New construction projects present and opportunity to plan ahead for a solar or battery power system. The main benefit is to have a cleaner electrical installation at a potentially lower cost than a retrofit, or to be ready for a future solar or battery system addition. But generally speaking, these steps are rarely necessary as a retrofit installation can be started at any time.
We can start advising as soon as building plans are available. We can then determine the size of a system that can fit the home and provide an initial estimate.
We may also perform some electrical prep work during the rough-in phase (when framing is complete, and before the rough-in inspection). These pre-build services will be charged independently of the main system purchase and installation.
When construction is near completion we can finalize the quote and begin the purchasing process. (We do not offer pre-orders or layaway system equipment.)
Here is what you need to know for your planning purposes:
Electrical. During the rough-in phase, a conduit for a solar circuit can be installed, whether from the attic or a ground mount. More significantly, for backup power systems, the main utility service connection to the home and the main breaker panel can be planned for ease of installation installation, reducing retrofit costs. Backup power systems commonly use a whole-house backup configuration by intercepting power right after the utility meter. Otherwise, the home may be partially backed up by installing a secondary breaker panel and separating backup circuits from non-backup circuits (less common). In the case of partial backup, the backup and non-backup circuits should be wired separately during the rough-in phase.
Efficiency. When building a new home, prioritize energy efficiency by communicating your needs to your contractor and investing in modern building methods and materials for air-sealing and insulation to conserve energy, enhance energy efficiency, and ultimately save money in the long run. Neglecting energy efficiency can lead to higher energy consumption for heating and cooling and reduces the potential level of energy independence.
Envelope/Insulation. Heating and cooling is the largest energy requirement for most buildings, so insulation and air-tightness are the most critical aspect of building efficiency, especially in winter climates. This is particularly true for solar-powered homes that aim to be fully self-powered during the winter when there is the least sunshine.
Ventilation. To maintain air quality in an airtight building, it's important to have a mechanical air exchange, air filtration, and humidity control system in place. An Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV) system can perform all these tasks in one unit. This provides better air quality than a conventional, leaky home. Whole-house ventilation fans are also an effective option.
Heating/Cooling. Heat pump technology is an efficient way to heat and cool a home, making it an excellent choice to cover most of the heating needs throughout the year. There are different types of heat pump systems to choose from based on your building's needs. Some heat pumps also come with additional electric resistive heating elements for extra power when the heat pump is less efficient in extremely cold temperatures.
Appliances. Most modern appliances have high efficiency ratings, so you don't necessarily need to invest in the most expensive or efficient options. However, if you're looking to minimize your energy usage and take advantage of the latest technology, check out our Off-Grid post where this is discussed in detail under the appliances section.
Roof. The best orientation for solar panels is south-facing (SE, S, SW), and simple roof designs with minimal hips and valleys are strongly preferred. Avoid positioning pipes, flues, and vents on the south-facing side of the roof to maximize usable solar panel space. A minimum of a 4:12 (18 degrees) pitch is recommended, with 5:12 to 9:12 (22 to 37 degrees) preferred for better performance. On average, a home will need around 300 square feet of solar panels to cover half of its electric use. Solar panel mounting hardware can accommodate various roof types, asphalt-shingle being the most common, but some higher-end options such as standing-seam metal or Euroshield Slate offer overall benefits for your roof as well as additional ease of solar panel installation. You can send us your plan drawings to determine the solar capacity of your design. Learn more about roof mounting in our rooftop post.
Ground mount. When the roof option is unfavorable a ground-based solar option may be an option if there is a suitable location and terrain to install on. Ground mounts add a considerable amount of additional material and labor, but also improved accessibility for snow removal and if maximum winter performance is required. Learn more about ground mounting in our ground mount post.
Battery location. Batteries must be installed in a space like a garage or a mechanical room, or other conditioned space indoors where the temperature is between 50 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the year (32 degrees is the minimum), and not a living space. The ideal installation setting is located near the primary electrical service and breaker panel. In most cases, the battery cannot be installed in a detached garage, unless the detached garage is where the primary electrical service is located.
Generator. If a backup generator is desired, it can be incorporated as a backup to a battery system. In some cases, a transfer switch is still used, but not always. The generator will take over when the grid is out and the battery is empty, or the generator can be used to charge the battery, depending on the situation. When there is no battery, the solar power system will operate only when there is grid power and the generator will power everything when the grid is out.
Utility. Though you will not be able to choose your utility provider, you may have some discretion over the type of service you will be paying. Each provider has a unique set of options. In most cases, a regular residential or total electric service is preferred. In installations with batteries, a demand charge or time of use rate may also be suitable. For utilities that offer an electric heat rate (discount), the discount may not be compatible when a solar power system is installed. Learn more about utility rates in our post about the local electric utility providers.
We hope these tips have been useful to help you through your planning stages. We try to present everything you need to know here on our website, but when you need further assistance feel free to contact us.