We first became interested in solar energy when I was working on my dissertation in sociology at the American University. As a stay-at- home father (“revolutionary” in the 1980s), I augmented my academic and child-rearing work with occasional research into solar home designs. We lived frugally but comfortably and were able to save enough money to buy a half-acre lot in Sterling on which we eventually built, as general contractors (but with professional assistance), a passive-solar- designed (south-facing windows, a masonry wall to absorb and store heat, 2X6 exterior wall construction, water-saving appliances, etc.) home with a capacity for more adding active solar features as they became affordable.
We moved into the new (and not totally finished) home in 1986. Early on, we were able to add solar hot water panels to the large, south-facing front roof. It didn’t take long for us to realize that our gas-powered hot water heater was not often called upon to heat water from late spring to early fall. In 2009 we were finally able to afford 18 photo-voltaic panels for the front roof, along with a more efficient solar hot water system. In 2013 we built a shed next to the house and added 8 more panels to the total. GreenBrilliance (an international solar producer and installer with its US headquarters based in Sterling) was the contractor for both hot water and photo-voltaic installations. (http://www.greenbrilliance.com/aboutus.html)
Because Virginia did not participate in the Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) program when we installed our system, we were able to register it in Maryland. Since January of 2013 we have received $5,351 in SRECs – enough to offset all our bills for electricity and natural gas, including the cost of charging our 2012 Prius Plug-In hybrid. We have recently added a very efficient heat pump with a back-up gas-powered furnace that kicks in when the outside temperature goes below 35 degrees. These (and most of our appliances) are Energy Star certified.
We also garden extensively, compost, and use water-saving and water-collecting devices. We have a relationship with nearby Guilford Elementary School, which includes donating seedlings to the “Green Beans” environmental club’s annual plant sale; and each year educating four 3rd-grade classes about solar energy, hybrid vehicles, gardening, recycling, and composting.