With rising energy costs and growing environmental concerns, energy-conscious homeowners are seeking more affordable alternatives. Solar power is growing in popularity, and, as a result, the industry is offering homeowners a variety of sleek, new and improved products that are proven to dramatically lower utility costs. "Solar is a great investment, offering an extremely competitive rate of return over 25 years. In many cases, (homeowners) will recover the initial investment in a solar installation within five to 10 years, and then generate clean electricity and savings for decades longer," explains Walker Frost of Suntech, a leading manufacturer of solar panels. Photo courtesy of Strata Solar
Photovoltaic Solar Panel: Suntech
Favored for residential installations, Suntech's sleek all-black solar panels combine the look of building-integrated solar with the energy delivery of a standard module. The panel is made from silicon, a semiconductor that helps the solar cells in a PV panel to absorb the most energy possible from the sun. The stored energy is then made into electricity, allowing homeowners to power a variety of devices in their homes. Through this process, homeowners avoid paying out huge expenses to the power company. Instead, the average monthly savings (anywhere from $50 to $1,000 depending upon usage) can be put toward paying off the initial investment in PV panels, and later, becomes money in the pocket.
SunSlate: Atlantis Energy Systems
SunSlates by Atlantis Energy Systems combine a slate-like roof tile with silicon chips that create electricity from sunlight. The average SunSlate tile weighs about 8 pounds per square foot and can sustain winds up to 125 mph. These solar roof tiles also bring an extra benefit to homeowners living in snowy climates: The heat they generate actually helps to melt any snow accumulated on the roof.
Solar Water Heater: SunEarth
Solar powered water heaters are rapidly gaining popularity among home solar products. In the process, water travels through a set of pipes and into a set of tubes, otherwise known as a solar collector. The water is directly heated by energy collected from the sun's heat, then it travels back down another set of pipes and is stored in a holding tank until it is ready to be used. Although many types of solar water heaters largely depend solely on the energy generated from the sun's heat, some do use a small amount of electricity or gas to supplement the heating process.
Solar Water Heater: Rheem
The SolPak series solar water heater by Rheem is the company's first all-inclusive active solar water heating system. Nicknamed "solar in a box," the system comes with all the components needed to complete the installation, including a heat exchanger tank, collector panels, a controller, multi-speed pump and a thermal expansion tank. The roof-mounted collection panels feature an unobtrusive flat-plate design. The heat exchanger tank, circulating pump and controller are installed in the home, typically in a utility room, garage or basement.
Hydronic Radiant Heated Floors: SunEarth
Hydronic radiant floor heating systems use solar energy collected from a home's pre-existing solar panels to heat water and send it through tubes laid beneath the floor. This hydronic system, used in conjunction with a solar water heater by SunEarth, is compatible with any type of floor. Because it works solely by means of solar heated water, it's one of the most cost-effective types of floor heating. Although typically installed as a supplement to conventional home heating methods, hydronic radiant floor systems can drastically reduce the amount of electric air heat otherwise dispersed throughout a room. "Typically, hydronic radiant heating systems save 20 to 40 percent on operating costs compared to other heating sources," says Lance Townsend of Independent Power. Photo courtesy of Bathroom Designers
Solar Pool Heater: Heliocol
Similar to a solar water heater used specifically to heat a home's water, a solar heated pool system heats the water through solar radiation and then transfers it to the pool. While most solar water heaters use a webbed tube design connected together in a solid plate, this system by Heliocol uses an individual tube design, which creates more heat and prevents roof rot. "Seasonal pool heating systems provide year-round heating in warm climates and extend the swimming season in colder climates," says Townsend. "As long as it is daytime, these systems absorb solar radiation."
Solar Air Conditioner: Securus
Most conventional air conditioners can sufficiently cool an average home, but they add significant costs to a homeowner's utility bills. This direct current solar air conditioning unit by Securus is run strictly on solar energy and can micro climate control certain areas of a home. The energy produced for the DC unit goes directly to a battery bank where it is stored and can be used any time, day or night. This concept can make vast reductions to a homeowner's monthly energy consumption, making home air conditioning much more affordable. Another benefit to a DC unit is its ability to run independent of the power grid. For a family wanting the comfort and security of uninterrupted climate-controlled air &— especially when the home's electric power has been forced down — a DC unit can become the home's primary air conditioner.
Solar Powered Attic Fan: Solar Star
A hot attic transfers heat into your living spaces, which can take a major toll on your air conditioning bills during the summer. Solar attic fans push hot air out of your attic space, keeping your house cooler and reducing your utility costs. Powered by a 10-watt solar panel, Solar Star roof-mount attic fans feature a quiet motor and seamless one-piece steel flashings. The unit comes fully assembled and can be easily installed in less than 30 minutes.
Solar Spotlight: EarthTech Products
Solar lighting manufacturers have created a variety of solar outdoor lighting products that are both distinct and durable. This solar spotlight by EarthTech Products features two super-bright LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes), making it one of the most powerful solar spotlights on the market. Installing LED bulbs in solar lights makes them last far longer than conventional light bulbs, about 50,000 hours (more than 17 years), explains Chris Pesce of EarthTech Products.
Solar Stepping Stones: EarthTech Products
Homeowners can now choose from a large range of designs in solar outdoor lighting, such as these solar stepping stones with amber LEDs. Pesce, who attributes much of the popularity of solar outdoor lighting to low retail costs, also praises the easy installation of solar lighting. "With solar lights, all you need to do is position them where you want them and the sun does the rest. There's no expensive electrician or ongoing costs on (a homeowner's) electric bill."
Solar Powered Garden Light: EarthTech Products
As a growing number of homeowners continue to develop an interest in green living, products such as sustainable glass lighting decor are gaining more and more attention. "A lot of homeowners are looking for something unique, as well," says Pesce. Decorative lighting pieces made from recycled and hand-blown glass, such as this garden light from EarthTech Products, are rapidly becoming favorites among outdoor solar lighting fixtures.