). We've done some web surfing, but haven't found a lot of information from local solar contractors. Does anyone have experience with this or recommendations or places to look on the web? Thanks. L
www.builditgreen.org www.greenresourcecenter.org/AskAnExpert.phpThey will talk you through everything from what you need to who to talk to. Green Friend
The most remarkable part - our system reduces carbon dioxide emissions equal to permanently REMOVING 11.1 CARS from our congested highways. It would require 17.16 ACRES OF NEW TROPICAL RAINFOREST to reduce an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. This project, over its design life, will offset the emission of more than 63 TONS OF DANGEROUS POLLUTANTS, such as NOx, SO2, and CO2.
The cost of putting it together was $29k, of which $7k was reimbursed by the state of Cal directly to the solar company, so we only had to write a check for $22k. Those taxpayers NOT in alternative min tax (''AMT'') could also get a $2k federal tax credit if installed this or next year, others won't get it b/c the credit can only reduce regular tax and not the AMT.
We talked to 6 different companies, got quotes from 3 companies we liked to work with, chose the lower (by $3k) quote of the 3 given to us, and the other two companies were willing to match it, so this seems to be the price.
The quote is calculated based on the number and kind of panels & other equipment with labor cost as a % of materials. Neighborhood doesn't matter.
It took 3 days to install, about 45-60 days b/w signing contract and being completely done (permits etc - all taken care of by solar co.).
At the current electricity rates our payback is 10 years, for most people it is shorter than that (we are big energy savers), plus it will be shorter since electric rates keep going up every year.
Alameda county does not increase your tax base by the value of solar system, for real estate tax purposes.
We had a great experience with our provider - SPG Solar, a large company with lots of experience and great customer service. Our contact was Ted Walsh, email@example.com.
We're considering installing a solar electricity system on our roof and are curious about others' experience and advice. The threshold question is, ''is it financially worth it?'' That is, does it have a reasonable rate of pay back. We'd like to do it for environmental reasons, but don't want to get taken to the cleaners in the process. For those who have installed systems, do you have any recommendations of the best companies to use? We've started inquiring with Real Goods and Berkeley Solar Electric Systems, but I'm sure there are others, and it's quite difficult to choose. While we're on the subject, we're not really thinking much about solar hot water heating, but if people have had really good experience (or bad) with that, we would be curious as well. Thanks! Jamie
Typically, my 30 panels generate about 11KW/day on clear summer days; 7KW/day on clear spring/fall days; 3KW/day on clear winter days. Divide these numbers by ten for cloudy days. If my house were better situated, these numbers might be 20 or 30 percent higher.
Our PG&E ''time-of-use'' meter runs backwards whenever the sun makes more power than we use. Last year, our total electric bill was $150, or about $12 per month. Quite a savings - we used to pay $35 to $75 per month. (some of this savings, however, is simple conservation - using compact florescent lamps, throwing away electric heaters, doing our wash in the evening, etc)
There are downsides of solar electric. First, solar panels are ugly. (One reason why my panels aren't efficient is that I didn't install them facing the street) Second, they require maintenance. (Every few months, you wash off the dust, leaves, and bird poop. This means a trip up the roof. And don't ask me about the raccoon nest under my solar panels!) Third - shadows from trees will drastically reduce solar output - even an overhead cable's shadow can have negative effects. A fourth problem is the roof itself - cutting holes through the shingles. If not done properly - and intellegently flashed - these will spring leaks in a year or two. And all the walking & work on your roof shortens the life of the shingles. Shingles aren't made for foot traffic, alas. Which is another problem: when you need to replace your shingles, those fragile solar panels make it a tougher job.
Summary - I've enjoyed installing & maintaining my solar rooftop panels. They will payback their cost in seven to twenty years. But it's a hobby, not a one-time investment. Cliff
We had Joel Lusk (Lusk Construction) install pv solar panels on
our new roof and are very happy with his workmanship. It didn't
take long once the panels arrived and we're generating lots of
electricity (which feeds back into the grid) on lovely sunny days
like today! His number is 510 981 9721
Hi, we're doing a major remodel and thinking about putting in hydronic radiant heat under our existing hardwood floors (there's a crawlspace under the house). In our dreams, this would be powered by solar panels on the roof (along with the rest of our hot water needs). There wasn't anything too recent in the archives, so just wondering if anybody has done hydronics and or solar panels lately and has suggestions/recommendations/advice. Thanks! Overwhelmed Mama
I do hear that going completely solar would be your dream setup; there are many possibilities to incorporate solar hot water at different budget levels. I am currently doing a major remodel at my inlaw's house and I will be installing a hydronic radiant system using a high (92%) efficiency boiler and passive solar strategies. The budget prevents us from incorporating solar panels into the radiant system but I will be installing solar panels for the domestic hot water needs, with a Takagi tankless water heater as a backup. Using solar panels for domestic hot water gives the most "bang for the buck", and in all likelihood would not require modifications to the roof framing. Feel free to contact me if you wanted to get more info: 510-228-7410 Jeff ecobuilding AT gmail.com
The common wisdom is that underfloor radiant heat is a pleasant and effective way of heating rooms. Since much of the heat transfer occurs by direct irradiation rather than through contact with warm air, it can keep people warm with a lower fuel consumption. The heating is less "bursty" than with forced air, it's quieter, and potentially more efficient since it uses water at low temperature and the boiler may take advantage of this.
It's highly doubtful that adding solar panels to such a system would be cost effective. To be useful the panels would need to collect heat at relatively low outside temperature, which makes them expensive (glazed metal). Also consider that placing the panels on the roof will make your roof maintenance more expensive. If anybody convinces you that a solar system will save you money, double check their figures and try not to delude yourself into it.
A solar system to help heat your domestic hot water may be a better bet since you would use it also in the warm seasons. But I don't think those are cost effective either. Anon.
We just bought a fixer-upper in berkeley and when we replace the roof we are thinking about adding some type of solar panels, ( any advise on those is greatly appriciated too...) I have heard talk at different times about california and or Berkeley having some money set aside for residents to convert to some renewable energy sourse. Is this true? does anyone know anything about this....is it PG&E? Any leads are great! - crisbiss
Berkeley considered low cost loans, but I don't know if the program was finalized.
It is much easier and cheaper to put in these systems while doing a major refurbishing of your house. You must have an unblocked South facing roof.
Solar hot water heaters are cost-effective. However, solar electric systems are dubious economic propositions. You can put one in for feel-good reasons, but don't expect to get your money back anytime soon. There are other ways to spend your money first, like an ultra-efficient furnace, which are far more cost effective and environmentally sound before putting in a solar electric system.
- Karen and Joel
The link to Residential ''Renewable Energy Buydown Program'' (a statewide incentive) will probably be the most useful.
- renewable energy fan
Hi, We are considering getting solar (photovoltaic) panels put in on our roof for home energy production. We have an estimate from Solar Depot in San Rafael who provide the equipment and Sun First in Muir Beach who install the equipment. Has anyone had these panels installed? Any experience with Solar Depot or Sun First? Any problems with solar (not thermal) panels? Any positive comments? If we do have solar panels put in, it will be a large expense and we would like to be pretty sure we want them before we make a decision, so any input would be helpful. Thank you, Richa
This is a big, expensive project. You have to file a long report to get a permit from the City of Berkeley. You have to file another load of paperwork to get the rebate from the state. There are only about 10 solar powered homes in Berkeley.
We are thinking of putting solar power for electricity (photovoltaic) in our house. I'd like to hear from others their experience installing/using solar power, especially with the companies that install the systems, getting the State rebates and working with PG&E.
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