9 things to consider before installing solar panels
9 things to consider before installing solar panels
The Inflation Reduction Act has expanded incentives for installing solar panels, but there are still some important considerations before you make the switch to solar. In this article, experts share what factors to weigh. When you're ready to go solar, Panasonic authorized installers can help you.
Solar panels have become increasingly popular among homeowners seeking ways to reduce their carbon footprint and save on energy bills. While solar panels can provide significant long-term savings and environmental benefits, they can also come with high upfront installation costs. They're not practical for every home or homeowner.
To know if solar panels are right for you, consider the weather conditions in your area, the slope of your roof, average monthly energy usage, and the length of time you plan to live in your home. Before installation can happen, you’ll need to understand better all possible financing options, as well the policies in place at your local utility company.
How to decide if solar panels are right for your home
Solar experts share the most important factors in deciding if solar panels are right for you.
Amount of sunlight
First things first, if your home is in an area that doesn’t get much sun or has long parts of the year when it is overcast or dark, solar panels might not be right for you. Alan Duncan, founder of Solar Panels Network USA, says homeowners must evaluate their energy needs and the amount of sunlight their property receives.
Does it tend to be cloudy or sunny where you live? Knowing the amount of sunlight your home gets during peak hours will aid in determining whether solar power would be a good energy solution for your household. If you’re not sure where to start, try free resources like Energy Sage and the free PDF e-book, To Catch the Sun, by Lonny Grafman and Joshua M. Pearce, Ph.D.
Roof size and slope
A roof’s orientation and condition determine whether it can support solar panels. Duncan says the direction and angle of the roof impacts solar panel efficiency. “Ideally, your roof should face south and have an angle between 30 and 45 degrees to maximize the amount of sunlight your panels receive,” he says. If your home has a flat roof, you may still be able to install solar panels. An expert installer will know how best to mount them to capture the most sunlight possible.
Neil Gallagher, co-founder of BrighterWay Solar, reminds homeowners to ensure there is minimal shade or tree cover over their solar panels. If there is, be sure to budget for regular landscaping to have leaves and trees removed or trimmed.
Roof age and condition
Solar panels can be installed on most roof types, including asphalt shingles, metal roofs, and flat roofs. But Duncan notes that a roof’s condition and age can impact the installation process and solar panel efficiency. He recommends assessing whether your roof is nearing expiration or in need of repairs. Also, Gallagher adds that it’s a good idea to have extra tiles on hand for tiled roofs, in case any get cracked during the installation process.
Current energy usage
Duncan also notes that having an understanding of energy usage patterns and how much your current energy bills are will help determine how much solar energy you need to generate. A reputable installer will estimate the cost per unit power ($/W). Dr. Pearce says to verify installer’s numbers against the free U.S. government site PVWatts, and see if your solar panel system can produce enough energy to fully replace current household usage from the grid.
Budget and financing
“While solar panels can provide significant cost savings in the long term,” Duncan says, “the initial investment can be expensive.” It is important to consider your installation budget to decide if the future utility savings is worth the swap. There are many financing options, such as solar leases and power purchase agreements. Most panel systems come with long-term warranties and limited maintenance, but you’ll need to consider any additional costs associated with homeowner’s insurance and roof care.
For homeowners who only plan to live in their homes for just a few years before selling, installing solar panels may not be a good investment. However, if you’re living in your forever home and expect to have decades to see the savings accrue, solar panels tend to be a good long-term investment.
Incentives & tax credit programs
There are many programs to incentivize homeowners to switch to solar energy. The Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy updated its guide for Federal Tax Credits for 2023. There are also state programs for which many homeowners may be eligible. Many of these incentives are rebate programs that reimburse after you’ve already paid the upfront costs. So, it’s important to be able to absorb the initial costs and ensure you prepare all the documentation and process steps needed to get the maximum in rebates and incentives owed.
Gallagher encourages homeowners to research various installation companies and sales companies, which provide two separate services. “The sales organization is its own entity, and it will sell a product to the homeowner and turn it over to an installer that they have partnered with,” he says. It’s important to research both companies thoroughly to find the right combo for you.
City or HOA approval
Before installing solar panels, you will likely need to obtain permits and approvals from local authorities. Duncan says that many cities and homeowner associations (HOAs) have specific guidelines for solar panel installation. Failure to obtain approval prior to the installation company beginning the work can result in fines or legal action.
“To obtain approval, you will need to submit a permit application and detailed plans outlining the design and location of your solar panel system,” he says. Local solar installers usually can assist homeowners with this process to ensure the installation complies with all relevant regulations and guidelines, but it is the homeowner’s responsibility to confirm and comply with any state, county, and local regulations that may apply.
Storing excess energy
Each utility company has its own rules about net metering and selling excess energy back to the grid. In many cases, when a household uses less energy than the solar panels harvest, the utility grid is willing to put those megawatts to good use and provide credits for the excess. The amount will vary depending on the utility company and region. Otherwise, you can store excess energy on batteries to use later when there’s low sunlight or high energy demand. Have a plan in place to ensure long-term sustainability.
This article was written by Nafeesah Allen from Better Homes and Gardens and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].