Smith Family solar home

I wanted to get a post up about my family’s solar home. I started a much longer version, but have not had the time to finish, so here is the short version.

Smith Family solar home

The first step on any solar home is to begin working on reducing energy demand. Energy efficiency is a must; it makes no sense to waste energy, and the applies to renewable energy also. So all our lights are compact fluorescent bulbs (starting to look at LEDs), Energy Star front loading washer, high efficiency Bosch dishwasher, etc., etc. We had a Home Energy Rating done on our house looking for leaks in windows, doors, and air ducts. This is the best way to understand what you need to be doing in your home to reduce waste. We did work on our heat and air ducts, and some significant air leaks in other parts of our house.

We started the solar pieces as part of the energy efficiency review. First we noticed a few dark places in our house that required turning on lights in the daytime.  This included a couple of bathrooms, hallway, kitchen, and a living room. So we installed Solar Tubes in these rooms. This is a form of passive solar day lighting.  Check out the video of our install. These are great and really change the feel of these rooms and they are not that expensive — a few hundred bucks. Next, we installed a solar hot water heater. It’s a great addition. Makes no sense to heat water with costly, polluting, dirty rocks from the dinosaur age (coal) when the sun will do it for free. We chose a Schuco system.

Photovoltaic installation. You can also see the thermal panels in the lower right.

Photovoltaic installation. You can also see the thermal panels in the lower right.

This has reduced our electric bill about 20%. I’ll go into more detail on solar thermal in a later blog post, but this also is a real energy efficiency gain, and has a quicker payback then photovoltaic (PV) panels. There are many different models on the market and you can get one from $4,000 to $10,000 depending on the model and incentives. I worked with Ed Zubko at Green Earth Services on both the solar hot water system and the PV system.

The photovoltaic (PV) panels are 36 Sharp 198 watt panels manufactured in Memphis, Tenn. The total system size is 7.13 kilowatts.  This is a large residential system, but we hope to use some of the power for electric transportation in the near future, i.e. plug in hybrid. We are using a Sunny Boy 7000US. We bought both the panels and the inverter from Thomas at Big Frog, who can help you with everything you need. This is grid tied, meaning we do not have batteries at this point. We are selling back to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) system through their Generation Partners Program.  The program currently pays 15 cents a kilowatt hour, but that is about to jump to over 21 cents. The system is great. We commissioned it February 11, 2009.  We are also able to track the performance of the system everyday online. Enter “Knoxville” as the city and click “Smith 7.1 kW.” We didn’t get the Internet feed up until mid-April, so some of the early data is not listed.

KUB Bill for $1.39!

KUB Bill for $1.39!

I love watching the meter spin backwards. In the first month, Feb 2009, we generated 697 kWhs and only used 455 KWh, so KUB paid us a credit on the electricity of $104. Not bad. The second month we generated 740 kWh and only used 381 kWh, so we got a $111 credit. After the credit our total bill electric, gas, water and waste water was $1.39!!

Bottom line – we love our solar home. Ask me questions and we will continue to post updates. The solution to our energy needs rises everyday in the East.

Check out some of the news stories on the system.

Knoxville clean energy activist helps power TVA grid from home – Apr. 22 2009

W. Knoxville man creates largest solar powered home in the region – Feb. 5 2009

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9 Comments

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Read the article about your home in The Tennessean this a.m. I’ve been looking into doing this but unfortunately solar is too costly right now. Currently heat w/propane and our elec. bill is still 3,000kwh (large home). To install solar was over $100,000! We’re now looking into geothermal and installer said solar might be more effecient and cheaper in a couple of yrs. because of new technology they’re using to design panels. Have you heard anything about this? Also, a solar installer mentioned the “tracking” pole to capture more power. Just curious to hear your thoughts on this. Sure wish Tn. would offer the same incenetive to homeowners as they’re offering to business owners!

Thanks for your article.


Comment by D.W. on April 23, 2009 11:38 am


Not sure how large your house is, but investing in Energy Efficiency is always the best thing to do. Geothermal heat pumps can be great if properly installed and sized for the house. Make sure the duct work is properly installed. Solar panels do continue to improve and as production continues to climb cost should continue to drop. You might think about starting smaller on the panels and get some experience than add to the system. Remember solar hot water can really help drop the energy use also. Tracking systems can help, but adds cost. My understanding is that if you have good south orientation, tracking may not be worth the additional funds. Others may have thoughts.


Comment by Stephen Smith on April 23, 2009 9:54 pm


mr. & mrs smith hats off and congratulations on your new energy installation now you are putting your money where your mouth has been for sometime but you are a great advertisment for everyone to continue to remain as they are with wasteful a/c energy from t.v.a. please don,t get me wrong i really do love and appreciate your commitment but if you could get sharp to allow one sun concentration on a 12 volt actually 21 open and 17 load voltage , 125 watt panel you could put 8 of these panels on a tracker with one sun reflectors and it wouldn,t hurt the panels in any way because a 125 watt panel at 17 volts puts out 7.3 amp or 14.6 amp with one sun reflector and these panels are built to withstand 30% above 20 amps for bus bars and transfer leads. so for $20,000 less 30% federal tax credit you could produce 10 to 14 kw per day enough to run a home with d.c. appliances and have some left over for electric vehicle.


Comment by don williams on April 25, 2009 11:21 pm


Thanks for this good post………


Comment by Solar Power Light on May 29, 2009 1:37 am


Thanks for this great post…


Comment by Solar Power on August 4, 2009 4:54 am


Please send me the N- S orientation and the pitch angle of the roof?
thanks Jim


Comment by James Stephens on May 2, 2010 12:42 pm


The N-S orientation is the house faces 15 degree east of due south, so 165 degrees
roof pitch is 4 in 12 or 18.5 degrees.


Comment by Dr. Stephen A. Smith on May 3, 2010 2:11 pm


Steven, glad your system is working so well for you!
Our company, Green Earth Services is now Green Earth Solar (www.greenearthsolar.com). Check out our website for contact info, project pictures and more.
p.s. Steven, if you have any pictures of your house you’d like us to post on our website, feel free to email them my way. Thanks!


Comment by Corey Langseth on June 11, 2014 9:29 am


Whoops! That’s greenearthsolar.net not .com, my bad!


Comment by Corey Langseth on June 11, 2014 9:31 am


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