It’s easy to see how Jenn and Tim Morrow have taken their 1890s Victorian into the 21st century.
Just look up at the 18 photovoltaic solar panels glinting in the sun on the roof. And that’s not all.
In their St. Paul backyard, they’ve attached an array of eight more panels to a massive pergola surrounded by water-conserving native-plant gardens. The Morrows dine al fresco on a permeable paver patio, which absorbs and filters rainwater runoff. And they regularly charge their electric vehicle, a Nissan Leaf.
It makes Jenn happy when she spies the rooftop solar panels from across the street or from her home’s attic bedroom window. “We’re a small part of a big positive change,” she said.
You’ll get a chance to ask the Morrows questions about their solar system at the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society (MRES) Sustainable Home Tour.
Their free Solar Open House is from noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 5 and 6 and is among 66 being held across the state, with 31 in the Twin Cities — from Albertville to Stillwater — scheduled at various hours and dates.
The MRES tour is an opportunity to connect with people in the community who support solar energy and other sustainable practices. (For details, check the map at mnrenewables.org/sustainable-home-tour.)
“People are always asking us about the solar panels,” said Jenn. “We want to encourage others and help them take that first step.”
The Morrows bought the 19th-century Victorian, which had been converted into a duplex over the years, in 1998. The couple was contemplating installing solar panels, and finally in 2017, hired All Energy Solar to complete the job before state tax incentives and rebates were discontinued.
“We really got excited when All Energy looked at our Victorian roof and backyard pergola and said it would work,” said Jenn.
Their 26-panel system cost $37,000, which they financed through All Energy Solar, expecting a payback in 10 years with the savings from their electric bill.
Photovoltaic panels convert solar energy into electricity, and a meter on the side of the house measures energy production.
“We create more power than we are using when the sun’s out,” said Jenn. “We were surprised that fall and spring were huge energy production months,” added Tim.
But what about winter snow? “It usually melts off the panels,” said Jenn.
The couple is kept aware of the amount of power used daily by monitoring a smartphone app. “We’ve changed our habits after seeing how much power a light, TV and refrigerator uses,” said Jenn.
Over the last two years, the Morrows’ electric bill has been zero because they generate all the electricity they use.
“We’re proud we made the investment to reduce the use of fossil fuels — even slightly,” said Tim.
Homeowners go solar for lots of reasons, such as reducing energy costs, taking control of their energy use and helping to protect the environment.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce estimates that there are between 3,000 and 3,500 homes statewide that have installed solar arrays to generate electricity. The number of projects has been on the rise due, in part, to utility incentives.
Homeowner Larry Etkin is looking beyond today — and far into the future.
Last year, Solar Farm installed his 18-panel solar system — which cost $24,000 — on the roof of his early 1900s home in Minneapolis after photovoltaic panels started getting more affordable, he said. He’s holding a Solar Open House from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 6.
“If my grandkids turn around and say, ‘Why didn’t you care about climate change and stop this calamity,’ I can tell them I did my part as much as I could.”
Etkin’s next big purchase? An electric car.
Minnesota Renewable Energy Society Sustainable Home Tour
What: Self-guided Solar Open Houses across the state, with 31 residences in the Twin Cities. Ask questions about solar panel arrays, how they work and why homeowners chose to go solar, as well as other sustainable practices. Organized by the MRES, Solar United Neighbors (solarunitedneighbors.org) and American Solar Energy Society (ases.org).
When: Open house hours and dates vary, with the majority on Oct. 5-6. Check the tour map for details at mnrenewables.org/sustainable-home-tour.