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Travel Prep: Preparing for Home Repairs

Given our tendencies towards a more nomadic lifestyle, when we moved into our first home back in 2018, I made my husband promise me we wouldn’t sell it for at least 10 years. The market has fluctuated wildly since then, and even though we’ve mulled over the idea of renting it out from time to time, we are still just really grateful to have a place we call home. We have come to love our neighborhood haunts, and have made some good friends here as well.

As you might have guessed however, there are still a few things we would like to change about the place, and have even done a few DIY projects to get some practice. The first thing we changed about the home were the doors — there were several that opened into a room, drastically cutting down the space by almost half. We knew that if we put sliding barn doors in the main bedroom we would gain tons of space in our bathroom and closet; we also decided on a glass door that opened outwards from the kitchen, instead of the solid brown door that open inward originally. While we did a pretty good job for beginners, it was clear there were a few details we were desperately lacking in our construction projects, and we had waited over a year to finish them!

The next item I was desperate to change on our home was the outdoor paint, and if you take a look at the picture below, I think it’s easy to see why.

House: Before

When we first moved into the home, I remember asking the inspector what type of energy qualifications homes needed to meet in order to be ready for sale. He nearly laughed, and simply said, “None?” Since our house was built in the early 2000s, there wasn’t anything too outdated to be a major red flag, however we knew the thin window panes might not hold up for much longer. We had been gathering quotes for some time, however after the winter freeze when our windows started to fog up on a sunny day, we knew it was time: we needed to replace our windows.

Windows: Before

The final and likely most significant piece to all of the changes we wanted to make to the home was adding gutters. If you’ve ever been in Texas during a rainstorm, you know just how quickly a light rain can turn into a flash flood, and our home had started to show some of the tell-tale signs of the rain. See photos below for greater detail, however we had water stains on the brick in the front where water would flow off of the rooftop, and the foundation for the back yard porch had started to move slightly — something we were told would continue to happen with the heavy rains each spring. In order to protect our house, we knew it was time to add gutters — and of course I knew just who to call to help me out.

With just a few phone calls, a down payment on the project, and some carefully coordinated planning, we hired SUNTEX to help us out with all of the repairs.

 

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Energy Preparedness: Does your house miss you when you’re gone?

Even though my mind is consumed by the possibility of seeing bears, moose, and geese (oh my!) very soon, there is still plenty to do to prepare our house for being vacant for at least a short time while we’re away. Lucky for us, we’ll have some very dear friends of ours staying in our home for the first few weeks, but after that it will be left to the demise of August and the ravaging heat that ensues at this time of year. Since I’m sure I’m not alone in this activity, I’ve created a short list of what to do when you’re leaving your home for an extended time, and want to make sure you don’t come home to a giant energy bill!

To reduce your energy usage inside the home while you’re gone, you can:

  • Close the curtains and blinds (if you have plants, make sure to leave the blinds open slightly so they’re still getting plenty of sunlight while you’re gone)
  • Seal up any large cracks or crevices in your door-ways with a towel or blanket for some added insulation
  • Turn your thermostat to 78+ degrees (or off, if you’re not concerned about plants or humidity levels indoors)
  • Close all of your doors inside, and make sure you turn off all overhead lights/fans
  • Unplug any devices you won’t need access to while you’re gone (except for your refrigerator since your food will spoil while you’re gone, even if you don’t open it!)
  • Don’t forget to lock up!

Summer TravelAs for outdoor plants, your approach can vary based on 1) how much you’re willing to spend on an irrigation system, 2) how friendly your neighbor’s kid is, or 3) how many plants you’re willing to replace if needed. We tend to be pretty laissez faire when it comes to our lawn — long story short, we use a local ground-cover that requires very little water to survive: horse herb, so we are okay just letting it bake under the Texas sun while we’re gone. Of course if you have a lawn full of grass you’ll need to decide whether or not you want to water it, and if so, how much. There are tons of garden watering timer systems you can buy online, or at your local hardware store, so just be sure to set it up a week before you leave so you can test it out before you go. We do however also have a few plants that like a lot of sunlight, but may not fair so well under 8+ hours of Texas sun. Since these plants are potted, and are often indoors during the winter months, we can either move them inside to a southern-facing window and hope for the best, or we can set up watering timers for those plants as well (see garden irrigation systems online, or ask your local hardware store rep for details). I generally opt for the cheaper, and more sustainable option — and so far replacing my very temperamental gardenia each year is winning out, though I fear that won’t be true for too much longer. The rest of the yard should be just fine since we were careful to only plant native, drought-resistant species in the back yard, and while I’ll miss my tomato plants while we’re in the woods, I know they’re going to love that August sunshine until we get home!

There are plenty of additional blogs to check out on this subject that contain some useful tips on summer travel, so don’t take my word for it — check out Toucan Smart Home to hear what they have to say as well: https://toucansmarthome.com/blogs/news/home-security-tips-summer-traveling.

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Energy Preparedness: Summer Travel

One of my favorite things about traveling — besides the views and the food, of course — is learning about local weather patterns. Perhaps this seems dull, but I’ve been surprised on more than one occasion by the weather, and in the worst case scenarios, it can be quite uncomfortable to say the least. A funny example of this was when I visited the Oregon coast a few years ago for Independence Day weekend. My husband and our dog, Benny, packed up the car and drove to the beach for the weekend! Naturally, as I was going to the beach in the summer-time, I packed all of the beach-essentials: two swim suits, breezy cover-ups, a couple of maxi dresses, and some flip flops — only to find once we got there that I couldn’t wear anything I packed. It was freezing cold! The only people that were in the water (all 2 of them or so), were in full-length wet suits, and most people just hung out on the sand all day long. I don’t believe the temperature rose above the sixties (Fahrenheit), and it’s safe to say I was lucky there were stores open in town where I could buy sweat pants and fleece jackets. While I was a little disheartened that we wouldn’t be doing any swimming this trip, the entire thing felt like a great adventure — and certainly a learning experience. Word to the wise: check the weather before you go!

This year, since we’re planning to go camping all over the country, diversity in packing will be crucial to surviving the trip. One thing we learned while researching the National Parks websites was that almost none of these areas allow open-pit fires anymore. There might be another time during the year when this is more feasible, but with the August fires from Colorado to Montana, we won’t be taking any chances. Instead, we read that only propane-fueled stove-tops are allowed — and since some of the areas we’ll be staying in might be 40 degrees Fahrenheit at night, it’s important we don’t forget the fuel!

Now that we’ve got clothing and cooking in any condition out of the way, another important part of planning ahead for the trip will be deciding which tools to bring to set up our campsite and really enjoy the outdoors. One of my personal favorites includes our solar-powered flashlight and usb charger. Even though a full day of sunshine isn’t always guaranteed, generally these flashlights will last us days and days, and can charge fairly quickly in the early morning sunlight. Even though I usually go to bed pretty early when camping, they’re certainly nice to have out during dinner, or on trips to the restroom and back. Mostly we use them to illuminate our card or domino games, but no matter what you use it for I would always recommend having at least two flashlights on-hand when camping (and extra batteries as well). Then, all we have to pack is the bedding and the tent and we’re all set! Just two more weeks before we’re off — please add your favorite camping hacks in the comments section — since you never can have too many survival tips.

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Energy Preparedness: Summer Edition

Summer Travel  Summer is a fantastic time to escape the rigor of daily activity. You can go to any number of lakes to swim or jet-ski, head to the beach to build sandcastles and catch waves — or for the really adventurous spirit, you can even go camping or hiking in the great outdoors! This year, my husband and I have decided to take a month-long road trip, camping along the way, in order to explore all that this beautiful country has to offer! Or, at least we’ll get to see quite a bit of the West. We’re heading to Colorado first, then through Utah and Oregon and onto Seattle, Washington where we’ll get to see some family we haven’t seen in a while. Then, it’s off to Glacier National Park in Montana (https://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm), Custer Gallatin National Forest (https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/custergallatin/home), Yellowstone (https://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm), the Gran Tetons (https://www.nps.gov/grte/index.htm), and finally back home!

While we’re both anxiously counting down the days until we’re sleeping under the stars and cooking s’mores, one huge reason we also decided to take this trip during August is to escape the August heat. Every year in Texas this seems to be our highest energy bill — no matter what we do to mitigate it.Glacier National Park

This is a common theme in August in Texas, as any Texas resident will tell you, however with the effects of climate change more prevalent now than ever before in our life times, and with more and more people moving to this great state every day, the peak energy demand season is sky-rocketing. It’s no wonder that as the heat index moves above 95 degrees Fahrenheit, people want to escape inside an air-conditioned building as quickly as possible — but what people don’t realize is that the short spurt of increased demand must be managed by Grid operators — similar to the reports we read in February during the winter storm. Just take a look at what the Texas Tribune reported about summer energy outages this past June: https://www.texastribune.org/2021/06/19/texas-power-grid-ercot/. The good news is that because we’re in Texas, engineers have designed these systems to withstand the heat (so it’s very likely that you won’t have any of the natural gas plants freeze up during this time of the year like we saw this past winter), however any time there is increased demand on the energy Grid, the additional loads must be managed. This week, we’ll explore what to do if your power is interrupted or even goes out during the hottest days on record — and hopefully you live near a body of water if so! For those of you with solar + battery storage, you can tune out for now.

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“Right to Capture State” – Part 2 of 2

Right to Capture: SolarSo, now that you’ve got your rainwater storage system set up from yesterday — great job on that by the way (!) — you’re ready to move on to step #2 in taking advantage of the ‘Right to Capture’ state laws, at least as they apply to solar energy. I preach to friends and family to ‘go solar’ if and when they can, because I genuinely believe in taking advantage of laws.

Alright! All joking aside, I believe in the product, and believe that the cost is well worth the benefits gained in installing solar panels on your rooftop. Because I work for a solar company, I’m inherently biased, sure, however that also implies at least a fair amount of insight into the companies that can deliver for you, and to be honest there are quite a few all over Texas to choose from.

Right to Capture, The Skinny:

You can “Go Solar,” as we say in the industry, for $0 down — however the system itself is costly, and you’ll want to make sure you have access to the online portal immediately following the installation, just in case some squirrels chew through the wiring and you need to call your installer to come out and take a look. If you have at least a 600 credit score, there are several finance companies you can likely choose from, and will ideally reduce your energy bill in the process. I say ideally here because energy usage is really the driving factor in a high energy bill (though, you will likely still need to pay administrative and/or energy transmission costs to your local energy provider). If you turn off all of your electricity, lights, unplug anything that has constant energy power — from digital clocks to refrigerators — and only use a gas-powered stove to heat your food when needed, you would expect to see a pretty low bill, right?

Well, the same administrative and energy transmission costs apply even to those with a residential solar system, even if your system covers 100% of your energy needs. Particularly in the summer months, or roughly April-September in Texas, it’s easy to “offset” your energy usage with solar energy from your southern-facing rooftop solar system; in the winter, it’s a slightly different story. For this reason, it’s unfeasible to make the switch to solar energy 100% without battery-storage or a generator — or simply by connecting to a grid with a highly technical management system, but why does this occur during the winter months? Solar Photovoltaic (PV) systems produce less energy in the winter for one very simple reason: the days are shorter, and thus there is less sunlight to absorb (at least in the northern hemisphere, and the southern hemisphere would be just the opposite).

Residential Solar, The Rub: (more…)

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Solar Industry Insights –The Ugly: Solar Scammers

It’s never fun to feel like you got the bad end of a deal. Solar, when done correctly, is cost-efficient and saves you money. The install process should take roughly two (for experienced installers with no delays or odd tile configurations) to four (for newer companies, or complicated project layouts) months to complete – from signing the contract, to installation and interconnection (exception: see Houston city limits which has a longer PTO time-frame than other Texas cities). Anything outside of this, is either an exception or a scam. Unfortunately, scammers don’t always tell you when they’re planning to scam you, and mistakes do happen, but here are a few things to look out for: 1) how does the salesperson act during your consultation? What can they tell you about other solar companies in the area – and how do they compare? Are they making promises you know they can’t keep (example: some utilities have a monthly interconnection fee for connecting to the grid, so if you’re promised a 100% bill offset, you should consider how your utility company operates to see whether this is feasible – even though solar absolutely can and will save customers money – in most cases, a 100% bill swap is not a reasonable expectation). What do they know about the installation process? Perhaps they’re new and still learning the operations side of the business, but a good solar company will ensure that their staff is willing and able to answer questions about a solar install, because it will take time and will require your signature along the way (see HOA approvals, as one example). If you’re left feeling confident that they’re able to answer your questions, have good examples of their companies’ market differentiation, and can answer some basic questions about the installation process (or at least are willing/able to look into it and get you a quick answer back), then chances are – you’re in good hands!  

What do you do however when you’ve met with the recommended minimum of three companies, all of which had similar pricing and panel efficiency, and you’re still not sure who to choose? Of course you should check out their online reviews, their website, BBB profile, etcetera – but you can also just try calling their main line. Who answers? How long does it take to get a call back if no one is available? These are fantastic indicators of a good company because it will give you insight into being their customer – if they don’t get back to you now, chances are they’re going to take their time answering your questions even after you sign on the dotted line, which could have implications about how they operate behind the scenes.

Beware of copy cats! Recently we had an issue with a customer, who said they had hired SUNTEX to install their project however it wasn’t us! Unfortunately given the nature of this industry, this happens more often than you’d think – and I’ve already experienced it at at least two solar companies I’ve worked with in the past two years. Copy cats hurt our business, hurt our industry, and most importantly, hurt our customers, so it’s absolutely something we try to avoid whenever possible. The best way to mitigate this, is to simply explain the differences in our two companies and continue to provide excellent customer service to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace for our customers. If you come across one of these companies, please do your due diligence before purchasing a system! Solar companies that are worth their salt will be communicative – and it’s no lie to admit they will compete for your business – but they will also understand that you need to explore all of your options before signing up, and be willing to answer your questions before you do! Have questions for us, give us a call today and test it out for yourself!

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Solar Industry Insights – The Bad: What Solar Companies Don’t Want you to Know

These days it’s easy to accidentally give your information to someone or some company without ever meaning to do so, and you don’t necessarily have to send money to any foreign prince to be part of an internet scam. Lucky for consumers, there have been some recent data protection laws passed in the United States allowing people to choose which apps track their data and/or share it across other platforms. There are always loopholes however, and some companies within the solar industry are not so forthcoming about what they intend to do with your information.

One example of this type of data breech occurs in the solar industry on ads or websites that ask you to fill out information to receive a free quote. When you enter your information into one of these sites, you’ll inevitably end up at a screen that just says “companies will contact you to provide a quote” because it’s not in their best interest to give you a straight-forward proposal – instead, these companies sell your data to three (or more) solar companies who then contact you to set up an appointment to get the free quote. In some cases, this goes smoothly and you’re able to meet with and compare reputable companies in your area – in other cases however, your phone number and contact information will get sold to multiple solar companies that will call you over and over again until you agree to an appointment, or ask to be placed on their “no call list.” There may still be plenty of good information on their website about the cost of solar, or what things to look out for – just don’t enter your phone number on their website unless you’d like to be contacted.

While many people don’t like door-to-door agents, the truth is that solar companies that have at least some component of door-to-door salesman are doing a few things right, namely, not selling your data to others – but they’re also able to employ younger, less-experienced staff who can get on-the-job training and improve their knowledge of the solar industry as they do.

In reality, if you haven’t come across anyone in your neighborhood, I’d recommend spending just a little bit of time researching solar companies in your area, and then ask them to provide you with a quote directly – they’ll be more than happy to supply you with one, and won’t have any incentive to share your information to other competitors. Consultations should take about 45 minutes due to the complexity and customization of these home-improvement projects, and is well worth spending the time to sit down with someone to answer your questions before you move forward. You’ll want to look for the best products (see our blog post on solar panel efficiency for a quick read on what this should look like), at the best price (it’s recommended that you get at least three quotes to compare), and with superior customer service – which you can decide for yourself based on your own personal preferences and needs (but you should also check out their online reviews and ask for references when needed – good companies will always have a few happy customers willing to talk about their experience).

The moral of the story is, don’t sign up for a free quote on a generic solar site – ask for one from companies directly to avoid a data breech, or getting hounded by phone calls. Be nice to door-knockers, they’re actually doing the industry a big favor by learning the right way to approach customers and starting from the ground up – not to mention if they’re door knocking in Texas, they’re clearly willing to put in the time and effort to engage with homeowners in one of the hottest places on earth! Finally, if you do find yourself in a situation where you’re getting hounded by different companies, ask to be added to their “do not call” list and they cannot contact you again – you can always call them back, and remove your name from the list should you decide you do want a quote from said company. If you still have questions about how this works, the price of solar, or how to get a quote, contact us directly today: https://suntexllc.com/contact-us/! We’re happy to help you answer questions as you do your research on going solar.

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Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance (TREIA)

While they’re not exactly part of the same alliance, TREIA is like SEIA for Texans, and works with renewable companies that specialize in advocacy and building a diverse network within the Lone Star State. TREIA is somewhat unique from the other associations named in this week’s blog, in that it does not focus solely on solar but also includes other renewable sources like wind and hydro – which makes this group an excellent resource to learn about what’s going on in the Texas renewable energy market overall. According to their homepage, “TREIA is a network of diverse entities with interests in renewable energy who are working to scale renewable energy, grow the local economy, and create jobs. Members connect through conferences, in-person events, and business development networking opportunities. TREIA members are involved in solar, wind, biomass, biofuel, energy efficiency, geothermal, hydro, ocean, and energy storage” (http://conservenorthtexas.org/item/texas-renewable-energy-industries-alliance-treia), and having attended one of their seminars previously, I can tell you first-hand that their members have a deep knowledge of the inner-workings of the renewable industry. If you check out their site, as well as their LinkedIn page, you’ll see that they’ve set a pretty ambitious goal for at least 50% of the Texas energy demand to come from renewable sources by 2030 – less than a decade away! Thanks to our knowledge of the Department of Energy website (and corresponding U.S. Energy Information Administration database), we can see just how close we are to accomplishing that goal, and while this data is a little older (2019 is the latest displayed), we can see there’s still a long way to go – see for yourself here: https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=TX.

Thanks to associations like TREIA however, and their many members, we’re a lot closer to the goal of having 50% of our energy come from renewable sources by 2030, and hopefully with your help we can get there. Check out their website for more information about TREIA, their members, or give us a call today!

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Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)

If you enjoyed learning more about the global solar industry via the International Solar Energy Society webpage, you’re going to like our next featured group: the Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA (https://www.seia.org/ ).

What does SEIA do? Well, according to their ‘Advocacy’ page, “SEIA is the voice of the solar industry, advocating for the protection and expansion of the U.S. solar market. We represent the entire industry, from small-business owners to large, publicly traded companies. Along with our members and coalitions of allies, we advocate on behalf of solar and a transition to a clean energy economy at the federal, state, and local levels.” Because of their vast member network, they’re able to cover a wide range of topics relating to renewable energy, and are not limited to simply energy data (though they also produce charts/infographics/webinars to help), but are also able to better explain what financing options may be available to those hoping to diversify their energy production, discuss tax laws and how they apply to each system (residential and commercial), and break down the knowledge barriers to learning about the newest technology in renewable energy and how it will improve the overall effectiveness of each system.

As if this weren’t an extensive enough list, SEIA has partnered with the Smart Electric Power Alliance and other partner orgs to put on one of the largest solar conferences in the U.S. – Solar Power Intnernational (SPI), https://www.solarpowerinternational.com/. Every year thousands of energy industry experts gather to share the latest knowledge, gain insights into the energy industry, and to build their network of energy professionals at SPI – including small and big businesses, researchers and manufacturers alike. For more details about the incredible work SEIA is doing, check them out here: https://www.seia.org/initiatives-advocacy.

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International Solar Energy Society (ISES)

A couple of years ago I went to an energy conference where I met someone from the International Solar Energy Society, or ISES (https://www.ises.org/ ), who gave a talk on the global reach of solar power, and our collective role in promoting it and helping others do so. After his talk I approached him to thank him for the work they were doing, but also to ask him about the origin of their acronym which, I hate to admit, had been bugging me ever since I heard him say it. He laughed, as this was not the first time someone had asked him this question, and then assured me that the International Solar Energy Society had been around for a long time (60+ years in fact), and was in no way related to the group that seemed to share, at least phonetically, a similar acronym. 

I was interested to learn more about how they were building their network of renewable energy providers, and what work they were doing to promote solar energy solutions at the international level. Upon doing just a little research online, I found that their vision for solar is pretty similar to ours: “For over 60 years the members of The International Solar Energy Society (ISES)have undertaken the product research that has helped the renewable energy industry to grow. ISES, through its knowledge sharing and community building programs, helps its global membership provide the technical answers to accelerate the transformation to 100% renewable energy and thereby achieve the following vision: The International Solar Energy Society (ISES) envisions a world with 100% renewable energy for everyone used wisely and efficiently” (https://www.ises.org/who-we-are/about-ises). So, their vision for solar answers the “what” question, but if you look further down on this same page you’ll find information about “how” they are currently working to accomplish this through advocacy: “ISES has members in more than 110 countries, and Global contacts and partners in over 50 countries with thousands of associate members, and almost 100 company and institutional members throughout the world.” In addition to making global connections, they provide information and presentations at seminars, and publish source material, webinars, and info-graphics dispelling myths about solar power (check out a few here: https://www.ises.org/what-we-do/dispelling-myths). Curious to learn more about solar? Feel free to check out other links within their website for some helpful tidbits!

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