Should you install Solar PV on your Roof? Part 2

Should you install Solar PV on your Roof? Part 2

Here is part 2 to answer should you install Solar PV on your roof? Check out part 1 as well as one of our architects, Charles Hendricks and Eric with Green Hill Solar answer your questions.

Charles, how does this Solar PV thing work, will my house be “on the grid?”

You will still use the grid and should pay a usage charge to the power company to be connected – this pays for the grid quality and your access to power at night – even when you are producing what you need or more than what you need – you are using the grid. There are no battery solutions that I have seen yet that are affordable and reliable. When there are, you will not need the grid.


Eric, I understand I can get “free solar” from some companies – how does that work? What about adding Solar to my commercial building? Are there still tax benefits to adding solar PV?

Be aware of the “free solar” statement. There really is no free solar. The current financial benefits are tax oriented. Private individuals and businesses will qualify for a 30% federal tax credit that can be taken over 2 years. Businesses and Farms can, additionally, depreciate their solar equipment. “No money down and no upfront costs” usually refer to a “no money down, loan”. If your project will be financed with a solar loan, understand any “dealer fees” that are being passed on to you. They are used to help bring down the loan rate. When you pay out of pocket for your system, you should evaluate annual production, Return on Investment (ROI), years of payback, and always the environmental benefits. When you pay with a loan, the key metric is comparing monthly payments to your average monthly electric bill.

Charles, should I have my existing roof replaced before adding solar PV?

If your roof is not newer, you probably want a roofer to evaluate the life in it before installing solar. You don’t want to have to remove solar to replace a roof before you have gotten the value out of the solar PV.


Charles, now that you have answered a lot of our questions, where do I start?

Start with this website to determine if your roof has good solar potential.

If the answer is yes, then collect your utility bills for the past year for the solar PV company you decide to reach out to for a quote.

Ask someone like Eric Beck with Green Hill Solar to give you an estimate for installation. The way I would look at it, cost vs value – is to finance the system through a bank with a 15 – 20-year loan (panels will last a long time, but usually have a 25 year warranty). If your payment to the bank is less than your current electric bills, then you should have solar PV. If you can also use the tax credits that is icing on the cake. Solar PV does add value to your home so if / when you sell you should be able to get most if not all your money back out of the system.


Eric, final question, how long does it take to get the system up and operational once you get started.

An average residential installation should take 2-3 days. The utility application and approvals on the front and back end can take up to 30 days, so be ready for patience. Solar PV has been well designed to be very low impact and easy to retrofit on most homes, so the impact on the lifestyle of the occupants is minimal. Ultimately, be comfortable with the installer and their abilities, as you would be with any contractor. And understand, despite the rewarding nature of solar work, the unique challenges of solar work include navigating long utility review processes, local building departments, and physically demanding technical work.

What questions do you have that we can give to Charles and Eric to consider?

sunsetting and birds flying over roof solar panels of Casa Cielo

Photo above of Casa Cielo solar panels by Susan L Beck with Green Hill Solar.

Should you install Solar PV on your Roof? Part 1

Should you install Solar PV on your Roof? Part 1

Over the last couple of weeks, several people have posted questions on social media about adding solar photovoltaic (PV) to their home. So, should you install Solar PV on your roof? We asked one of our architects, Charles Hendricks, and reached out to the owner of a Solar PV company, Eric Beck, with Green Hill Solar to help us understand.

So, Charles, should we all have solar PV on our rooftops?

Solar on south-facing unshaded roofs that are financed with an equity line will cost you less per month than you pay now for power (in most cases). The equity line is a loan so you must qualify for the loan and will have debt until the loan is paid off. This will eliminate some that don’t have enough equity or others that don’t want to carry debt. However, you could look at your monthly power bill as a “loan payment” the same as an equity loan payment. If solar PV is cheaper or even the same price as grid power, I think the answer is yes, we should all have solar on our rooftops.


Eric, what are your thoughts about solar PV on our rooftops?

Distributed solar is increasingly becoming viable for many more people as technology improves and costs decrease through improved collection and other market incentives. Distributed solar is generally photovoltaic (electric production) and located on rooftops or ground mounts. They are very simply small electrical plants that are connecting to the grid across the country. A south-facing roof is ideal! Even if a roof is not exactly south facing (azimuth), solar collection has improved so dramatically that even East or West facing roofs can make sense.

solar panels overlooking mountains

Charles, how do you decide what Solar PV company to use to install this clean energy source?

There are many companies that are good quality trusted options in the area – I know most of them. There are benefits to full-service companies that will finance the system for you but they have more risk, so they get more reward. There are companies that have a better customer interface – again – you pay for that warm fuzzy feeling. Then there are companies that are average on warm fuzzy feelings that don’t finance the systems that cost less up front to. Your roof will need to be analyzed to be able to hold the added weight – all the companies will offer this service. Some of the companies will also do an energy audit and offer weatherization to cut use before installing the solar. Interview and select the company that you trust to provide the best value.


Eric, what are some ways to evaluate a Solar PV company before you hire one?

Because I’m in the business, I can sometimes lose perspective of what it’s like to be a customer.  Below are some excellent questions that I have been asked recently by our customers when we were assessing their homes and offering our design/proposals.

  • Why have the companies chosen their type of solar panel and inverter?  Always look for Tier 1 panels, and the differing inverters offer their own pros and cons.
  • What is the equipment warranty period and how are the solar companies warranting their labor?  You should be getting a warranty of at least 25 yrs. for all rooftop components and understand how the warranty on installation works.
  • Is my roof or our property good for solar?  Most salespeople should be able to outline how your property compares to an ideal orientation, and how much your solar production will be impacted by shading from trees, roof features, or adjacent roofs.  In the Shenandoah Valley, there can be shading impacts from close valleys and ridges as well.  Fortunately, your roof doesn’t have to be oriented in the perfect way to benefit from solar.  Solar collection has improved dramatically and makes it possible for many to realize the environmental and financial benefits of solar.

Part 2 coming soon, check back for more answers.

Massanutten Technical Center Summer Camp – Architecture

Massanutten Technical Center Summer Camp – Architecture

This summer I taught a class for Massanutten Technical Center Summer Camp in Architecture. This was my third time teaching the course and it was as rewarding as ever.

Massanutten Technical Center


One of the greatest gifts I have ever been given in life was finding my passion. I love serving others and it feeds my soul. One of the ways I am able to do this is by sharing my knowledge about architecture with others. I do this in blogs, on social media, lectures, and recently through a week long summer camp at Massanutten Technical Center. I had a class of 11 middle school students that signed up (most of them) or were signed up for my course because architecture sounded interesting. This week was a chance to explore a future career option, flex some design muscles, stretch their comfort zone, and get exposed to the built environment in a new way.

Massanutten Technical Center

The main project I used for this week long course was designing a floorplan. In just 20 hours it is hard to do more than conceptualize a familiar kind of space. We talk about styles of architecture, scale, famous works of architecture, famous architects, color, light, and more. It’s a fun week for me to share something I love – the process of creating design.

The students take on the challenges along the way with a tower building challenge using marshmallows and toothpicks and a bridge challenge using one sheet of paper. We watch a variety of videos on sketching to learn different techniques and talk about how to sculpt space. We investigate room sizes and learn about architectural scales as a way to convey information to others.

Massanutten Technical Center
Massanutten Technical Center

Each day has a new challenge and by the end, each student has a floorplan designed for a family they have imagined. Some of the students get to the point of building a 3D version of their floorplan so they can better see the spaces. This allows them to think about a roof and vertical form of their creation.

Massanutten Technical Center
Massanutten Technical Center
Massanutten Technical Center

Taking on this summer camp while keeping up at work is a challenge each time I have done it. However, it is so worth it to see these students grow. Over just a week, I could see them becoming more confident in their abilities to design and think through spatial design problems. If you have the opportunity to share your passion with others, in a summer camp or just a conversation, I encourage you to take the chance to share.

Harrisonburg headquarters

Harrisonburg headquarters

We have been so busy over the last month we failed to post photos from our big party! Here is the press release and some photos from the event.

Gaines Group Architects moves firm headquarters to renovated historic Harrisonburg train station.

The Gaines Group, PLC, Architects is pleased to announce the relocation of its firm headquarters to the historic Chesapeake Western Railroad Depot in the heart of Harrisonburg, Virginia. This milestone marks multiple points of celebration for the firm. Over the last 37 years this business has grown from a one-person operation to a thriving two-location small architectural firm serving communities across four states including Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. In the last 15 years it has experienced a substantial increase in the number and average size of projects and has doubled the size of the firm. This year Raymond Gaines and Charles Hendricks were joined by Paul Tassell, Adrienne Stronge, Deborah Smith, and James Halstead as principals, thus increasing the businesses’ resilience. The firm is celebrating six new hires who bring a diverse set of talents to the organization. Providing architectural services for a project base that includes custom residential, multi-family residential, industrial, educational, commercial, renovation, child care, and more has allowed the firm to continue to grow in spite of the COVID pandemic.

Charles attributes the firm’s growth to its focus on design that creates a better future for all. He says, “Our focus is to find ways to build a stronger community for everyone. We do this through our projects, designing sustainable solutions into every project. We use design strategies that are durable, energy-efficient, and healthy that not only benefit our client, but the community as a whole. We also seek out organizations in our communities that we can partner with and support through volunteer efforts to further this goal. From our work on boards and commissions, to giving our time and skills, we want our legacy to be one of caring for others, the environment, and our collective future.“

#hilltophouse is complete

#hilltophouse is complete

The #hilltophouse is complete, built by Sauder Builders, Inc,. We were able to photograph the inside (outside photos pending the landscape to spring forth with spring weather). #hilltophouse was designed with a goal of allowing family to gather with connection to the outside at all times. The incredible kitchen developed by Lantz Custom Woodworking serves as an anchor in the main living space with the two-story brick wall on the other side of the open living space giving instant character. The exposed steel beams sit on top of the heavy wood timbers that mimic the exterior porch columns supporting the loft above. The open cable rail system allows for the industrial style to take on a modern twist while the wood floors from Weavers Flooring warm the space that will capture many years of memories.

The primary bedroom and bathroom suite is an oasis for relaxation. The brick is carried into this space giving the space instant charm while the large windows and doors open the space to incredible views. The oversized shower and soaking tub will serve as a wonderful place to unwind and relax.

bathtub and roll-in glass shower

The second floor features a bunk room, third bedroom, and gaming room along with another bathroom. This incredible home will be the homestead of many generations to gather and celebrate milestones and holidays.

room with built-in wooden shelves
bunk beds built into the walls

The floating stair blends the industrial and modern style while maintaining the open light style of the living space.

floating wooden staircase

More pictures of the exterior to come as soon as the landscaping come in.

wrap around porch
view of misty mountains from deck