The most important thing you can do before going solar is to make your house or office building as energy efficient as possible.  Energy efficiency may not be as flashy as solar, however it makes sense to improve energy efficiency, because the payback for energy efficiency improvements is much faster than the payback for solar, and it will also make your home or office more comfortable.  Then, you will need a smaller and less expensive solar electric system. Solar is a clean source of electricity that does not produce any carbon emissions, however it does not lower the amount of electricity you are using.

Here is what you can do:  Make your home or office building as air tight as possible. Seal up any gaps between the parts of the building you are heating and cooling, and the outside. Most people immediately think of windows and doors, but these are usually not a problem. Improving air tightness involves sealing openings around light fixtures, plumbing vents, attic access doors, whole house fans, bath fans, ductwork that runs through unconditioned space (such as attics or crawl space), crawl space vents or the way the building has been framed above drop soffits or above staircases. It may make sense to have a professional energy audit, and to do a “blower door test” to figure out any air leakage problems. In Central Ohio, Columbia Gas offers a great energy auditing program, if you are one of their customers. (Call 877-644-6674 to schedule.)

The second most important item is to make sure you have adequate insulation in the walls and in the ceiling above the uppermost floor. The walls should be completely filled with insulation, and the attic should have least an R30 level of insulation. R48 is recommended. The equates to a minimum of 10 inches of insulation.  16 inches of insulation are recommended for Ohio.

The third item has to do with the energy efficiency of your furnace, A/C unit, as well as lighting and other appliances. LED bulbs are significantly more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, and new gas furnaces, heat pumps and air conditioners are also much more efficient than older units. It makes sense to replace older refrigerators and freezers. AEP has rebate programs for some appliances.

Your lifestyle also effects energy efficiency. This involves keeping the building a little cooler in the winter and a little warmer in the summer; turning off lights when they are not needed; turning off the TV, DVD player or video games when they are not being used, or anything else that is wasting electricity.

Before going solar, you should also check the condition of your roof. If the shingles have less than 10 years of usefulness left, it makes sense to replace them before installing solar, so that the solar panels will not have to be removed to replace the roof within the first 10 years.