How Solar Power Works in Springfield, Missouri and Why You Should Invest In A Solar Array

Earlier this year, I decided to look into solar power. There is a 26% federal tax credit this year for solar, and it had been about 4 years since I had last looked into getting solar for our house. Back in 2017, it was a bit more expensive and a bit less efficient, but the tax credit combined with some improvements in the technology made it an absolute no-brainer to add a solar array to our house.

In this post, I’ll talk about the financial reasons for getting solar this year, and then I’ll cover how solar works with City Utilities (CU) in Springfield.

Important note the first: solar only makes sense if you own your home and plan to live in it for a long time. Without those two things being true, you won’t get a sufficient ROI for them to make sense at this time in Springfield.

Important note the second: for serious, if you do decide to get solar, let me know so I can refer you to Simple Solar and we’ll get some nice rewards.

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Outdoor Improvements

Back in 2017, I began dreaming about making some improvements to our back yard. Sections of our fence had blown over twice during thunderstorms, and while I had done my best to prop them back up and nail everything together, I really wanted to just replace it. The untreated lumber combined with too-long nails that stuck through every inch was all just terrible.

But the single quote I got for a new fence told me that I couldn’t afford it yet. Then, in 2018, Simon came along and we also needed to invest more into what I call “foundational” improvements. Foundational work is invisible but essential and included things like insulating our ducts, adding a vapor barrier to the crawl space, etc.

The summer of 2019, we learned that Simon (and probably all kids) loved to be outside. He wanted to play outside all the time. And while Simon wasn’t bothered by the desert wasteland that was our yard on summer afternoons, April and I were generally miserable out there. We wanted him to play outside a lot, but we didn’t actually want to be outside, which was a problem. So I took my dreams and started sketching out some ideas and doing a lot of research.

Uncertain how to fund everything that I wanted to do, I asked people on Reddit for advice during the summer of 2020. Simon was about to turn 2 years old and was now properly running around, and April increasingly wanted a patio roof so she could go out the back door when it was raining and not get wet. I also really liked the idea of being able to grill in the rain.

Reddit gave me the idea to refinance our house and take cash out of the equity. Thanks to pandemic weirdness, we were able to lower our interest rate at the same time our home value shot up, so we’ll actually pay our house off sooner and we got enough money from our equity to fund about 45% of the work that I wanted to have done. The rest of our Outdoor Improvement projects were funded by covid stimulus checks, holiday gifts, decreasing my 401k contribution for 5 months, credit card churning, and laser-focused re-prioritization using YNAB.

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“The next steps are pretty easy…”

Hahahahahaha.

So, Attic Work pt. 3 took 6 hours. It also took 3 months for me to find the time to do pt. 3 after pt 2.

I did call the roofing company back in April, but the fellow I spoke with sounded a bit perplexed about what I wanted him to do. He wasn’t confused because it was too difficult, but rather because it’s so easy that he didn’t know why I would pay him to do it.

That prompted me to watch some YouTube videos and decide to do the work myself. I bought the tools I needed… and 2+ months passed because I was busy with travel and family things. Or, on the rare Saturday when I was available, it was raining.

Anyways, I was able to do the remaining work yesterday. This was comprised of:

  1. Crimping duct connectors to fit them into the insulated 4″ ducts I had bought.
  2. Getting everything up into the attic (requisite tools, foil tape, ducts, etc.).
  3. Crawling back to the tight spaces where the fans are.
  4. Taping and clamping the ducts to the fans.
  5. Driving two nails through the roof (from the attic) to mark where I wanted to install the ducts.
  6. Repairing the air return (which had a huge gap in it due to damage I had caused months ago from crawling over it).
  7. Repairing the vent pipe from the hot water heater (which had a huge gap in it due to something a previous contractor had done).
  8. Climbing onto the roof and schlepping all the tools up there.
  9. Cutting back some shingles and then drilling two 4″ holes in the roof where the nails were (a few feet apart).
  10. Reaching down into the attic through what turned out to be a super hot hole in the wood to grab the duct and pull it up.
  11. Cutting some tabs into the duct to nail it down (see a video of what I did on This Old House).
  12. Popping the roof caps into place.
  13. Sealing the roof caps with tri-polymer caulk and doing the same to the shingles.

I thought it’d take around 2 hours. It took 6 and, by the time I got to the roof work, the roof was so hot that it melted the soles off my shoes.

It’s also worth remembering that a chunk of that 6 hours was driving to get things I was missing. For instance, I had bought 6″ duct connectors instead of 4″. And 6″ roof caps when I needed 4″! I don’t know what I was thinking, because the exhaust fans were clearly 4″ and I had 4″ ducts. And I realized all of these things in stages: first to Ace immediately for the connectors, then about 4 hours later to Matthew Epperson’s to borrow a drill with a 4″ hole saw (because the mandril I bought for the hole saw I also bought for this project won’t fit in my stupid drill). And then I cut back the shingles and drilled the first hole, only to realize that I had 6″ roof caps instead of 4″! So I had to go to Home Depot about 5 hours into the project to exchange those. The best laid plans… ah well.

Anyways, the roofer wasn’t wrong. The part of the work that I would have paid him to do took maybe 15-20 minutes. It would have been less with 2 people (one to pass the duct up through the hole in the roof instead of trying to reach down through the 4″ burning hot hole in the wood to feel around and find a duct).

It may rain tomorrow, so we’ll find out then if I did a good enough job sealing everything. If I didn’t, we’ll have a leak in either Simon’s bedroom or the master bedroom, and I’m not going to bother and try to fix it myself. That was miserable yesterday. I’m just going to call the roofing company to come and patch it.

All of this work up in the attic required wearing a respirator mask while working in the heat, and at one point (after the first two hours of non-stop work), I had to come down, sit on the kitchen floor, and just catch my breath. I was soaked through as if I’d been sitting in a bathtub fully-clothed. Summer is not an ideal time for this, but it is what it is.

Anyways, barring a roof leak, the work is done! I also wrapped some insulation around the repaired air return and I’m hoping that this combined with repairing the gap will have a small but noticeable impact in our electricity bill.

Attic work pt. 2

I have finished the hardest part of the attic work. I laid enough floor (2×8 OSB, cut to fit around cross-beams while kneeling in our shallow attic) to get to where the bathroom exhaust fans are. After some fruitless digging through a foot or two of insulation, I crawled out and texted April asking her to turn the fans on.

And then I crawled back in. To reach the master bathroom, it’s tighter than the crawlspace under our house. Once I’m in there, I can’t turn around, I just have to wiggle backward to get out. It’s like spelunking, but infinitely less terrifying. Except that there are electrical wires and I couldn’t turn off the electricity because I needed the damned fan to be on so I could find it.

Once it was on, I realized that I was only about 2.5 feet away from it. The rush of excitement when I cleared enough insulation for the exhaust vent to start blowing insulation was amazing.

Finding the hallway bathroom one was a bit easier–I could at least kneel over there. And it already had a duct, albeit one that is far too short and just goes into the attic. And it was covered in insulation.

But now I’ve found both, so the next steps are pretty easy:

  1. Call the roofing company to schedule a time when they can install the vent hoods. (I could do the work myself, but by paying them to install and seal, it maintains my warranty and they’ll have to handle any leaks that arise.)
  2. On the morning they’re due to arrive, I’ll go back up into the attic with the ducts (which I need to buy) and trace their circumference on the decking where I want them to connect to the hoods.
  3. Drill 8 holes on the circumference line through the decking. For each duct, I’ll leave a drill bit stuck through the decking so it pushes the shingles up and is easy to find from the top side.
  4. The roofer will pull the shingles back and I’ll cut through the roof from above with a jigsaw.
  5. Once the roofer is done installing the vent hoods, I’ll get back into the attic, attach the ducts to the hoods, and tape them.

I also need to get some insulation and seal up a section of our return vent ductwork (heating/cooling).

But all of this will have to wait a month. I leave for the Atlassian Summit conference in Las Vegas tomorrow. I’ll get back on Friday, and then four days later we’re going to Canada to visit Eric and Stephanie.

So close to done. It’ll feel really good to have this project closed out.

The Housework Continues

In a few weeks, we’re going to have a new shower installed in our master bathroom. The base of the old (fiberglass) shower had cracked through, so the subfloor may need to be replaced, and the walls were pretty bad too. So the whole thing is going to go.

As part of this, I decided to replace the exhaust fan in that bathroom. It’s a 50 CFM fan and we need at least 93 CFM based on the size of the room, so I bought a 110 CFM fan. After taking the old fan out, I found that it’s just insulation above it with no exhaust duct, and that’s bad.

Knowing that our attic is over-insulated with up to 2 feet of blown, loose fiberglass insulation, I kitted up to crawl through it, all the way to the far corner of the house, and check out what the master bathroom looked like from above. This was my first time going past the attic door, and unsurprisingly, it was quite a challenge. What I discovered was that not only is it hard to get to that spot above the master bath, but there’s nowhere in the roof suitable for venting back there. I had figured that, worst-case scenario, I could run a duct up to the ridge vent, but the ridge vent is pretty far from that fan.

So I need to install some vent hoods, but I’ll need to wait for it to stop raining first. Lowe’s doesn’t have the hoods I want, but I found them from Home Depot and ordered two. Because, of course, our other bathroom isn’t vented either, so I might as well do both at the same time.

And since this means I’m going to be crawling around the attic repeatedly, I’m also going to buy some plywood and build myself a path on top of the ceiling beams. I was able to crawl around balanced on them, but it was tricky and unnecessarily dangerous. I’d really like to not fall through the ceiling, so putting down ~20 of those boards should help a lot.

Having a plywood path will also make it easier to move around some of the insulation. There are some drifts where it’s at least 2-3 feet deep, and other areas where it’s just a few inches. Having a stable platform will make it easier to get up there with a rake or something and push it into the areas where it’s lacking.

I took a few days off this week to do the work and then recover from it, and it doesn’t look like I can get everything done. I can go ahead and put up the fan, but I need to check with our roofing company to make sure that installing the vents myself won’t void the warranty. If it would, I’ll need to hire them to do it. The hoods won’t arrive until Friday, and I’ll pick up the plywood on Saturday.

But that’s alright. Working on the house doesn’t fill me with the dread it once did. I keep doing stuff and not destroying anything, which is encouraging, and I think I’ve got a pretty decent plan that will make our attic a lot easier to work in going forward. Right now, it’s nearly impossible, but building a 2-foot wide platform all the way through (with a few offshoots over some of the rooms) will help a lot.