Home wind turbines: Do they ever make sense?

Residential wind power can make sense for certain homeowners, under very specific conditions.

Written by:
Updated Jul 11, 2024
9 min read
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Let’s make one thing clear right from the outset: Residential wind power is not for everybody. It’s not even for many people. Small, residential wind is a decidedly niche market, limited not only by the forces of geography and land use but also the availability of affordable solar power.

Don’t just take our word for it. Even those who have built careers, expertise, and livelihoods around wind power are the first to warn that it’s probably not the best option for most households.

“Quite honestly, I talk more people out of wind power than I talk into it,” said Michael Soriano, director of sales and marketing at Bergey Windpower Co., the top U.S. manufacturer of small wind systems.

“It's telling that I have solar panels on my roof but don't have wind turbines in my yard,” said Matthew Lackner, director of the Wind Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

However, small wind can be a viable option to power a home under certain circumstances. In limited cases, it may even be economically preferable to solar power. And even when it’s not, some people just really like the idea of a big wind turbine spinning on their property.

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“We've seen several times that people want to buy a turbine just because it's a turbine. They want the 80-foot tower,” said Bruce Hatchett, owner of California-based turbine installer Energy Options. “They want to be different or stand out, and that will do it.”

Whether you’re a wind fanatic or just want to weigh all your options to reduce your electric bill with clean power, read on to learn if, when, and how a small wind turbine could make sense to help power your home.

Residential wind is quite rare, because it only has a chance to work at properties that meet basic conditions. In short, the property must be windy, it should be rural, and it ought to use a lot of power.

Windy 

To state the obvious, you won’t have much success with wind power if you don’t live somewhere with an adequate amount of wind. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to at least have an average wind speed above 10 or 11 miles per hour, or 4.5 to 5 meters per second, with higher speeds corresponding to greater power generation. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s wind maps, which display average wind speeds throughout the country on a month-by-month basis, are a good place to begin gauging your wind resources, and professional turbine installers can help you determine whether you’ll consistently generate the amount of wind necessary to meaningfully reduce your electric bill. 

Rural 

Rural locations allow for wide-open spaces without tall obstructions that will get in the way of the wind. In general, a turbine should be elevated at least 30 feet above nearby trees or buildings in order to generate the energy you need. Moreover, while zoning and permitting will differ state by state and community by community, it is safe to assume that the difficulty of installing a turbine will increase with more density of housing and buildings and without adequate setback from roads and neighbors’ property.

“You can't really consider it in a suburban community with one-acre lots,” said Soriano at Bergey Windpower.

Huge electricity bills

Because wind turbines only come in certain sizes, experts say a turbine is generally only a useful investment for large homes that use a lot of electricity. Solar, by comparison, is more customizable to a given property.

If you live in the right place and have the right resources, you may very well be able to use small wind to power your home and eliminate your electric bill. However, you should be clear-eyed about what you’ll need.

While you can find a wide range of turbine models through retailers like Amazon or Home Depot for prices as low as $150 or as high as $6,000, these models are unlikely to take a huge bite out of your electric bill. Even the most powerful products’ own specifications say that, under consistent 12 mile per hour wind conditions, they will only generate at best a few hundred kilowatt hours of power per month. Experts caution that these are likely optimistic forecasts that rely on optimal conditions, may not account for energy that is lost after it is first generated, and would require a tall tower to reach heights where wind blows harder and which carries additional expenses.

These types of smaller-scale turbines may have some uses for consumers, but they are usually used as a “supplement to solar,” said Wes Shank, vice president at Missouri Wind and Solar. He described a typical customer for these smaller-scale turbines as living in a very rural location, often a rancher or farmer, who needs power in a remote part of a property. But these smaller models are not suited to power a significant portion of most homes, said Shank, who estimated that wind powers only about 1 percent of the needs of his own off-grid home.

Significantly reducing a household utility bill will generally require a professionally installed turbine, with between five and 15 kilowatts of generating capacity. Weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds with blades that extend up to 30 feet, it will need to sit atop a tower that may stretch more than 100 feet in the air to maximize its capabilities. Sure, these products are still referred to as “small wind” because, compared to utility-scale turbines, they certainly are. But they’re much, much larger than the smaller-scale products described above that you may find while browsing the web.

The all-in price to install and operate a small wind turbine will vary depending on location, product, installer, and more. Beyond just the cost of the turbine, the price will also include permitting, tower construction, connecting to the electric grid, and/or batteries.

One commonly cited number from the American Wind Energy Association pegs the cost of small wind at between $3,000 and $5,000 for every kilowatt of generating capacity, meaning costs could range from as low as $15,000 for a smaller five kilowatt setup to $75,000 for a larger 15 kilowatt system. However, installers we spoke with put the costs higher, ranging between $100,000 to $175,000.

Permitting costs in particular can vary dramatically by community. Hatchett, the California turbine installer, said this can be a huge barrier for some would-be purchasers in places that require thousands of dollars in upfront payments to even determine whether you can install a wind system. 

Policymakers have taken some action to lighten the financial load. Small wind turbines are eligible for a 30% federal tax credit under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, similar to solar panels. Additional federal incentives offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for rural businesses and farms can bring down costs even further, but they are not intended for residential use. States may also offer their own incentive programs. 

Whether a residential turbine is cost-effective will depend on how much power you can generate and how much power you need. It may become economically viable if you have a lot of wind and a large electric bill. However, small wind turbines also require maintenance that will carry additional costs and labor.

In the vast majority of cases, solar power is a better financial option for homeowners. According to EnergySage research, the average cost for solar installation in the U.S. at the time of writing is $2.86 per watt, and a 10-kilowatt system on average costs $27,300 before tax credits. Based on the pricing estimates above, wind tends to cost more, with best-case estimates for a 10-kilowatt turbine coming in at $30,000 and potentially running much higher. The 10 kW solar array will also likely produce more electricity per year.

However, experts cited some cases where wind may be a better investment. "If you've got the good wind resource, the economics can pencil out,” said Lloyd Ritter, policy director at the Distributed Wind Energy Association. “It's all site-dependent and community-specific. … You have to factor in all of that."

  • If you live in a place with significant wind resources, small wind can ultimately become cost-competitive with solar if you use a lot of power. For example, it is possible that a 15-kilowatt turbine can be more cost-effective than a 100-panel solar array, depending on the respective wind and sun resources at the site.

  • If an aging roof needs to be replaced to accommodate solar panels, it could tip the scales toward wind—although that roof will probably need to still be fixed eventually.

There are also some non-financial considerations that may push some people toward wind.

  • If your roof is not properly sloped for solar and you don’t want to dedicate a significant amount of land to a ground-mounted array of panels, small wind takes up a lot less space.

  • Again, some people just really like wind turbines and prefer the way they look and work on their property.

  • Some households could benefit from a mix of solar and wind, since wind tends to blow more when the sun shines less, both in terms of the times of day and the times of the year.

As you're looking for ways to generate your own electricity, it's always a good idea to compare multiple options before making a final decision. By signing up on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can receive up to seven custom quotes for installing solar on your property. These quotes include cost information, and savings estimates that you can compare the economic benefits of solar with small wind turbine offers. If you're looking to start out with ballpark numbers before receiving quotes, check out our Solar Calculator.

Kerry Thoubboron wrote a previous version of this article.

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