Choosing Solar from the Start

July 01, 2008
July/August 2008
A version of this article appears in the July/August 2008 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
Click here to read more articles about Solar

At Borrego Solar Systems, we hear quite a bit about people retrofitting their homes with solar power arrays, but what about those people who are thinking of going solar even before they purchase a home? For one home buyer, it was just a matter of lining up the right people and asking the right questions.

Gavin Frase works for Kortick Manufacturing in Hayward, California (just east of San Francisco). Frase started shopping for a home with the advantage of being intimately involved in helping his workplace reduce energy and waste as a step toward LEED certification. In fact, his company has already decreased its energy consumption by about 30%.

The Green Option

Although 200,000 new homes are built in the state of California each year, fewer than 1% are built with solar installed. In addition, because there are only about 15,000 solar homes in California, Frase and his wife decided to consider homes that could be converted to solar once they moved in.

“My wife and I really hoped to get ahead of the curve on energy efficiency, particularly with regard to solar. As the public continues to come around on this topic, we anticipate that any home with solar will only increase in value over time,” says Frase. “We knew that our options were somewhat limited, because so few homes actually have solar panels already installed, so we were looking for help.”

The help came from Mario Feusier, an EcoBroker-certified Realtor with Caldecott Properties in Oakland, California. In 2006, Feusier became EcoBroker-certified largely because so many of his clients had begun to request information about solar power, alternative energy, and other green aspects of available homes. EcoBroker is an organization with the goal of making ecologically friendly homes available to more people in the United States and internationally. Through EcoBroker educational courses, and by becoming EcoBroker-certified, real estate professionals learn to market properties with green features, and to help clients find and purchase homes with green features.

The first step for Realtors who want to be EcoBroker-certified is to contact EcoBroker and find out what training courses are required for certification. The main EcoBroker office is in Evergreen, Colorado, but the organization’s Web site provides courses online. Once they have completed those courses, they will be certified to advise clients in the area of green real estate.

Feusier’s EcoBroker certification enables him to help people like Frase who are committed to considering only green homes. Feusier also holds quarterly informational seminars on all aspects of going solar, including costs, available rebates, and formulas to calculate how much money homeowners who go solar can save over time.

“Becoming an EcoBroker was both a professional and a personal decision for me, and it has helped me show prospective home buyers options for the important decision to go solar,” Feusier says. “As of January 2008, only 1 of the 200 homes available was equipped with a solar array. This is forcing people to look at existing homes that have the ideal specifications to install solar panels. It’s a great move in the long run because as we expect energy prices to continue to increase, solar helps to stabilize the value of the home for the long term.”

Another component of Feusier’s learning process has been working closely with my company, Borrego Solar Systems, Incorporated. We are a leading designer and installer of residential and commercial PV solar-electric systems, and we have been in business for 27 years. We now have offices in San Diego, Orange County, and New England and throughout Northern California, and we serve customers while also working with homeowners and home buyers who are considering going solar.

At Borrego, we see both the short-term and the long-term benefits of going solar. For this reason, we focus very closely on educating consumers. It is important that we demonstrate the true financial benefits of installing solar. For example, studies have shown that every $1 saved in annual utility costs adds $10–$20 to the expected sale price of the home. So conservatively speaking, someone who pays $1,200 per year on electricity could add about $12,000 to the property value by going solar and eliminating this energy cost. Along with saving money and energy from the grid, this is another long-term financial incentive to install a solar array.

Choosing the Right Home

Frase and Feusier began working together to find a home that would fit Frase’s requirements. So what makes a home green-friendly? For starters, there is its structure and its location. Frase looked for homes with rooftops that had mostly unobstructed sun exposure as well as enough space to install solar panels. Inside the home, he looked for energy-efficient features, such as low-e windows, Energy Star appliances, and high efficiency heating and cooling systems. When it came to location, Feusier and Frase looked for homes in communities with solar programs designed to help the community at large dedicate itself to environmental sustainability.

Rebates and Credits

The next step for the Frases was to calculate how much money they could save by going solar. The Frases, like anyone else who is considering going solar, were eligible for a 30% federal tax credit for a solar installation (with a maximum of $2,000 for a residential system). This solar credit is currently set to expire at the end of 2008, but a bill now before Congress would extend the credit through 2009. In addition, the local utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, offers a solar-rebate program of up to $2,200 per system kilowatt.

The city of San Francisco is also currently considering what would be one of the nation’s biggest solar-rebate programs, with a subsidy of up to $5,000 per residence. As of this writing, this subsidy is still being debated by the city board of supervisors. If it passes, the subsidy will include a low-interest financing program.

“We feel like solar is finally a public and community priority,” says Frase. “In the past five years, as the rebates and credits have continued to increase, and there is more creativity and more advocates for helping out those who decide to go solar, it is already economical for consumers. We are hoping that our decision to go solar will inspire even more people to do the same.”

Based on the current rebate system, Frase and his wife decided that San Francisco was the right place to look for a house. After looking for nearly four months, they found their ideal green-friendly home. It has what Frase describes as a “great roof with ideal sun exposure.” In addition to the solar potential, the home is equipped with new double-pane, energy-efficient windows, Energy Star appliances, low-flow showerheads, and water-efficient toilets.

“One thing we knew we had to keep in mind when examining the green features of a home was that without already-efficient windows, lighting, and other energy-saving measures, installing a solar system would just be taking some of the energy use off the top,” says Frase. “With the home we decided to buy, once we install the solar panels, it will hopefully be enough to put our energy bill in the negative net range.”

The Frases are currently in the process of working to design and install a solar system on their recently purchased home. And they are doing something that anyone can do—between the rebates, the financing, and the benefits that come from solar, this is a process that can quickly and easily be done the right way.

“With an EcoBroker working with you,” says Frase, “the process is simple and enjoyable. We are looking forward to moving forward with our environmentally responsible home improvements that will also save us money and boost the overall value of our home.”  

Mike Hall is president of Borrego Solar Systems, Incorporated, one of the largest providers of residential solar solutions in the United States.

For more information:

To learn more about EcoBroker certification, go to

To learn more about Borrego Solar, go to

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