5 Reasons to Buy Rooftop Solar Panels in 2019

Don’t wait for another year.

Have you been putting off installing rooftop solar panels on your home? If so, 2019 is a good year to take action and actually do it. Why this year? Read on.

The American media seems to take pleasure in portraying us as a bunch of money-grubbing consumers who are only out for ourselves, but I am not buying it. We do not have to listen to them.

I believe that we can use our purchasing power to benefit the greater good and ourselves.

Sometimes it might be a small purchase like buying socks at a locally owned store instead online and having them shipped to you via an airplane. Or opting to buy organic spinach grown by a local farmer instead of spinach that comes in a sealed plastic bag from somewhere out of state.

A rooftop solar system is a big purchase that meets the above criteria.

In this post, we will talk about how purchasing rooftop solar panels for your home is a long-term investment that will pay for itself and more, add renewable energy capacity to your community, and support local jobs.

March 8, 2019, marked the beginning of the seventh year that our rooftop solar system has been silently generating clean renewable energy from the sun. Our system is tied to the electric grid so we share electricity back and forth with PG&E the investor-owned utility currently providing service to our county.

Let’s deal with the financial stuff first.

Save Money on Electricity

The net cost of our 22-panel 5.34 kW rooftop solar system was $14,767 including tax credits that we will discuss later. Solar prices have been decreasing so now our system would cost less.

Purchasing rooftop solar panels requires a significant investment upfront. Beware of sticker shock that may cause you to waver and lose sight of the long-term benefits.

I propose a little exercise to help you think about a large amount of money in a different way and this one never pays for itself or provides free electricity.

Many people, perhaps including you, have a habit of buying a cafe latte, specialty juice drink, or another treat each day during the workweek.

Let’s say you do that 48 out of 52 weeks a year. To make it simple we will use $5.00 as the cost of the treat. Below is an example of how much money you will spend over a ten-year period on just that one item.

Rows of Green Dollar Signs

5 items a week x 48 weeks a year = 240
items per year x 10 years = 2,400 items x $5.00 each = $12,000.

You may think this is a silly example, but it does demonstrate how you, I, and everyone else can easily spend a large amount of money without really thinking about it.

Payback Period

Your tangible electricity savings will begin at the end of your payback period, which is however long it takes your electricity savings to equal the total net cost of your rooftop solar system.

Last May, I decided to attempt to calculate the payback period for our solar panel system.

I had the data. However, I soon discovered the complexity of the task. It would mean calculating electricity costs on an hourly basis 24/7/365 for 5 years. This was beyond the time I could allow to figuring it out.

Not willing to do nothing, I came up with a method to estimate our payback period, which turned out to be about 7 years. Even though it is likely that there are flaws in my approach, I think that I am well within the ballpark.

At this time next year, our rooftop solar system will have paid for itself and from then on electricity will be virtually free for the next two or three decades, except for PG&E fees. Solar panels decrease in efficiency over time, but after the 25-year warranty period ends, they will not suddenly stop working.

If you are interested in how I calculated our payback period, you can read about it in the post Rooftop Solar Panels are Worth It and this is Why.

Increase Your Home’s Value

In recent years, especially here in California, several things have occurred making it even more financially attractive to purchase rooftop solar panels for your home.

  1. In January 2017, the California Regional Multiple Listing Service recognized that a rooftop solar system is a positive selling point for many home buyers so they added standardized fields that enable realtors to enter energy production for their listings.
  2. The California legislature upped the ante on renewable energy in 2018 by enacting a law requiring solar panels on all new homes.
  3. I do not have a crystal ball, but I doubt you will disagree with me when I suggest that electricity prices will only continue to increase. Where I live the average price of a kWh of electricity has steadily increased by 22.4% in the past 6 years, which is substantially higher than the national inflation rate.

When you decide to sell your home, savvy prospective home buyers are likely to appreciate that they can instantly save on their electricity bills without doing a thing.

You can learn more about this topic by reading the post You Can Increase Your Home’s Value with Owned Solar Panels.

Receive a Solar Investment Tax Credit

Mostly free electricity in the future and adding to your home’s value are two sound financial reasons to purchase a rooftop solar system. A compelling reason to do it in 2019 it that this is last year can receive the full 30% federal tax credit.

Solar-Electric Property
  • 30% for systems placed in service by 12/31/2019
  • 26% for systems placed in service after 12/31/2019 and before 01/01/2021
  • 22% for systems placed in service after 12/31/2020 and before 01/01/2022
  • There is no maximum credit for systems placed in service after 2008.
  • Systems must be placed in service on or after January 1, 2006, and on or before December 31, 2021.
  • The home served by the system does not have to be the taxpayer’s principal residence.
The 30% tax credit we received for our initial rooftop solar installation resulted in a refund from the federal government. This photo shows 3 of the 6 additional solar panels we bought with the money.

Visit the DSIRE website to learn more about federal tax credits and state incentive programs.

I hope you can see that owning a rooftop solar system makes financial sense. Now, let’s look at how going solar contributes to the greater good.

Build Renewable Energy Capacity in Your Community

Extracting, transporting, refining, storing, and burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) is a dirty and dangerous business that is jeopardizing the health and well-being of people everywhere, especially the people who live near fossil fuel extraction sites, rail lines, refineries, pipelines, and power plants.

Major Sources of U.S. Electricity Generation 1949-2018 Line Graph
Electricity generation from renewable energy is increasing and coal is decreasing. Unfortunately, natural gas is on the rise. Image credit – U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Each one of us can choose to help our country get off fossil fuels by taking a variety of actions from running our dishwashers after peak electricity demand time to installing solar panels on our roofs.

Using the existing real estate available on top of our homes and other buildings to generate clean renewable energy just makes sense to me. The roof is already there so why not use it. If I were an investor-owned utility executive, I would be renting every rooftop I could get my hands on and installing solar panels.

Keep Your Money in Your Community

I am a fan of locally owned businesses, including solar companies, for a number of reasons. First and most importantly, I know that my money is supporting jobs in my own community versus lining the pockets of far distant shareholders who have never heard of my town or me.

Local companies are embedded in the communities they serve providing jobs, spending money, and contributing to causes important to their employees and the community.

We selected A.M. Sun Solar for our home rooftop solar project. I think they embody what is wonderful about locally owned companies. Here are a few examples.

A.M. Sun Solar Team in 2017
This is the A.M. Sun Solar team shown outside of their office in Paso Robles, CA in 2017. Photo courtesy of A.M. Sun Solar.

The people at A.M. Sun Solar treat me like a person, not a number.

Years after our installation, Glen, Cory, and now Brian, are always willing to answer questions or provide information for a post I am writing.

The company gives back to the community by donating time and money to local organizations like Jack’s Helping Hand and the Paso Robles Children’s Museum.

Of course, just like any other company that you give your business to a locally owned company needs to provide quality products and services at a reasonable price. I chronicled this aspect of our relationship with A.M. Sun Solar in the posts Go Solar with Home Rooftop Photovoltaics – We Did and Rooftop Solar Costs Less than You Think.

Be Part of the Solution

Okay, so now I have shown you the money and presented you with an opportunity to help build the renewable energy capacity of your community while supporting local jobs. What could be better?

If you call a local solar company tomorrow, you could have solar panels on your roof before the arrival of the hot summer weather. This time next year you could be claiming the 30% tax credit on your federal income tax return.

Better yet, you will be taking a significant step to live more lightly on Earth.

Our Rooftop Solar Environmental Benefits March 2013-March 2019
This image shows the energy production and carbon offset for our rooftop solar panel system from March 2013 to March 2019.

Featured Image at Top: 12 of the 16 solar panels that were installed on our roof during our initial installation in 2013.

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Are High-Efficiency Toilets Worth It?

You can choose to conserve water.

What if conserving water was as easy as flushing a toilet? It is if you replace your old water hogging probably leaky toilet with a high-efficiency model.

A toilet replacement project may not be high on your list of priorities, but perhaps it should be.

The first day of spring is just behind us and here on the California Central Coast, a green blanket of grass covers the hillsides and the wildflowers are just beginning to show their colorful faces. It was a good rainy season for us meaning we received about the historical average rainfall for our area.

Yet, I am aware that another drought will occur in the future and that global warming will continue to make many regions like ours hotter and drier putting even more stress on already depleted water supplies.

This may sound weird but I usually have water on my mind more during the rainy season than the dry summer. Last March I wrote a series of posts about water conservation entitled Why is Now a Good Time to Implement Water Saving Ideas?, Making Water Conservation a Way of Life – Indoors, and Making Water Conservation a Way of Life – Outdoors.

This March I decided to tackle the unglamorous topic of high-efficiency toilets because toilets are notorious water wasters. Old toilet models use a whopping 3-8 gallons per flush (GPF) and they are prone to leaking. Also, in the United States, we mostly use potable water, which is water that has been treated to drinking water quality, for flushing toilets.

Toilet efficiency did get a boost when Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 1992. Most of the law relates to energy but there is a provision to establish the first-ever federal water efficiency standards for plumbing fixtures like toilets, urinals, showerheads, and faucets. Toilets manufactured after 1994 are required to use 1.6 GPF or less.

Some of the early low flow toilets had performance problems that resulted in people flushing toilets twice defeating the purpose of using a water-efficient toilet. Fortunately, toilet designers unleashed their creativity and now 25 years later, high-efficiency toilets get the job done consistently with even less water.

Residential Indoor Water End Uses Pie Chart (Percentages and Gallons)

A 2016 Water Resource Foundation study found that each person flushes the toilet on average 5 times a day at home, which represents about 24% of residential indoor water use. (Image showing percentages and gallons – DziegielewskiBA – Wikipedia.)

By replacing your old leaky toilets with high-efficiency models you can reduce the amount of drinking water your household flushes down the toilet, conserve water, and save money on your water/sewer bill.

The balance of this post covers my family’s experience with high-efficiency toilets and provides a list of things to think about before you start your own toilet replacement project.

Deciding to Invest in High-Efficiency Toilets

Our mission to conserve water in our household began shortly after we moved here from Southern California in 2007. Originally, we focused on creating a drought-resistant yard and as our aging appliances needed replacing, we purchased water and energy-efficient models.

In 2013, when our water district banned outdoor watering with potable water, my spouse and I realized we needed to ramp up our water conservation measures.

One of the things we did was to implement an “if it is yellow, let it mellow” toilet flushing policy. This saved water but it did not seem like a good long-term strategy. Putting bricks in our toilet tanks or installing retrofit kits did not seem like ideal solutions. We also discovered that our toilets were leaking (see below for instructions on how to check for leaks).

My family strongly objected to my suggestion that we consider switching to composting toilets and to be honest I was not ready to make that leap either.

After I had thoroughly researched high-efficiency toilets, we decided to replace our three old leaky toilets. It was a considerable financial investment but the water savings over the past 4 years and 4 months have been and will continue to be significant for years to come.

Our High-Efficiency Toilet Replacement Project

We opted for a Toto Connelly dual flush model with a lever versus a button. The toilet user pushes the lever one way to flush with 0.9 gallons of water and the other way to flush with 1.28 gallons of water (there is a label on top of the toilet tank). The lever design prevents over flushing.

Our cost per toilet in 2014 was $808 less a $25 rebate from our water company for a net cost of $783. This included the toilet, a toilet seat, small parts needed for installation, sales tax, installation, and disposing of the old toilet.

Performance

High-efficiency toilets use gravity-assisted technology to flush the contents down the toilet with substantially less water than older models. Our toilets perform adequately and consistently. It does help to toss toilet paper in the deepest part of the bowl but this is an easy habit to learn.

The extremely hard water our household receives is tough on plumbing fixtures including faucets and toilet guts. One of our toilets required a replacement part a few months ago. Even without hard water, you should expect that any kind of toilet might need maintenance from time to time.

Cleaning

A special material coats the toilet bowls to keep them clean with less water but skid marks do occur occasionally. Toilet cleaner manufacturers have programmed us to believe that our toilets should always be sparkling clean so if you feel uncomfortable with skid marks you can easily clean them off with toilet paper, a water spray bottle, or a sponge.

To protect the special finish in the toilet bowl manufacturers recommend that you do not use abrasive cleaners or toilet brushes (plastic is okay) and do not put automatic toilet bowl cleaning disks inside the bowl.

For cleaning the toilets, I don rubber gloves, squirt toilet bowl cleaner in the bowl, and use our designated toilet cleaning sponge to clean it. I find this is easier and quicker than using a toilet brush.

Payback Period

A payback period is the length of time it takes an investment to recover its initial cost either in profits or savings.

For reasons, I do not fully understand there seems to be an expectation of a payback period for some home improvement projects like installing solar panels or high-efficiency toilets but not for others such as remodeling a kitchen or bathroom.

I am willing to play along if it helps you with making a decision to replace your old toilets. My family of four refused to participate in a toilet flushing study so I used five flushes per day in my analysis. Here are our results for replacing three old leaky toilets with high-efficiency toilets.

The total cost of the toilet installation was $2,349 divided by an estimated annual water savings of 502 gallons = a payback period of 4.7 years.

Our toilets are dual flush models that use less water overall so we have probably already passed the payback threshold.

You can do your own analysis using the Excel spreadsheet I created for our project.

Tips for High-Efficiency Toilet Replacement Projects

Whether you have one toilet to replace or several, buying and installing a high-efficiency toilet is not an inexpensive project so you will want a toilet that works and will last for many years. Here are a few things to consider for your own project.

  • Do your homework so you can select a model that is suitable for your household. Read reviews and watch videos made by manufacturers and high-efficiency toilet fans.
  • Beware of unnecessary bells and whistles. Do you really need a toilet with a sensor that flushes the toilet when you pass your hand over it?
  • Do not buy a cheap model. In the world of toilets, you get what you pay for. There is a wide range of high-quality toilets on the market so chances are you can find one that fits in your budget.
  • Do not buy a toilet online. Toilets are made of vitreous china and are prone to getting hairline cracks during shipping. Imagine the hassle of shipping a toilet back to the manufacturer or even worse not realizing that it will leak.
  • Unless you are a plumber, hire a professional with experience installing high-efficiency toilets.
  • Contact your water company to find out if they are offering rebates (every little bit helps).

Pay It Forward

When you sell your home, include your high-efficiency toilets as a selling point.

If you live in a municipality (I do) that requires new homeowners to certify that their home is retrofitted with high-efficiency plumbing fixtures you will have saved potential buyers the inconvenience of doing it themselves while they are trying to move into their new home.

High Efficiency Dual Flush Toilet Top Flush Label
The handy label on the left side shows toilet users which way to push the vertical lever mounted on the left side of the toilet (backward for 0.9 GPF and forward for 1.28 GPF).

After reading this post, I hope you feel more informed about high-efficiency toilets and are at least considering replacing your old water guzzling and possibly leaky toilets. Once you do, you will be conserving water every time you flush your toilet.

I realize that this may not be a good time for you to embark on a high-efficiency toilet replacement project for a variety of reasons. If that is the case, there are plenty of other actions you can take to conserve water at home. The posts below in the resources section provide a variety of ideas including actions that are easy and low or no cost.

Featured Image at Top: Low water levels at Lake Mead, which is a man-made lake on the Colorado River – photo credit John Locher/Associated Press. When full, Lake Mead is the largest water reservoir in the United States. Click here to read the article that accompanies the photo.

How to Check Your Toilet for Leaks

Leaking toilets waste water and money. Here are two easy methods for determining if a toilet is leaking.

  1. Turn off the water valve behind the toilet. After an hour or so, check the level of the water in the toilet bowl. If it is lower or the bowl is empty your toilet leaks.
  2. Put 10-15 drops of food coloring in the toilet tank. After 20 or 30 minutes, if you see color in the toilet bowl your toilet leaks.

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