Raise The Roof


Two Grid Alternatives volunteers raising the roof for a low income homeowner


initial concept document – a working proposal now being workshopped at the Raise The Roof Wiki

Back In The Day…


In 18th and 19th century rural America, a barn was usually the first, largest, and most costly structure built by a family settling in a new area.  In our agrarian society barns were essential structures for storage of hay and keeping of horses and cattle, which in those days were an inseparable part of farming.

To build those barns, a “Barn Raising” was often held.  Barn Raisings brought the whole community together to assemble a barn for one or more of its households.  It was all about shared self-interest, a barn being too hard to build and raise all by yourself.  So neighbors helped each other to get the job done.

The tradition of Barn Raising still continues today more or less unchanged, in some Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities, particularly in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and some rural parts of Canada.

And of course, Habitat for Humanity has evolved the old tradition into a model that works extraordinarily well for building first homes for low income homeowners.

Raising the Roof Instead of A Barn


Grid Alternatives volunteer crew for Solarthon 2007 install

But for most of who don’t live on farms it’s not barns our homes need – even though the storage and workspace would be nice.   With electric bills going up now and projected to double, triple and beyond in the next decade, and with 50% of America’s electricity still generated by polluting and global warming-causing coal, we all need a clean, renewable, green source of energy to run our homes and businesses.

Out here in the Great Southwestern United States where we’re blessed with an abundance of sunshine, what we need is solar. So we’ll be raising solar panels – photovoltaic electricity-generating panels – to the roof where neighbors will pitch in, working together to install them on each others homes to catch the sun’s rays and turn them into free, clean, renewable green electricity to power our homes and businesses.

Why Work Together to Install?


Together they can do it!

Even before the economy tanked getting solar installed was too expensive.  Sure, you’ve got a fat state of California (or other) rebate, but you still need to come up with $25,000 – $30,000 on top of that out of pocket.  Not many people have an extra thirty grand in cash available and not many want to take out another car-sized loan right now, even if they could get one.  And how many can afford to wait till the next time they file income taxes to claim the 30% tax credit?

But what if you could dramatically cut the cost of your solar system?
Since almost half the cost of the system is installation, you could do it yourself.

And if you were able to pool your order for solar panels, inverters, mounting hardware and the other necessary supplies, you could cut the cost of going solar even further.

Many Hands Make Light Work


Much better than doing it yourself is doing it with a team of motivated, like-minded, well-prepared fellow roof owners, working together to help one another install solar panels in a community Barn Raising-style, shared sweat-equity work party.

With the proper training, guidance and direction homeowners can be taught to install their own systems.  And with the help of many neighbors pooling talents and resources the task becomes far more doable.

Groups like Grid Alternatives, Green Jobs for All, and Solar Richmond have already proven how effective and inspiring this model is through their work installing solar for low income, inner city homes and apartments with well trained volunteers donating their time to get the job done working alongside and training the homeowners.

Other Groups like 1BOG, Neighborhood Solar and Open Solar are working to identify homeowners interested in going solar and then negotiating volume discounts for them with solar panel providers.

Raise the Roof aims to employ a similar program for middle income homeowners who pay for the costs of the materials themselves, but save the installation costs and get a much better price on the solar panels, inverters, electrical and mounting equipment.

But how do we get there?

Organizing Through The Church

Solar City workers Tony Farias, left, Cody Corbett, middle, and Salvador Sanchez install solar panels onto the roof of St. Cross by the Sea Episcopal Church in Hermosa Beach. The church claims to be the first to use solar energy in the South Bay and expects to save thousands of dollars on their energy bills. (Steve McCrank/Staff Photographer)

Solar City workers Tony Farias, left, Cody Corbett, middle, and Salvador Sanchez install solar panels onto the roof of St. Cross by the Sea Episcopal Church in Hermosa Beach. The church claims to be the first to use solar energy in the South Bay and expects to save thousands of dollars on their energy bills. (Daily Breeze Steve McCrank/Staff Photographer)

Many churches are now going green and preaching a “preserve and protect the earth” ethos.  Using God-given solar power to generate clean, nonpolluting electricity is right in line with their thinking.  So is offering utility bill relief to their congregation.  Many of these same churches offer a full range of classes, workshops, activities and presentations to their congregations.  We’ll offer our “Raise the Roof” (RTF) program first to the greenest, most active churches and take advantage of their already-in-place organizational skills.

That RTR program will start with an engaging and entertaining presentation to the congregation by our Solangelist team.  Think “Inconvenient Truth” with music and a spiritual context in a tent revival style meeting that energizes and inspires as it educates and then rallies members to help change the world one roof at a time.

Congregation members sign up to get a free roof evaluation and if their roof is right for solar panels they’re offered a free workshop to design their systems and then order parts.  Community teams are formed, organized into “neighborhoods” of 5-8-10 (whatever the sweetspot number is) rooftops to install solar on.  These neighborhoods might and probably will be miles apart.  An install date is set, an agreement is signed and each team is given a “Raise the Roof In a Box” kit.

The Solangelist Install Coaches would arrive on the install date to help supervise and guide the homeowners in their installation.  A licensed electrician would be used to make the necessary connections required by code.

Perhaps the church itself is the first building solarized.  The congregation would then come together to learn how and then engage in the installation work Habitat for Humanity style.  Again, we won’t be reinventing the wheel with such an enterprise since Habitat for Humanity has already been teaming with Grid Alternatives to add solar energy systems to new Habitat developments.

The first wave of homeowner teams who complete their solar installations will report back to the congregation about their experiences and about the results of their handiwork – in the form of savings and generating renewable energy.  They will then be available to help the next wave of Raise the Roof neighborhoods in the congregation and so on.

The further spread of solar installations will no doubt also come from non-congregation members within the actual geographic neighborhood of the Raise the Roof homes once they see the results and witness the success of the Barn Raising team installation effort.

The Solangelist Teams

The process would begin with the well-promoted tent revival presentation by the two-to-three person Solangelist Team.  The Team is made up of a motivating/inspiring/ catalyst presenter, an experienced solar installer, and a solar electricity specialist to answer questions about costs, financing, rebates, the electric company and other details.

The Solangelist Team’s multimedia and interactive presentation combines video, high def slide presentations, music and hands-on interactive audience demonstrations that includes solar panels and the related installation equipment for demonstration and audience touch and feel opportunities.

Raise The Roof In A Box

To prepare each team for their solar installation, hookup and related paperwork, a “Raise the Roof In A Box” package will be created and delivered to them that includes everything a prospective solar self-installer should need.

Literally inside a box/carton/container that would be delivered to each new Raise The Roof installation team, would be all the instructions, materials and resources necessary to:

  • Organize their team of roofowners into roles and responsibilities,
  • Educate them about how their solar systems work
  • Arrange for financing
  • Review the rebates and tax credits and assist with the filing process
  • Provide an overview of the installation process
  • Guide them through the process of:

o    Installing their mounts, brackets, PV solar panels, wiring, inverters
o    Understanding common installation challenges and solutions.
o    Maintaining and trouble shooting their solar systems.
o    Understanding how to get the most out of your solar system.

In addition to the big 3-ring project planning binders will be DVD videos with experts walking viewers through the very easy to understand, step-by-step instructions.  Different chapters will be specific to the variety of roofs and construction considerations.

Step-by-step instructions for all installers will be included in printable PDF form.

Another key component will be a dedicated website with Q&A forums, real-time on-line help, updated FAQs, knowledge sharing, regular webinars, success stories, tips, creative solutions.

Social media sites will be used to facilitate a broader sense of Raise The Roof Community across the geographic divide.  Each team contributes their best practices, lessons learned, tips that worked and those that didn’t, worst case scenarios, on the project humor, best times had, etc.  Photo and video sharing is a natural.  All of this will be driven by shared pride, a growing green movement and good old American competitive spirit.

Beyond Churches

Beyond religious congregations of all faiths, homeowners associations, neighborhood organizations, local chapters of environmental groups, local government departments, utility-supported energy groups, social media and traditional mass media can all be effectively used to organize “neighborhoods” for rooftop-owner team installations.

The Laws of Nature… & California

Here in California, we’re not only blessed with all the sun you need to make great solar electricity we also have the advantage of our Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) was set in 2002 as one of the most ambitious renewable energy standards in the country. The RPS program requires electric corporations to increase energy obtained from eligible renewable resources by at least 1% of their retail sales annually, until they reach 20% by 2010 – just nine months away.  California is now getting ready to add an even higher goal of 33% renewable energy by 2020. We’ve got a ways to go. In 2007 only about 12% of all California’s electricity came from solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, small hydroelectric and other renewable resources.

California passed AB32, the Global Warming Solutions bill in 2006 and we’re now mandated by that law to cut our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the same level they were in 1990 – a 25% cut.

Large scale solar – which is ready technology wise, (witness the recent solar thermal plants constructed in Bakersville and Lancaster) – is still years off from making a viable  difference because of fierce environmental impact opposition to the generating sites as well NIMBY opposition over the new-high powered electrical transmission lines we’ll also need to build to bring that solar and wind power to other places.

Eventually that opposition will be overcome and large scale solar will produce many megawatts of power.  But many kilowatts of rooftop solar power can be generated right now and will add up to megawatts already connected to the grid and wisely spread around instead of being centralized in one remote location.  This route should and must be pursued aggressively – and not just because of the state legal mandates – but because of how much CO2 is already in the atmosphere and how much climate change is already happening at an accelerated pace.

The quickest way to start meeting our mandates and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is by installing solar panels on roofs of existing buildings and connecting them to the electrical grid already carrying our power today.  The PV technology exists, is proven and available today.  There are many Americans happily generating their own electricity from panels they had installed a decade ago.

Only 1% of Californians already have solar powered electricity, so we’ve got a market of 99% of to bring on-line.

Growing Viral

This concept is designed to start small, learn from each step, and in an open source-inspired model, share and spread “best practices” and successes from each group that completes a team installation to each new team.  That sharing and spreading will be accomplished through a variety of platforms to virally grow Raise the Roof to all the places where the sunshine makes it applicable.

Potential Sources of Funding

  • Utility Companies
  • Solar panel & Inverter manufacturers
  • Environmental grant providers
  • Churches
  • Membership Fees

4 thoughts on “Raise The Roof

  1. Sign me up! Another potential source of funding are cities themselves. While Torrance may have some troglodytes at their city council, a lot of other coastal cities (like Malibu) would probably be open to grant requests to pay for, say, the basic “Raise the Roof in a Box” kit (probably a nominal fee that the city could easily justify). As part of the kit, you can provide a typical grant application that interested parties could use.
    Thanks for your support Melonie. But I’m not ready to give up on my city council here in Torrance. I’ve been researching alternative sources of 811 Funding that other cities are successfully using and I’m putting together a briefing book and PowerPoint I’ll be presenting to help our local cities and organizations like the South Bay Cities Councils of Government and the South Bay Environmental Services Center get up to speed on everything that’s current and available. Happy to come to Malibu and share what I’ve learned with them too.

  2. Pingback: The Greenius Goes Into Overdrive « Creative Greenius

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