- The Washington Times - Friday, December 20, 2002

When Scott Sklar had solar panels installed on his home in Alexandria, the neighbors thought the roof looked a bit odd. "They thought it was weird-looking," Mr. Sklar says.

"It's just new, and they had to get used to it. On the West Coast, there are so many homes with solar, they don't even think about it."

Eventually, as their utility bills continued to increase, the doubters had a different perspective, Mr. Sklar says. "Then they looked at me and said, 'Maybe that's a smart idea.'"

As president of the Stella Group, a marketing and policy firm for clean-distributed-energy industries, Mr. Sklar is an expert on the benefits and uses of alternative energy solutions. He has used solar heating and electricity in his home since 1985. He says it has worked "flawlessly" and has saved him about $20 to $40 a month in water-heating bills and can offset at least one-fourth of his heating expenses each month.

However, Mr. Sklar makes sure his house doesn't waste precious energy. He says he also has well-insulated double-paned windows and uses a low-energy Maytag washer as well as compact fluorescent lighting.

Though most homeowners aren't quite as energized about alternative energy appliances as Mr. Sklar, conservation is becoming more of a priority to area residents.

Yet, despite evidence showing that homeowners are open to using alternative technologies, area Realtors remain skeptical of new energy-efficient gadgets.

Realtors say homes with these types of options are unfamiliar, and when it comes to sales, anything different is a hindrance.

Judi Levin of Ferris, Peter and Levin Realtors, based in the District, says, "Anything out of the ordinary can be difficult" and can make it much more challenging to sell a home. Homeowners in Maryland, Virginia and the District are slowly but steadily experimenting with environmentally sound products to boost their savings on utility bills and conserve energy.

Pellet stoves, tankless water heaters and solar power are three alternative technologies that are growing in popularity.

Dale Kelley, owner of Tri-County Hearth and Patio in Waldorf, Md., says he is selling more pellet stoves than traditional wood stoves because of increasing public awareness of the heaters, as well as attractive tax incentives. Maryland has exempted pellet stoves from the state sales tax if the stove can burn corn in addition to wood-based pellets, which makes the stoves even more appealing.

Mr. Kelley says pellet appliances make up 35 percent of the total revenues in the hearth-products industry.

"In the last few years, this area has been a hotbed for pellet appliances," Mr. Kelley says. "They're becoming more popular as the general public becomes more aware of them and what they do."

The stoves work on pellets loaded into a hopper, where they are fed into the fire. The output of heat is adjusted by the rate at which the pellets are fed into the grate. In some models, this adjustment is controlled by a thermostat.

Mr. Kelley says the stoves provide "the convenience and bone-warming heat" of wood heat, yet they are cleaner-burning than standard wood stoves.

Tankless water heaters are another example of an unfamiliar technology that gradually is gaining acceptance by area homeowners.

Home Depot, the largest retailer of the on-demand water heaters, says consumers are showing increased interest.

"We have seen a double-digit increase in sales of tankless water heaters since last year, and we expect that trend to continue," says John Simley, spokesman for the Eastern Division of Home Depot.

Home Depot recently has staked out a position in energy-conservation products, Mr. Simley says. The move is less of a reaction to huge consumer demand than it is an effort to "incubate" this category of products, he says.

"Our goal is to put it on the shelf and see how people respond," Mr. Simley says.

He says he has confidence that homeowners in the Washington area will continue to gravitate toward the energy-efficient products, as fuel prices and awareness of energy options continue to rise.

Kenrick Waithe, president of Arwa Technologies, manufacturer and retailer of tankless water-heating systems, says his primary focus is making inroads into local markets and that the biggest hurdle to tankless water heaters is lack of exposure.

"We have to convince people that this small, tiny box will do the job," he says.

The on-demand water-heater unit his company markets is as small as a telephone directory, so it can be installed centrally in the home, even in a bedroom, which means hot water moving more quickly to the tap.

Mr. Waithe explains that the water heaters reduce energy consumption as much as 30 percent by decreasing the energy used to keep a tank of water heated when no faucet is on.

Cold water travels through a pipe into the unit, and either a gas burner or an electric element heats the water only when it is needed. Mr. Waithe says a tankless water heater can save the buyer up to $4,000 over the life cycle of a current standard tank water heater.

Despite the growing awareness of newer alternative-technology appliances, solar energy which captured the imagination with space-age application of solar voltaic cells in the 1960s is most popular.

Still, very few homes are built and sold with solar arrays. According to the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, since 1993, just slightly more than 400 homes with some form of solar energy have been sold in Maryland, Virginia and the District combined. A dozen of those were resales of the same homes over the nine-year period. Home sales reached record proportions in the region over that same period. For perspective, annual sales are projected to hit 110,000 homes for 2002.

Still, solar enthusiasts remain, well, downright sunny about their prospects.

Ann Elsen, executive director of the Maryland/DC/Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association, says the solar business is thriving so much that several area contractors have had trouble keeping pace with the demand.

Ms. Elsen believes wider awareness has made solar energy a compelling choice and helped dispel misconceptions about solar energy.

"Local events, including the solar decathlon in D.C., have garnered public approval for solar technologies," she says. The decathlon is a new student competition to design and operate the most attractive and effective solar-powered house. It is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and was held on the Mall Sept. 26 through Oct. 6.

Incentives, such as the property-tax exemption for home solar-energy systems offered in Virginia, also make solar an alluring proposition. This Virginia statute exempts solar-energy equipment from local property taxes.

Maryland also offers a state income-tax credit of 15 percent of the total installed cost of a solar water-heating or photovoltaic (PV) electrical system, as well as residential solar rebates of up to $3,200 for PV systems that are 1,000 watts and larger.

Energy conservationists such as Mr. Sklar stress that it's just a matter of time before homeowners consider solar panels, pellet stoves and other devices to be routine choices.

Mr. Sklar believes that when he finally is ready to sell his house, the solar energy will help the home sell more rapidly.

"By that time, this technology will be commonplace," he says. "It won't be so exotic, as it is considered to be now."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide