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Solar attic fans, an energy improvement with a quick payback

By Barbara Kessler Green Right Now You’d like to make energy upgrades on the casa, but you’re a little short on the green. Not enough green to green is a...

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

You’d like to make energy upgrades on the casa, but you’re a little short on the green.

Not enough green to green is a common problem right now. Yet, there are some changes you can barely afford not to make. One of these easy fixes involves addressing the build-up of heat in your attic this summer. If you live any place south of Washington, Maine and Michigan, you’re going to experience some days when it’s difficult to cool the house, and the typical attic compounds the problem by trapping heat overhead. If your AC unit is installed up there, the situation is even worse; the extreme heat will make the air conditioning system work harder and run longer as it pushes cooled air through hot duct work.

An attic fan, especially one run on solar power, is a way to circum-vent this issue.

This will cost a few hundred bucks compared with the thousands you might spend on other energy fixes, like rooftop solar panels, new HVAC systems or even a solar hot water heater.

And the impact can be great. Cooling the attic, and therefore the house, can pare back electric bills all season long.

“There’s a very short payback to this one in our view,” says Geoff Foreman, chief executive officer of U.S. Sunlight Corp., which manufactures a 12-watt solar-panel attic fan with a 38 volt motor.

That payback time – the point at which energy savings equal the initial cost – will likely be just months, and easily inside a year, Foreman says.

Here’s why: The company’s Solar Powered Attic Fan is $399 (uninstalled; add about $125 for professional installation according to Foreman). It qualifies for a federal energy efficiency tax credit of 30 percent of the cost, which brings the cost to around $280 (or about $400 with professional installation).

If you live in California or another state with state or local incentives, you’ll get even more back. In Burbank, Calif., the attic fan qualifies for another $200 tax credit, which if you installed the thing yourself, brings the cost to less than $100 — little more than the price of a 12-pack of quality CFLs.

That’s pocketbook efficiency.

U.S. Sunlight isn’t the only company making solar attic fans; but for Californians, they’re a local company, based in Livermore in the Bay Area. Other companies include: SunRise Solar Inc., of St. John, Indiana; Solatube, which makes the Solar Star Attic Fan and Natural Light Energy Systems of Phoenix .

Foreman promises that U.S. Sunlight offers one of the best warranties now that they guarantee the solar panel on the attic fan for 20 years. The device will ventilate about 1,250 square feet of attic space, providing about 10 air exchanges per hour for a typical ranch house of about 1,700 square feet, he says.

That amount of air flow is much better than that provided by more passive air venting systems, such as such as roof ridge vents and the “whirly bird” turbines on many houses. Those systems rely on the relatively weak movement of hot air out of the house. The solar powered fan works like an electric fan, actively cycling the hot air out; but unlike the electric attic fan, it is powered by sunlight and does not add to the electric bill.

The fan’s solar panel does need to be oriented to the Southern or Western sun, though the panel can be remotely placed to best absorb sunlight. (A side benefit, keeping the attic vented in winter can help reduce moisture build up that can nurture mold and mildew.)

Foreman says that customers have been “exceptionally pleased” with the product, and those customers include himself.

“I just re-roofed my house I put two of my units on my roof. I have one facing south in a portion of the attic, and another facing west, but tilted and rotated to catch the southwestern sunlight in a different portion of the attic.” The heat in what was the hottest spot in the house has gone from “unbearable” to comfortable, he says.

Like many new energy entrepreneurs, Foreman is proud that his operation is Earth-friendly.

“This is a low cost way (homeowners have) of doing something meaningful,” he says, “not only for the comfort of their home but also for the environment.”

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media


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