Start Your Solar Journey
Work through these steps of the design process and get to know your system.
Four Easy Steps to Design Your Own System
Grid Tie systems connect to the electrical grid. The power that your solar system produces will offset the power that you consume. To size a Grid Tie system, we need to know your average monthly kilowatt hour (kWh) usage. This is found on your monthly bill. You can also base the size of your system on the space available on your roof or parcel. All systems can be added to over time so if your budget is a factor, you can start small and add to it as your budget allows.
Solar panels produce direct current (DC) power, but your home uses alternating current (AC) power. To convert the power from DC to AC so you can use it, you need an inverter. We offer three options for Grid Tie inverters: centralized string inverter, micro inverters and SolarEdge inverters. We have a number of predesigned Grid Tie packages on our website, or we can custom design a system to fit your needs.
Your solar panels can be mounted on your roof, or on the ground. The exact cost of the mounting systems depends on your roofing material or your ground mounted configuration. The roof mounted option averages $50 per panels and the ground mounted option averages $80 per panel. For more information, we have a racking information center on our website. You can also explore our racking products. The Good News? All of our predesigned packages include racking in the system price making it simple for you to select a system that fits your budget and need.
The majority of our customers are the DIY type. Our systems come with complete product manuals and wiring diagrams. If you’re not interested in climbing on your roof to install your system, any licensed general contractor should be able to assist with the installation of the system for you. Depending on local building regulations, any certified electrician can complete the grid interconnect portion of the installation. Please let us know if you need more information about installing your system. We may know someone in your area that could help!
Battery Backup Systems
Gridtie solar power systems generally operate only when utility power is available. When the grid goes down, the electricity from your solar panels will be disconnected. Now, battery backup systems with specialized power centers from Four Star Solar enable your gridtied solar panels to charge a battery bank from which you can power your home. No power, no problem!
Local, State and Federal Incentives
Each state has it’s own set of incentives for sustainable energy. Take a look at the map and click on your state to see what is being offered in your area. There is also a Federal tax credit available for purchases before December 31, 2021.Based on our high volume of calls, sometimes it can take up to 48 hours to hear back from our solar designers. We thank you in advance for your patience and encourage you to visit our about page while waiting. It can also be helpful to create a list of questions for the technician when he/she calls. We look forward to helping you achieve your goals with solar power!
Evaluate Your Energy Use
The first step to designing your new renewable energy system is evaluating your current power use.
- Start by locating your Kilowatt Hour (kWh) Usage for twelve consecutive months. You can see if your utility company has this information available online, give them a call, or look at past utility bills.
- Find the average kWh Usage by adding up the kWh for each month and divide that by 12. Make a note of which months you use the most energy.
- Write this number down. You'll use it in Step Three.
Your average kWh per month will help determine what the size of your solar electric system will be.
If cost is not an issue, or if you are already saving energy with a sustainable green lifestyle, you can skip the information below and move to Step 2: Decide What Kind of System You Need.
Lower Your Current Energy UseFurther evaluation of your current energy use may reveal exactly where you can be more energy and cost efficient, ultimately making the best use of your solar PV system. See our pie chart and power consumption table for typical household percentages and hourly watts of individual appliances, lights and other electrical equipment. See how to calculate daily energy use with our Load Evaluation Worksheet and the refrigerator example on the right.
A helpful and simple way to see exactly where you can cut costs and reduce usage is with an inexpensive but sophisticated home energy monitor device like the Neurio. It uses a small meter installed on your home's energy panel to transmit data to your wifi network, and combined with the included Neurio app you can get detailed energy use data wherever you are.
Your utility or local government programs may be a great resource for your energy saving plan (and cost saving incentives). They may have free or low cost programs for evaluating your energy use and where your home may be loosing energy through ducting, walls and windows, etc. Some of these programs may have websites than can help you keep track of your energy consumption on an ongoing basis as well.
You may want to take advantage of 'Smart Home' computer programs or companies. Some programs are set up to alert you when an appliance or zone of your home is using more electricity than it should. These energy management technologies can be as simple as using a cost effective and simple app like Neurio that allows you to monitor your appliances from anywhere, to highly sophisticated (though often expensive) whole house control and automation.
Reduce Phantom Loads
Phantom loads refer to when appliances continue to draw electricity when they are "off" or in the "standby" position. They can draw electricity 24 hours a day, and some appliances draw close to full power just to be on standby. Common examples include:
- Glow bars in gas ovens
- Electronic phones
- Anything with a small "box" on the power cord
Energy Efficient Lighting
Besides changing all of your bulbs, there are other things you can do. Use daylight for reading, working and living. Low wattage task lighting can replace high-energy general overheads. Lighter colors on the walls reflect more light, and solar tubes or skylights can be an added improvement to darker areas.
New higher efficiency standards for light bulbs were put into law through the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) and became effective nationwide January 1, 2012. Most bulbs are required to be 25% more efficient by using less energy in watts to produce the same amount of light, measured in lumens.
New Energy Star labeling will show lumens, estimated yearly cost, expected life, color, and watts. Look at the lumens for the brightness you want, and watts for the amount of energy that is used. This will ultimately make it easier to choose between types of bulbs.
The traditional 100-watt incandescent bulb is being replaced by a 72-watt incandescent halogen bulb, which emits about 1,600 to 1,700 lumens. Compact fluorescent bulbs that emit the same lumens only use 23 watts. While the more efficient incandescent bulbs are less expensive, the energy savings of compact fluorescent or LED bulbs more than pay for initial higher costs.
Compact fluorescent bulbs will typically save $3/year per replaced bulb (when used 4-6 hours per day). CFL bulbs can last up to 10 times longer than conventional incandescent bulbs.
LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs provide an optimal light color that is equal to or better than incandescent. LED bulbs are more durable and will not break as easily as incandescent or CFL bulbs. LED is initially more expensive than CFL but can last up to 5 times longer than CFL.
Both CFLs and LEDs use about 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, without sacrificing any light. They also generate very little heat. Look for Energy Star rated bulbs for the best warranties and longest lasting lights. For instance, in about a year, lower quality LEDs can become dim and uneven, flicker, shift in color, or continue to use power when turned off, among other issues.
How to Cut Heating Costs
1. Insulation - One of the most cost-effective ways to make your home more energy efficient and comfortable is to add insulation. An under insulated attic may be the largest source of energy loss as heat rises up and through the ceiling, into and out of the attic. Walls are the second place heat looks to escape, especially in older homes where insulation could be worn or settled, or simply not insulated. Insulated window blinds or curtains can also help contain heat at night. Remember even double pane windows have very little insulative value. Click here for more information about how to use insulation with passive solar.
2. Seal air leaks. Sealing air leaks to keep the cold air out by adding storm windows or caulking gaps around the outside of windows will stop the draft from entering your insulated home.
3. Use setback thermostats. These can be installed and programmed to lower household temperatures according to your needs. You can also manually setback your thermostat. By lowering room temperatures by five degrees for an eight to twelve hour period, you can save five percent on your heating bill.
4. Use passive solar techniques. Passive Solar techniques capture the sun's energy to warm your home and avoid capture of the same energy when it is necessary to keep the house cool. House design that takes into account the changing angle of the sun, from winter to summer, can dramatically lower your energy costs.
Lower Water Heating Costs
Water heating is a major energy expense in a home. It usually accounts for 13% of your utility bill. There are six ways to reduce your water heating energy consumption:
1. Insulate the water heater. You can save money by wrapping your gas or electric hot water heater in an insulative jacket. Wraps are readily available at hardware stores and can be installed by the homeowner.
2. Lower water heater thermostat. Lower the thermostat to 110 degrees F, to optimize efficiency. And if you have an electric water heater, a timer can be installed to regulate heating cycles.
3. Insulate pipes. Too much heat is lost from the pipes coming directly from the hot water heater, and even more is lost in unheated crawl spaces. Pipe insulation greatly reduces heat loss in these areas. Users will spend less time waiting for hot water at the tap, and it will lead to less waste. On demand hot water circulation is an exciting innovation in this area and can maximize efficiency.
4. Install aerators at the faucets. These reduce hot and cold water flow while maintaining the original water pressure.
5. Install low flow showerheads. These help reduce water use by up to 50 percent.
6. Use less hot water. The 15 percent of energy that used to heat water in an average home can be lowered considerably by using a simple formula of insulating and conserving. By maximizing household efficiency, you will save.
Decide What Kind of System You Need
Renewable Energy Systems come in many shapes and sizes. Some are powered by solar panels; others by wind or water, or a combination of these. Some are grid-connected; others are independent of utility power lines.
Which is right for you?
What is your primary reason for adding solar: saving money on electricity OR being independent of the utility company?
- Gridtie systems are great for lowering your electrical bill, but require a connection to the utility company.
- Off-grid systems allow you to live and work with electricity in areas where utility power is either unavailable or too expensive to bring in. Off-grid is more about independence, but by living within your means, financially and energy-wise, you do save money.
- Gridtie systems with battery backup allow the best of both of the above, but are more expensive to to start with.
Follow the links below to learn about the components of each kind of system, their benefits and limitations.
Grid-Tied or Off-Grid?
What Are The Main Types Of Solar Systems?
Let Us Design Your System
Okay, you made it through the first three steps!
At this point, you should have:
- Average kWh Usage from Step One
- The type of system you need from Step Two
- The general size of your system from Step Three
If you don’t have these, go back to Step One and get it done.
If you do have these, congratulations! You’re getting close!
These first three steps were a great start to the design process, but we’re not done. During our next steps, we will discuss racking layouts, make sure you get the best system size, talk about where you should put the panels, and settle on a timeframe. Let’s work through the details and get it right the first time.
Wholesale Solar has been helping people like you design their own unique systems for over twenty years. We’re good at it, and we love doing it. See what our customers have to say.
Solar is our passion, and we want to share that with you.
Call Wholesale Solar at 1-800-472-1142.
Or, if you want an expert to contact you, request a consultation.
Our expert solar designers will help you take the next step.