Any home can take advantage of incorporating both passive and active solar energy systems and techniques into the building. If a home is still in the design stages, it is often less expensive to implement certain solar features at the time of construction than to retrofit existing homes. In either case, employing free solar energy to heat domestic water, heat a home or swimming pool, and supply electricity can help save fossil fuels, care for the environment, and ultimately save money for the homeowner.
Install large windows on the south-facing walls of a home. The windows will let the sun's warming rays in during cold weather. Use room darkening shades, a retractable awning, or plant deciduous trees that offer shade in the summer to keep the sun out during the hot months.2
Mount photovoltaic solar panels on the roof to supplement a home's electricity needs. Solar electric is initially expensive, but many financial incentives (in addition to a reduced monthly electric bill) are offered in the form of grants and tax advantages from both the federal government and many state governments. Photovoltaic systems are complex and require inverters and connections to the local power grid, so they must be installed by professionals.3
Supplement your home heating system with solar collectors on the roof. These systems circulate either air or fluid through pipes to a solar collector and usually into a storage tank. Heat from the tank is transferred to the home's conventional hot air or oil/gas baseboard heat system, reducing the amount of energy used to heat a home.4
Reduce the cost for domestic hot water with a roof mounted solar collector system. In a typical installation, fluid is pumped through a closed pipe system up to the collector and down through either a storage tank or through the hot water heater itself, to assist in water heating.5
Extend the swimming season by heating your swimming pool with a solar pool heating system. Solar collectors can be mounted on the roof of the home or shed, or on special ground mounts. The pool's existing pump is used to circulate pool water through the solar collector and back to the pool.6
Cover your swimming pool with a solar pool blanket, which lets the sun's warming rays through to heat the water, and helps to maintain that heated water. This is a passive, inexpensive way to extend the swimming season.7
Cool attic spaces with a solar-powered ventilation fan. A small solar cell is all that's needed to run a DC fan that draws excess heat from attics during hot days. This is a good do-it-yourself project for the homeowner who has some basic carpentry skills.