Making Solar Power Work For Your Home in Chicago

May 2, 2012 3:00 AM

(credit: Thinkstock)

solar vdp Making Solar Power Work For Your Home in Chicago

(credit: Thinkstock)

While Chicago might be called the Windy City, hot air is not the only noteworthy element in town. Solar panels take advantage of the city’s sunny days, providing energy to homes and powering everything from water heaters to pool heaters, deck and patio lighting and cell phone chargers. Solar installations can range from the permanent, such as assembling solar panels on a home’s rooftop, to the temporary, including simply sticking lights with solar panels in the ground or on a walkway. The following are some solar products that work for the home.

Solar Panels: Solar panels can be installed on the rooftops of single-family and multi-family homes in the Chicagoland area to cut back on the electric bill. Prior to installing solar panels, homeowners should check with their municipality and homeowner’s association regarding permits, rules and regulations. For example, if you plan to build a solar panel on the roof of your Chicago home, keep in mind that the City of Chicago’s requirements include a building permit, an electrical permit and permit drawings and calculations. The City of Chicago’s Green Homes Program provides further assistance to homeowners who would like to incorporate sustainable designs into their residences.

Solar Water Heaters: Solar water heaters use sunlight to heat water for a home, providing a homeowner with savings over traditional water heaters. However, solar water heaters still require a back-up, usually the home’s existing water heater, in case of multiple cloudy days and periods of increased demand. Homeowners may be required to obtain a permit prior to installing a solar water heater.

Solar-Powered Landscape Lighting: Solar-powered landscape lighting can be used in the backyard or deck, or along a driveway or walking path. According to Robert Blocks, assistant store manager of Zimmermann True Value Hardware in Buffalo Grove, solar-powered lights are ideal for outdoor lighting. “You save money with the lights, as you don’t use electricity,” he says. “You also don’t need to run cords to the lights, so the yards and walkways look a bit neater with just the solar-powered lights.” To maximize the amount of sun the outdoor lights receive, Blocks recommended keeping the lights away from bushes and trees, ensuring leaves or flowers do not obstruct sunlight.

Solar Sun Rings: To heat swimming pools and lengthen the swim season in Chicago, consider purchasing inflatable solar sun rings, which float on the water’s surface and heat a pool or hot tub. Solar heating systems are also used to heat swimming pools, keeping the water’s temperature warm.

Solar-Powered Battery Chargers: Solar-powered battery chargers keep small electronics, such as cell phones, e-readers and MP3 players charged without using electricity. While using a solar-powered charger likely will not result in significant changes to a household’s electric bill, it will be a convenience to keep such portable devices charged for longer periods of time.

With the variety of products available in Chicago, consumers have a number of choices to incorporate solar-powered technology in their homes. Consider these local businesses when making buying your next solar gadget:

In the Swim
320 Industrial Drive
West Chicago, IL 60185
(630) 876-0040

Hours: Mon to Fri – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sat and Sun – Closed

In the Swim offers a variety of systems and accessories to heat swimming pools, including solar panels and solar sun rings. In addition, In the Swim sells solar heating blankets to keep water warm in a swimming pool.

Solar Service
7312 N Milwaukee Ave
Niles, IL 60714
(847) 647-9312

Established in 1977, Solar Service designs and installs solar systems for residential and commercial purposes. Solar Service also offers the installation of solar heating systems for indoor and outdoor swimming pools.

Zimmermann True Value Hardware
745 S Buffalo Grove Rd
Buffalo Grove, IL 60089
(847) 541-3010

Hours: Mon to Fri – 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sat – 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sun – 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

In addition to outdoor lighting fixtures with solar panels, Zimmermann True Value offers a variety of accessories and tools for backyards and patios. Other products and services include indoor lighting options, patio furniture and plumbing products.

Related: Green Remodeling Resources Help Homeowners, Contractors
Related: Plans Afoot For Green Dorm At Loyola

For more great tricks, tips and advice about your home, visit Home.

Megan Horst-Hatch is a mother, runner, baker, gardener, knitter, and other words that end in “-er.” She loves nothing more than a great cupcake, and writes at I Love Trader Joe’s. Her work can be found at

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