Can You Afford to Go Green? The Cost and Savings of Residential Renewable Energy Systems

If your home already has good insulation and efficient windows and doors, alternative energy may be the way to go.

| January/February 2011

  • If your home has consistent wind from 6 to 40 miles per hour, it may be prime for home wind power.
  • If you have an older home, you can save money by increasing insulation. Visit and search "insulation" for information on assessing current and optimal insulation levels.

The economy, rising utility rates and growing concerns about carbon emissions are causing more homeowners to consider alternative energy sources to power their homes. James Quazi, energy efficiency operations director with SolarCity, which rents photovoltaic panels to more than 1,000 communities in California, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Texas, says he always advises clients to “start with the easiest things first.” But if your home already has good insulation and efficient windows and doors, alternative energy may be the way to go. Companies are increasingly finding ways to offer lower-cost options such as the photovoltaic leasing option that SolarCity offers.

Alternative Energy Systems: The Big Three 

Geothermal Heat Pump 

Why: Geothermal (also known as ground- source) heat pumps heat and cool homes with no fuel and minimal electricity, using the earth’s constant internal temperature. Geothermal systems save 30 to 70 percent on energy bills.

How It Works: Unlike conventional heat pumps, which draw in outside air, geothermal systems draw heating and cooling from inside the earth via vertical or horizontal pipes that circulate water or environmentally safe antifreeze through loops underground or submerged in a pond. In winter, geothermal heat pumps pull warm air from the earth to heat the home. In summer, the process works in reverse, as the system pulls heat out of the home and pumps it back into the ground.

Cost: $25,000 to $50,000, depending on home size and climate in new construction; less for retrofits. Generally about 30 percent more than installing a conventional HVAC system.

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