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Soon-to-be Solar Mom’s New Lease on Savings

california mom goes solar solar panels for family Summer electric bills of $450 a month were the prime motivator for Southern California mom and freelance writer Nina Gass and her family to take the first step toward a solar PV installation. “The story has been how can we cut costs on anything and everything in our home, including the utilities,” she says.

Nina and her family, which includes her husband David, who owns a swimming pool construction company, and their two boys, ages 9 and 6 1/2, live in Southern California’s High Desert, where summer temps can reach 112 degrees.

With a two-story, dual-zone, 4,300-square-foot house, and Nina and her husband both running businesses from home, there were only so many steps the family could take to reduce electric use. “Working from home means keeping a comfortable environment,” Nina says. “Plus, with multiple computers and two boys, as well as a pool (although we put solar cover on that), and a jacuzzi, energy consumption is a concern. We do turn off and unplug anything not being used.”

For the Gass family, a solar installation means they can maintain the lifestyle they want while saving money. Nina was kind enough to share her experience of shopping for solar panels, the decisions she and her husband made, and why they made these choices.

The Solar Spark

Nina and David first started thinking about solar panels after being “bombarded at a local home show where my husband had a booth for his business,” Nina relates. “Reps kept telling us about a solar system with no upfront costs. It sounded too good to be true, so we held off and then got distracted by our busy lives.”

Word-of-mouth from other solar homeowners eventually convinced the Gasses to pursue a solar installation. “As my husband went around on his pool cleaning route, he met a few homeowners who had recently purchased or were leasing a solar system. He could see how happy they were in terms of cost savings.”

Choosing a Solar Installer
At that point, Nina says, David spent two months reviewing different companies, systems, and purchase or lease options. The Gasses interviewed three installers before selecting one.

“The key traits in the solar installer we chose were honesty and a good deal,” Nina says. “We were willing to pay a little bit more if we could find a company that was friendly, helpful, responsive, and upfront. While I have an aversion to salespeople and their spiels, the company we went with has had the most responsive, friendly people — even after we signed on the dotted line.”

This installer offered U.S.-made solar panels, which was also important to the Gasses as small business owners. “The U.S. panels were a bit more money, but not a lot,” she says.

Nina likes that the installer sent his own people, not subcontractors, to verify all the information and plan for the solar array. “They spent about an hour-and-a-half in the attic and on the roof,” she says.

The company also performed a three-hour home energy audit, which identifies other ways the Gasses can save money.

Solar System Specifications

The proposed system size is 6.72 kW DC with an annual production of 11,030 kWh. “We currently pay 21.0 cents/kWh with Southern California Edison (SCE), but will pay 0.5 cents/kWh for the first year and an average of 7.7 cents/kWh as a 20-year average. SCE is set to rise this year to 25.0 cents/kWh and only go higher,” Nina relates. The estimated savings over 20 years is $79,405.

The Gasses chose a pre-paid lease because it offered the best rate plan and included maintenance for the full 20 years. “We will not have to pay to have the inverter replaced, which usually goes out after 10 or 15 years,” she says.

Nina says the process to go solar, by the time it’s done, will have taken three to four months from signing the contract to getting the solar PV array mounted on the roof and operational. “So far, I feel happy about the decision,” she says. “But I’ll be even happier when it is up and we don’t have a power bill to pay anymore.”

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A full-time freelance writer, Dawn frequently covers energy efficiency, green living, and topics like LED lighting and whole home control systems for a number of blogs and technology trade magazines. Dawn is proud to live in New York as the state vies to beat out New Jersey as the East coast top dog of solar energy and is waiting for the Solar Renewable Energy Certificate legislation to pass before installing solar panels on her Long Island home.

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