ROGERSVILLE — When local resident Joanne Irvin renovated her 19th century house several years ago, she didn’t stop with a new roof, paint and flooring. She also switched to solar energy to produce much of the electricity her home needs.

In addition to totally renovating the interior and exterior of the two-story brick home that dates from 1874, the retired nurse practitioner had 30 solar panels added to the roof and other equipment installed to enable her home to both produce electricity for her needs and share some with Holston Electric Cooperative.

To learn more about how and why Irvin switched to solar energy, Hawkins County residents can visit during a Solar Open House scheduled for 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 6, at her 102 Bailey Johnson Road home just off Old Highway 11W near its intersection with Choptack Road west of Rogersville.

During the open house, which will be one of a nationwide series of events being held Saturday, visitors can see the solar panels up close, ask questions about how solar works and connect with other people in the community who support solar energy.

The tour is free and open to the public and everyone is welcome to attend.

“Whether you are a solar owner, completely new to solar, or somewhere in between – this event is for you,” Irvin said. “Stop by for a few minutes or stay for a while!”

A California native, Irvin said her home was built in 1874 for the family of Absolam Kyle. It had been occupied over the years by several other families before she purchased it, she said.

“I brought the old girl (the house) into the 21st century,” Irvin said, noting that it was in need of extensive repairs when she purchased it.

Once a year, she said, she and the Holston Electric Cooperative reconciles her power bill.

The solar energy upgrade, however, didn’t take place until 2015 after most of the other physical repairs were completed. She noted that a solar energy firm called Lightwave Solar designed and provided the equipment for her home’s solar system.

Irvin explained that two groups of solar panels are mounted on two different sections of her home’s roof and that they collect the sun’s rays throughout the day. Direct electric current (DC) produced by the solar panels is then routed through a pair of electric “inverters” that transform the DC current into alternating current (AC) that supplies her home’s electricity needs throughout the daylight hours. At night, the solar system automatically switches Irvin’s home back over to commercial electric power.

She noted that another benefit of having switched to solar power is that her solar system produces more electricity than her home normally needs. That allows her system to send excess electricity into the commercial power grid. A second electric meter is needed to keep up with how much electricity her system sends to the electric utility.

Saving money on electricity

Another benefit of having installed a solar power system at her home is that she now enjoys lower commercial power bills, Irvin said. She noted that prior to the solar equipment installation, her power bill often exceeded $300 per month in winter and between $150-$200 in summer.

Since the solar system was installed, she said, her power bills are averaging about $35 per month (plus a $15 monthly charge for the second electric meter the system requires her to have).

But Irvin notes that switching to a solar system isn’t cheap. “It is expensive to switch over to solar,” she said. However, she noted that the Tennessee Valley Authority provided incentives to help offset the cost of installing her solar system.

She noted that TVA gave her $1,000 when she contracted with Lightwave Solar for installation of her solar equipment and also originally paid her two cents per kilowatt hour for the electricity her system sends into the commercial power grid.

Irvin said she purchased her home in 2006 after returning to Hawkins County after spending 22 years working in the medical field in South Carolina. She noted that she and her family originally moved to Hawkins County from California in 1974 and lived on a farm in the Eidson community for a number of years before moving to South Carolina. During part of that time, she said, she worked as a nurse at the hospital in Sneedville.

She noted that she fell in love with Rogersville the first time she visited it and always wanted to come back here. She did return to Hawkins County after being hired as a nurse practitioner by Rogersville-based Rural Health Services Consortium. Irvin has been a registered nurse and a certified midwife as well.

This year the American Solar Energy Society is partnering with Solar United Neighbors in organizing the 2018 National Solar Tour. A national organization representing the needs and interests of solar owners and supporters, Solar United Neighbors helps people go solar, join together, and fight for their energy rights. Together, ASES and Solar United Neighbors have been working to organize the largest national solar tour in history.

(To reach the open house event, take Highway 11W west from Rogersville, turn left onto Choptack Road and follow it south to its intersection with Old Highway 11W. Irvin’s home is located just off old Highway 11W near its intersection with Bailey Johnson Road and Choptack Road.)