Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cooling with the Sun…

It was serendipity. We almost never see the evening news, but on February 9, 2009 we happened to be flipping channels when we landed on a story on the ABC Nightly News about Bill Keith, President of SunRise Solar in Indiana. 

A former roofer, Bill got the idea of building attic fans powered by the sun on one very hot day when he was in a very hot attic installing an electric model. A tinkerer and home repair expert, he started SunRise Solar in his garage and began to manufacture solar-powered attic fans, from components manufactured locally or in nearby states whenever possible. The site proclaims, Taking Green Mainstream! Made in the USA!

What began as a dream had turned by 2009 into a $4 million dollar a year business in an area with extremely high unemployment. His fans had been cooling the Honolulu Airport for years, and at the time of the broadcast, Bill had just learned that they would soon be installed on the Indiana governor’s mansion.

We live on the top floor of a rowhouse. We know how hot an attic can get under the summer sun, and the thought of cooling without using any electricity was certainly an appealing one. But it was February. Heating bills rather than cooling bills were our big concern. By the time summer 2009 rolled around, the home project ToDo list was rather large, and the summer rather cool, so the idea of a solar fan moved to the back burner.

The summer of 2010 was another story. The heat arrived early and never left for long. June Green Drinks brought us to New Haven’s Neighborhood Housing Services with its Green Roof and all its energy-saving devices. The Green Roof idea was an intriguing one, but rather daunting. And then we remembered that story about the solar fan from the evening news.

Googling ABC News and solar-powered fans led us right to the SunRise Solar website. We learned the fan qualified for a 30% tax credit. The site described an installation that sounded easy enough to my skillful husband. He had a few questions about the type and size of fan we needed so he emailed the company. He received a quick response and was told to call and ask for Bill Keith if he needed any more info. He did. Bill came on the line and asked a few questions of his own, including the type of building and roof. He then spoke excitedly of his recent visit to Philadelphia to meet with Joe Biden. After looking down upon the vast number of rowhouses in need of cooling, Bill now had a dream of installing a solar fan on every rowhouse rooftop. Bill decided he would like our roof to become his rowhouse demo project and made us a deal we could not refuse.

A few days later we were the proud owners of a SunRise Solar 1250 curb base ceiling fan with thermostat. The installation went smoothly. But, as I said, my husband is good with tools, can follow directions, and also has access to a table saw. He first constructed a box to fit the slope of the roof and then to tip the fan 5° back to grab the late afternoon sun. Our roof is just slightly sloped, so working up there was not overly scary or dangerous for us. Let me stress however, that this is not a DIY project for everyone. (Installation qualifies for the tax credit as well.)

SunRise Solar 1250 up on the roof
We’ve had nearly a week of cloudless days. And I am very happy to say that the fan blades have been quietly spinning away from dawn to dusk. It’s been close to 100°, and the fan has made a real difference!

With the thermostat, the fan will stop running if and when the attic cools to 65°. The SunRise Solar website promises that the fan will save up to 30% on cooling bills. With CT’s rates being as high as they are, it shouldn’t take too long to recoup our investment, although I must confess I haven’t yet done the math.

The tax credit for homeowners who make energy efficient improvements to their existing homes is part of the much-maligned American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Homeowners are saving money and energy; their purchases are helping companies like SunRise Solar (and all its local vendors) grow. 

According to an article in the most recent Time, Joe Biden is the “point man” whose job it is to “exploit the crisis to make green energy, green building, and green transportation real…launch green manufacturing industries…” Companies like SunRise Solar.

I hope Bill Keith’s dream comes true, and I’m happy we could do a little bit to help him on his way. It’s going to be another day of “abundant sun” in weatherman speak. I’m so glad our SunRise Solar 1250 is working so hard up on our roof today. And all the while the fan blades are turning away, it’s not going to make our electric meter spin one bit.


  1. What a great product idea! I love stories like this!

  2. I'm enthusiastic about this as well!

  3. gateway and 2 other colleges are offering a once in a lifetime deal. Solar PV training and PV sales for the month of September for Free!!!
    contact David Cooper at the North Haven Campus

  4. Thank you for the kind words.....

    Bill Keith, President
    SunRise Solar Inc.