It's good to go green. Beyond being eco-friendly, many green habits can be cost-effective, particularly home upgrades. One of the most obvious environmental projects for your home is to go solar. Maybe it's been a goal of yours for some time or maybe the financial incentive being offered has you considering it.
Solar energy has several benefits, but it is still a home improvement project, so make sure you plan carefully. Before getting started with a solar energy conversion, consider the answers to these eight common questions about solar panels and solar electric systems.
How much space do you have?
Although not every home solar panel system is mounted on the roof — some can be standalone in big yards — it's most likely going to sit on top of your house, so see how much space you have to work with. Is there a large surface area? Is your roof full of sharp angles that might impede panels at certain spots? Perhaps there's a chimney right in the middle of your roof.
Due to the size and nature of solar panels, an impediment could limit how many you can install and how much energy that system can then generate. Take the time to fully audit what space you have and what is usable so you can accurately determine if solar panels are worth it for you to invest in.
Is your roof angled the right direction?
Solar panels need sunlight to work. That's obvious. But to get the most out of going solar, both in energy collected and money saved, you want to make sure the panels are optimized in their location. Is the only space available on your roof angled away from the sun's path or covered by shade?
For homes in the Northern Hemisphere, angling your solar panels to the south is the ideal method, although east-west placement could also work. The Department of Energy also recommends a slope of between 15 to 40 degrees.
Do you need to make repairs first?
Your roof is out in the elements, suffering wear and tear. When inspecting it for available space, make sure you don't have damage, from broken shingles to holes in your roof. Beyond impeding solar panel installation, this can lead to further housing damage down the line.
Be thorough and complete the repairs on your roof before taking any more steps. And when you’re budgeting for solar panels, make sure you include any maintenance required before you can even install them.
Pro-tip: Home improvement doesn't need to break the bank. Try these financing strategies to update your house, increase its value, and not put yourself in a financial hole doing so.
Can your roof handle the new equipment?
Even if your roof is well maintained, consider the burden solar panels add to a house — not in stress, but in weight. Even with advancements in solar panel technology, panels still have weight and heft, and that can stress your roof. Make sure it is able to handle an additional load before considering installing panels.
One other element to consider is your environment. If you live in a rainy area, or often deal with falling leaves and branches, make sure your gutters won't get blocked or that debris from nature won’t pile up, which could impact the panels' efficiency.
Can you connect to the power grid easily?
Going solar can be an isolated process: You can add solar power and create a closed loop for your own power if you are living somewhere where the traditional electric grid is not available. Often, though, homeowners link their new system to the grid via local electric utilities and this may even be required in some locations.
Connecting to the grid has some added perks because many states use what is called “net metering.” This means that any excess energy your solar system generates that you don't use gets shared with the wider power grid and actually lowers your electric bill. If you use more than you generate, you pay the difference owed.
In some cases there might be a one-off fee for connecting to the system, so be sure to check with your utility company for any specific rules, equipment required, and to understand the necessary paperwork or process you need to follow.
Can you get some money back for it?
Going solar is good for saving energy costs in the long run, but there often is a high upfront investment. The cost varies depending on the type of panel and the number of panels needed, but on average expect to pay at least $10,000.
That said, a number state and local governments offer generous rebates and tax incentives to any homeowner who decides to make the switch to solar power. The federal government is also in the incentive game for solar. There's a 26% tax credit for systems set up in 2020-2022, with a 30% credit for anything installed prior to 2020. Going forward, a 22% tax credit will be effective for systems installed from 2023 onward. (The credit will need to be continued by Congress in 2024, so be aware of the upcoming legislative deadline.)
Alternatively, consider certain loans to help finance installation. If you know what the costs will be for solar installation, consider a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit. The best mortgage lenders may provide these types of loans.
Is it better to lease?
Not everyone who goes solar owns their system. There is a strong solar rental industry out there that has far fewer installation costs for users. The caveat is that it's a lease, so you're still paying the supplier for that energy, and the solar system is only as good as the length of the lease. Even if you lease, you still need to go through the planning steps to make sure your home and roof can handle solar panels.
What's the upkeep?
The good news is that solar panels are fairly reliable and long lasting. Depending on the make or model, the equipment can last at least 20 years, if well maintained and not damaged. Your biggest labor after installation is likely to be cleaning. Regular cleaning will ensure that dirt, leaves, or other grime doesn’t accumulate on the panels, which can impact how much energy you get out of the system.
The cost of solar has dropped significantly over the last decade, and systems and installations are more readily available. Before you make the switch, do a full inspection of your house and roof to make sure it's physically appropriate for a solar panel system. And be sure to talk to your local utility provider to see what it will take to link to the grid, and if this shift to solar has other financial benefits for you.