Should you go solar?

I have solar panels(5KW) on my roof in Redwood City(they cut my electric bill from $4000/y to $800/year). Solar is not cost effective if you currently use less than $250/m($3000/y) for electrical only(not including gas). The min. PGE charge is $.11/kwh for the first 300kwh/month. Their charges for the higher tier usage go up to $.55/kwh( and are increasing at 8%/year). People that use lots of power(mainly homes over 2500sf) will use a lot of juice at the higher rates and will save the most money. I recommend REC solar, but get at least 3 bids. I hear a 5kw system now costs $16,000 after all the incentives and tax credits. If you don’t want to buy you can "lease" a system and give most of the savings to the solar generating company.

Solar only works cost effectively for a few houses. The most efficient house will have a SSW orientation of at least 400 sf of available roof. The ideal roof pitch is 4:12. The Solar people will give you the estimated efficiency of your system in their computer generated bids. My roof is almost ideal and gets about 95% of the power of a perfect orientation. If your layout ends up with only a 50% efficiency then obviously you’ll have to pay double to get the same power as a perfect roof orientation. If you have a flat roof the panels can be put on frames in the right orientation. Don’t install solar over a tile roof–it will leak. Don’t put solar on any roof more than 5 years old(you want the roof to last longer than the solar panels-25 years or more). Solar roof shingles are an attractive alternate to panels but cost more and are less efficient.

The big problem in SF is fog. When the clouds come over my house, whether it if fog, high overcast or rain clouds. My system will go from generating 3900 watts down to less than 1200 watts. Basically fog will knock down the power generation by 75%. Also in the winter you’ll get about one half the daily power output as in the summer(figure16 of sun hrs vs 8.)

A 5kw system like mine only puts out about 4kw of actual usable power(because of line loss, panel inefficiency, inverter conversion loss) for a perfect roof orientation at the perfect time of day(10-2pm). The best my system ever yields is 3.9KW.

If you really want solar buy the right house orientation, or one with a flat roof, have REC solar give you an estimate on performance rating during due diligence and get an accurate estimate of number of foggy, rainy or overcast days(the Solar companies estimates may be wrong because SF micro-climates are hard to figure.)

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Earthquake insurance?

The Raleigh Real Estate Team –¬†We Serve Clients not just Locations – http://www.sfpeninsulaestates.com
I’m curious how many people have earthquake insurance and what do they pay for it?
I’ve been told that it costs about $1/sf per year. $3000/year for a 3000sf house. Std. homeowners fire/liability ins. is about $1000/ year. Banks don’t require earthquake ins. If you have it, why do you think you need it?

The next earthquake in the Bay Area is predicted to be a 7.5 on the Hayward fault. If you are on that fault or within 1000′ of any major fault it is a good idea to get EQ ins. If you are in a liquefaction area(like the SF Marina Dist) it is a must. If your house was built before 1940 it may not have anchor bolts(get it retro-fitted) and will also be expensive to repair(old historic jewel box homes cost a lot to fix)–get insurance.

For everyone else it may be a bad bet(after all most people do not have EQ ins). If the quake is less than a Richter scale 7.5, most homes will have less than 20% damage and will not covered because of the high deductible. If the quake is over 9.2 we will have over $500 billion in damage and the insurance funds will be wiped out. So insurance only covers a small percentage of quakes.

In a 7.5 quake or less–

If your house was built or remodeled post 1985 it was probably engineered and will have minimal damage.

1945-1985 one story houses on good soil will have minimal damage.

The 1945-1985 houses with the most risk are non-engineered(no drilled piers,no shearwalls, and weak cripple walls) two story houses, especially with stucco and tile roofs, especially on steep hillside lots. These kind of houses are heavy, plus the stucco may crack-off. The tiles may fall on you if you run out of the house. Houses on poorly compacted fill are also at risk in a big quake. And of course if you have an unlimited budget and own a mansion that cost you $1000/sf EQ insurance is a cheap source of piece of mind(even if you’ll never need it)

If you are going to spend $3000/year for rather limited coverage you might want to spend some money on an Engineer’s assessment of your risk and maybe pay some more to mitigate that risk—–like seismic retro-fitting..