Going solar is more than just slapping some panels on your roof and generating electricity. It is a complete different way of utilizing a variety of ideas to offset the amount of energy that a family will use. Most people think that if they put some solar panels on their roof then they can use as much electric as they want, not change to more efficient appliances or light bulbs and other wacky ideas.
The reality of the situation is for many solar panels are an investment just as much as they are doing the right thing to reduce carbon emissions from burning coal or oil to produce electric. With solar panels, just like any other type of investment, whether it is a business or a piece of real estate, there are steps you will want to take to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.
Before you even purchase a solar panel system you should take an energy audit of your own home. You should write down the amount of electric you are using on average during each month over the past three years. This is easy to do if you kept your electric bills. If not I am sure you can get a printout from your power company. You are looking for the number of Kilowatt hours (kWh) used each month to see which months you are using more electric. If you have electric heat chances are it will be the winter months if you live in a cold climate and if you are in a warm climate the hotter months due to running the AC.
Now that you know what you use and how much of it use and when you use, you need to know some things that will help reduce these costs before you even put one solar panel on your roof. For starters are you still using those incandescent light bulbs? If so switch to CFLs. They have become very affordable and also now come in a variety of styles that meet every need. Start with replacing the bulbs in the rooms you use the most, such as the family room, kitchen, etc. Make sure you read the package because for lights on dimmer switches and motion sensors you need to buy a CFL specifically designed for that purpose. The ideal solution would be to use LCD lights, but they are very and I mean very expensive, so they are not an option right now. But keep an eye on them for the near future.
Do you have trees planted on your property? More importantly do you have them planted in an area where they would block out the sun in the hotter months? Trees take a long time to grow but they are an investment that pays off in so many ways. They beautify the home and provide shade from the sun. In the colder months they block out the wind and if you buy a tree that produces fruit such as apples or pears they can also provide a food source. The choice of tree is obviously up to you but you should definitely plant a tree or two for all the reason mentioned above.
I can not tell you how many people I have met do not do the basic thing of putting window shades over their windows to block the sun in the warmer months. Even more importantly is the fact that any shading they do use is fairly inadequate. On the windows that get the most sun, use a thicker or darker shade usually around 12mm. It will block out a lot of the sun and keep the room and house in general cooler.
For under $300 you can install a solar powered attic vent fan. Nothing reduces the life of your roof and makes the house warmer in the summertime that hot air that is not moving in your attic space. Installing a solar attic vent fan is the way to go. You do not need to hire an electrician because there are no wires to hook up and there are no costs to run the fan since the sun is free (always has been, always will be). This is a great investment that will pay huge dividends.
These are just a few of the many ways you can save on energy long before you invest the money into an expensive solar panel project. Make sure you maximize all of the ways first so the return on your investment will be its greatest.