Photo by xedos4. Published on 30 October 2012 on

Solar Energy, Is a solar panel system right for me?

Solar energy has been available for many years but cost prohibitive until recent years. Even today the payback on solar systems is not there without the help of incentives and tax credits to reduce the overall cost. The payback with incentives included usually figures to about ten years.

If you are interested in renewable energy, such as solar power, then you will want to do some homework on the type of system and  financial costs associated to purchasing and installing. This article will provide some key points to consider as you explore your options.

Sales Representative – A sales representative from a company providing solar systems may be a good resource for understanding what options are available. Remember, however, the sales person is trying to sell you on the positive aspects of the system so it will be up to you to look for the potential pitfalls.

Utility Company – Be sure to ask your energy supplier what special requirements they have to connect a solar system to the utility grid. These requirements can be an expensive extra cost if not considered upfront as part of the system package. You will also need to know what the ongoing charge will be for the connection to the grid (often referred to as the innerconnection fee) and if you plan to sell back extra energy what payment will be provided for such.

For Alliant Energy customers more information can be found on their website. Customer-Owned Generation in IOWA

Insurance cost – As part of the connection to the electrical grid the utility company requires additional insurance. You will want to consider this additional ongoing operating cost.

Rebates – Some utilities do not have any rebate program. Check with your utility company for details on what incentive programs are offered for the type of system you are planning.

Iowa Property Tax Exemptions – The added value to the property by the solar system is exempt from property tax for 5 years.

Income Tax Credits – There are different tax credits available in Iowa. More information is available from U.S. Department of Energy site DSIRE.  Tax credits reduce the amount of your tax payment by the amount of the credit. Some refer to this as a dollar-for-dollar reduction. But remember, tax credits only apply if you owe taxes that exceed the amount of the credit. There may be limitations on carrying the credits over to the next year so that needs to be considered as well.

Check with your tax adviser to fully understand how these tax incentives may apply to your financial situation.

Lease vs Purchase – Some companies will offer a lease plan instead of ownership. In a lease type agreement you will have to forfeit any rebates or tax incentives to the lease provider and pay monthly fee to lease holder. You will want to compare the monthly lease fee to the expected reduction in utility cost to determine financial benefit. The savings per month may be minimal after lease payment.

Turnkey system – Unless you are very familiar with solar systems and construction requirements you will want to purchase a turnkey system to ensure everything is included. You do not want to have to dig more money out of your pocket for unexpected expenses.

Solar Panel Mounting Options – There are two basic types of mounts: roof or ground.

Roof mounts are usually cheaper to install but are harder to repair, also you want to take into consideration the condition of your roof–would suggest that your roof be expected to last at least 25 years.  Some roof configurations and sizes are not suitable for mounting the number of panels needed. Also roof mounts are harder for firemen to fight a fire and they are somewhat hesitate to be around the solar panels.

Also snow will build up on roof mounts more than ground mounts–when snow covered the panels produce very little energy.  The snow will melt off when the sun comes out if there’s only a small amount.  Normally the ground mounts are at a steeper angle and the snow doesn’t stay on them as well, or you can sweep the snow off the ground mounts.

Ground mounts require additional mounting structure which may increase installation cost over roof mounts, but do provide for easier access to the system and greater flexibility. The quantity of panels is generally not limited to spacing constraints, unlike roof mounts.

Power Outages – For solar systems that connected to the grid, when there is a power outage the solar system is also out. Simply put, don’t expect the solar system to perform as a backup power source. A separate off-grid system with storage batteries would be required to provide backup power during power outages. Other backup power solutions are available; discuss with your installer or electrician for options.

Get References – Don’t be afraid to ask questions, get names of others in your community who have done it and talk with them.  Find out their experiences.


If you have solar system questions please contact McGill’s Repair and Construction at 641-437-1086 or submit request for quote.

Thank You,

David McGill
James McGill

Article written by Tim McGill, editor@Tree Branch Publishing. (Solar system house image courtesy of  xedos4, Published on 30 October 2012 at

Be bright image_300x200

Where to buy discounted LED light bulbs in Southern Iowa

In the past a discount on energy efficient light bulbs was provided by the utility company in the form of a rebate. In 2014 Alliant Energy discontinued it’s rebate program for light bulbs and instead is co-sponsoring the Be Bright program.

The Be Bright program allows you to purchase certain light bulbs at a discounted price directly from the retail store. Look for the Be Bright label on the shelf near the price sticker. The benefit is that the discount is applied at the point of sale and no rebate forms are required.

The catch?

  • Only certain stores are participating in the program.
  • Only certain light bulbs are selected.
  • You must be utility customer of Alliant Energy or MidAmerican Energy.
  • No rebates are available other than through the Be Bright program. If the store doesn’t participate or carry the brand/style of light bulbs you prefer then you are out of luck.

 Participating stores and locations:

LED Retailers_ Iowa Change a Light

If your favorite store is not listed above then I encourage you to discuss with the store manager about participating. More information on the Be Bright program can be found at


If you have lighting questions or would like to schedule a technician to perform lighting maintenance, please contact McGill’s Repair and Construction at 641-437-1086.

Thank You,

David McGill
James McGill

Article written by Tim McGill, editor@Tree Branch Publishing.

McGill's Repair is supplier and installer of Navien brand tankless water heaters. Several models to choose from. Contact us for more details.

Condensing Gas technology improves efficiency of tankless water heaters

Understanding tankless condensing gas water heaters.

McGill’s Repair and Construction is a dealer and installer of Navien brand tankless condensing gas water heaters. The Navien water heaters provide an endless supply of hot water using new technology that improves efficiency–an Energy Factor (EF) rating of .95 -.98 compared to .82 for other tankless designs or .55 for tank models. (The minimum EF rating to qualify for Energy Star is .82.) See more information about Energy Star requirements here.

Condensing gas technology is what makes Navien’s water heaters more efficient, but what in the world does that mean?

Condensing Gas Technology

A condensing gas type water heater improves the efficiency of the heating by capturing the heat from the exhaust gases created by the burning of the fuel, in this case natural gas or propane.

The temperature of the exhaust gas can range from 250 to 450 degrees F and is wasted energy when expelled directly outside. In addition, this high temperature gas requires special vent piping–sometimes referred to as a flue–to prevent damage to nearby structure and potential fire hazards.

In a condensing gas tankless water heater there are two heating points, the primary and secondary heat exchangers. The role of the heat exchangers is to transfer heat from the source to the item being heated, i.e. the water. The primary heat source comes from the gas burners used to heat the water to the desired temperature. The hot exhaust gases that are created are then used as the secondary heat source to preheat the water prior to the primary heater (so in this case the meaning of secondary is: resulting from something else that is primary, not comes after).

A diagram of how the Navien tankless water heaters works is available here. As you can see the water travels through the secondary heater, is preheated by the exhaust gases from the primary heater, and then travels on to the primary heater where it is further heated to the desired temperature by the gas burners. As a result of transferring heat from the hot exhaust gas to the water by the secondary heat exchanger, the exhaust gas is cooled. When this gas cools to its dew point it changes state into a liquid–a slightly acidic water–that can then be routed to a household drain.

The condensing nature of the exhaust gas when cooled is the reason why it’s referred to as Condensing Gas Technology.

Another benefit of reducing the temperature of the exhaust gas is that it allows for simpler vent piping, in many cases just a 2″ sch 40 PVC drain pipe.

If you would like more information about the Navien tankless water heater please contact David McGill at 641-437-1086.

Thank you,

David McGill
James McGill

McGill’s Repair and Construction, LLC is a licensed contractor for HVAC and Refrigeration. Licensed by Iowa Plumbing & Mechanical Systems Board as required by Iowa Code. Member of Refrigeration Service Engineer Society (RSES).

Article written by Tim McGill, editor @ Tree Branch Publishing.