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A Sunny Outlook for Net Zero

By The Foreman Household

Wow.  We did it!  We installed solar!  But how did we get here?

Well.  The ironic thing about us installing solar is that prior to Live Net Zero we hadn’t given it much thought.  Just after applying for the challenge, we attended an open house in our community hosted by Carl Duivenvoorden on June 3rd, 2023 (we had not yet heard from Canadian Geographic that we had been chosen as one of the families).  To be honest, it was a busy day with the kids and we almost did not attend!  We are so glad that we did!  Carl convinced us that yes, regular people can install solar and start striving for net zero.  Combine that encounter with learning about sustainable living along our live net zero journey, and well here we are today. 

The first step we took was contacting a local solar install company.  All they needed was our address and a quick google map search to see which way our roof was facing.  Yup.  Google maps.  We received an email back with both good and bad news.  Good news is that we do have a south facing roof.   Bad news was that it was not our house roof, which is larger and has no obstructions.

A south facing roof maximizes your solar potential.  The interesting thing when looking at solar potentials across Canada is that southerly areas of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have far higher solar potentials!

We felt a bit defeated but decided to proceed with next steps, which was to have a site visit to determine the pitch of the roof.  The pitch of the garage roof was suitable for mounting panels.  We also learned that despite our house roof not being southerly facing, orientations ranging from East to West facing will also work well.

A few years ago, we had our house and half the garage roof shingled.  Why half the roof?  Well, purely esthetics.  Half of the garage roof faces the road and to have everything match, it made sense to also have the garage roof done even though it was a lot newer than the house.  We never bothered with the other half because it faces the woods.  Alas, now with planning to install solar we needed to decide what to do with the roof where solar would be installed!

Ultimately, we decided to install a metal roof.  Well, half a metal roof.  We only installed metal on the side facing our woods.  A metal roof will last for decades which complements the 25 year performance warranty on the solar panels.  We also had to fell some trees that would obstruct any panels.  A tough decision but we made plans to use the skinned trees for our greenhouse build (to extend our gardening season), and the boughs for wreaths this past Christmas!

Next we were told that the roofs would need reinforcing.  Ok.  More work.  Easy enough to sister up the trusses.  Well, maybe easy on the garage roof, but Shane had to be like a ninja in our attic to reinforce the trusses on the house roof!

What was next?  Paperwork.  We were a bit confused about the paperwork needed to connect with the power company.  Imagine our delight when we learned the solar install company handles contacting the power company!  All we needed to do was connect with our insurance and also ensure our Canada Greener Homes Loan was approved!

While we were waiting for the solar install, Shane found this cool app that shows your solar line of sight based on the arc of the sun related to the months of the year.  Looks like we have some more tree management to do!  At least the tops!

The top line shows the peak of solar potential in June.  The middle line shows the real time potential based on current daytime hours and the bottom line shows the lowest monthly peak.

Next up solar install!  It took the company about 1 1/2 days to complete, including the electrical work.  The power company came another day and installed the meters on the outside of the house.  Funny thing is that when Shane called to book the appointment, they told us the meter was already installed!  Next up the solar company connected to the meter!  We then received an email from the solar company to say we were producing power!  Cool!  Shane quickly logged on and despite it being an overcast day, sure enough we were producing power!  We love having a digital monitor to see our solar production in real time!

Did you know to check with the power company in your province/state to see how they manage your power?  In New Brunswick, it works like a credit system on our own account where we can bank power (think summer) to use other times when we might not be producing as much power (think winter).  Instead of the power company buying the power from us, we have until March 31st every year to use our bank (think saving money!), at which time it resets.

So the best part of producing solar is how much the solar is offsetting our energy usage (which we continue to reduce as well!).  The 6.24 kW panels that we installed have the potential of offsetting up to 27 Gigajoules of energy!  All of our behaviour changes have amounted to us saving energy but in comparison to our solar install, air sealing can save 1 Gigajoule vs. the 27 Gigajoules for our solar install!

Did you know that making improvements to air seal your home is the single most important retrofit you can make to improve energy efficiency and it should be considered first in any retrofit strategy, even before solar!

The journey to solar has been exciting!  We have learned so much along the way including that regular people CAN install solar and strive for net zero!  When I asked my oldest recently how he would tackle sustainable living in his own home, he replied “Well, I would install solar of course!”

A sunny outlook indeed for future generations!

Solar power is clean and sustainable, allowing us to do more with less!  More renewable energy with less greenhouse gas emissions and less carbon emissions!  How will you do more for less?

Written by The Foreman Household

Read more of their stories as they vie with the other seven households to reduce their carbon footprint.

Meet the The Foreman Household
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