Green Life Zen

We've cultivated crops, domesticated animals, constructed cities, dug up fossil fuels, and even landed on the moon. The most effective and typical source of energy at our fingertips has actually been overlooked by lots of executives and innovators for far too long. Till really just recently, solar power has actually been a passing trend that just the most die-hard of green energy converts and NASA would promote, and yet the innovation never ever passed away.

Homes have actually been taken off the energy grid with solar and wind energy sources. You can go out right now and purchase your own solar energy package and start tapping into that power of that excellent huge orb in the sky.

With the world recognizing with increasing seriousness that our standard energy sources simply aren't cutting it any longer, solar is lastly coming into its own. And, with the right tools and understanding in your back pocket, you can be at the leading edge, warming your water, powering your garden lights, or even bumping your whole house off the energy grid once and for all with green energy.

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Solar Power is Not Just Solar Cells

Even if you know nothing about how solar power works, you've most likely become aware of or seen those foil-lined, glossy solar batteries that sit atop schools and businesses. These photovoltaic (PV) cells are simply one kind of innovation at our fingertips utilized to transform the sun's rays into a practical kind of energy for our electronic devices, cars and trucks and houses.

With the ideal innovation, the sun can be utilized for all sorts of other energy transfer. The dream of transforming your whole house to solar reliance does not have to be out of reach.

  • Solar Hot Water
  • Solar Collectors
  • Active Solar Space Heating
  • Photovoltaics

Which's simply the solar side of things. You can likewise improve your natural energy sources by making use of wind power and by cutting down on your existing usage rates. This guide will discuss all of these subjects and more as you try to discover what it will require to stop utilizing your share of the nonrenewable fuel sources on the planet and cut down to strictly natural, renewable resource.

Various Forms of Solar-Powered Energy

Think about the world's present energy sources-- not simply the oil and coal we utilize to run our cars and trucks and computer systems, however the food, water and wind around us every day.
Trace the food chain to its lowliest members and you'll discover algae and plants-- both life forms that can change the sun's rays into energy sources through photosynthesis. In a sense, then, all energy in your food comes from the sun, even if it goes through 5 or 6 actions of the food chain prior to it gets to your stubborn belly.

Even the present types of energy we utilize are simply old, incredibly high-density containers for solar energy. Coal is compressed plant matter. It's all a cycle so it's no surprise that innovation has actually established in current years to take benefit of the sun's rays in as much methods as possible, not simply through silicon-based solar cells, however through solar collectors, insulated tubes and more.

Solar Collectors

First thing first-- how do we take all that energy being pumped out by the sun each day and transform it into feasible power for your house? It's finished with solar batteries-- unique panels that you put in your roofing, on your walls, or next to your swimming pool to gather and trap the radiation emitted by the sun as a functional source of producing heat. We'll enter into the systems utilized to transform that energy into a type that operates in your house quickly, but for now, let's have a look at how the collectors really work.

Often called solar thermal collectors, these collectors are utilized in lots of setups-- most significantly solar hot water and space heating setups. They might likewise be utilized for solar towers, solar energy plants and solar conversion for storage facilities or industrial outlets. Typically, it is burned or broken down in a method that releases energy. That energy is then utilized to heat water, which turns turbines.

A solar battery is handling the very same function as the coal-- it's trapping energy and preparing it for conversion to a form we can actually use. Where and how you utilize those collectors will depend mostly on what sort of energy you require. Instead of the extremely unsteady and typically not extremely beneficial solar radiation that originates from the sky every day, a solar battery transforms the sun's energy into something that can be utilized to heat water or charge a battery.

Heating Collectors

The very first type of collector is utilized for heating. Solar heating collectors come in flat plate or evacuated tube collectors.

Flat Plate

A flat plate collector is an insulated box which contains a plate developed to soak up solar power, generally secured below a set of glass or plastic layers when set up in your house. It might be revealed if you utilize the very same collector plate for your swimming pool.

Integral Collector Storage

The essential collector storage (ICS) system is frequently known as a batch system since it generally has several tubes or tanks included within a single insulated box. The hot water heating system can be set to just turn on when the water drops below a particular temperature level coming from the collector. In a lot of scenarios, this lowers your standard energy usage by up to 70%.

Evacuated Tube

The 3rd type of solar collector is the evacuated tube, which encapsulates each pipeline in the collector with many clear tubes made of glass. Each tube will have metal absorbers to trap the solar energy and heat the water.

Electrical Power Collectors

The collectors you've most likely seen regularly are the ones utilized for creating electrical power-- ¬ the panels, dishes, pyramids and towers that dot the landscape in remote locations or in industrial parks.

Related Article: DIY Solar Panels: The Benefits, Drawbacks & Step by Step Installation Guide

Various Types of Electrical Power Collectors

Parabolic Trough and Dish

Troughs are utilized by solar energy plants to focus the energy gathered from the sun to warm a pipeline filled with coolant, which is then utilized to power boilers in a station. Parabolic dishes appear like huge foil-wrapped dish antenna. They focus all of the sunshine got onto a single point where it is converted into a better type of energy.

Power Tower

Like something out of a scene in a sci-fi motion picture, the power tower is surrounded by little mirrors that concentrate on the main point of the tower. The tower then moves heat collected to the base of the tower where a power station lies.

Solar Pyramid

A pyramid utilizes air as the conductor to turn the turbines. They need a great deal of area and are covered in solar batteries that move heat to the air that is pressed through them.

They're pricey to execute and need a complicated system to make sure the mirrors and collectors stay focused in the right place throughout the day. This makes them best for power plants where expense can be exceeded by the long-lasting advantages of an efficient power plant.

The most significant concern that keeps focusing and gathering systems from being utilized residentially is that they typically do not operate in sub-prime conditions. If the sun is undetectable or merely diffused for any amount of time, they do not work well, whereas photovoltaic systems continue collecting power. Instead of focusing on what you can't utilize, let's take a look at how solar collectors can be incorporated into your house for thermal collection.

Solar Hot Water

Yes, photovoltaic panels are cool. They take the sun's rays and transform them into real-life electrical power that can run a toaster or an LCD TELEVISION. A lesser known usage of solar power that is far more effective and inexpensive for the typical house owner is solar hot water.

What makes a solar hot water system so effective, yet 3 times more effective than PV panels? Plus, due to the fact that of the current tax climate, you can get huge refunds from the state and federal governments for embracing a green energy source in your house.

Cost Savings and Production

A sturdy system that is big enough for your day-to-day hot water requirements and that can keep energy throughout the day must be able to offer hot water for your whole house for as much as 8 to 9 months out of the year. You'll want to determine the cost savings prior to investing cash into a system like this to ensure it will benefit you in the long run.

System Options

Solar hot water has actually been on the marketplace for about 25 years now, and in that time, many approaches have actually been established to transform energy from the sun into the hot water you use to shower or do your dishes. When figuring out how to install your hot water, there are several systems to pick from. Which one you select might depend upon elements such as local rebates, area and the day-to-day hot water needs of your household.

  • Active-- An active system utilizes numerous parts and mechanics to take in heat and move it to your home water source.
  • Passive-- A passive system doesn't do anything beyond supplying a funnel for solar power to the water source.

For the most part, the passive systems are much easier to set up, less costly and need far less upkeep. On the other hand, if you reside in a high-maintenance environment where the sun takes long naps and it gets extremely cold in the winter season, you might require the additional bells and whistles of an active system that can support your hot water, separate the heating elements and offer on-grid choices when conditions get too extreme.

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How a Solar Water System Works

Whether you have a passive or active system, you'll need to have a storage and a collector tank for the water. The collector will take in the solar energy, magnifying the heat and moving the radiation to the water in the tank, which will then be dispersed, either to a secondary storage tank or throughout the hot water pipelines in your house.

Active Solar Hot Water Systems

In an active hot water system, there will be a variety of moving parts that make certain it keeps running under all conditions. This is really essential for a house that does not get a great deal of sun throughout some parts of the year, or that struggles with deep freezes throughout the winter season. Without an active system, you might lose hot water entirely or suffer damage to your setup.

Active solar hot water systems can be found in 2 types-- indirect or either direct circulation systems. The direct circulation system will just heat the water in the collector and move it through your house as it is heated up, utilizing a series of pumps.

The indirect system will utilize an unique coolant liquid that can be moved in between the solar battery and a heat exchanger which will move the heat to the water for later usage. It is practically important to prevent any pipelines that may freeze in the collector if your house is in an environment where it freezes frequently. Think of having your water backup in the tank connected to your roofing freeze. The damage would be enormous.

Passive Solar Hot Water Systems

In general, these systems are much easier. They utilize conventional pipes and gravity to move water in between the solar batteries and your hot water elements, however due to the fact that they do not have any pumps or backup systems to keep things running, you risk of a system that will bleed heat and end up being ineffective rapidly.

This system works with the natural homes of water to syphon hot water out of the collection system. Cold water will increase into the batch tank, and as it is warmed, it will increase in the collector and run into a greater pipeline that goes to the hot water heating unit or storage tank.

This second technique is excellent if you're interested in something passive and dependable, however remember that they usually cost more because of the requirement for new pipes and to be very carefully set up-- typically by an expert-- due to the fact that they are heavy and connected to your roofing.

Related Article: Solar Water Heating Systems - How They Work and How to Pick the Best One for Your Home

Is a Solar Hot Water System Right for You?

Ideally everything above made good sense. Even if the technical information didn't hit home, consider this-- a solar hot water system is a fantastic method to cut down on your carbon footprint and lower your energy costs quickly with a reasonably fundamental setup. Specifically if you're utilizing gas to heat your hot water tank, this can be a terrific method to cut your gas expense.

And the expense is really appealing. The parts and setup of the system might appear substantial in advance, however you'll practically never ever need to stress over upkeep and the sun's rays are constantly complimentary. The expense of parts and labor will differ, however usually, a brand-new house purchaser will invest as low as $10 to $15 a month throughout 30 years to cover the expense of the system, which is normally far less than you'd be spending for hot water for a household of four.

In contrast, it will cost approximately 3 times that much to set up a photovoltaic system that can produce electrical power for your whole house. If your heating costs is considerably higher than your electrical costs due to making use of gas or oil, you might wish to think about starting your solar conversion with a hot water or heating unit, both of which are far simpler to set up and have a far lower initial financial investment.

Active Solar Space Heating

You've been exposed to the fundamental concepts of solar space heating if you've ever been in a greenhouse. Instead of focusing solar power on a single point or transforming it to electrical power with costly solar batteries, you move solar power into your house through a glazed surface area-- such as glass or plastic-- and utilize the energy for heating.

Obviously, it can be far more complex than that depending on how much heat you wish to produce, whether you wish to save it or move it to other spaces, and how you will utilize the energy when it is collected. It's an excellent idea to figure out how each of these systems will work in your house before making any choices.

Passive Heating

Passive solar heating is quite easy and the least pricey method to present solar energy to your house. It generally benefits from south-facing windows, insulation and sunspaces to hold and collect heat throughout the day to preserve the temperature level in your house.

A passive system most frequently utilizes what is called a direct gain setup to keep sunshine throughout the day and after that launch it in time. This enables the house to remain warm even after the sun has actually set. The biggest problem here is overheating as there is no other way to control the heat your building materials collect throughout the day.

Another typical type of passive space heating is called indirect gain. When you utilize unique building materials or insulation that will hold heat throughout the day and then launch it into the house, this is. This produces a buffer to decrease the direct heat your home takes in, however still preserves the sluggish release approach.

Active Heating

Active heating takes us back to the collectors we talked about previously. You'll need to collect solar power in focused points and direct that energy through water and other fluids to the remainder of the home-- sort of like a solar boiler. Air can likewise be used as an alternative to move the heat throughout your house.

Liquid Systems

A liquid based system will utilize the very same type of water collector explained in going over hot water systems. With the help of valves or pumps, you will move that water throughout the home to walls, floorboards or radiators to rearrange heat to various spaces. It does not require to be water-- some liquid systems will utilize numerous non-toxic coolants as the transfer source.

Air Systems

In an air transfer system, an air collector is utilized to heat pressurized air that is then dispersed throughout your house to keep you warm. Among the more typical additions to a system like this is a backup source that offers heat when you either consume the heat you've produced or the sun isn't shining for a day or more. Backup systems generally need water-based heating as water is simpler and much safer to save than heated air.

Things to Consider

You'll need to do more than simply place larger windows on your home if you're seriously thinking about setting up a solar space heating system. You will need to compute your current energy usage for heating.

How much does it require to keep your household warm throughout the year?

You need to identify whether or not your house is insulated enough to preserve the heat you produce when you've done that. Without an outdoors heating source, you wish to maintain as much heat as possible. Without insulation and with spaces in doors or windows, a solar system will have a hard time keeping up with the energy needs of your house.

Keep in mind that many houses utilize more energy in heating than for hot water if you prepare on utilizing a collector. You will not have the ability to utilize a single collector and tank for your heating needs. You might need numerous collectors, either on your roofing system or in your backyard, to guarantee you get enough heat throughout the cooler months of the year.

Is Solar Space Heating Worth It?

If you reside in a location where heating is essential for more than a quarter of the year and you get enough sunshine to produce that energy, you will absolutely take advantage of solar space heating. Passive systems are more economical and need less moving parts, however because they can be far less precise when it pertains to supplying sufficient heat for your house, they are typically recommended only for moderate and temperate environments.

You will want to think about an active system that can constantly create heat and store it for future use if you live in a cooler location where it freezes typically. You might likewise need to remain tapped into an external heat source to guarantee you do not lack viable energy in the dead of winter season.

Related Article: Solar Water Heating Systems - How They Work and How to Pick the Best One for Your Home

Photovoltaics (PV)

I've saved this solar technique for last for good reason. While photovoltaics (or solar batteries) might be the most typically pointed out and identifiable solar innovation, they are likewise the most costly and sometimes hardest to make use of for a residential house. When it's a viable option, PV is still a technology that can revolutionize how we use energy in the decades to come.

How Photovoltaics Work

Far, we've discussed other solar systems that basically concentrate solar energy and transfer it to another medium-- either water or air. With a solar battery, things are done digitally. In other words, the cell is transforming the energy from the sun into electrical energy utilizing a silicon semiconductor.

It's the very same innovation we've utilizing for years to power computer systems, transistors and other electronic devices, however instead of a manufactured source of power, we are utilizing the sun straight. When the sun's light hits the PV cell, a few of that light is soaked up by a semiconductor made from silicon (or a comparable product). The energy in the semiconductor then breaks out electrons that can travel as they please inside the gadget.

Once inside, these electrons are pushed in a specific instructions, therefore producing a current. When the current has actually been created, you can utilize contacts found on the PV cell to draw electrical power off of it to power your gadgets.

When I say it just works, I've just boiled down a very complex subject to about 150 words so you'll have to bear with me. Whole books, classes and college degrees are based upon this subject so if you're interested in how electrical energy, silicon or semiconductors work, there are lots of initial resources to draw from.

The basic idea is that those PV cells can take the sun's rays and convert them in real time to electricity which we can use to power various devices-- from the solar-powered calculator we all thought was amazing in second grade to the space station orbiting the earth with solar panel wings catching as much radiation as possible with each circuit.

Problems with PV Cells

Since the 1950s, solar batteries have actually been utilized by different military, federal government and commercial outfits, and researchers the world over have actually attempted to identify when this innovation would end up being practical for property usage. When will all of us have the ability to disconnect from the grid and start utilizing solar energy only?

The sun's rays produce 1,000 watts of electricity a day for every square meter of the earth they hit. The problem is the efficiency of the solar cells, which lose quite a bit of power in the transfer, rendering them fairly weak in terms of electricity generation.

Silicon and other conductive products are likewise quite glossy, which means they shoot all sorts of radiation back out, squandering possible energy sources. Up to 2006, the typical photovoltaic panel just soaked up 15% of the solar radiation that struck it. The objective is 40%.

Obviously, brand-new innovations continuously being established, and some photovoltaic panels have actually been developed that can get effectiveness of 41% or greater. The cost is high, which makes it tough for a regular guy or gal like you to take full advantage of the technology.

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Tapping Into the Sun for Your House

With all that in mind, application of solar panels for your home's electricity use isn't necessarily that hard. Ideally, solar panels should be angled upwards and should face south in the Northern Hemisphere or north in the Southern Hemisphere, where the sun will spend most of its time throughout the year.

Next, you need to identify just how much electrical energy you use and just how much electrical power your system can produce. Because it's difficult to understand when the sun will shine, you'll need to utilize averages supplied by the National Weather Service (in the U.S.), or an associated company in your nation. These numbers differ however will offer you a standard from which to work.

The more watts you use each day, the more solar cells you'll need to power your home. If you plan on cutting your electricity use to afford a solar cell system, you'll want to be realistic about how much you can cut.

Another element many individuals do not recognize is that many states have systems in place that will permit you to stay connected to the power grid. In especially dull months without any sunshine, you can draw as much power as you need, and in sunny and bright months or when you're on getaway, you can offer power back to the electricity or gas company for credit, basically banking it for later on usage. If this is an option for your home, you'll need to check with your local government and power provider to find out.

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Putting Your Knowledge to Use

Far, we've discussed the details involved in solar systems of various types. Once you've decided if these systems are right for your home, you'll want to take the leap and install them. The next area will cover in depth what each solar system needs, what it will cost and the long-lasting energy cost savings you can anticipate.

Setting Up Solar Power in your house

For the sake of this article short, we'll evaluate two alternatives you have for setting up solar energy in your house-- panels and collectors. Bear in mind, nevertheless, that you can likewise make the most of passive heating unit to draw power into your home through unique insulation or basic glass windows, information we'll cover in the final paragraph.

Heating Installations

For the most basic heating unit-- the ones where you include a couple of pipelines and set up a solar battery and tank on your roofing system, you can likely install it by yourself with no assistance. The more advanced closed loop systems require a great deal of alteration to your plumbing and may even require special permits; discuss your solar heating plans with a contractor before starting any new project.

For a solar heating setup, you'll require a range of parts, depending upon what your heating unit will be utilized for.

Solar Collectors

The solar battery will either be a flat panel connected to your primary tank or a network of tubes that will run water through to be heated up. The real size of a lot of solar batteries is around 4 - 8 feet, although some can be as big as 12 feet if you have an especially big tank.

If you have a great deal of rainy or cold weather condition, you might wish to think about evacuated tubes for your collector as they minimized outdoors temperature level affects-- a significant consider the winter season. Just the sun's energy will affect the temperature level of the water or coolant in your collector in this manner.


A solar tank serves as the transitional gadget in between the collectors and your hot water heater. The water will be heated in the storage tank by a series of coiled pipes that come from your collector if you use a closed loop system. The water will be pumped directly to the solar collectors for heating and then returned to the hot water tank to be used if you use an open loop system.

Water Heater

This isn't necessary in an open loop system that is completely disconnected from the grid, but it is highly recommended because you never know when you'll lose the sun or need some extra hot water. A backup hot water heater will remain in service, only producing hot water when your solar tank runs empty or the thermostat drops too low on the current supply. You can link them up so that hot water from you solar collector goes directly to the hot water heater and then back to your household supply.

Water Pumps

You'll only need a water pump if you opt for an active system that requires the transfer of coolant or water from your solar collector to a separate tank and then to the hot water heater. You'll rarely have to worry about your pump as they last for 10-- 20 years and can be powered by any power source in your home-- grid-based or solar.

Heat Exchanger

You'll need a heat exchanger to transfer heat from the solar collector to your cold water supply if you have a closed loop system. This is usually done by running coolant through a series of pipes and back to the hot water or a solar tank heater. Another alternative is to have a pipe wrapped around another pipe, transferring heat to your fresh water as it is transferred to the facet or bathroom.

Controls and Valves

A number of valves and controls are needed for different types of installations. These will help to determine where the water is pumped and when the hot water is collected using a thermostat in your hot water tank.

The isolation valve is used to cut off and isolate your solar tank if there is ever problem, such as a leak, contamination or improper heating. This way, you can cut off the solar-heated water while maintaining a direct line to your hot water tank if needed.

If you have an open loop system that doesn't use controls or pumps is a tempering valve, another valve you may want to use. This will allow you to directly impact how hot the water coming out of your facet is. Adjust the tempering valve to add more cold water to the mix and get it right if your water gets too hot.

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Photovoltaic Cell Installation

Once you've determined how much sunlight you receive each year by analyzing meteorological data and your current electricity usage, you can start creating a list of necessary parts, building materials and permits to get your solar project underway.

Adding solar power to your home with PV cells starts with the big question of whether you want to remain hooked up to the grid or not. Each option has its share of drawbacks so be sure to review them carefully.

If you go off the grid, you'll almost certainly need to have a generator or battery to supply power when solar energy isn't available. Solar panels last 30 years or longer, but batteries may only last 2 - 5 years depending on usage.

If you choose to remain on the grid, you will need to do a lot of research to determine what your local laws are and how to follow the power company's regulations. You will likely need special equipment to ensure the power remains compatible and that, if there is a power outage, you don't continue pumping out electricity to dead power lines (this is a huge safety issue).

Either way, you'll need to consider acquiring:


Make sure you choose a deep cycle battery made with either nickel-cadmium or lead-acid if you opt to go off-grid and install batteries. These batteries will last longer and match the energy storage and release requirements for a solar power system.

Charge Controller

Additionally, you'll need to purchase a charge controller, which is important in making sure your battery doesn't get drained too fast or overcharged. When the battery is full, it will stop the charging cycle, and when it is drained too low, the controller will stop drawing off the battery to extend battery life. A charge controller will keep your batteries in service by as much as 150% longer than without one.


For this reason, you'll need an inverter to change your direct current (DC) power (created by the solar panels) into alternating current (AC) power (used by your outlets and provided by your electric company). If you remain on the grid, your inverter should also stop the flow of electricity from your home to the power company when the power is out.


For those who want to go completely off-grid, a generator is necessary, even if you have a battery backup. You'll need a generator to recharge the batteries or provide emergency power if the power is low and your batteries are starting to lose their charge. You will also need a generator to supply backup power if your power output suddenly overwhelms the inverters.

A good generator should be directly connected to the inverter so that, when you turn on the generator, the inverter immediately recognizes the new power source and switches the entire load to it. Generators come in many options including gas, gasoline, and diesel. Because they are the least expensive and the easiest to get fuel for, gasoline-powered generators are the most common.

Assorted Other Parts

While the core parts listed above are very important, there are quite a few other small parts you'll need to complete your installation, including:.

  • Wiring-- Varies depending on the size of your system and the number of panels.
  • Grounding Equipment-- A vital safety consideration and is required for all electrical work.
  • Overcurrent Protection-- Protects the power and regulates supply from excess current and shortages.
  • Junction Boxes-- Protect and preserve your conduits and cables from the elements and other outside factors like bugs or rodents.
  • Disconnects-- Shuts down the direct current (DC) from the solar cells (usually mounted outside the house for quick access in the event of an emergency).

Before you start hammering away at your new solar energy system, contact your local municipality to see if there are any permits required. The odds are that you will need to acquire at least a building permit and possibly additional permits for the installation of a solar system. Heating systems are usually more straightforward, while PV cell systems might require a lot of paperwork, especially if you plan to say connected to the grid.

Consider what is legal for you to do on your own. Only certain operations may be completed by an unlicensed contractor. If you're planning on changing and running wires how your house connects to the power grid, you're almost certainly going to need an electrician, and an inspector will be required to look at the finished product and sign off on all safety regulations.

The building department is usually your go-to source for permits, but your municipality can vary from the norm, so check. In the U.S., however, almost all towns and cities follow the same National Electric Code. Exceptions include New York City and Chicago, which both have their own building codes.

Don't forget, though, that the government wants people using renewable energy and will reward you for your efforts. If you follow the rules, use the right materials and file all your permits, they'll help you along in the process every step of the way.

Solar Panels

Of course, there will be the solar panels themselves. With recent advances in technology, there are more options for solar panels than ever before, but it is still important to choose panels that fit your budget and the sizing options for your home. It's best to talk with a salesman or contractor who is well-versed in solar panels specifics that will most directly benefit your home.

Related Article: How to Build Solar Panels: 7 Basic Steps to Follow


Solar power is fantastic. It's free once you've installed everything, it's renewable, and it's out there almost every day of the year. If you live somewhere with plenty of sunshine and dread opening your hefty electric bills, you have every reason to tap into the massive volume of potential energy that comes pouring from the sky every day. No more power outages. You might even see your meter running backwards as you send a bit of power back to the electricity company. How you use it is entirely up to you.