That warm summer sun may be the perfect backdrop for a day of barbecuing, hiking or swimming – but can it help you save for the future, too? With some home-renovation projects, it’s easy to calculate a return on your investment: More square footage, an extra bathroom and a finished basement almost always add value to a property, but other upgrades, such as solar-energy options, remain a mystery to some homeowners. Still, whether you’re looking to save money or the environment, or fall somewhere in between, investing in solar electric or thermal energy systems not only adds value to your home, but drastically reduces your monthly expenses – making sense for your bottom line as well.

When considering a solar makeover, solar electric and solar thermal systems stand out as the most common options for residential structures. Solar walls, used mostly in commercial buildings, also exist, but are less common in homes because they require space on the side of a structure dedicated to black panels. Solar electric systems – also called photovoltaics – gather rays from the sun to turn into electricity, through the use of panels on a home’s roof.

Wondering if solar electric is worth it for your home? The good news is, simply stepping outside your house will likely tell you immediately: Since solar electric systems are very sensitive to shading, they require plenty of sun exposure all day, year-round. If your home experiences shading by even a very small percentage, your electrical output can be reduced by a significant amount – and may not save you as much money in the long run. Still, in houses that don’t have as much shading, many homeowners can expect a large reduction in their electric bill – to the tune of one-third to one-half, or more.
Thankfully, solar thermal systems – which can be installed on the roof of the home, where they catch the sun’s rays, which transfer the heat from the sun into the hot water that comes out of the sinks and showers in your home. While a small shaded portion of a solar electric panel can decrease the system’s output by more than 75 percent, solar thermal systems are more proportional: If you shade 10 percent, your output will only be reduced by approximately 10 percent, making it a more cost-effective and reliable choice.

Since solar thermal will give more bang for your buck, those at Malcarne Contracting also suggest starting there if you’re wondering if a solar upgrade is worth it: Usually, you’ll recoup your investment twice as fast as solar electric by saving a whopping 65 percent of your hot water energy bill. Still, in many situations, both solar electric and solar thermal systems will pay for themselves in three to five years with available tax credits and incentives – making now the time to invest. Three forms of funding include a 25 percent state tax credit (capped at $5,000), a 30 percent federal tax credit (with no cap) – both of which can be used until 2016 – as well as incentives available from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

Still not convinced? Let Malcarne’s experts crunch the numbers for your home – for free. By walking you through the process step-by-step and evaluating the amount of kilowatt hours and hot water your house uses, Malcarne can establish just how much a solar electric or thermal system could save you. And like those perfect, sunny summer days, these savings won’t last forever: Tax credits and incentives are being reduced at a quicker rate, which means that three- to five-year payback will soon slip away as well. Harnessing the sun and saving your hard-earned dollars for years to come? It just may be the perfect way to keep a little bit of summer all year long.