While things like super insulation and heat recovery ventilation systems are important for a net zero home in Vermont (or New Hampshire), a solar photo voltaic (PV) system is most often the ‘key’ element to creating net zero energy.

Here’s a checklist of five things to look for when considering solar power for your net zero home.

Solar panels in the sun on large roof

1) Solar Panel Basics

One common misconception about solar panels is that they’re new technology. Not true. According to energy.gov, the concept of converting solar energy into electricity dates to the early 1800s.

While solar is not new, until recently it has been underutilized, perhaps due to cost and the wide availability of carbon-based energy resources.  Technology and market forces have greatly reduced the cost of solar panels.

Checklist:

  • Be sure that your builder completes an energy-use assessment. You’ll want to know that you are buying a system that is adequate to provide all the electricity you will need.

2) Installation 

Not only do solar systems need to be sized correctly, they need to be installed in a way that avoids maintenance or repair issues, such as causing a roof to leak. Like everything else that is attached to or pokes through a roof, such as vent pipes, solar installations need to be properly flashed and sealed.  Of course, not all solar arrays are installed on a home’s roof.  Ground-mounted systems may provide the homeowner a viable alternative.

Checklist:

  • Do panels face south and are there any natural obstructions that could block the sun? 
  • Is the contractor experienced and certified in installing solar systems?

3) Safety

Solar panels generate electricity.  As such, safety is certainly a valid concern. 

Checklist:

  • Are the electrical components installed according to Code, or installed in compliance with national electrical Codes (where local Codes do not exist)?
  • Are the panels mounted securely enough to withstand maximum possible wind for your locale?
  • Is the system grounded properly? Is there a need for further protection against lightning damage?

4) Permits 

Installing solar panels may require a building permit. For a net zero home in Vermont, the process of getting a permit is rather simple. The permit process will cover both installation and connectivity issues.

Checklist:

  • Does the power company allow or encourage the use of net metering?
  • What is the cost and the time-frame for getting a permit?
  • Does your builder have experience with the permitting process?
  • Is an inspection required?

5) Warranty

A net zero home in Vermont should come with a warranty. You’ll appreciate this if you’ve ever moved into an existing home – only to discover undisclosed issues.

Checklist:

  • Mechanicals, such as solar systems, often come with a warranty that is distinct from the new home builder warranty. Ask your installer about this.
  • See if the warranty covers both labor and materials.
  • Check to see who performs the warranty. If it’s the builder, make sure he or she is established and has a solid reputation.
  • Determine whether the manufacturer will cover (as backup) both labor and material claims if the builder is unable to do so.