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Solar energy updates to your life and home

Date posted:  8/17/16 09:00:00 AM Solar panels on your home

Whether you're an advocate for renewable resources or just someone who wants a little more sunshine in your life, relying more on solar energy can have significant health and lifestyle benefits.

Let's look at some of the top ways solar energy can brighten up your home, your life and your bank account.

Solar panels: What are they worth to you?
In 2014, the average monthly cost per house for electricity was approximately $114, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Annually, this totals $1,368 spent on simply keeping the lights on. In 2016, these averages slightly dropped, but are expected to rise again in 2017, according to a separate EIA study.

With that in mind, if you were to cut this spending in half over the course of a year,  you would save $684. With that money, you could buy a new smartphone, start a new hobby, afford an extra month of groceries for a family of four, purchase a new home entertainment system or buy a plane ticket across country.

So here's the question: can you cut your electricity bill in half by switching to solar? Depending on where you live, the answer might be that you can reduce it even more than half. One way to find out is with Google's Project Sunroof. Simply type an address into the search bar as you would into Google Maps, and voilĂ : you have your savings estimate on electricity over the course of 20 years. 

Solar appliances: Cooking with(out) gas
In addition to the savings associated with installing solar panels, there are a variety of household items that can be turned into solar-powered appliances, like  a solar oven. According to Popular Mechanics, you could actually construct a do-it-yourself solar oven if you have the time and the desire. If you're not so handy, but are still interesting in roasting your meals with UV rays, there are also solar-powered ovens available for purchase. These devices are especially handy for barbecues, picnics, camping or for just cooking lunch on a sunny day.

Another idea is to look into solar water heaters. According to Energy.gov, a solar water heater can cut energy costs related to water heating by as much as 50 percent each year. Combined with savings from solar panel energy, that's a sizable amount of money back in your pocket. A few other solar-powered possibilities mentioned by Recyclebank contributor Jessica Harlan, include cars with solar features, such as the certain Prius models, solar-powered outdoor lighting and solar charging stations for your electronics. 

Sunny solutions: Letting the light in
Homes that allow for more sun exposure accomplish two things. First, they increase the amount of natural lighting that reaches the home during the day, which has health benefits, and second, it helps reduce energy usage through something called passive heating and daylighting.

According to an excerpt from Fine Homebuilding Magazine that appeared in GreenBuildingAdvisor, this is really as simple as orienting and designing a home in such a way that maximizes use of sunlight. For instance, if you typically spend time reading or working in a home study in the evening, it would make sense to choose a room that has a west-facing window. Over time, this will cut back on electricity used to power this room.

Conversely, it might make sense to designate east-facing rooms for sleeping areas. Natural sunlight exposure is connected with numerous health benefits including acquisition of vitamin D. One study by Northwestern University linked 20 to 30 minutes of daily morning sunlight exposure to lower body mass index.

Another sensible way to let more sunlight into your home is by adding skylights. These ceiling windows can effectively eliminate the need for light bulbs in some rooms of the house. This increases your exposure to sunlight while helping you cut back on electric lighting throughout the day.

Finally, if you happen to be in the market for a home, it's a good idea to keep natural lighting in mind. A home that basks in the sun's glory will be a better candidate for solar panels and solar-powered appliances, and it creates more opportunities to let the light in.