High tech ups your green ante

Green Real Estate July 28, 2011

shoppingcartBy Elden Freeman

You only need to be mildly aware of life outside of real estate to realize that a fiery battle may be heating up over the importance of the sun in how we heat, cool and light our homes and buildings.

In an effort to promote the benefits of solar energy, the Canadian Solar Industry Association is trying to raise $2 million from its members to build a media campaign in Ontario. The association believes there’s a vast misunderstanding about solar power and that it is wrongly gaining momentum as a political hot potato in the lead up to the Oct. 6 provincial election.

Given Ontario’s troubles with the issue, could this also play itself out in other provinces? We certainly hope not.

As Realtors representing home and commercial buyers and sellers, it’s good business form to be well-versed in innovative strategies that will invariably alter how we live and do business. That includes how we consume energy. Being knowledgeable about how solar power can benefit your clients gives you a far-reaching upper hand.

Solar energy is a great alternative to conventional and non-renewable sources of energy such as natural gas, coal and oil. The supply is endless and best of all, free.

Solar power is a 10 on the scale of environmental friendliness. Unlike fossil fuels, which produce carcinogens, greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide, solar cells are clean, quiet and highly dependable.

Passive solar technology relies on the sun’s rays and doesn’t require mechanical or electrical devices. A good example of passive solar is using sunlight to light a room during the daytime or designing a home or building so that it captures the sun’s energy to keep it warm in winter and cool in summer.

Active solar technology uses equipment such as pumps and fans to transfer the sun’s power to where it is needed. Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems consist of solar panels that collect and convert sunlight into electricity to power your home. While this does require an initial investment, there are a number of programs that can help reduce the cost of the system. Depending on where you live, solar PV systems allow you to reduce the amount of electricity you need to purchase from the energy grid, and you can send any surplus electricity back to the grid for credit.

While many think solar panels are an unattractive feature of a home, according to a 2010 study by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, homes with solar panels are gaining ground in the real estate market. Solar-powered homes sell faster, the study shows, and they get nearly 20 per cent more in asking price.

The efficiency of solar PV increases in colder temperatures and the technology is particularly well suited for Canada’s climate.

The size of the solar array, battery bank and AC inverter required for a typical solar PV application depends on a number of factors, such as the amount of electricity you use, the amount of sunlight at the site, the number of days without backup that you require and the peak electricity demand at any given time. Sufficient battery storage can easily allow a solar PV system to operate fully independently.

PV modules should be oriented between southeast and southwest (due south is best). Modules generally need a year-round, unobstructed view of the sun. Systems can be sized to provide 100 per cent of your electricity consumption at a cottage or campsite, or as a supplement to conventional utility electricity. A tracking system can orient the solar array to maximize its electricity production throughout the day and the year by tracking the movement of the sun, though this is typically not practical for most applications.

Solar technologies also exist for creating heated water and air. Solar hot water heating systems use solar collectors to pre-heat water flowing to your existing hot water tank, which can then be used in home appliances, sinks, showers and baths.

Solar air systems reduce the energy used for space heating by providing an efficient and cost effective way to preheat the outside air before it is pumped into a residential, commercial or institutional building.

Less expensive but useful solar-powered devices worth recommending include solar tube lighting, solar outdoor lights (great because they have no wires and can be moved around wherever you wish) and solar-powered attic fans (which ventilate attics and keep them cooler).

For the sake of your clients, become a sun worshipper or, at the very least, a trusted professional who knows a thing or two about solar energy. Your clients will appreciate your solar smarts and who knows how much more business you might soak up thanks to that lucky old sun?

For information on consumer incentives in your province visit www.cansia.ca/government-regulatory-issues/provincial/consumer-incentives.

The National Association of Green Agents and Brokers (NAGAB) provides a Greenbroker and Greenagent certification program to Realtors across Canada. To get more information or to sign up for a course, visit www.nagab.org. Elden Freeman M.E.S., AGB, broker is the founder and executive director of the non-profit organization. 1-877-524-9494 Email elden@nagab.org.