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Home Improvement Guide 2007
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Ideas and suggestions for your next project, from simple plans to designing extensive renovations.
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Solar power IN the roof, not on it
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That price tag is out of reach for many Americans, which is why most homeowners opt for a partial solar electricity system. Most install 2 to 3 kw systems, Rivera says, which can reduce electricity bills by 25 percent or more. Homeowners on a budget also have the option to increase the capacity of their system over time, as they can afford it. Most solar electricity systems are modular, so more solar panels or shingles can be added to the current system after it's installed.

Each 1 kw shingle system requires about 100 square feet of roof space and produces between 1,600 and 2,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, depending on where you live. If electricity costs 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, each 1 kw of solar power would reduce your electricity bill by $160 to $225 each year for the life of the system. Solar shingles typically last 20 to 25 years, and are designed to withstand hail and tropical-storm force winds.

Lower utility bills for the future are a big part of the appeal.

"Utility rates are only heading one way -- up," says Brad Dougherty, a mechanical engineer working with BIPV solar cells at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Solar power is a hedge against rising energy prices.

"It's like buying a car that has 25 years of gas in the tank," Kaye says. "The fuel is free, so the upfront cost is the only cost."

Add in the environmental benefits, which include reduction of greenhouse gases linked to global warming, and it's a win for consumers.

It doesn't hurt that solar power systems can also boost the resale value of real estate.

"Homes with solar (power) sell for more," says Brad Collins, executive director of the American Solar Energy Society.  "The resale value solar adds to a house is often more than the cost of the system."

That's music to homeowners' ears in a rocky housing market. It's also become a selling point for homebuilders.

Developments where BIPV solar roofs are standard issue are popping up all over California. About 30 neighborhoods there are using SunTiles, a BIPV roofing material, on all or most of the new homes built in those developments, including a 650-plot Lennar Homes project in Roseville, Calif., that claims to be the world's largest all solar-powered community.

-- Posted: April 4, 2007
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