Older Homes Part One: Electrical Systems

The thing that draws most people toward buying older homes is their rustic character and quality craftsmanship, vouched for by the idea that older dwellings are built on firm foundations, backed by old world trustworthy hard work – they have good bones! However, this is not, and has never been, universally true. Though many older homes still stand and are available for purchase today, some of them are only barely standing. Older does not necessarily mean better (and of course newer homes come with their own set of problems too).

Here are a few things that any savvy homeowner, or prospective homeowner, should be aware of:

1. Breaker panels and their electrical components do not have unlimited life expectancies, contrary to popular belief. These should be changed every 25-30 years or so. With homes that have electrical systems over 30 years old, the safest course of action is to consult with a licensed and qualified electrician to determine whether the breaker panel is working properly or needs to be replaced

2. Older homes were built to live up to the expectations of the time period they were built in, which means they usually do not live up to the requirements for homes today. The electrical needs of homes made in the first half of the 20th century are vastly different than today’s.

3. 60 Amp electrical systems used to be normal for single family homes. Today, no insurance company will insure a home with this kind of system; the norm ballparks closer to 200 Amp systems. Homes have a much higher demand for electricity in the 21st century than pre-WW2 era homes. Trying to supply present-day electrical power demands in a home with an outdated electrical system is potentially dangerous and can lead to accidental fire and frequent malfunctions.

The Ontario Electrical Safety Authority strongly recommends an electrical inspection at the time a property is sold. It is safer and smarter to have a skilled electrician inspect your prospective older home before purchasing it. You will be informed of the risks early on, before you are committed to the house, and can then discuss solutions, like rewiring the house. This is important information to have if you are selling/flipping an older home too.

When it comes to older homes, like with any home, the buyer should beware. Don’t fall in love with the unique exterior before you get to know it for what’s inside.

Solar Panels: the Benefits and Drawbacks

Probably the most obvious pull factor in favour of solar panels is the clean and sustainable energy argument. This is what draws most people’s attention to solar panels in the first place. Although the technology for solar energy is not a new invention, as the use of solar energy dates back all the way to the 19th century, it has become a popular alternative to conventional forms of power as people grow more aware of the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Though solar panels do not eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in their entirety, they reduce them by approximately 90%, dramatically helping to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Sustainable solar energy goes beyond simply wanting to do one’s part for the planet though. Since fossil fuels are finite, their global market can become volatile; economically, solar energy, and other forms of “green” power, are more reliable in the long run.
Solar panels can be reliable in the short term sense as well. Once you’ve had yours installed and optimized they can be left to run with no regular maintenance check ups or tune ups; they lack mechanical parts that can fail or need replacing over time; will reliably produce electricity without supervision; and are completely silent (no obnoxious buzzing). It is a considerable investment however. The initial cost for purchasing the panels, and for having them installed is somewhat significant and should be carefully considered, as should any large purchase. But on the sunny side, since there will be no maintenance costs and no costly replacement parts to buy, what you pay upfront is all you will have to pay.
If you wish to put your solar panels in Ontario the provincial government will ask that you apply for a Renewable Energy Approval (REA) from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. According to https://www.ontario.ca/page/renewable-energy-approvals, there are some small-scale solar projects that do not require approval, but generally Class 3 ground-mounted solar facilities with a name plate capacity greater than 10 kW need approval. Different solar panel owners have different relationships with their government and hydro companies: in some places your local government might offer significant tax rebates for using solar energy, or even a federal tax refund; some people sell the energy they produce back to the grid for a profit; some people simply use their solar power to supplement the power in their home and save a little money, but still use grid hydro. Different plans work for different people, but however you do things you need to fit into government safety standards, so it is recommended that you get professional assistance for installation, and to discuss plans with before making any purchase.
The effectiveness of solar panels is also impacted by where in the world they are, what time of year it is, and what time of day it is. At night solar panels essentially do nothing. On cloudy, overcast days solar panels still produce power, but their effectiveness is reduced along with the amount of sunlight hitting them. The time of year impacts the usefulness of solar panels too. In upper North America for instance, there are long sunny days in the summer, but cloudy short days in the winter. Closer to the equator, the days are roughly equal with the nights all year. As for the time of day, the direction your panels are facing will affect their usefulness depending on where in the sky the sun is. If your panels are on the east side of a slanted roof they will get lots of power when the sun is rising and during high noon, but when it starts setting in the west they won’t do as much. Shade caused by trees and nearby structures should also be taken into account. To maximize usefulness, some solar “farms” have automated towers that track the movement of the sun and angle the panel to be facing twodigitsgame.com it at all times during the day.
The last concern I know of is that even today’s best solar cells only convert around 20% of the sun’s rays to electricity. But solar cell technology is advancing and the efficiency of their output along with it. Even with only 20% of the sun’s rays being converted to electricity, solar panels still function well enough to pay for themselves and save people money in the long run. This statistic, to me, only shows what future solar technologies we have to look forward to when their efficiency is up to 100%. But, in the present, the actual number of photons being converted to electricity doesn’t matter so much as does the amount of time it will probably take your solar panel to pay for itself. This is difficult to calculate as there are so many factors to take into account, most of which are mentioned above, but according to http://energyinformative.org/long-pay-solar-panels/ the pay off time can be anywhere between 6-15 years. Solar panels are, to be sure, a long term investment that should be carefully considered. Professional counselling is important to help you decide if it will be worth it for you, depending on what your personal factors are.

Renewable Energy Approvals
Alternative Energy
Solar Panel Brief History And Overview
Solar Power to Rule
How Long to Pay Off my Solar Panels?