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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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But solar power isn't just for the Sunbelt. It can make just as much sense in Boston as in Albuquerque, N.M. "Photovoltaics produce 25 percent more power in Albuquerque, N.M., but Boston's electricity rates are much higher, so the savings are about the same," Kaye says.

Figuring out if it makes sense for your home can be complicated. The time it takes to recoup your investment in solar power varies by region, but some basic rules apply everywhere.

For instance, solar power does best on a south-facing roof. Electricity production falls about 15 percent if the roof is facing east or west. And the more you pay for electricity, the less time it will take to recoup your investment. There are online calculators to help you crunch the numbers for your neighborhood.

It may seem like common sense, but working solar into your home-improvement schedule can save money, too. If you need a new roof anyway, or if you're building an addition onto your home, installing BIPV instead of traditional roofing can be a good option, Dougherty says. The price tag is comparable. 

"But if your existing roof is in good shape, it doesn't make sense to replace it," he says. If your roof has a few more years of life left, traditional rack-mounted solar panels might be a better choice.

Net-metering standards also come into play. Most solar roofs are net metered, meaning they are tied to the traditional electricity grid. Net metering allows homeowners to buy traditional electricity from the power company when their solar system isn't producing enough. When it's generating more than the homeowners need, they sell electricity back to the power company. Not all states allow net metering.

Installation costs vary as well, due to local labor costs. BIPV isn't quite a do-it-yourself project yet, but installation is simple. The pieces can be installed by just about any qualified roofer, and are then tied into the utility grid by an electrician.

If you're on the fence about solar power, it could pay to wait a year or two. In the near future, solar options might make more economic sense to more people. Solar power systems cost about 90 percent less than they did in the 1970s, and prices have been dropping about 5 to 7 percent each year, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association.

-- Posted: April 4, 2007
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