When Amy and Todd Bickford built their new home a few years ago, they didn’t put much thought into integrating solar technologies. “We knew we could not afford it at the time, so there wasn’t much sense in exploring the idea,” Todd says.
But after rising oil prices in subsequent years drove their heating bills to an “uncomfortable high,” the couple considered the idea more seriously. They saw the potential in the southern exposure on their 5-acre property and wondered whether a solar thermal system could help reduce their dependency on the oil-fueled furnace.
“We have great solar exposure and didn’t want all the solar energy to go to waste. Plus, it was frustrating to hear the furnace turn on in the middle of the summer when no one was using the hot water,” Todd says.
With the economy taking a turn for the worse, Todd and Amy were hesitant to dip too deeply into their savings to cover the system cost. Even after state rebates, the up-front investment would still teeter on the higher side of what they’d hoped to spend.
Todd found the answer one morning while reading the local newspaper, which featured a story about PAREI. He attended a free informational session held during an energy raiser and says that they were “hooked after that.”
“We loved the sense of community and how everyone came together to accomplish what one neighbor could not do alone,” says Todd.
The couple volunteered at three energy raisers before their system was installed last May. In preparation for the event, Todd and a few PAREI volunteers disconnected the home’s old water tank from the furnace and installed a new 75-gallon electric tank-style water heater. About 25 volunteers turned out for the installation, which was fairly straightforward but required some concessions on the part of the homeowners.
Partially bermed by a hillside, Todd and Amy’s house features a walkout basement—making their home essentially three stories. The basement access made the tank installation easier but limited where the collectors could be placed, since PAREI prohibits volunteers from working more than two stories off the ground and would not permit volunteers to mount the collectors on the roof. Alternatively, the collectors were attached to the south-facing side of the house. This eliminated the need to run pipes through the roof but created another challenge—routing piping down the exterior siding into the basement. A quick brainstorming session gave way to a creative solution—disguising and protecting the pipe run with insulated gutters.
After the local utility rebate and federal tax credits, the system cost roughly $1,800. The couple expects the system to pay for itself in three to five years, depending on the price of fuel oil.