How to Run Your House Solely on Solar Power

Author's Note

I read a lot for this article (more than usual) because I got distracted by the chasm between practical solar homes and showpiece solar homes. In both cases, most solar-related technology innovations were pretty much what I expected. The extreme homes -- million-dollar mansions and such -- are fascinating and beautiful, and of course I'd want to live in one, if I could. The problem is, such design studies (and that's really what they are) don't serve much real-world purpose. They're aspirational, but the average person can't afford one. And if the average person can't afford a mansion that was designed to show off solar-powered capabilities, the end message is that the average person probably can't afford a solar-powered home.

That's unfortunate, because, after all, shouldn't the residents of a solar-powered house be interested in living more efficiently, in general? By which I mean, perhaps each resident does not need their own several thousand square feet. Even if a huge roof covering a huge house generates enough solar power to run off the grid, there are other resources being used inefficiently.

Not to judge the owners of solar mansions too harshly -- after all, such projects certainly generate positive publicity for the technology. But my interests found their way to the other end of the market, toward the homeowners or homebuyers who want solar power, but are forced to consider the investment, carefully weighing the benefits against the drawbacks.

I was surprised to discover that, aside from the initial investment as compared to traditional power, there really aren't any drawbacks. A solar system can be designed for almost any house and can run so smoothly that the owners will barely notice there's anything different. That's when solar power will truly be a success -- when it's the norm rather than the exception. It's hard to say how long it will take before we get to that point.

Related Articles


  • Bryce, Robert. "Oil and gas won't be replaced by alternative energies anytime soon." Oct. 14, 2011. (May 14, 2012)
  • The Ecologist. "The solar powered house of the future?" March 4, 2010. (May 14, 2012)
  • Gross, Daniel. "When I reduce my home's energy costs, who should reap the benefit?" March 31, 2010. (May 14, 2012)
  • Hutchinson, Alex. "Solar Panel Drops to $1 per Watt: Is This a Milestone or the Bottom for Silicon-Based Panels?" Popular Mechanics. Feb. 26, 2009. (May 15, 2012)
  • Lewis, Bill. "Couple builds solar-powered home with help from Google." USA Today. March 17, 2011. (May 14, 2012)
  • Lomborg, Bjorn. "Why Germany is phasing out its solar-power subsidies." Feb. 18, 2012. (May 14, 2012)
  • Pandolfi, Keith. "The Scoop on Solar Power." This Old House. Aug. 4, 2008. (May 15, 2012),,20152332,00.html
  • Pandolfi, Keith. "Solar Shingles." This Old House. Aug. 6, 2008. (May 15, 2012),,1205726,00.html
  • Sawyers, Harry. "Is the Cost Effective DIY Solar Panel Within Reach?" Popular Mechanics. June 17, 2009. (May 15, 2012)
  • Sawyers, Harry. "Students Build the Solar Homes of the Future." Popular Mechanics. Sept. 28, 2009. (May 14, 2012)
  • Solar Energy World. "Residential Solar Installation." (May 15, 2012)
  • U.S. Department of Energy. "The History of Solar." (May 15, 2012)

More to Explore