Is a Home Wind Turbine Right for You?

Wind turbine generator on house roof
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Home wind turbines are a smaller version of the large turbines you see on the side of the highway generating clean electrical energy from the wind’s kinetic energy.

While commercial wind farms use machines whose blades can create a diameter of 130 feet (that’s as long as a football field), a home system is much more condensed. Home wind turbines require a specific kind of planning and maintenance to be successful, and there’s a chance that it may not be economically viable or suitable for your property, so it’s important to do your research before investing the time and money.

Potential buyers should first estimate their site’s wind resource and research potential neighborhood zoning issues. If your area generates enough wind, home wind turbines can help lower electricity bills by 50% to 90% and provide an uninterrupted power source through extended utility outages — all with zero emissions and pollution. Not only are they one of the most cost-effective home-based renewable energy systems, home turbines can be used for other applications such as pumping water for irrigation, which can be helpful in farms or ranches.

What Is a Home Wind Turbine?

Turbines are not the same as windmills, though the principle is basically the same. Old windmills are actually the predecessors to modern wind turbines, since turbines harness wind for electrical energy and windmills convert it into mechanical energy.

A wind turbine has a blade, a pole, and a generator. The blade works a bit like an airplane wing: as blowing air passes by both sides of the blade, its unique shape causes the wind pressure to become uneven, making the blade spin. This is where technology surpasses the traditional windmill. A weather vane on the top connects to a computer to keep the machine positioned to run as efficiently as possible. The blades only turn about 18 revolutions per minute — not fast enough to generate electricity on its own — so they are attached to a rotor shaft and a series of gears that help increase the rotation to about 1,800 revolutions per minute.

Since the higher up you go, the windier it is, larger turbines can pack a hefty punch when it comes to energy generation. Smaller properties that only need to power residential homes or small businesses may benefit from its own home wind turbine, especially in rural areas that are not already connected to an energy grid (though home wind systems can also connect to an existing electric grid through your power provider).

Is a Home Wind Turbine Right for Me?

Like most energy systems, small wind turbines require a lot of planning. You’ll want to consider things like whether or not there is enough wind generation for the system to be functional and economical. Most importantly, you’ll need to find out if small wind electric systems are even allowed in your area.

Check Out Your Property

Start by contacting your local building inspector, your board of supervisors, or your planning board — they’ll be able to give you information on requirements and whether or not you’ll need a building permit. If you have neighbors or a homeowners association, they may be concerned about the noise level or aesthetics of a wind turbine, as well, so be prepared with objective data in order to address these issues.

Information like height limits (a majority of zoning ordinances have a 35-foot height limit for structures) will come in handy while shopping around for home turbines. According to the United States Energy Department, most residential turbines have a sound level that is just slightly above ambient wind noise, and “while the sound of the wind turbine may be picked out of surrounding noise if a conscious effort is made to hear it, a residential-sized wind turbine is not a significant source of noise under most wind conditions.”

Estimate Your Wind Resources

Local terrain influences wind levels more than most of us realize. Just because it feels windy in one spot doesn’t mean an area a few miles away is just as blustery. A great place to start your research is a wind resource map, available on the U.S. Department of Energy's Wind Powering America Program website and organized by state. You can also consult wind speed data from a nearby airport or see if there is a local small wind system with annual output and wind speed data available. For the most accurate measurement, direct monitoring by a professional wind resource system at your site can take readings at the specific elevation on the top of the tower where the wind turbine would be installed. These are pricey, however, and may cost between $600 and $1,200.

Do the Math

Find out if a home wind energy system is economically viable by taking a look at the overall cost of things like installation, output, savings, and your return on investment. Use the Department of Energy’s small wind consumer guides to help estimate the costs of purchasing the machine, how much you stand to save by making the switch, and how long it will take to regain your capital investment. A professional home turbine installer should be able to help estimate your costs as well.

The costs to install a free-standing home wind turbine vary depending on the location, output, and size of the machine. In the San Francisco area, for example, a small wind system can cost anywhere between $5,000 and $40,000 depending on the kW size. A standard single-family home in the region uses just over 5,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, which would require a turbine in the 1-5 kilowatt range.

Other Options for Green Energy at Home

If your home or property isn't wind-friendly, there are plenty of other options for clean energy. A solar panel installation is one of the most popular forms of long-lasting renewable energy sources, and hybrid solar and wind systems are gaining momentum in the United States. Treehugger has a guide to the best solar panel installation companies to help make the process easier. Another great option for those with a body of water like a river or stream flowing through the property is hydropower. Hydroelectricity will divert a section of that water, channel it through a specialized generator, and create power for the home.

View Article Sources
  1. "Planning a Small Wind Electric System." U.S. Department of Energy.

  2. "How a Wind Turbine Works." U.S. Department of Energy, 2014.

  3. "Buying a Small Wind Turbine, a Consumer Guide and FAQ." SF Environment.