Solar Metal Roofing – How to Make your Metal Roof work for you!

In this solar roofing guide you will learn about the pros and cons of metal roofing with laminated thin-film PV panels such as the ones manufactured by Uni-Solar Ovonics, or simply UniSolar, which is an Energy Conversion Devices company/brand.

UniSolar thin-film solar panels have been specifically designed to be installed with a standing seam metal roof and have a nominal width of 15.5 inches, which fits perfectly onto a 16″ standing seam panel. With a special butyl adhesive backing, the installation of thin-film solar panels is very simple and fast.

Watch how the the solar metal roof is installed and how free electricity is produced right away:

Benefits of Solar Metal Roofing and Roof-Integrated Solar Systems

Installing a solar metal roof is the most cost effective way to get a lifetime roof together with a solar PV system. The savings come from the fact that the installation of a solar power system is greatly simplified, because there is no need to install the racking system, which is needed to hold your conventional solar panels. This saves you about $1 (one dollar) per watt DC of solar system, and eliminates an additional $0.50 per watt for the installation of the racking system and solar panels. With thin-film solar PV laminates, the installation is reduced to cleaning the inside of the metal roof panels, applying and rolling in the PV laminate and installing the metal roofing panels.

Later, when all the standing seam metal roofing panels have been installed, the solar integrator connects the mom and pop contacts on each solar panel to form one, two or more strings of solar panels, and runs the wiring down to the inverter, which then converts the DC power from solar panels into AC power at 240 volts and feeds the electricity into your home’s power network. All excess electricity is sent into the grid (for grid-tied solar systems), or to your storage batteries (for off-grid systems).

Installation of Solar Metal Roofing

Why use a Roof-Integrated Solar System vs. Conventional Solar Panels?

The main problem associated with general solar PV systems that you can now see on many homes around the country, is the fact that an asphalt shingles roof will fail much sooner than the PV solar panels. When that happens, those homeowners will be faced not only with the re-roofing expense, but also with complete removal re-installation of the solar array. This MUST be performed by both the roofer and the solar integrator, as the roofer alone will 99% of the time screw things up. And bear in mind that a roofing warranty will usually not cover damages to the solar equipment, let alone all the possible short-circuit type situations.

Solar Metal Roof Installation Video:

The additional cost associated with these procedures should be at-least the same as the cost of the new roof itself. Think about it: Electricians unlike roofers have to be licensed. An apprentice electrician needs at-least 4 years of schooling/work experience. This is like an undergraduate degree. A master electrician needs another 4 years. Therefore, electricians usually charge $75-100 per man-hour. You’ll need at least two electricians for this job, which will take a whole day to remove the panels and another day to put them back, if not more.

The math is simple: 2 guys * $75/h * 8 hrs. * 2 days = $2400 plus any possible parts and supplies that may be required. So let’s say it costs you $2500 extra. In some parts of the country that is how much an average 1200 sq. ft. cape house roof will cost to install (materials included).

Thin Film Solar Panel Installation Video:

Metal Roofs vs. Asphalt Shingles

Unlike the very “popular” asphalt shingles, metal roofs are pretty much permanent. They are for the most part manufactured from recycled metals, and when installed by a trained professional, they will not leak for decades.

Metal roofs combined with Renewable Energy technologies can create an ideal, long lasting and affordable solution for residential Solar Electric and Solar Hot Water needs.

Solar electric, hot water and heating

There are other numerous benefits to having a metal roof combined with Solar PV and other renewable energy technologies. When looking at a metal roof vs. asphalt shingles, also consider that a metal roof will save our landfills from getting more shingles dumped there in 10 years or so. With metal, you get a beautiful, permanent roofing solution that you can combined with a solar system, and if you choose to add a Geothermal system, you can design a 100% energy-free home!

Green Home Living in the 21st Century – Smart Homes

If you are into eco-friendly living, clean energy, and innovative green technologies, then chances are you have come across the term “smart house”, which has been popping up all over environmental and green lifestyle blogs. The concept of a smart house seems to not only be amazingly cool from the technological perspective, but it is also environmentally friendly and offers many unexpected benefits to homeowners in terms of comfort, health, and safety. It is inspiring that these technologies are developing at such lightning speed, which means that the day average consumers across the globe will be able to actually live in a smart house may be approaching much sooner than many of us expect.

Features and components that make a house “smart”

What makes a smart house unique is the fact that it is built as a place where technology and design go hand in hand. These homes are digital by design with a complex relationship between architecture, hardware and software. In building and designing a smart home, environmental considerations come first, and all technologies and materials have the purpose of making the house as green and energy efficient as possible. For example, to save energy, smart homes are designed to regulate energy use by running the washing machine at off peak times and switching off unneeded appliances.

One of the most visible, user friendly, and coolest features of smart houses is a highly advanced, interconnected and automated network of systems that can be manipulated both from inside the home or remotely. Some of the most common systems are Interconnected Personal Computing (any devise with a chip is connected to your PC, the home’s “command center”); Personalized Home Automation (comfort features such as lighting and window shades that can be adopted based on your and guests’ preferences), Security System and a Climate Control System. Keep in mind, that the architectural design of such a home also has to be smart, to be able to support all of the above mentioned systems and other green features.

Benefits of living in a smart home

While it may seem like these houses may be too techie and lab-like for the kind of cozy, comfortable living most people are used to, the opposite is actually true. The innovative high tech features add an unparalleled level of convenience, comfort and safety. While smart homes are designed to benefit people of all ages, older people or people with disabilities may be the biggest beneficiaries of the house’s high tech automated systems and features. The reality that we as a society need to be prepare for is that by 2050 the largest age group among women will be 80 plus. With the aging population on the rise in most Western countries including the US, smart houses may provide a revolutionary solution to the kind of in-home care most elderly and sick people with cognitive or physical limitations need, but currently do not have access to.

Dr. Diane Cook, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Washington State University, has been conducting research and testing various types of technology in sheltered accommodation for the elderly, which assists them with getting up, preparing food, making hands-free phone calls and remembering to take their medication. One of the biggest breakthroughs of smart home’s technologies is protection against safety hazards. This is a common affliction in people with disabilities, such as dementia, who cook and then forget to turn their stove off, causing a fire. In a smart home, sensors will turn the stove off automatically, when it is no longer in use. These types of features are also highly desirable for families with small children, offering an extra level of safety and protection within the home.

A smart home is a paradigm shift from what we typically understand a home’s function to be. An ideal smart home will as a whole think about your needs and will use its components, to meet them quickly and efficiently. Thanks to major advances in robotics, sensors and intelligent systems much of this technology is expected to be widely available within the next 10 years. We are living in exciting times when a smart home is quickly shifting from being a sci-fi fantasy into becoming a tangible reality that people can use and benefit from.

Green Home Design & Sustainable Architecture

Setting Priorities for your Sustainable Home Design is the Key to having a Green Home

If sustainability is one of the goals for your building project, then a sober assessment of priorities will help to guide your selection of green building technologies.  Whether your project is a new construction, remodel or renovation, the sustainable identity of your home will only be genuine when its components and elements furnish positive returns on investment.  Unfortunately, the most visible and showy applications may offer the least value for supporting sustainability.  Solar collectors and panels can be exciting and enticing.  Unfortunately for our egos, it is most often the very common (even dull) conservation measures that furnish the biggest bang for the buck.


A bit of clever design can create much opportunity for energy savings through conservation methods such as thick insulation, secure air barriers and construction detail, which need to be carefully considered and executed.  Tight high quality windows and doors can be a major energy-saving investment.  Similarly, caulking and weather-stripping are the most boring, but also the most effective means of saving energy.  In your conservation efforts, don’t forget lighting.  CFL and LED lamps can reduce electrical usage.  These and other basic conservation techniques should be the first considerations.


Passive Solar

The next most effective resource-conserving approach is passive solar architecture.  If your home is located at a site with southern exposure and in a cold climate, then a passive solar orientation can provide significant financial savings with little added expense.  Such application can be as simple as arranging more glass on the south side of the house than on the other sides.  If the sunshine entering these windows lands on masonry surfaces, then energy can be stored by day and slowly released during evening hours.  Modest overhangs will shade the heat gain during the summer and allow the sunshine to enter during the winter, due to the seasonal changes of the sun’s motion.  The simplicity of such design is appealing.  Passive solar architecture can be accomplished without doing any major remodeling, and is therefore affordable and reliable.

Passive Solar Home Design

Active Solar

Finally, for those who have taken advantage of all of the above opportunities and still wish to venture further into sustainable home design, then active solar collection systems may be appropriate.  These will include photovoltaic power generation and domestic water heating systems.  In locations where water is scarce, rainwater harvesting and grey-water recycling may be employed. All of these installations require a substantial financial investment upfront, and returns must be carefully examined to determine if they are economically justified in each particular application.  Tax credits and deductions may be available for these systems (as with conservation and passive solar expenses) and these incentives will vary from region to region. A full financial analysis can be complicated, and solar panel installers can often lend helpful support.

PV Solar Power System


By establishing priorities, your project will follow sound principles that lead to architecture with integrity. You will be assured that the green building measures employed in your sustainable project truly support your commitment to conserving energy and other resources.

Green Spaces as Driving Economic Forces

Some of the more heavily discussed topics of early 2010 include renewable energy, green infrastructure and clean water. In particular, the addition and/or substitution of green spaces has been quite controversial as of late. Senior resident of Urban Land Institute Ed T. McMahon states “Green space adds value to property.” Not only would these areas of conservation drive economic trends upward, but they also improve the overall health of the surrounding community. For example, substituting spaces like golf courses for conservation areas would essentially increase surrounding property value while diminishing overpriced maintenance fees. The same holds true for airports and other large acre-eating developments.

Some of these areas are already abandoned or unkempt. For instance, park and recreational areas that were once highly visited have become urban wastelands. In an article from the Salt Lake Tribute, Lindsay Whitehurt discusses how an area that was capped with tennis courts to replace an old reservoir had been empty for some time now. She further explains how the University of Utah received a loan to fill the old reservoir and turn the land into a conservation area.

Much larger metropolitan areas are also playing their role in promoting sustainability by implementing many Green Spaces within the city. In Meg Muckenhoupt’s new book Boston’s Gardens & Green Spaces, she discusses different green spaces within the city of Boston. With very low cost maintenance fees and little liability, these areas are perfect for protecting our wildlife and the environment. They also attract further tourism; which would in turn generate revenue from ticket/tour sales.

This aligns with the implications of “economic viability” and long term sustainability, posing the questions, “Would substituting golf courses and airports in the short term lead to an abrupt economic downfall?” It’s true that this type of architecture provides undoubtedly high revenue. On the other hand, they both come with ridiculously high expenses and maintenance. Incorporating various elements of green architecture implies things like green roofing, which could in turn drive down electrical/gas costs dramatically.

Larger organizations are already taking a step in the right direction in Haiti. Doug Band of CGI (Clinton Global Initiative) has been working closely with organizations like AFH (Architecture for Humanity) to discuss potential means of green restoration. Combined with the additional efforts of many large collaborative units like the USGBC (United States Green Building Council), they plan to rebuild Haiti in a greener fashion.

Recent findings have driven people like McMahon and fellow conservationists to investigate further into upgrading and expanding green infrastructure efforts. As Earth Day 2010 approaches, it’s important that we as individuals follow and support these ventures. It’s equally important that we adapt greener practices to support both our planet and our economy.


Solar Decathlon 2009

It was a great Columbus Day weekend in Washington DC, and Solar Decathlon was making waves on the news… Well, actually it did not. Not even bigger green sites and blogs covered this truly green event. Probably there were much more important things happening in our capital – like Obama’s newly “adopted” dogs :).

So I’ll let the big guys do their things, while I tell you about the event, which so many people waited 2+ years for, and worked so hard to make it happen – ladies and gentlemen – Solar Decathlon 2009!

Solar Decathlon 2009 at the Mall in Washington, DC

This was our first Solar Decathlon, but certainly not the last. Since we were sponsors of Team Boston Solar Home, most of my coverage will be focused on it. However, there were many great solar homes this year: Team California and Team Germany were battling for first place (you can see Team Germany solar home in the picture above – a black house, second from the right).

As I wandered through the Mall, looking at these homes and being hesitant to stand in line to see very similar interior set-ups, my main focus was on the outside. Solar technologies, energy efficiency and exterior design were my main concern, as these factors make a true solar home, while the inside can always be remodeled.

Team Boston Solar Home:

As a future architecture student, and a “construction worker” now, I look at these houses with a slightly different perspective than most people. For me, the ease of construction, highest energy efficiency and reasonable cost are the most important things, followed by a nice design. Unfortunately, many of the innovative approaches used for this competition are not accessible to the masses, and remain to be a privilege for the most extravagant home buyers with deep pockets. While I have no problem with it in general, in my opinion, the purpose of a Solar Decathlon is to move innovative green building technologies into the mass housing market, so that such technologies would actually make a major difference in improving the environment and reducing CO2 emissions.

Team Boston solar home at the Solar Village in Washington DC

It is expected of all these homes to be super insulated and have solar PV panels on their roofs. I was interested in innovative new approaches at achieving maximum effect (energy efficiency or energy generation) using the least expensive methods. In this regard, the Boston Solar home has (had) great potential, if not for the massive glass array on the northern side of the house. All these windows and doors will let all the heat escape in the winter, which makes it that much less efficient. This is a fixable situation however – just remove most windows and put a wall there 🙂

Despite potential heat loss, the liquid-filled glass units on the southern side of the house will collect tremendous amounts of solar heat and store it, making it much easier to heat this house. Find out more about these liquid-filled solar thermal windows and wall panels.

In addition to solar thermal wall panels, Boston solar home has about 6.4 KW solar pv system on the roof and a solar thermal hot water heater, for heating and domestic use. There are many other new and innovative design features used by BAC (Boston Architectural College) and Tufts University students in the construction of this home – too many to list here. You may check out the project’s website –

Team Spain solar home:

Another solar home that attracted my attention was the one build by Team Spain (which for some reason was doing VERY poorly in this competition).

Team Spain solar home: Rotating solar panels array and solar PV cells built into walls.

Apparently, these bi-pv cells are very good at capturing indirect sunlight and help the house generate the most electricity it possibly can.

Team Spain used a very interesting (in my opinion) approach at capturing ALL available solar energy with their powerful solar PV array. This roof mounted array can rotate at the center, following the sun going across the sky, thus always keeping the most efficient angle of the PV panel to the sun. It is basically a gigantic solar tracking system, which is however complicated and expensive to implement, making this house not as competitive in terms of costs and ease of building.

Additionally, the glass walls of this home have integrated solar PV cells, which capture even more solar energy. It is a good idea, but an overkill in my opinion, as the roof mounted solar system should be more than sufficient and, unless they used “dummy” cells on east, west and north sides of the house, it is a waste of solar capacity, as the sun will barely or never hit those solar cells.

Building-integrated solar panels mounted on glass walls.

Cornell University Solar Home:

Another interesting design, which for some reason reminded me of the Water World movie was a solar home built by Cornell University students. It featured three round “rooms” connected to each other, and a large solar PV system, which for some reason was mounted flat to the ground.

Cornell University solar home - round steel frame with flat, roof mounted solar panels.

It may not be the best designed house (in terms of competition rankings), and round rooms make it ever more difficult to build, but the steel frame and a VERY cool vintage design made it very attractive. As I was writing this, Cornell’s solar home was in 6th overall place, with a few more contests to go. You can view current team rankings here:

As a side note, as of Oct. 13th, Team Boston solar home is in 12th position and Team Spain is in 18th place, while 1st place belongs to Team California.

Let the best solar house win!

The Solar Decathlon will continue for another week or so, and there are a lot of contests left in which either team can pull forward dramatically. Therefore, I will not even try to predict the winner. All houses presented in the Solar Village this year were very well designed and built, and the green building technologies used in them will in the (hopefully) near future migrate into traditional construction markets and help home and building owners reduce the overall energy use and make our environment better. This competition is also an inspiration for the new wave of architects who will be literally building our future homes and infrastructure, and as you can see, they all have great ideas. I will continue to cover the Solar Decathlon 2009 in future posts, and soon you will be able to review the IB flat roof installation which we did on the Curio Home – look forward to seeing it soon on our cool roofing blog.