Solar panels make White House greener

KENNEWICK -- The promo for Extreme Makeover, Home Edition shows the crew stopping by the White House.

They aren't actually "doing" that residence as a makeover project, but that doesn't mean the most famous address in America has nothing "green" going on.

The White House is getting its solar panels installed and gettingthe "green machine" flowing. While largely symbolic, that's what its meant tobe.

Household solar panels and the related hook up hear are not cheap.The start up costs still vary wildly. Estimates for households are anywherefrom $12,000 to $26,000. The wide gap can be determined by what type ofsystem you are tying to install.

Say you want to get off the power grid and be independent. You areprobably looking beyond the $26K figure.

If you are trying to augment, or just run part of your home on this source, maybe just the hot water heater,you may well get by at $12K or even less.

Problem is, for the costs initially, how much are the average homeowners going to gain? Studies are showing its about a seven-year return on theinvestment. Most of us don't want to make car payments that long!

Technology is also making this a tough call. About the time itlooks good to get your own system started, someone develops better storagecapacity. Longer-lasting solar panels better able to withstand the elementspop up. Computer software, the vanguard of rapid change, develops a newcontrols system.

Still, home owners shouldn't be totally discouraged. The upsidepotential is huge. The source is renewable; it will last forever. Panels aregetting warranties that last 25 years. That fits pretty well with a 30-yearmortgage. If you are "off the grid", self-sustained, your costs are prettyfixed. Doubt you will be giving yourself periodic rate increases!

Outside of initial costs, which are substantive, you must take intoconsideration where you live. Average sunlight for your area is huge. Toomany cloudy days alone might not make this the best call for you. Snowsignificant in the winter? Hey, someone is going to have to get up on thatroof and remove the white stuff from the panels. At approximately $5,000, aninverter, a thunderstorm and well-placed lighting can do a financial numberon your system.

So once the panels are up on the most famous roof in America, if you want to follow suit, there is some research and work to do before you call out your own make over crew!