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It seems there’s hope for clean energy in America. A new study from EcoWatch of 1,000 homeowners found that solar panels are becoming an increasingly popular energy alternative in the U.S.

The majority of homeowners interested in solar say they are seeking to lower their energy bills. But a number of respondents also cited wanting to help the environment and wanting to take advantage of solar tax incentives and rebates as top reasons for going solar.

Key Findings

  • 42% of survey respondents have or are currently installing a solar panel system
  • 36% of survey respondents are considering installing a solar panel system
  • 27% of those respondents are planning to go solar in the next five years 
  • 63% of survey respondents would pay more for a home with solar panels than a home without
  • Texas and Florida show the highest number of residents interested in solar 

It seems there’s hope for clean energy in America. A new study from EcoWatch of 1,000 homeowners found that solar panels are becoming an increasingly popular energy alternative in the U.S.

The majority of homeowners interested in solar say they are seeking to lower their energy bills. But a number of respondents also cited wanting to help the environment and wanting to take advantage of solar tax incentives and rebates as top reasons for going solar.

On the other hand, the majority of those uninterested in installing solar panels state that they are “too expensive,” even though the cost of solar has dropped more than 60% in the last decade.1

Still, we anticipate more solar panels will be installed on homes across the country in the near future. That rings especially true in the South and Midwest, as homeowners in these regions report being most interested in going solar, with Texas and Florida leading the way.

Homeowners With Solar Vs. Homeowners Without

There’s no doubt that solar is on the rise across the U.S. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the residential solar market experienced its fifth consecutive year of growth in 2021, up 30% compared to 2020.2 And the findings of the EcoWatch survey are consistent with this trend.

Homeowners With Solar Panel Systems

Of the 1,000 respondents, 42% of U.S. homeowners say they have installed or are currently installing solar panels on their homes. It’s a notable increase compared to a similar (albeit larger) survey conducted by Pew Research Center in 2019, which found just 6% of over 2,500 homeowners surveyed had solar panels installed at home.3

Breaking it down by region, a higher percentage of homeowners in the West have already installed solar panels, followed by the Northeast, the South and the Midwest. However, more people in the Northeast are currently in the process of installing solar, followed by the South, the West and Midwest regions.

Homeowners who have already installed solar panels*:

  • Midwest: 25%
  • Northeast: 28%
  • South: 25%
  • West: 43%

Homeowners in the process of installing solar panels*:

  • Midwest: 10%
  • Northeast: 16%
  • South: 14%
  • West: 11%

*Rounded to the nearest whole number

Planning to Go Solar

Of those who aren’t actively using or installing solar energy systems, the majority are still interested in solar power. Our survey revealed that 36% of homeowners are planning to install solar panels in the future, 27% of which say they plan to install solar within the next five years.

This next part gets interesting. It seems solar is becoming more desirable in places where it hasn’t been historically, with the majority of Midwest homeowners reporting that they’re planning to go solar.

Homeowners seriously considering installing solar panels*:

  • Midwest: 30%
  • Northeast: 23%
  • South: 29%
  • West: 17%

Homeowners somewhat considering installing solar panels*:

  • Midwest: 17%
  • Northeast: 16%
  • South: 15%
  • West: 14%

*Rounded to the nearest whole number

By number of respondents, Texas has the highest number of homeowners interested in getting solar panels, followed by Florida and Georgia. Interestingly enough, Texas, Florida and Georgia were also in the top seven states people moved to in 2021, which could mean a lot of new homeowners in those states are looking to install solar.4

Interested, But Hesitant to Install Solar Panels 

So, what’s the hold-up for homeowners who said they’re considering installing solar panels but not within the next five years?

The majority of respondents from that group say the high upfront cost of going solar is the biggest reason for their hesitancy. This is followed by a lack of knowledge about the benefits of going solar.

Top reasons for not being likely to install solar in the next five years:

  1. The upfront cost of solar is too high.
  2. The respondent wants to know more about the benefits of solar before making the switch.
  3. The respondent wants to know more about which companies install solar in their area.

Why Are Homeowners Interested in Solar?

Investing in a solar energy system has plenty of benefits, including reducing your carbon footprint, earning tax credits and becoming more energy independent, to name a few.

Here are the top three reasons for going solar, according to the EcoWatch survey:

Homeowners express many different reasons for wanting to go solar, but the benefit that is most appealing is reduced utility bills. 

More than half of the respondents who either have or are interested in going solar say lowering their energy bills is the main attraction to switching to solar energy. This motivation is followed by wanting to help the environment and wanting to take advantage of solar tax credits and rebates.

A handful of homeowners also cite wanting to increase the value of their home and having more control over their electricity usage as their reason for going solar.

Why Aren’t Homeowners Interested in Solar?

Going solar isn’t the best or most viable option for every homeowner. Even some homeowners who want to install solar panels find barriers to being able to do so, such as the price, lack of sunny days in their region or specifics of their roof.

The majority of respondents who wouldn’t consider installing solar panels on their homes say they’re put off by the high upfront costs of a solar photovoltaic system. This reason is followed by respondents thinking solar panels are ugly and not wanting to maintain the technology.

How Solar Panels Affect Perceived Home Value

It’s been debated whether or not solar panels increase a home’s property value, but according to the EcoWatch survey, the majority of homeowners agree that they do.

The survey revealed that 70% of homeowners agree that solar panels increase the resale value of a home, and 63% of homeowners report that they would pay more for a home with solar panels than a home without.

Shining a Light on Common Solar Panel Stigma

Although solar panels have been around since the 1950s, there are still many misunderstandings and stigmas surrounding them.

Are Solar Panels Too Expensive?

Of survey respondents, 60% of homeowners agree that solar panels are too expensive. This is the No. 1 reason homeowners say they would not consider installing them. While there’s no downplaying the costs associated with going solar, it has become significantly more affordable in recent years.

The average-sized residential solar panel system has dropped from $40,000 in 2010 to roughly $20,000 in 2021, and those prices are not factoring in solar incentives that can lower the total cost of your system.5 Meanwhile, the cost of retail electricity is rising, with the average electric bill increasing from roughly $110 in 2010 to $122 in 2021.6

When homeowners calculate energy savings — paired with solar incentives, tax credits and rebates and solar financing options — many realize going solar is much more affordable than previously thought.

Do Solar Panels Only Work When the Sun Is Shining?

 According to the EcoWatch survey, 40% of homeowners believe that solar only works when the sun is shining

While solar panels are most efficient when soaking up direct sunlight on sunny days, they still generate energy on cloudy days. This is because photovoltaic solar panels can work with both direct and indirect sunlight. 

Even on days with heavy cloud cover, solar panels typically generate 10 to 25% of their standard power output. Rain can also be beneficial for solar panels, as it washes away dirt and dust that can obstruct sunlight absorption.

That said, solar panels do not generate electricity when the sun goes down. Many homeowners install solar energy storage systems to use at night or during periods of severe weather when there may be power outages.

Are Solar Panels Too Ugly?

It’s hard to argue with this finding: 31% of homeowners think solar panels are ugly.

The majority of rooftop solar panel systems are bulky and non-discreet. But solar panel aesthetics have come a long way since they were first developed in 1954, and there’s more hope on the horizon.

Many have praised thin-film solar panels for their sleek design, but because they aren’t that efficient, they’re a less-than-ideal choice to power an entire household. Fortunately, companies like Tesla have been developing technologies such as solar shingles to make high-efficiency solar modules more aesthetically pleasing. 

As it currently stands, solar roof tiles aren’t as widely available and are much more expensive than standard rooftop solar panels. But as the technology becomes more popular and cheaper to produce, solar roofs will become more accessible to homeowners.

Methodology

EcoWatch surveyed 1,000 homeowners across the U.S. to gather findings about solar panel ownership. For the purpose of the survey, all respondents owned their homes even if they had outstanding debt on their mortgage loans.

The age of survey respondents ranged from 18 to 54, with the majority falling in the 25 to 44 age range. The sample size was about 52% female and 48% male. The majority of respondents had a household income between $25,000 and $49,999.

This survey was conducted between July 14–15, 2022, using Pollfish.

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When people think of sustainable homes, they often picture something like a tiny home, a yurt in the mountains or a house made from recycled shipping containers. These small, minimalistic homes may seem ideal for some, but it’s not a feasible — or even a desired — lifestyle for everyone. And that’s OK!

Eco-conscious homeownership can have many different looks, from suburban homes with white picket fences to urban townhomes in the heart of a city. Whether you’re in the process of building a new home or upgrading the one you have, this article is here to guide you on all things eco-friendly home care.

When people think of sustainable homes, they often picture something like a tiny home, a yurt in the mountains or a house made from recycled shipping containers. These small, minimalistic homes may seem ideal for some, but it’s not a feasible — or even a desired — lifestyle for everyone. And that’s OK!

Eco-conscious homeownership can have many different looks, from suburban homes with white picket fences to urban townhomes in the heart of a city. Whether you’re in the process of building a new home or upgrading the one you have, this article is here to guide you on all things eco-friendly home care.

Pick Sustainable Windows

Who doesn’t love a home with lots of natural lighting? Windows are aesthetically pleasing and they also lessen our energy consumption by taking advantage of sunshine as a light and heat source. Investing in good window shades is also a sustainable choice, helping to keep temperatures cooler in the summer without having to crank the AC.

Courtesy: Renewal by Andersen

Beyond that, you should evaluate the materials of your new or replacement windows. Cheaply made or outdated glass can be extremely wasteful, leaking about 25-30% of your home’s heat or air conditioning.1 That’s also a big waste of money — Energy Star estimates that switching to energy-efficient windows can save the average homeowner almost $600 per year.2

Still not convinced your window choice makes that big of a difference for the environment? Check out some of these statistics:

  • In 2019, residential energy use accounted for roughly 20% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S.3
  • Inefficient windows can cost $50 billion annually in energy waste in the U.S.4
  • Replacing single-pane windows can save 1,006 to 6,205 pounds of carbon dioxide per household per year (the equivalent to 51 to 317 gallons of gasoline).5

Choosing energy-star certified energy-efficient windows is the way to go. But there are other window style and material considerations that affect their environmental impact:

  • Quality frame materials: You want windows made of durable materials that are going to last a long time. Generally, standard wood window frames are not made to last, but if you live in a favorable climate for them, be sure to purchase windows that have been certified by a green organization. For example, Renewal By Andersen offers reclaimed wood fiber frames certified by Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) Global Services.
  • Gas fills: Multi-pane windows often have a layer of gas — non-toxic, odorless gas like argon or krypton — between the panes to increase thermal insulation.
  • Low-E glass coating: Low-emissivity coatings control the amount of ultraviolet light and infrared light that can enter your home. This helps improve insulation without blocking visible light.

Check out our guide on the top window replacement companies, vetted for sustainability.

Go Green for Roofing and Gutters

Green Roofing

Courtesy: Colorado Green Building Guild

One glance at that photo and you’ll understand how standard roof shingles seem pretty boring in comparison to a green roof!

Simply put, a green roof is a roof that has a top layer of plants. If the above photo seems unattainable, don’t sweat it. That picture is an (incredible but) extreme example of what a green roof can look like. Green roofs come in all sorts of varieties depending on the layout of your home and what type of vegetation will thrive in your climate.

Courtesy: Semper Green Services

Having a rooftop full of plants not only looks good, but it also has a whole host of environmental, economic, community and even structural benefits, including:

  • Absorbing heat to mitigate the “Urban Heat Island Effect” (increased temperatures in places with increased human activity)
  • Improving air quality 
  • Absorbing and filtering rainwater to mitigate flooding and overflow of your local stormwater management system
  • Controlling home temperature with improved insulation, lessening energy consumption 
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Extending roof life by protecting the structure from the elements
  • Increasing property value and marketability, in some cases.6

A study from the University of Michigan found that, over its estimated lifespan of 40 years, a green roof would save about $200,000, with nearly two-thirds of that coming from reduced energy costs.7

Eco-Friendly Roof and Gutter Materials 

If a green roof isn’t an option, you can still make eco-conscious decisions for a more traditional roof. You could consider solar shingles, or opt for a roof made from recycled building materials, rubber or beverage cartons.

Recycled carton roof. Courtesy: Tetra Pak

Along with your roof, you’ll want to invest in a high-quality gutter system to properly filter rainwater and avoid flooding or home damage. Stay away from gutter materials that contain polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC. Traditional PVC becomes brittle when exposed to UV light, contains harmful chemicals and is not recyclable. In fact, PVC is banned in Europe because of its damaging effects on humans and the environment.

Instead, look for the following materials, which have a lesser impact on the environment:8

  • uPVC (unplasticized PVC)
  • Aluminum
  • Copper
  • Galvanized steel
  • Titanium zinc

Also, consider attaching your gutters to a rain barrel or other rainwater catchment system to use for watering your lawn or nonedible plants.

Invest in Solar Energy

We briefly mentioned solar shingles, but adding a solar roof or traditional rooftop solar panels is one of the best sustainable home improvements you can make. By investing in a renewable energy system, you rely less on traditional energy sources and generate your own electricity. So not only are you cutting down on your environmental footprint, but you’re also reducing — or even eliminating — your electric bills.

In even better news, the cost of going solar has dropped more than 70% over the last decade, and more and more states are offering financial solar incentives to those who make the switch.9 

Still, solar panels are a hefty expense, so you’ll want to be sure that going solar is worth it where you live. Most homeowners find that the cost of solar pays off over time.

If you’re not a good candidate for rooftop solar panels, here are some other ways you can take advantage of solar energy in your home:

Choose Eco-Friendly Building Materials

Earthship home. Courtesy: Home Edit

Scientists have become creative when it comes to recycling everyday products into usable building materials. These days, there are homes made from newspaper wood, glass bottles or mushroom bricks, earth-packed car tires, upcycled plastics, shipping container scraps… the list goes on.10 While some of these materials create more innovative-looking homes, others are so discreet you may not even do a double-take while walking past.

If you’re looking for more natural materials that are eco-friendlier, consider stone, cob, bamboo, cork, adobe brick or straw bale. (If the last one has you thinking back to the story of the Three Little Pigs, know that straw bale homes are often covered with plaster. So no, you don’t have to worry about a big gust of wind — or a big bad wolf — blowing your house down.)

Straw bale house. Courtesy: Sustainable House Day

When it comes to flooring and walls, materials like recycled steel or reclaimed wood are a good bet. Sadly, many popular building woods — including mahogany, rosewood and ebony — are irresponsibly sourced from our rainforests. So look for building materials that are certified by the Rainforest Alliance or another credible organization.

For paint, opt for brands that are Greenguard certified or ones that contain little-to-no volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Evaluate Water Usage

Depending on where you live, water may or may not be considered a precious resource. Regardless, it should always be treated as one. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average household wastes 9,400 gallons of water per year, while household leaks collectively waste about 900 billion gallons per year.11

Of course, there are some things you can do to save water at home, like taking shorter showers and only running the dishwasher when it’s full. But making some of the following home upgrades is a surefire way to waste less water:

  • Install low-flow showerheads: Standard showerheads use up to 2.5 gallons of water in a single minute. A low-flow showerhead diminishes the flow of water without compromising effectiveness.
  • Install faucet aerators: Similar to the low-flow showerhead, a faucet aerator is a small metal screen that creates a wider stream of water from your faucet so water can be used more efficiently.
  • Consider a greywater system: Greywater is the lightly used water from showers, sinks, washing machines and other places in the home that often just goes down the drain. A greywater system helps collect this water so that it can be repurposed for other areas of your home. While a professional greywater system installation can be expensive, you may find the savings worth it. Or, check out Greywater Action for more tips on how to DIY a greywater system.

Buy Energy-Efficient Appliances and Lighting

This one is probably a no-brainer. We already touched on solar-powered appliances and lights, but if your home is not a good candidate for solar, Energy Star-certified appliances and lights are a good option.

Energy-efficient appliances and lights will cost you a bit more upfront, but they’re shown to save homeowners a lot of money over time by consuming less energy and requiring less maintenance. For example, just switching to LED lightbulbs can save the average homeowner about $225 per year.12

Here’s a list of some of the most common household appliances that have Energy Star-certified models:

  • Refrigerators and freezers
  • Dishwashers
  • Washers and dryers
  • Air conditioners and heaters
  • Smart thermostats
  • Water heaters
  • Ceiling fans
  • Televisions
  • …and more13

Don’t forget about other appliances you can add to your home to improve its sustainability, like a composter for food scraps, air purifiers, and space heaters to use in place of central heating.

Insulate, Insulate, Insulate

A well-insulated home is a sustainable home. According to the Department of Energy, a properly insulated attic can reduce your energy bill by 10% to 50% — and that’s just the attic!14

If you’re upgrading an existing home, you’ll want to check the current insulation and conduct an energy audit to note any potential air leaks in walls, windows and door frames. These are some of the most common areas you should check for insulation:

  • Attic: Between and over floor joists; around the access door
  • Exterior walls: Between living spaces and unheated garages, shed roofs or storage areas; foundation walls above ground level; foundation walls in heated basements
  • Floors: Around vented crawl spaces, garages and where they meet the wall
  • Windows and doors: Caulk and seal around all openings
Example of where to insulate. Courtesy: Oak Ridge National Library

Eco-conscious homeowners will want to pay attention to the materials used for insulations as well. Unfortunately, traces of asbestos have been found in the insulation of a lot of older homes, and even newer products can contain harmful chemicals. The most eco-friendly insulation options include mineral wool, cork or recycled cotton denim.

Building an Eco-Friendly Home: Certifications to Look For

If you’re working with a contractor to build the eco-friendly home of your dreams, make sure you’re upfront about your wishes and always check where your building materials are coming from before you purchase anything. Here’s a list of companies and organizations that offer “green” certifications for common building products:

  • BREEAM
  • Cradle to Cradle
  • Energy Star
  • Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT)
  • FloorScore
  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
  • Greenguard
  • Green Seal
  • Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
  • Rainforest Alliance
  • Safer Choice
  • Scientific Certification Systems (SCS)
  • Smart Certified
  • Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Chain of Custody
  • Water Sense

So there you have it — you don’t have to live in a yurt in the mountains to have a sustainable home. (Although, it would be pretty cool if you did.) If you’re not sure where to start with eco-friendly home upgrades, try reaching out to your local utility provider or a solar energy company near you. Many of them offer free energy-efficiency audits or can offer some guidance on sustainable improvements.

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The Environmental Impact of Solar Panels

Let’s take a closer look at the positive and negative impacts of solar energy

Energy
Berke Bayur/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“Switch to solar panels to help save the planet,” they say.

And they’re (mostly) right. Solar panels are a great source of clean energy because, unlike fossil fuels, solar energy doesn’t produce harmful carbon emissions while creating electricity. But how “clean” is the process of creating solar panels?

“Switch to solar panels to help save the planet,” they say.

And they’re (mostly) right. Solar panels are a great source of clean energy because, unlike fossil fuels, solar energy doesn’t produce harmful carbon emissions while creating electricity. But how “clean” is the process of creating solar panels?

Ironically enough, solar panel production is reliant on fossil fuels. It also involves mining for precious metals, which contributes to greenhouse gasses and pollution. 

Before we explore the extent of it, we want to be clear that we’re not here to tear down the use of solar panels. EcoWatch is a huge fan of solar energy and has helped hundreds of homeowners reduce their carbon emissions by going solar. But we want to be transparent about the impact that solar panels have on the environment — both good and bad.

The Carbon Footprint of a Solar Panel

While solar panels are an environmentally friendly energy solution, the materials and manufacturing process used to create them do have a decent-sized carbon footprint, as they involve mining, melting and cooling to be used. 

Environmental Impact of Mining for Solar Panel Materials

Most solar cells are made up of silicon semiconductors and glass, as well as metals like silver, copper, indium and tellurium. And if we’re including solar batteries, add lithium to the list. 

When it comes to environmental impact, gathering silicon and glass are both non-issues, as they’re abundant and non-toxic. However, the process of mining for those metals creates greenhouse gas emissions and can lead to soil, water and air pollution.1

Environmental Impact of Solar Panel Facilities

First thing to consider: Solar facilities are massive. It’s safe to assume that, in most cases, some wildlife and recreation land has been cleared to create solar panel production facilities.

Solar panel facilities also require a lot of energy to keep up and running, and unfortunately, a lot of the energy used for melting down silicon comes from coal burning, especially in China where pollution emissions are already high.2

There’s also a great need for water for the cooling process, which can be an environmental strain in more arid areas where water isn’t as available. And like any big production facility, solar panel production facilities cause air pollution.

Environmental Impact of Solar Panel Manufacturing

There are three different types of solar panels — monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film — and each are manufactured differently, meaning they each leave a different sized carbon footprint.

Manufacturing Monocrystalline Panels

Monocrystalline panels are the most common and have the highest energy conversion efficiency, typically ranging between 19 and 22%. Monocrystalline solar panels are made of pure, single-cell silicon crystals wedged between thin glass.

To make a monocrystalline solar panel, a huge piece of silicon is molded into a block, then cut into small wafers to be affixed onto a solar panel. It’s a complex process and, therefore, produces the highest emissions compared to any other solar panel manufacturing method.3

Manufacturing Polycrystalline Panels

Polycrystalline solar panels are also made of silicon, but instead of coming from a block, the silicon crystals are melted together and then placed onto the panel. Because of the melting process, polycrystalline solar panels do require a bit of electricity to create, although not as much as monocrystalline.4

Manufacturing Thin-Film Panels

Lastly, you have thin-film solar panels, which can be made from several different types of materials, like amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride (a type of silicon) or copper indium gallium selenide. T

ypically, thin-film solar panels are going to leave a smaller carbon footprint compared to their more popular counterparts.5 But on the downside, they’re created from extremely toxic materials that can lead to both human and environmental harm if not handled properly.6

Environmental Impact of Transporting Solar Panels 

Emissions from solar panel transportation present another challenge. Solar panels are produced all over the world, but primarily in China, followed by the U.S. and Europe. And solar panels that are produced in one country may require shipments of parts from another.

To be honest, it’s hard to say exactly how big the carbon footprint is for each stage of making a solar panel — no matter which type. There hasn’t been much research or data released on the environmental impact of solar panel production. However, the Coalition on Materials Research Transparency is reportedly working to measure and report the carbon impacts associated with mining, producing and transporting solar panels.

It’s important to note that the amount of carbon emissions produced to create solar panels is still nowhere near that of traditional energy facilities, and it is quite small when compared to oil drilling, fracking or coal mining.7

But production aside, another common challenge surrounding solar panels is what happens after their average 25-year lifespan.

A Larger Issue: Solar Panel Recycling

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) set a target for solar energy to account for 30% of energy generation in the U.S. by 2030.8 If that target is hit, more than 1 billion solar panels will be actively collecting solar energy throughout the U.S. alone over the next decade. 


While this is great news for reducing carbon emissions, it brings up a larger issue the solar industry hasn’t quite nailed down yet: solar panel recycling.

Scientists have been working on a better solution, but as of now, there isn’t a flushed-out system to recycle old solar panels. And there certainly aren’t enough places to do it. 

As mentioned earlier, solar panels are made up of a lot of precious metals, and the carbon footprint of producing solar panels could be reduced if these materials could be recycled and repurposed instead of having to mine for more. Instead, lack of solar panel recycling availability is only creating more e-waste, which could eventually lead to solar panel material scarcity.

How Much Better is Solar for the Environment?

We’ve discussed all the ways in which solar panels can be harmful to the environment, but let’s not forget that they’re still a far better option than non-renewable energy alternatives.

Taking the carbon footprint of solar panels into account, one study still found that coal generates a footprint 18 times the size, while natural gas creates an emissions footprint 13 times the size of solar.9 It’s also worth repeating that solar energy produces zero emissions after production. For that reason alone, studies have revealed solar to be an essential solution to slowing climate change.10

But if solar continues to grow as the SEIA predicts it will, technology will also need to improve to minimize the effects that solar panel production will have on the environment, and proper solar panel recycling methods must be created.

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