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Solar Projects– Should You Do Them Yourself?

With increasing fossil fuel prices, solar is becoming a popular option. If you have a solar project in mind, the first thing you have to determine is whether you should build it yourself. In the late 70s, the world suffered through an oil crisis. Oil dependant countries reacted by investing in renewable energy strategies with the goal of reducing the impact of future problems. While the United States dropped this strategy after the end of the crisis, many other countries continued to pursue it. Germany, for instance, produces a sizeable amount of its electrical needs through wind and solar power. Norway produces all of its need through hydropower. As oil prices rise, we are paying for not continuing to pursue renewable energy. Fortunately, much of the technology developed in other countries is readily available in the United States.

Building and installing solar platforms, whether active panels or passive window systems, is a fairly uncomplicated task if you have basic construction knowledge. There are two distinct types of solar approaches, but only one should be pursued as a do it yourself project.

The first type is active solar, which uses panels to create electricity for heating or to heat water. In general, you should consider having a contractor install these systems. Federal and state governments offer massive rebates and tax savings if you use active solar systems instead of drawing off the electrical grid. These rebates, however, usually require a licensed contractor do the installation. While there are exceptions, you don’t want to miss out on $4,000 to $10,000 in potential savings. From a financial perspective, it simply isn’t worth it.

The second type of solar platform is known as passive. The government doesn’t kick you any rebates or tax incentives for this platform, so it makes a perfect project for those that like to get their hands dirty. These projects are all about orienting your home or structure to take advantage of the plentiful sunlight that hits it each day. The idea is to let the sunlight in on the south side of your home, let it heat up thermal mass materials such as masonry and then circulate the heat through the home. Yes, it works in the winter.

These projects rarely require you to have any special knowledge beyond that which you would get from basic home improvement construction experience. The trick is in the orientation of the home, the placement of windows and the materials used. It is fairly simple and can save you a ton of money on your utility bills.

In summary, you should almost always use a contractor if panels are part of your system. If you are going for a non-active system, break out the hammer and get after it.