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Solar Power for Homes

Jenny

Angel Diva
I know nothing, so just wondering if anyone out there has solar panels and what things I ought to maybe research. Here's why:

We have a gigantic walnut tree in our back yard. It's messy, but there's nothing wrong with it (other than I have to be careful what I try to plant under it, because they poison things), and I hate cutting down trees. However, our neighbor caught DH in the yard this weekend and asked about them paying to have it cut down. They have a pool, and while they say the tree throws lots of stuff into the pool and that's the reason, I really think the main one is they want more sun. The canopy is quite high, so even though a little bit of one branch hangs over the fence (and not over the pool) cutting that one branch won't help them.

I have thoughts both ways about this, but it did occur to me this morning that if we didn't have the tree, then we could think about solar.

So, any thoughts on solar power (or neighbors, lol!)?
 

RachelV

Administrator
Staff member
We got solar panels maybe 4 years ago and love them. We have a smallish roof, but even so we don't pay for electricity 10 months of the year, and that's with electric heat and an electric car (but no central air or a/c, really).

The economics of them change a lot depending on:
- how much electricity costs where you live (there are some places with very very cheap electricity where solar panels basically never pay themselves back, but these places are in the minority)
- how sunny it is where you live (I'm super spitballing these numbers but you need something like 2x as many panels in Seattle vs Colorado to generate the same amount of power)
- how your electric company credits excess generation (our power company just lets do a 1:1 exchange for kwh we generate but don't use, so in the summer when we're generating much more electricity than we use, we get kwh credits, which we can then use for "free" in the winter when we're using more electricity than we generate)
- orientation of your roof, and trees, and other shade from neighboring buildings or whatever
- tax credits (not sure what's going on with this now, or how much it varies by state, but we got something like 30% of the cost of the install back as a tax credit)

You should have some companies come out to your house do a consultation. Once of the first things they do is put a lens thing (technical term ;) ) on the roof that they use to take a 360* image looking up, so you can see exactly what would and wouldn't shade your roof and where. Combined with what direction your roof faces and your latitude, you can use that to figure out if you really need to cut trees down, or trim trees, or if you'd generate enough electricity to meet your needs regardless.
 
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Little Lightning

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
Zillow posts a Sun Number for your address. The number tells how well your home is suited for solar and how much money you can save based on various factors.

For example, my home is rated 93.96 out of 100. We do have solar but we installed it years ago as an investment, not necessarily savings on electricity.

If you are in an area prone to hail storms and need frequent roof replacement the panels must be removed. According to our contract the roofer must have the roof finished so the panels can be reinstalled within 3 days of taking them down. Once there was an issue we didn't know about and the company showed up at at our door to fix it. Other than occasional spraying dust off they don't require any maintenance on our part.
 

Christy

Angel Diva
That is great info from @RachelV. My friends have a Tesla roof and said it was barely more expensive than getting a new (regular) roof, and it looks good too--it's nice to have an option besides the typical panels, I think. I am interested in doing this except Seattle is 100% hydro power so I'm not sure it makes sense.

I am kind of rooting for your tree though. Do you have a lot of other big trees in the area, and do birds love it? The landlord behind me just cut the only big tree (a Doug fir) on our whole half of the block, and it broke my heart. That tree was a cacophony of birdsong in the evening and was high-rise affordable housing for birds. We have very weak tree protections and it sucks.
 

elemmac

Angel Diva
So, any thoughts on solar power (or neighbors, lol!)?

RachelV gave all of the advice I came to give when it comes to evaluating solar panels (I don't have them, but I work with PV systems all the time as my job). The only thing I would add is when you're researching your local utility's generation credit policy, you can also evaluate battery storage options. If your utility policy sucks, you can store the energy and utilize it at night, on cloudy days, or instead of a back-up generator for utility outages. Tesla has a pretty easy-to-use on-line evaluation that estimates how long it would take to break even with solar panels. Not sure how accurate it is...but fun to play with.

As for the neighbors...well, it never hurts to ask, so can't fault them for that. But if you like the tree; aesthetics and/or the shade from it, I wouldn't cut it down just to be a good neighbor. I would counter with them paying to trim up some of the branches, especially if their reasoning is that it sheds into their pool.
 

SkiBam

Angel Diva
Maybe consider if the tree is providing enough shade to reduce your need for A/C. I have a lot of trees around my house, which in summer provide good shade and help keep the house cool.

For fun, I looked up the desirability of solar in Quebec and apparently our electricity costs are so low (not that I think that when I pay the bills!) that it would take longer than the life of the solar equipment to recoup the cost. So it seems you wouldn't go solar here as a money-saver.

Personally, I would be very hesitant to cut down a tree just to please the neighbour. Unless you really dislike the tree.

Speaking of trees, I'm a bit sad as I have to have what was a lovely old birch taken down, due to the fact it's dead. We need a permit, even for a dead tree, so I'm waiting for that, then down it comes. Hope I can get some usable firewood from it.
 

Jenny

Angel Diva
Thanks, everyone.

I didn’t know Zillow gave a sun number - ours is 68.27. Sounds dismal, but not surprising. I do wish we lived somewhere sunny enough that I thought it was a viable option.

Here is the other side of the story now.

I love trees, hate removing them, even when they need it. Yes, this tree is sometimes a pain, but it's big and beautiful and done nothing wrong. The whole solar thing was me just trying to come up with a pros and cons list.

These neighbors aren’t bad - could be worse, and they are better than the ones that were there before. I liked it when the house sat empty, because a bullfrog made the pool its home and I could lay in bed with the windows open and listen to it croak, which always made me giggle.

Shortly after they moved in there were comments about our pine trees back there. To be fair, they were on their last legs, and DH hated them, too, so we did remove those, at our expense. Yes, we were thanked.

I also know, because he told us himself, that he sabotaged the growth of another neighbor's evergreens that were up against the fence line, by cutting the leader on each of them off. And had plans to continue doing so, until they gave up trying to grow them. Which reminds me, I should remember to check ours . . .

I don’t fault them for asking, and we may offer a compromise of some branch cutting. DH thinks there are about five branches that could be cut and the tree would still look nice - I’m so far of the opinion that there's only one, but he hasn’t pointed out the others to me yet, so we’ll see. The neighbors apparently already had someone out here to look at it, and he told them cutting the one branch wouldn’t do any good.

I hate saying this, but our security camera is now pointed at the tree, because I don’t know that I trust . . .
 
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elemmac

Angel Diva
These neighbors aren’t bad - could be worse, and they are better than the ones that were there before. I liked it when the house sat empty, because a bullfrog made the pool its home and I could lay in bed with the windows open and listen to it croak, which always made me giggle.

Shortly after they moved in there were comments about our pine trees back there. To be fair, they were on their last legs, and DH hated them, too, so we did remove those, at our expense. Yes, we were thanked.

I also know, because he told us himself, that he sabotaged the growth of another neighbor's evergreens that were up against the fence line, by cutting the leader on each of them off. And had plans to continue doing so, until they gave up trying to grown them.

I don’t fault them for asking, and we may offer a compromise of some branch cutting. DH thinks there are about five branches that could be cut and the tree would still look nice - I’m so far of the opinion that there's only one, but he hasn’t pointed out the others to me yet, so we’ll see. They've apparently already had someone out here to look at it, and he told them cutting the one branch wouldn’t do any good.

Your bullfrog story made me smile (I'd rather have a pond than a pool in my backyard any day). Yikes! on the evergreens though...I can't believe they would openly admit that to another neighbor!

Maybe you could feel out how much they really want the tree gone...negotiate the cost of solar panels into the deal :bounce:
 

newboots

Angel Diva
I hate saying this, but our security camera is now pointed at the tree, because I don’t know that I trust . . .

OMG!! Of course you don't trust him; he sabotages other peoples' trees! How vile!

I don't like him and I think that house should revert to the bullfrog.
 

Christy

Angel Diva
I also know, because he told us himself, that he sabotaged the growth of another neighbor's evergreens that were up against the fence line, by cutting the leader on each of them off. And had plans to continue doing so, until they gave up trying to grow them. Which reminds me, I should remember to check ours . . .

That's some serious bs right there, and I would think illegal. Please tell me you told the affected neighbor. They put time and money into those trees. And you already removed trees for the bad neighbors? They get nothing else. Done! :smile:
 

Iwannaski

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
YIKES on the tree sabotage. Not ok.

Looked up our sun number and it’s 91. Our roof still looks ok, but it’s not new, so my goal is to replace it with a Tesla roof in about 2-3 years.

I had developed that plan using this tool: https://www.google.com/get/sunroof
Different mode of quantitative assessment than zillow, for those who like lots of data. ;)

I suggested to husband that we do the roof and the battery and use that to charge an electric car. By that time I’m also assuming that there will be some great AWD EV options - Wisconsin, y’all.
 

Jenny

Angel Diva
That's some serious bs right there, and I would think illegal. Please tell me you told the affected neighbor. They put time and money into those trees. And you already removed trees for the bad neighbors? They get nothing else. Done! :smile:
I did not. I don’t really know them, and couldn’t figure out how to do it casually, since I next to never see them. So I took the coward's way out and just minded my own business. But I felt icky about it.
 

Jenny

Angel Diva
YIKES on the tree sabotage. Not ok.

Looked up our sun number and it’s 91. Our roof still looks ok, but it’s not new, so my goal is to replace it with a Tesla roof in about 2-3 years.

I had developed that plan using this tool: https://www.google.com/get/sunroof
Different mode of quantitative assessment than zillow, for those who like lots of data. ;)

I suggested to husband that we do the roof and the battery and use that to charge an electric car. By that time I’m also assuming that there will be some great AWD EV options - Wisconsin, y’all.
That's interesting. $7000 over 20 years. Although the picture they're using is 20 years old.
 
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vickie

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
Any idea how old the tree is, its health, or where it is in its lifecycle? If I had a tree that was near the end of its normal life and someone offered to pay to have it removed, I'd accept the offer.

Looks like black walnut trees live for over 100 years, some sources indicating 250 or more.
 

Jenny

Angel Diva
Here’s the google earth top view. We are the light colored roof that backs up,to the pool. Walnut tree is the lighter green one kind of centered in our yard. The big, darker green trees to the left are yet another neighbor's maple trees, which, of course, spew helicopters. If I were pool guy I’d spend my money on an automatic pool cover.

4EB79870-70F9-46E9-BEF4-9CFD14AC4BD9.jpeg
 

Jenny

Angel Diva
I
Any idea how old the tree is, its health, or where it is in its lifecycle? If I had a tree that was near the end of its normal life and someone offered to pay to have it removed, I'd accept the offer.

Looks like black walnut trees live for over 100 years, some sources indicating 250 or more.
Thought about that, too. Our house was built in the 1950's. So I’d have to find some pics from then to see if it was around. Which might be possible, I think it was the next door neighbor's aunt who had the house built so either she or her dad (who live kitty corner across from us) might know. And yes, we live in a small town!

I saw one source that indicated they could live for 400 years in ideal conditions.
 

Jenny

Angel Diva
That's interesting. $7000 over 20 years. Although the picture they're using is 20 years old.
Actually, 20 years old isn’t true. The driveway looked like it wasn’t all done yet, but the trees we removed are gone in this pic, so it’s gotta be more recent than that. But our next door neighbor on the other side got caught be the google cam and she's been dead since 2014 and in a home for a few years before that.
 

newboots

Angel Diva
@Jenny - which direction is South? And how old is your roof? I have heard they like to install on a new roof, so they don't have to remove the solar panels while the roof is replaced and then put them back.
 

newboots

Angel Diva
Your roof is pretty new! It looks like the south-facing part of the roof is small, but I would talk to solar installers about where the panels should go. (Don't you love it? You have idle thoughts about solar collectors and the rest of us plot out the project!)
 

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