Smart Home and Extreme Weather Part 1
21 February 2021
First of all, I’d like to thank all my friends and family who have reached out to Debbie and I over the past week regarding the severe cold weather in Texas. We have definitely felt the love. And to simply report, we’ve been fine, despite some record cold here in Amarillo. As we’re a little out in the country it may have spared us from the density issues around grid failures in Dallas, San Antonio and other cities in the state. We lost power for less than an hour over the week and had some minor water well issues. Of course, having lived in Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota, we were fairly prepared for the worst.
It was in the 60’s here yesterday (Saturday) and most of the snow is already gone. But it looks like the extreme cold is headed to the Northeast so Debbie and I send out a big, warm hug (or a shot of brandy, take your pick) to our friends and family up there as their cold winter continues.
Despite having fared pretty well over the past 10 days, the severe cold has gotten us thinking more about our home design to prevent power and water issues. From our experiences with Louisiana hurricanes we had already made some decisions around the design of the electrical plant in the house. We’ve been considering different options on electrical sustainability from a generator to solar power.
Originally, we thought about wiring connections and outdoor space to accommodate a generator. Not such a big deal but the cons may outweigh the pros:
Generators cost much less than solar technology
We have the time and capability to design electrical plant to accommodate a generator
Infrequency of need
Scaling generator size to accommodate power needs in the future
Finding space to store generator and fuel
Safety issues with storing fuel
Availability of fuel in extended power outage scenarios
The noise and security of a generator outside the home while in use
I had pretty much moved on from the idea of solar panels on the roof. Although with our home east-facing we’d have the ideal orientation for panels on the west-facing roof on the back of the house to maximize sun exposure. Debbie is not a fan of solar panels on the roof however, even in the back, so that is probably not an option. Please see my previous post about “Happy Wife, Happy Life …” when I reported on smart thermostats.
I had looked into solar panels as the roof of a backyard pergola but the square footage wouldn’t be enough to power the house, other than essentials, if we lost power. And I’m not in favor of solar panels taking up space in the backyard either. So if solar is going to be a viable option it’s going to have to be something very different. Enter Tesla. No, I’m not buying an electric car but my Mom does love her Model 3. As Tesla has been developing light-weight, high -capacity battery technology for years it only makes sense that they’d diversify with solar energy technology. And would it really surprise you coming from a guy launching rockets into space?
Tesla has developed a solar roof system that integrates the solar cells and modules inside the structure of the roof rather than just panels on a roof. And it automatically makes snow slide right off to be able to keep producing electricity. They’re using a high-efficiency solar cell covered with a “color louver film”, which allows cells to blend into the roof while exposing them to the sun, and tempered glass on top for durability.
Tesla says that the “typical homeowner can expect to pay $21.85 per square foot for a solar roof (based on home square footage, including batteries). So, doing the math for our current home design based on traditional options, all in roof square footage of roughly 4,400 (home, patio, 3-car garage), in comparison to other roofing options:
Solar Roof ($21.85 per sq ft) — $54,600
Traditional Asphalt Shingle ($5.50 per sq ft) — $24,200
Tin Roof ($11 per sq ft) — $48,400
So we have some decisions to make. There are obvious budget concerns to consider here as both solar and tin roofs are significantly more expensive than the traditional asphalt shingles. We’ve already ruled out a tin roof due to the “Faraday Cage” effect as it cancels out the benefit of an attic-installed high def long range television antenna. I’ll need to do some research to see if we’d have the same issues with a solar roof. This is all about our “Cord Cutting” efforts I posted about earlier. The alternative would be installing it on the outside of the house that Debbie and I both dislike.
Does having complete power independence from the grid justify the cost of a solar roof? The look is very similar to the traditional asphalt shingle roof so that’s a wash. But being able to store power and monitor it via an app is pretty appealing.
Basically, it works by storing power in the Tesla PowerWall unit(s) from the grid and the solar roof. Power is routed to the home from the PowerWall(s). If power from the grid fails the PowerWall(s) continue to charge from the solar roof while supplying the home with power. The homeowner never notices the loss of grid power other than being notified by the app.
The Tesla solar roof comes with a lifetime of the house warranty and 30-year power generation guaranteed — compared to generally 20 years warranty for asphalt shingle. After the electricity production, Tesla estimates that its solar roof will be cheaper than regular tile roofs or pay for itself through electricity savings.
There are also federal tax credits available for solar solutions installed in new and existing homers. The federal residential solar energy credit is a tax credit that can be claimed on federal income taxes for a percentage of the cost of a solar photovoltaic (PV) system.
The system must be placed in service during the tax year and generate electricity for a home located in the US. A solar PV system must be installed before December 31, 2021, to claim a 22% tax credit for 2021. And there is no maximum amount that can be claimed which may help justify the cost. The tax credit expires starting in 2022 unless Congress renews. However, with the alternative energy initiatives of the current administration it’s doubtful it won’t be renewed, perhaps even expanded.
Of course the Tesla solution is just one option. It’s always a good idea to get quotes from more than one solution or installer to make sure you get the best energy solution for your project. UnderstandSolar is a great free service to link you to top-rated solar installers in your region for free personalized solar estimates. Tesla also offers price matching for solar panels now, so it’s important to shop for the best quotes.
Once we get our floor plan done, which looks to be soon as we had a great meeting with the architect last week to finalize some things, we’ll be going out to bid on the whole project with prospective builders. I already know that many of them don’t have any experience working with solutions like solar roofs, smart home technology, air filtration system systems, tankless/in-line water heaters, etc. So Debbie and I will be very involved in this build but it’s what we expected. We’re not just building a custom home but one that will also have new, unique and innovative features that frankly, local builders have never even seen before, much less installed. If everything goes well we should be breaking ground sometime in April which should put us in the door by the end of the year. Maybe by Thanksgiving.
As always, we love the feedback we’ve received on our posts so far and would love to hear from you all, particularly on this one. How have our friends and family fared this past week here in Texas? Massachusetts? Michigan? Louisiana? Has recent severe cold had you thinking about improved power sustainability for your home? What about severe heat? Is that a concern as power grids are stressed during hot summers? Until next time, stay safe — and warm — out there.