I have lived in southern California for my entire life.
That being said, I have learned quite a few things over the years. Seasons are more of a quaint notion than a fact of life in California. Rather than having fall, winter, spring, and summer, we have three and a half summers and a few weeks of fall. This may seem ideal to some, but here’s another fact of life about living in southern California: it’s expensive.
These two facts overlap in more ways than one, but I want to briefly touch on the one that comes back to haunt us each and every month. Let’s talk about electricity.
Southern California Edison services most of the residential accounts in the Inland Empire, barring a few cities that have private utility companies. SCE’s rates are based on two separate systems. One of the ways they charge is Time of Use, which is based on heavy and light electricity usage during corresponding times of day. The other option is a three-tiered system, which is the traditional billing type. As of May 2018:
Tier 1: 17¢
Tier 2: 25¢
Tier 3 (High Usage): 35¢
What Does Solar Do?
With the average cost of electricity capping $150 and continuing to rise on an almost annual basis, it was only a matter of time before residential solar energy became a widely used and common solution. As a matter of fact, it became a booming industry. With California approving AB-2278, mandating that all new residential construction projects have solar panels by 2020, it would appear that solar energy is the end-all-be-all solution that California needs. Or is it?
In my professional life, I have had extensive experience in the solar industry. I have studied it, I have sold it, and I have recommended it to countless people. I watched it grow into a multi-billion dollar industry in the span of a decade. That being said, a nagging thought kept gnawing at me.
“Is solar actually fixing the problem of excessive energy consumption?”
The short answer? No.
Don’t Make the Solar Mistake
Solar panels were designed to do one thing and one thing only, despite what the friendly people that come to your door tell you. They off-set energy costs. That is the true value of going solar. While they do fall into the “renewable energy” column on an official level, they do little to actually fix the issue of rising energy costs and outrageous kWh (kilowatt hours) usage. In a typical set of circumstances, a 1,700 square foot home built in the late 80’s (much of the IE) housing two adults and two children consumes right around 900 kWh in fall and winter and around 1,200 kWh in the summer months. Looking at these figures and assuming that much of that time falls into SCE’s third tear (you’d be right), it’s no wonder electric bills climb to such staggering heights.
Enter: the solar company.
With promises of striking your electric bill down by as much as 50% while simultaneously allowing you to run your A.C. like you are trying to support Arctic life, solar panels seem like an obvious choice. Easy lenders like the PACE Program partners have made home improvement projects easier than ever for just about everyone to afford by breaking up the payments over an extended period of time. Sound too good to be true? Well…
As I stated earlier, solar essentially only changes how you pay for your electricity. It may save certain people a decent amount of money, maybe even that prized 50%. What solar does not do is fix the reason your electric bill is so high. It does not make your home comfortable or energy efficient. It simply changes the way you pay for your electricity for 5 to 25 years, sometimes longer. Reality is beginning to set in a little, eh?
So if solar panels only act as a band-aid on a bullet wound, how do you actually heal the wound that is your excessive energy consumption? I have good news and I have better news. The good news is that it isn’t rocket science, and the better news is that it tends to be a bit more cost-effective in most cases.
How to Save Money on Energy
I want you to make a mental checklist. Your left column should consist of the following: windows, doors, HVAC, and insulation. Now, I want you to figure out the approximate age of each of the above. These products have a finite lifespan and dramatically affect your home’s energy efficiency. Construction-grade windows typically last about 12 years before the seals break down and render them mostly useless. Doors may last a bit longer, but they also become far less efficient after repeated use and abuse from the dramatic temperature swings we experience. HVAC units may last quite a while with regular maintenance, but most people don’t maintain them. Let’s give those 15 to 20 years, at best. Insulation also lasts a long time, but that’s assuming your attic space is vented properly and there is no breakdown due to exposure or rodents. These often-overlooked items were originally designed to keep the heat out and your bills low, but nothing is forever. Going solar before fixing these problems is what we call The Solar Mistake.
Solar panels definitely have a place in the market, but that place may not be your roof until you have really investigated the root of the problem.
If you are experiencing any issues with your home’s energy efficiency or would like an estimate on any type of remodel, please feel free to contact me personally at 951-422-9076. I am available Sunday – Saturday from 10:00 AM – 8:00 PM.