Recently we reported on the Webster House which decided to go ahead with a solar thermal project for their condo building’s domestic hot water use with Skyline Innovations a DC based solar company and Max Chamovitz of the Webster House condo board there addressed some of the questions I continually see come up when buildings in DC are considering a solar installation. It is important that condo building residents and board members be able to share their experiences and learn from each other as the market expands and affords more buildings a real viable set of options to going forth with solar.

Do feel free to post additional questions to this column as they will be fwd to the parties that can address the questions best.

1. What prompted the board at the Webster House to consider solar thermal?

The Webster House was actually made aware of Skyline’s solar thermal project though old fashion cold-calling. One of the employees, Aaron, used to walk past our building most every day, and he thought that Webster House might be a good candidate for solar thermal. He did some research and looked up our board of directors on line. He saw I had some experience in the renewable energy field and choose to contact me directly. I was receptive to the idea and invited him to make a pitch to the Board. About 6 months later – perhaps longer – we had a signed a contract with them.

What was most compelling for our Board was the fact that the install would be done at ZERO cost to the condo association. The Board was already in the process of planning three other major renovation projects (the building is over 40 years old) and there simply wasn’t money in the budget for us to initiate a project of this scope if we were going to have to pay for it out of pocket.

2. Was everyone on the condo board accepting of the idea of going this route?

At first no. As is human nature people were skeptical, but eventually it was a unanimous vote by the condo board to go through with the project.

3. Was there any convincing that needed to be done?

As in anything that is “new” there needs to be convincing. Though solar thermal is hardly a new technology it was unknown to us and our condo community. As a Board we did a lot of research before going forward — such as would this in any way adversely affect the hot water, would it be too hot, or more importantly would it not be hot enough? Could the panels withstand high winds? Could installing the panels cause leaks through the roof? Would the panels need regular maintenance? And most importantly, is it REALLY not going to cost us anything – how is that possible – is there a catch??? Though it sounded too good to be true (save money, save the environment, someone else will do the install plus the maintenance, and oh yeah… doing all of this won’t cost you a cent) it in fact really was just as good as it sounded. Once we realized this, we decided to do it because honestly we couldn’t see any reason NOT to go forward.

4. What do you hear from residents now that you are all set up with solar?

The project has only been up and running for about 2.5 months now. The response (with only one exception) has been overwhelmingly positive. To the end user the hot water is still just as hot and the water pressure just the same. People don’t like change so if there had been any kind of decrease in performance – no matter how small – I’m sure we would have never heard the end of it. Fortunately, that hasn’t been the case.

The other thing that I think helps create a positive feeling is that people feel connected to this project. We have a rooftop pool deck that gets used frequently. And every time someone goes up there they can see those panels and are reminded that in some small way, we’re doing something that’s good for the environment.

At this point we don’t quite know how much money it’s saving us because it’s only been in for a couple of months. But I think the feedback will be even more resoundingly positive when people realize that this project doesn’t just make their hearts feel good, but feels good on their wallets too.

Michael Kiefer
Green DC Realty Team
Phoenix Real Estate Solutions
Realtors DC/MD/VA

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