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This is a guest post by Jonathan Cranos from Florida.
Guest blog | 20th January 2017
| Energy efficiency
If you are trying to have a positive impact on the environment without having to make large financial investments, here is some personal information
History and idea that might interest you: a solar powered roof fan! I am sure most of you are aware of the importance of attic insulation and ventilation for energy conservation. I live in a 1,600-square-foot home in Lakewood Ranch, FL, and for some inexplicable reason, the builders decided to only install a 4-foot ridge vent at the top of my roof like most of the homes out here. I have a lot of reveal openings but practically nowhere to let the heat out of my attic, given the tiny 4 foot ridge vent. That fact, combined with the cheap, underserved, and inefficient use of AC system manufacturers, meant I couldn’t keep my home cooler than 80 degrees on the hottest summer days. My air conditioning ran non-stop and my electricity bills were astronomical!
One day I was in a large hardware store and came across a 10 watt solar powered roof vent turbine system for about $ 200. I decided to take a chance and buy the system to see if it would help my utility bill situation. All it took was a jigsaw, a drill, a couple of roofing nails and some caulking (I bought the best roof I could find) [Full disclosure – I’m am a fairly “handy” person, in fact my daughter calls me “Mr Fix-it” because I can and do fix just about anything around the house that breaks.]
I purposely placed my solar turbine on the roof above my garage where my pull down ladder is located. I chose this installation location because of its easy access and necessity. This area of my attic faces both south (great for sun exposure) and west and does not contain attic insulation. It’s also the only area in my attic that I can use for storage, but it got so hot up there (over 130 degrees) that most of the items I kept there were destroyed.
The installation itself was pretty straightforward and I think most of the people who are somewhat handy could install this system. Frankly, the hardest part of the project was deciding to cut an 18-inch diameter hole in my roof in the middle of a Florida summer (our monsoon season). I decided on a logical place on my attic ceiling and pulled out the required 18 inch circle using the template provided and cut the hole, no problem. I cut the hole from my attic, not from the top of my roof, and when I poked my head through my new 18 inch hole in my roof to look around I see that a thunderstorm is about to hit my house! They show up FAST in Florida in the summer! I immediately and fortunately had a blue tarpaulin on hand and was able to secure a cover over my newly cut hole to prevent the oncoming rain from pouring rain from penetrating through my beautiful new hole. As always, the summer storm came and went in a few minutes and I was able to proceed with the installation. The installation took about an hour from start to finish, other than waiting for the storm to arrive.
After completing the solar roof fan installation, I immediately noticed a significant drop in my utility bills of $ 60-70 per month during the summer, and my air conditioner was now able to cool my home to comfortable levels without running all the time. The attic temperature above my garage has dropped 20-30 degrees. I have long since replaced my air conditioning system with a much more efficient one, but my solar roof vent has been maintenance-free and leak-free for almost 15 years. My initial investment of $ 200 has probably saved me thousands of dollars over the years and prevented myriad amounts of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.
The benefits of forced ventilation in the attic can be controversial. This is mainly due to the fact that in reality most ceilings are not perfectly sealed and an electrically powered roof fan can potentially pull conditioned air from inside your home into the attic. This would ruin the entire purpose and cause your AC unit to run even harder with more current. Electric roof fans use much higher CFMs (cubic feet per minute) than solar turbine vents (800 CFMs). Studies have shown that electrically powered roof turbines generally have no net energy saving benefit at all and can cause dangerous regression of carbon monoxide gas into your home if you use gas appliances like me. I installed CO detectors just in case, but had absolutely no problems. The jury for solar loft fans may not be there yet, but not for me. Bonus – the solar fans are super quiet! You really can’t hear them running at all, but they run day after day, year after year without a break as long as the sun is shining. It only runs at lower speeds even when it is slightly cloudy.
A solar powered roof fan may not be suitable for every situation, but it is definitely worth a look. There are many simple things that can be done to reduce power consumption in homes, from better insulation to LED light bulbs. Also, most of the local utility companies do a free energy assessment using high tech thermal imagers to find energy leaks, etc. I would highly recommend getting one done and having a professional determine if a solar roof fan is right for your home.