Is Solar Panel Worth It?

The Ice Queen is MELTING

After many researches and calculations, here’s the basics understanding of solar panel and its financial impact. I have set up a calculation to show you how many years it will take to break even, and you can use this to decide whether it is worth it.

1. Figuring out how many kwatt you will need

You can use this estimate tool PVWatts. After entering your zip code, you should be able to see ​”SOLAR RESOURCE DATA” on the next page. Click on “go to system info” on the right hand side and get more details on your zip code. 

Based on this analysis, I use 5,665 kwatt a year, and a solar panel producing 4 kwatt will be sufficient cost cutting. Installing enough solar panels for 5 kwatt may be harvesting more electricity than I use and result in me helping the utility company collect energy for free as the utility company only “return” how much is used and does not give you cash for collecting extra energy in a year.  Side note: this analysis is surprisingly accurate based on my monthly electric bills.

2.How much does it cost to put in solar panels?

Mr. Money Mustache built his systems around $1.08 per watt – which is super cheap.  By his dollar per watt ratio, I should be looking at spending at least $1.08 * 4,000 watts = $4,320. 

But reality check hits me like a giant frying pan on the head. I called one of the local companies here, and they gave me a quote of a wapping $21,000 for a 4 kwatt system, claiming that I only have to pay $87 a month and pay it off in 25 years. WOW! Maybe they think I am made of money, or stupid, or BOTH! 25 years of paying the solar company instead of the utility company? Why would I ever do this and dig myself a giant hole and be buried in debt?

I followed Mr. Money Mustache’s link to a DIY website where you can purchase the solar panel kits and install it yourself. The panels for 4 Kwatt is $6,300 and I am estimating labor cost (of hiring a handyman to install this panel with me) will probably cost me between $500 – $2,000 which brings my dollar per watt close to $1.50. 

($6,300 + $500 installation) * 70% (tax break 2019*) = $4,760 / 4,000 watts = $1.19 per watt

($6,300 + $2,000 installation) * 70% (tax break 2019*) = $5,810 / 4,000 watts = $1.45 per watt

*Pro tip: There is a tax credit of 30% of the solar credit. IRS form 5695 for residential energy credit. This credit will be phasing out from 2020 onward. Tax credits are “dollar for dollar” off the tax bill you owe to the IRS, so it is correct to think that 30% of the solar installation and material costs per IRS instructions.  

How many years of using solar panel would break-even

This is where the important part of calculation comes in to decide whether it is worth it for you.

Cost of the system / annual electricity bill = Break-even years

In my example, it will break even in $5,810 / $908 = ~6.4 years.

6.4 years to earn the money back I spent on the solar panel sounds reasonable to an average household planning on spending 10+ years. Since I am not planning on staying in this area for more than 3 years, it is not likely I will benefit from the solar panels.  Once this house becomes rental property, the tenant will be responsible for the utilities. Therefore, I would be investing this money into saving someone else’s utility bills. 

Of course, the house you buy may be a permanent resident of yours. In that case, I think solar panels are a great idea this year considering the tax credit is phasing out. 

There are other steps to be considered if you decide to make this a DIY project (and it will be cheaper and more rewarding I am sure). Here’s more details from MMM on obtaining a permit, and you may need to hire an electrician at the end to connect the power harvested by solar panels back to the city grid.

Overall solar panels are a great way to reduce electricity bills (just electricity, nothing else!). There are many other ways to conduct an audit of electricity usage in a house.  It is not the only way to save money and conserve energy. By just looking at my electricity bill trend, it is very easy to notice that I have spikes in the summer and winter for using my A/C and Furnace. If we set the thermostat a little lower in the winter and a little higher in the summer, it will also save utilities.

After the calculations above, I realized that solar panels aren’t for me at the moment, even with the enticing tax credit in 2019. It certainly is a great way to long-term energy efficiency. It makes me happy to go green and save the planet, but for now, I will stick with my space heaters and recycling efforts.

For the rest of you who are considering installing a solar panel, I hope this is helpful to evaluate whether solar panels are right for you. And happy sunbathing 🙂

Make the Choice to be Happy

It seems that the world thrives on tragedy, catastrophe, and fiasco these days. We complain about the weather, jobs, spouses, bosses, in-laws, the president, and that one coworker who got the promotion and totally didn’t deserve it.

​When have we become so oblivious of the things that we already have? Our freedom, liberty, abundant source of food, air quality, the occasional polite strangers that help us out. 

Happiness is a choice, and we can choose to be happy.

The famous 1978 research of Lottery Winners and Accident Victims shows that happiness is relative.

If we know that happiness is relative, then the next logical choice is to make happiness a conscious choice.

Here’s my story of making one small decision to be happy.

This summer, I bought my very own first lawn mower to mow the lawn myself; and it was an electrical one. The first time I used this lawn mower, I realized that I have to use an extension cord. I didn’t realize how hard it was to not accidentally sever the cord by running the mower over it.

Of course, I cut the extension cord with the mower half way through mowing the lawn. I was distraught and slightly embarrassed at the same time. Mowing seems to be such a mundane everyday life and I can’t seem to manage that!

It took me a while to let my emotions subside. It felt hard to cheer myself back up afterwards. As I was driving to the hardware store to pick up another extension cord, I was playing the scene in my head over and over. This trivial mistake is fixable, almost funny!

I needed a mindset shift. I can acknowledge what happened and how I felt, and still remain happy. Even though I still felt bad, my emotions were not as acute. I instantly felt relief after giving myself permission to be happy.

A lot of times we are hard on ourselves. We struggle to achieve the whirlpool of expectations from the society and we are frustrated that we fall short of that.

But we are in control of our own happiness. Happiness does not come from being able to afford that designer bag, or having 1,000+ likes on a photo, or the newest smartphone. No matter where we are, we can make the decision to be happy, now.

And also, I bought a gas mower. The End.

I don’t know why we take our worst moods so much more seriously than our best, crediting depression with more clarity than euphoria. . . It’s easy now to dismiss that year as nothing more than the same sort of shaky, hysterical high you’d feel after getting clipped by a taxi.

But you could also try to think of it as a glimpse of reality, being jolted out of a lifelong stupor. It’s like the revelation I had the first time I ever flew in an airplane as a kid: when you break through the cloud cover you realize that above the passing squalls and doldrums there is a realm of eternal sunlight, so keen and brilliant you have to squint against it, a vision to hold on to when you descend once again beneath the clouds, under the oppressive, petty jurisdiction of the local weather.

We Learn Nothing, Tim Kreider

How to Become Better at Dating

Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

Everything will be fine in the end. If it’s not okay, then it’s not the end yet.

Oscar Wilde

Someone recently asked me how I met my significant other. I said that we met at an art museum close to where I live on New Year’s Eve. In March, he asked to take me out to a restaurant on my birthday, and we’ve been going out since.

The actual story of how I met my significant other, the long, factual, and chronological one where nobody has time for, is a more hopeful one. 

The truth is, I have had so many tragic and mundane dates. I have ghosted people and have people ghosting me. I have tried many dating apps, gone on blind dates, and still came out empty handed. I had also wondered whether I would end up dying alone (which later on I realized that nobody dies with anyone). 

Learning how to date as an adult was hard. Meeting new people is exhausting and scary. I have tried many methods and my efforts seemed futile. 

I have tried to methodically plan out my dating goals: 2 dates per month. Then I found that it is hard to control this experiment as guys usually ask girls out on dates and not the other way around. So I changed my dating strategy to: talk to 2 new guys a month. 

I have tried deleting all dating apps and going out to meet strangers at bars, meetups, gyms. 

I wouldn’t have known if any of these methods would work. They could have all worked for me. 

We never know where and when we are going to meet a person we can fall in love with. We can all tell a rom-com story of how we meet our significant others afterwards. But the truth is there is no formula or shortcuts. We have to increase the number of new people we meet, increase the depth of which we will know them

In the meantime, there are many things we can do instead of sitting around contemplating on dating.

  • Try running as fast as you can with your favorite jam, 
  • Play a new instrument, 
  • Do something that scares you (maybe with instructions), 
  • Book the cheapest flight on a weekend and explore a new city, 
  • Learn how to create a website in a coffee shop,
  • Bake shortbread cookies and draw funny faces on them with colored icing,

Improve yourself, because when we find a person to fall in love with, we will want to be the best version of ourselves. 

Now that you have interesting stories to tell from all the things you have tried, go to that next meetup event, meet the next person you find attractive and ask him/her questions, talk to a stranger at the coffee house, be weird and be you

8 Things I Learned from Hosting an Airbnb Private Room

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Here’s what I’ve learned after 10 months of hosting a private room on Airbnb.

1. Start hosting without the room being perfect. 

Don’t wait for the perfect day, the perfect decorations, the amenities, or the perfect pictures to start hosting. You will add features, learn to adjust your boundaries along the way. 

One of my closest friends listed a private room on Airbnb in Dublin Ireland while we were both hiking in the mountains in Patagonia and she received booking requests within a day.

2. Don’t accept guests you don’t feel comfortable with. 

If there is some nagging feeling that makes you not want to accept that person, simply reject the Airbnb inquiry. This will NOT affect your host rating, which is different than cancelling on a confirmed booking reservation.

Here are some of my boundaries. These are all personal preferences and the assumptions I have made were based on experiences hosting for my local area (Northwest Arkansas).

  • Guests from the local area – There could be perfect reason why local guests need Airbnb. Everyone who is local that reached out to me was either looking for either did not understand Airbnb or wants one of those motels you pay by the hour. It also could jeopardize your own home privacy having locals knowing how to get into your house. I have searched Airbnb forums after having a bad experience with local guests and found it was a hard pass for most Airbnb hosts. 
  • Guests with children – I do not charge enough cleaning fees for children and I rent a private room. It would be too crowded to have a child in the room, and usually normal people who have children prefer the whole place to themselves instead of private rooms. This put it into question why the guest would want to stay in a private room as well.
  • long term rentals – Usually, I would like to keep the option of being able to only endure guests for a week, especially first time guests. I have made one exception to a guy booked my airbnb for a week at a time for 4 months. When he first proposed booking 2 months straight. I told him no, I would rather do a week at a time and see how it goes. It turned out that we got along well. He was a great repeat guest.

3. Set clear boundaries.

I don’t want to clean the kitchen after others. So cooking is off limits on my Airbnb. I contemplated this rule a lot when I listed the house. But as it turns out, people don’t care that much about cooking. Instead, I make recommendations to local delicious and affordable restaurants or groceries. Don’t half-hearted rent out something you don’t want to, because you will resent it later. Don’t be afraid of saying no, because this way you will attract the right people to your Airbnb.

4. Title of the Airbnb listing counts.

When I first started doing Airbnb, I didn’t have a lot of furniture, so I named it “The minimalist room.” To my own surprise, people love it! I received one review raving about the idea of minimalism.

Gradually throughout this year, I found that I love outdoorsy guests. Not just because they will be out all day, but also they are almost always VERY laid back, respectful, and quiet. Most of the time, they are so tired of their daily adventures, they will come right to bed! So I changed my title to “Rock Climbing and Mountain Biking Haven” which yielded good results so far. I am learning to be more outdoorsy myself so I have made numerous friends with similar hobbies (rock climbing and mountain biking, of course!).

One other thing I make sure to add in my title is how many bedrooms (if it is a private room) or if it is an entire place. Since I have a long title now, I can only add “1 br + bath” at the end. I find this helpful when I search Airbnbs to stay so I add them to my title now.

5. Have a dog!

When I first started Airbnb, I was worried people will be very annoyed with me having a dog. They may be allergic to dog hair. They may find dogs barking annoying. They may accidentally let my dog escape (I still fear this). As it turns out, a big portion of the people who stay at my Airbnb booked my place BECAUSE of my dog (I mean, can’t blame them because the Ice Queen is so cute). And research has shown, people are nicer to each other when there is a dog present. So if you have a dog and is contemplating on hosting Airbnb, wait no more!

6. Schedule the stays with breaks in between.

When I first started my Airbnb, there was a period of time where someone would check out in the morning, and someone else would be coming at 3pm. I have a full time job and I struggled to clean the sheets and towels for the next guests. Now I try to plan ahead the stays and block out days so I can have time to clean the rooms.

7. Airbnb prices are not always accurate.

In my area, Northwest Arkansas, Airbnb’s suggested price is too low. When that happens, it attracts people who are not my targeted audiences (aka people who wants a motel and doesn’t want to pay a lot of money). I found out by getting a lot of inquiries of guests who barely had a profile set, and just want to show up at my house for a night. 

I looked into the Airbnbs around me, and found comparable listings (similar bedrooms, similar area, similar style) and raised my price up to theirs, and the problem is solved.

8. Great photos = great guests.

  • Using the right camera – Taking photos with a real camera helps (as opposed to using a cell phone) because the cell phone lens is smaller and it will distort the architecture of the room. 
  • Let there be light – Choose a sunny day to take the photos. Open ALL curtains and turn on ALL lights. Having lights (natural or artificial) can make editing your photos SO MUCH easier.
  • Perfecting Photos – I spent a good chunk of my time taking photographs of my place and editing them. It took me a couple of tries to get the photos come out crisp and clean. There are many photos that I’ve realized later on that needed a makeover, such as, clutter on the desk, the toilet lid was open, the kitchen counter was not clean, the pillows on the bed looked saggy and sad, etc. I went back and adjusted them.