Love Trees, but…

Our shady house surrounded by tall trees in downtown Little Rock. Trees save us hundreds of dollars on our utility bills, but....

After Eddy and I visited Scharmel’s house, we immediately contacted Bill Ball with Stellar Sun to assess our home for solar water heater and photovoltaic (PV) system.

Eddy and I live in downtown Little Rock. Our house is surrounded by tall trees, mostly pecan and hackberry. I’ve been growing food on our property for three years, and it has been a battle against shade. I’ve given up on growing eggplant because my yard does not get enough sunlight.

We knew that solar panels may not work for our house because of too much shade. We still held out hope for a solar water heater. A residential solar water heater uses solar energy to heat water for domestic consumption. Many solar water heater systems exist, but most require much fewer solar panels than a PV system. Even if your house does not get enough sun to produce electricity, you may still be able to heat water using solar energy.

Right now, Eddy and I have an energy-efficient gas water heater that we bought in 2006. We use very little amount of hot water. We always wash our clothes in cold water. We replaced showerheads and aerators with low flow ones. When our dishwasher broke, we replaced it with a water-wise model. During summer, our gas bills hover around $10-15 out of which $9 is a basic customer charge.

Since we use a very little amount of hot water, it doesn’t make sense for us financially to replace our water heater with a solar one. We were more interested in a solar water heater for the sake of reducing out has consumption and using clean energy. Federal tax credits and state rebates for solar water heaters also boosted our interest.

Surely our shady lot gets enough sunlight for us to have a solar water heater. If I can grow tomatoes, I can heat water with solar power, right?

Wrong. Bill assessed our house and determined that it has very little potential for either a PV system or solar water heater. I was crushed. I knew that a PV system would be difficult for our house, but not even a solar water heater??? I felt like if someone had told me that I can’t grow plants in my garden. It’s one thing to conserve energy. It’s another matter to create energy.

These days, more people are talking about living closer to where you work and play. You hear words like urban revitalization, retrofitting old homes, and downtown redevelopment. Old homes tend to have old trees. Downtowns tend to have tall buildings. Urban areas tend to have houses that are closely spaced. Can owners of old homes in urban centers incorporate solar energy? I’m sure some of them can but not all.

I’ve loved trees all my life, but at that moment, I wasn’t too fond of them. Sensing my feelings, Bill told me that he never recommends homeowners to cut tall trees to install solar panels. Trees provide shade during summer, saving Eddy and me hundreds of dollars on our utility bills. During winter, they lose leaves, letting sunlight into our home. Trees cost us nothing. Solar panels would have cost us something.

As saddened as I was that we won’t be able to power our home with solar energy, I have yet to meet a setback that I can’t overcome. Eddy and I have a plan to further reduce our energy use. If we can’t create energy, we’ll use as little as possible.

I also learned a lot from the experience. Now, Eddy and I can focus our attention and money on other projects that will help reduce our environmental footprint.

If you are considering solar energy for your home, my advice would be:

  1. Weatherize as much as you can before installing solar panels.
  2. Ask a reliable solar installer to assess your property.
  3. Don’t give up! Middle class families CAN afford solar energy. If you can’t have solar because of your location, keep your chin up and continue to weatherize!

One response to “Love Trees, but…

  1. Although Solar may be out of the question, you may still have other options available for clean energy. There are residential wind turbines. I am assuming since you do get some sunlight in order to grow tomatoes you have an area that would be clear enough. Other options to save energy could include energy monitoring, if you aren’t already.

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