During the the course of a recent conversation with some local real estate agents, a verbal bombshell was quietly dropped into the dialog… one which surprised me to no end.
Apparently, Californians on the hunt for a home are–for the most part–either too cash-strapped to care about energy efficiency, or simply don’t.
My husband and I have been toying with the idea of purchasing a solar panel system for our home for some while. Sun shines down on our roof nearly nine hours a day and a few other homes in our neighborhood already have them. And then, there’s the propaganda machine: in Northern California, solar-related news–and the importance of utilizing clean energy–is broadcast about our airwaves nearly 24/7 by various media outlets. There’s an almost cult-like intensity with which important folks talk about being “green” and utilizing the words “sustainable” or “carbon footprint” ad nauseum.
It’s a trend adopted by average citizens as well as the popular. I’m often greeted outside area grocery stores with a badly-designed flyers (made from paper) waved in my face by local youths–most desperately in need of a shower and a visit to Supercuts–blurting out a forcible “Would you like to save the Earth?” in connection with some website promoting “clean” energy. Said flyers usually harbor clip-art images of a sun with a smiley face, wind turbines and trees and urge readers to boycott this or that or to donate to their system/program/fundraiser/it-all-runs-together-after-a-while.
All surface silliness aside, not paying for power holds monetary appeal, including to those of our house. Set aside the fact we grown our own veg and herbs, we’ve also hung our our wet clothes to dry on lines strung across the dry side-yard for nine years which–considering the ponderous laundry of four children–saves us $50-$80 in energy costs per month, depending on the season.
It was in this frame of mind that I found myself talking with a gaggle of our friendly, neighborhood Realtors and put forth the query on how important energy efficiency–particularly a solar panel system–was to the home-buyers in the current housing market.
“It’s not,” was the shocking reply from Realtor One. Two and Three were quick to nod along, but One was not finished. “Solar panels don’t sell houses,” said he. “The kitchen, the flooring and the layout sells houses.” In fact, he went on to say that the comps in our area showed no difference in house value between houses with solar panels and those without.
Realtor Two jumped into the conversation, informing me that if went ahead and put in solar panels, we’d better install it ourselves–and live in the house a good long time–in order to see any kind of return.
Apparently, the most popular style of residential solar system, the “grid-assist” (where one sells excess energy back to a given power conglomerate) requires a lot of annual maintenance to remain viable, to the tune of $1,000 – $3,000 per year, which most homeowners are not usually informed about.
“Couple that with the $20,000 most systems cost to buy and install… you’ll never get your money back out of it, unless you stay in that house until you die,” was Realtor Two’s final quip.
Considering this rather commercial hypocrisy on the part of area home-buyers, we sunk our money instead into replacing the 30-year-old, inefficient HVAC system with a new Eco-friendly one and also put in laminate flooring throughout the house. By avoiding the trendy and ideal–and spending a little under $8,000–we added $20,000 to the value of our house… not to mention the additional $60-$70 per month savings in electricity costs, a true and tangible reduction of our carbon footprint.
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L. R. Styles is an author with Belator Books, wife of twenty years, mother of four and an organic urban gardener.