Solar Barn Raising is a community effort in Montezuma County

Monday, March 27, 2017 9:03 PM
Volunteers with Solar Barn Raising install panels on a home in Durango.

A local nonprofit is offering sweat equity to install solar panels on homes.

The volunteer organization Solar Barn Raising aims to make solar installations more affordable, group organizer John Lyle said during an informational meeting at the Mancos Public Library.

“Half the cost of solar systems is the labor to install the panels,” he said. “That where we offer the savings.”

In the past few years, the group has hooked up 60 residences in La Plata County. Now, it’s focusing on Montezuma County.

Qualified applicants to the Solar Barn Raising program must volunteer to help install solar systems on four other houses, before it is time for theirs to get hooked up.

“We want our clients to get involved in the process so they understand how the system works,” Lyle said.

Successful candidates must also recruit another person into the Solar Barn Raising program.

There are many steps and upfront costs to installing solar panels. Homeowners are responsible for paying for the supplies, and they receive free technical assistance and labor from the organization.

Engineers evaluate a candidate’s home for solar panel installation based on electric demand. The panels can be mounted on a roof or the ground, and organizers work with Empire Electric to ensure that the system complies with safety and engineering standards.

The price of installing solar panels has dropped dramatically in the past 10 years, making it more popular. Rebates and federal tax credits are also available.

With volunteer labor from Solar Barn Raising, it costs between $5,000 to $10,000 to install a solar panel system on a typical home, depending on electricity demand. That is half of what it would cost to hire someone, Lyle said. With the lower electric bill, the homeowner will be able to recoup the cost in five to 10 years.

Colorado is in a sweet spot for solar because its sunny days and high altitude make solar generation more efficient.

“We’re leveraging off the long American tradition of barn raising and applying it to solar installation,” Lyle said.

Jay Hecker, of Durango, took advantage of the program and practically has no electric bill now.

“I’ve been interested in installing solar my whole life, but never could because of the expense,” he said. “This program allowed me to finally afford it. Solar pays for itself, and because it’s clean energy, I feel like I’m doing my part to help the environment.”

For more information on the program and how to apply go to