Ask Eartha: Challenges and advantages of solar energy systems in mountain homes |

Ask Eartha: Challenges and advantages of solar energy systems in mountain homes

Eartha Steward
Ask Eartha

Dear Eartha,

I’m considering installing solar on my home in Breckenridge. What things should I consider as I head down this road?

— Dave, Breckenridge

Thank you for your question this week. In recent years, we’ve seen a steep increase in residential solar photovoltaic installations across the nation. As utility prices for residential energy generally continue to climb, homeowners have been looking for ways to curb utility costs and foster energy security. While solar photovoltaic systems have come down in price and market dynamics naturally continue to favor renewable energy, it can still be a big step to invest in a solar system at your home.

Summit County poses unique challenges as well as advantages to on-site electricity production. Longer, snowy winters can be a challenge to engineering systems because of snow loads and wind. The additional factor of potentially needing to clear snow loads off your solar system is certainly something to consider. Luckily, Colorado is known for its sunny days — we historically get over 300 of them annually. These sunny days certainly go a long way toward consistent energy production. Some of our local High Country solar contractors may also suggest that our colder climate helps ensure systems don’t overheat, which can lead to a loss in system efficiency and durability.

In our unique Summit County environment, energy expenditures fall heavily within the realm of heating during the winter months. For many utility customers, however, this winter energy expenditure is in the form of gas for running boilers, furnaces or other combustion-operated heating appliances. For the most part, our winter energy expenditure is billed to us in the unit of therms, rather than kWh (electricity). This is one reason why going solar may make immediate sense for your friends but oftentimes comes along after the building’s efficiency has been maximized.

Before pursuing a new solar installation for your mountain home, we suggest taking a deeper look at the current energy efficiencies at play. For this reason, when customers call us with questions regarding solar, we often steer them toward receiving a comprehensive energy assessment of their property first. We need to understand that the most common solutions to home comfort and energy efficiency are simple. They include proper air sealing and insulation, proper thermostat programming and effective ventilation. These are the initial remedies that most of our local home energy assessments will prescribe. While solar can help reduce your monthly electric bill, it should be looked at as a secondary measure, after first addressing how efficiently your home retains its heat, or conserves the electricity it currently consumes. Our customers find that its always time well spent to invest in a home’s efficiency first before making an investment in a new solar system. Think of it this way, if we can help you reduce what your home consumes in energy, you’ll need to spend less on a solar system to meet your needs.

Fortunately for us in Summit County, we have just launched the Solarize Summit campaign. This summer, High Country Conservation Center and the Climate Action Collaborative are launching Solarize Summit, a campaign to spread solar energy across the community. Throughout the summer, Summit County residents are encouraged to take advantage of special deals and solar photovoltaic pricing offered through the campaign. The more homes that sign up for solar installations this summer, the greater the potential rebates and discounts will be.

If you’re seriously considering going solar at your mountain home, we fully endorse that decision and are excited to help you reach that goal. The time is now to take action on your home’s energy efficiency and conservation. Please contact High Country Conservation at 970-668-5703 to learn more about the Solarize Summit campaign. We look forward to helping more Summit locals pursue renewable energy at their mountain homes.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at High Country Conservation Center. Submit questions to Eartha at

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