DRYDEN — When Cathy and Dan Wakeman moved into their mid-1800s home on Lewis Street in the Village of Dryden, they immediately saw the potential for installing solar panels on the roof of their barn.
“It’s a south-facing barn,” said Cathy Wakeman, the Dryden Town Talk columnist for The Ithaca Journal. “Also a great place for raspberry bushes.” But that was in 1991, and the Wakemans were just starting a family. At the time, installing solar panels did not seem viable. However, harnessing power from the sun was always a dream of theirs, and they kept it alive for two decades as they put money aside, did their market research and kept records of every electrical bill.
They focused on practical ways to make their home more efficient — and environmentally-friendly — by replacing the old windows, insulating the basement and investing in high-efficiency appliances. They also heat 90 percent of their home with a centrally-located woodstove.
That’s the first step to a “greener” home, said Dan Wakeman, whose home will be the April 17 stop on Solar Tour Dryden. The tour, which runs through the summer, is designed to inspire those interested in transitioning to solar or other alternative energy sources, said Marie McRae, the tour’s organizer.
The next stop on the tour will be at Firefly Farm in the Town of Dryden, which features a “carbon neutral” farmhouse. The tour is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday and is sponsored by the Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition (DRAC).
Making the leap
In 2011, the Wakemans were finally able to install solar panels. “The initial investment is, of course, a hurdle,” Dan Wakeman said. “But we realized these are our peak usage years with our four boys at home.” The market looked good, and he had done his homework and continues to keep track of all his usage in a neat binder.
They purchased a top-of-the-line solar array and installed it on the barn, right above the garden and the raspberry and blueberry bushes from which Cathy makes jam.
“We put in a little bigger (system) than we needed,” he said. “We were looking ahead.”Their next goal is to replace the family minivan with an electric, solar-powered vehicle.
Although the return on investment has been slow, that’s not the point for the Wakemans, whose gas and electric bill went down from $120 per month to $85 after they installed the panels. Currently, they generate more power than they use with the extra currents going to their neighbors and feeding back into the electrical grid.
“I’m pleased with it regardless of the return on investment period, and frankly very excited that our electrical footprint is not just small, but actually negative,” Dan Wakeman said.
March and April are good months for instantly generating power, he noted, because the sun hits the barn’s 45-degree angle roof just right.