How to choose a solar energy installer

If you’re installing solar energy for your home or office, you probably have a bit of cash to spare – while they help you reduce bills, solar panels are a far cry from cheap. Still, having cash hardly means you should opt for a solar energy installer who’s going to rip you off and try to make an easy buck off of you being misinformed.

Bad practices in the solar energy installation industry abound because very few people have an in-depth familiarity with this technology and the practices around it. Educating yourself before making contact with the first contractor on your list is the only way to ensure someone doesn’t use dirty tactics to part you with your hard-earned money. Here’s how you should choose a solar energy installer that will do you right.

 Choosing a solar energy installer

  • Ask for the installer’s certificates. Despite being fairly new, solar energy installation is an established industry and there are multiple organizations that help legitimate contractors gain credibility by issuing certificates. Picking a company certified with one or more of these organizations will go a long way towards ensuring that they follow a code of conduct as opposed to doing whatever they want. Needless to say, the company should also be licensed and insured as opposed to working out of a garage.
  • Get a feel of the contractor as they provide you with a quote. Are they trying too hard to make the sale, almost coercing you to pick them as your installer, or are they laid-back and happy to answer your questions without being too pushy? Does the person have an “I want your money” feel to them or are they clearly a friendly businessman who cares about customers? These things will tell you a lot about what you can expect from the installer from start to finish. Also, while not necessary, you should consider a free quote as a definite plus.
  • Look for transparency in regards to the solar panels themselves. They might not look all that different from one another, but solar panels can vary considerably in terms of quality and utility. The installer you’re considering should be completely transparent with the solar panels they’re offering, providing a brand, model name and pros and cons of every type of panel suggested – omitting this information is a sure sign that they’re doing dirty business, as is refusing to sign a contract that makes them liable should they install a different panel than the one they claim.
  • Look for a lengthy warranty for both the panel and the inverter. Solar panels don’t break that often, which is why they tend to come with warranties in excess of 20 years – this should include repairs to the cells as well as other parts of the panel. Since inverters don’t last as long, they generally have a warranty of around 5-10 years. If the warranty policy of an installer deviates from this, keep looking – they might be using products that are faulty, low-quality or have already been used on a different structure.

3 great energy saving projects for your home

Saving energy has been all the rage for a while now – while industrialization helped lower prices of a lot of necessities, the price tag on electricity seems to be gathering dust. Hence, people are always looking for a way to save some money on it without really robbing themselves of what they need to lead a happy life.

We’ll tell you right now: nothing will cut down on your electrical bills like going off the grid. But if you’re unwilling to make such an extreme transition (to say the least), there are smaller steps to take that nevertheless stand to make a huge difference with each passing month. Here are 3 great energy saving projects for your home in no particular order. Any one of them will shave at least a couple of dollars off your monthly bill. Combine all 3, and you’ll be on your way to saving for that new Lexus you’ve been wanting.

Great energy saving projects

LED light bulbs: This is the smallest project on the list, but it’s one that will soon pay itself off and continue doing so many times over. It might be time to retire the incandescent light bulb: it doesn’t last very long, wastes a lot of energy and also threatents to burn you should you touch it without taking the appropriate precautions. Sure, the glow is pleasant, but so is that of contemporary LEDs – modern LED bulbs come in a variety of colors and lumens and can fit everyone’s needs to a T. The biggest detractor used to be the price of purchase, but this is quickly changing, and you might already be able to afford a set of LED bulbs for your home. Replace every incandescent bulb with a LED one, and you’ll notice a sizeable reduction as soon as the next monthly billing cycle comes around, especially if you’re a night person.

Solar panels: Nothing quite says ‘green energy’ like solar panels, right? These are a terrific way for those living in sunny areas to save on heaps of electricity, with sun energy powering their day-to-day instead. Of course, solar panels haven’t yet reached a point where they can fully replace your electrical company, but they’re getting there. The most prohibitive aspect of solar panel installation is their price, followed by the addition of big old shiny panels on what you might feel is an otherwise perfect exterior of a home. If you can deal with these detractors, though, you’ll save a lot of energy whenever the skies aren’t cloudy – you’ll also have a decent amount of time to spend the stored solar energy, which makes these all the more appealing.

Alternate heating system: Plenty of people fear the winter not because of colds or freezing temperatures but something that’s every bit as scary: heating bills. If you’d like to have a chilled-out winter where you don’t have to think about the heating costs every other minute, consider purchasing a wood stove – even a gas one might reduce your bills by a lot. Keep in mind, though – too many people paid the price for not minding their tile/carpet flooring when switching from one heating system to another, as new stoves and heaters can permanently damage surfaces in unpredictable ways.

Downtown living

You might have thought that choosing a city to live in was the most difficult part of relocating. Wrong: even if you figured out the city of your dreams, you’ll still need to find a part of it that best suits your needs.

While the differences between the ‘burbs and downtown aren’t as clear-cut anymore, they’re still there, and knowing how to differentiate when choosing a home to rent or buy will impact your quality of life significantly.

Here are some pros that most often have people wanting to purchase a downtown residence:

  • You’ll never be able to complain about your life not having enough activity. When you’re living downtown, you know you’re in the thick of things, and you’ll never be faced with a shortage of interesting encounters to have. The feeling of being in the heart of a city and absorbing all of its happenings is one that many people enjoy, especially those of a younger age.
  • Everything you need will be within arm’s reach. Stores, restaurants, friends, workplaces – everything important to you will be a short drive (or even walk) away. You’ll save plenty of money on gas and car repairs and you’ll enjoy a far greater ability to manage your time efficiently.
  • You’ll have more affordable housing options to choose from. Generally speaking, downtown residences are much more varied than those in the suburbs and can therefore cater to a wide variety of individuals. If you’re strapped for cash and can’t afford a large deposit or a high monthly rental fee, downtown is where you’re most likely to find housing options that suit you.

With that said, there’s a reason why the suburbs and the countryside remain the location of choice for many. Here are some drawbacks to living the urban life downtown.

  • The better housing options will cost a lot more. Most places in a suburb will tend to have a similar cost barring major additions by the owner. Downtown, though, you can expect the most attractive lofts and houses to have prices that can seem ludicrous at times because their owners can afford it. There aren’t many better pieces of real estate to have than a luxurious downtown condo – you might find yourself emptying your pockets just so you don’t have to share a room with rats.
  • You’re more likely to encounter crime. Nobody likes to think about crime, but it’s there, and it’s a lot more present in urban areas where people don’t know each other. If you’re living downtown, you might have to limit your movement around the city past a certain hour, avoiding questionable neighborhoods and preferrably staying inside your car – this is doubly true if you’re living in one of these questionable neighborhoods yourself.
  • There is no real sense of community. In a suburb or rural area, everyone knows everyone and you can enjoy the feeling of having neighbors that you can rely on – people who care for you and are ready to help you in your time of need. Downtown, even in a smaller and cozier city like New Braunfels, TX, everyone is happy to mind their own business, and you’ll easily get stuck with the feeling of being in a cold and unfriendly place. This can also work in favor, though – some people don’t like seeing familiar faces more often than is necessary.

How to evaluate downtown commercial real estate investments

Thinking about a downtown commercial real estate investment? There aren’t many properties hotter than those located downtown – you’ll never have a shortage of potential tenants competing against one another to win your favor. As attractive as these investments are, they don’t come without their set of warnings, and you should know what you’re buying before making any big decisions.

It might be safe to say that those investing in downtown real estate are more concerned with commercial uses than renting to a couple with child – business rentals tend to fetch a higher price than residences, especially if they’re in an attractive location. If you can successfully rent your downtown property to a business, you could be making two to three times more than you would by renting it for personal use.

Downtown commercial real estate

Here’s how you can evaluate a downtown commercial real estate investment before making your way to the bank for a sizeable withdrawal.

  • How attractive is the location, really? Just because an apartment or condo is ‘downtown’ doesn’t necessarily mean it will fetch as high of a price as you’d like, and this is much more true when discussing commercial real estate. It’s not just the location you should be looking out for – accessibility also plays a key role. When talking about commercial properties, think about a ‘reverse elevation’ measure – the higher the loft is, the less attractive it will be to business owners. If you’re purchasing second-floor or above property, know that it won’t appeal to commercial clients nearly as much as a ground level one would – it also better have a highly-functional elevator and stairs system.
  • Does the property come with modern amenities? What the property looks and feels like on the inside will play a direct role in how well your commercial tenant can do business, so you’ll want it equipped with as many state-of-the-art features as possible: top-notch HVAC system, fresh paint job, attractive visual additions, expensive furniture… Each of these will help increase the rental price significantly on top of expanding the amount of business owners who feel that the property is perfect for them.
  • How many commercial clients can make use of my property? Speaking of expanding the amount, you’ll want to avoid purchasing a ‘niche’ property that can only really be used by, say, someone with an office occupation. Instead, the downtown property you invest in with commercial uses in mind should be usable by nearly everyone. While you aren’t likely to find a place that can effectively double-up as a car mechanic shop, a sleazy burger joint, a classy bar and a medical facility, you would still do well to consider the potential uses – real estate owners should have the option of evicting a renter gone bad without having to fear their property going unused for long periods of time.
  • How good is the resale value of the property? While you might only be interested in renting for the foreseeable future, you never know how life will turn out, and you might find yourself wanting to get rid of the property while getting maximum value for it. Consider things like the age of the building, the materials used in its construction, accessibility, view from each window and so forth before making a purchase – this way, you’ll know you’re looking at a hot property that you’ll have no trouble selling for good money a decade from now.