Decades ago, we had solar thermal on the south side of the Michigan house.

This did two things for us. First and foremost, it protectected the south wall. This added layer of insulation kept both floors cooler in the summer, and warmer in the winter. Given that my bedroom is on the south side of the house, I kinda miss it. Second, just having the panels on the house kept the heating bill down in the winter, even if they didn’t create any heat themselves.

But this sytem was installed in the 70s, and a nasty storm ripped those panels right off the house in the 00s. Except nobody made anything like those anymore, so we lost the “free heat” because they had to be replaced with plain old siding.

Which brings us to this year.

Now about half the roof is covered with sleek and shiny solar panels that create enough electricity to power the whole house, except for things like the gas furnace, stove, water heater, and fireplace.

It took a month or so to get the initial quote, then a few months to prep the property (fix the roof, remove the trees), and over a month to install because equipment needed to be ordered, permits needed to be pulled, and installation crews needed to be scheduled.

After all is said and done, a huge surprise was how noisy the power grid’s electricity was. Suddenly my shoulders, neck, and head aren’t tense all the time. The house is super-quiet because the solar power is pretty close to a perfect sine wave. Mom used to complain about the 60-cycle hum all the time. I finally know what she meant. She would’ve liked this, I think.

We sized the system slightly above our needs for three reasons. First, the system is never going to be 100% efficient. Second, we have backup batteries to store excess power so we can run on solar power at night, cloudy days, and when the grid goes down. And third, to sell back any excess power to the electric company for credits that can be used to lower electric bills in the winter months when the sun is lower or snow might cover some of the panels.

Yes, this was expensive. We’re looking at about a 15 year return on investment (ROI). But we also get a 30% tax rebate, meaning Dad can cash in some of his long-term investments without the tax hit. That’s a pretty big deal to a retiree.

These panels shade the roof, too,  keeping the heat down in the summer, and protecting the upstairs from winter winds. Which is great because the dying trees that used to do this have been removed from the backyard. The eldest was getting scary, dropping ginormous limbs every storm, sometimes on the house.

Funny thing is that the homeowner’s insurance will keep repairing the house, but not spend a couple grand to remove what causes the damage. Seriously, penny-wise and pound-foolish logic.

The good news is that the cost of felling the trees is included in the total solar installation cost to calculate the tax rebate because these needed to be removed to increase solar panel efficiency. Et voila!

The ground-up stumps of very large 40 year old trees also give our gardens tons of mulch, saving hundreds on packaged or bulk options while providing a uniform appearance. Major added bonus!

Yes, we covered quite a few intertwingled things today. Things that don’t normally seem related:

  • Old people need money, and they need to get to their savings without losing it to a greedy government (taxes).
  • Harnessing the sun’s energy should be easy, but it’s expensive and time-consuming (took months to plan, purchase, and install solar, and the ROI will take over a decade).
  • New systems often need to be over-sized to be correctly sized (roof solar panels and batteries).
  • Sometimes having trees is a bad thing (shade + oxygen = damage + repeated repairs).
  • Efforts to save money today may backfire and cost more in the long-run (paying for repairs but not to remove the cause).
  • And sometimes repairing things is a step backward because the step forward we took before is no longer available (loss of prior solar system).
  • Gardens need mulch to keep the ground temperature more even and hold in the moisture, making for healthier plants. This means even more healthy edibles that didn’t require dangerous pesticides or have to travel the globe to get on the dinner table.

Photo credit