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Your Quick Guide: Researching Solar Panels For Homes

Sep 15, 2022

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Have you ever thought about solar panels for home installation? The notion of potentially saving money, helping the environment and maybe even tackling off-grid living may appeal to you.

Let’s explore what you should know about the benefits of home solar energy production and the costs involved as well as the pros and cons of a solar system for your home. We’ll also answer some frequently asked questions about solar panels before you jump into a home solar system installation project.

How Solar Power Works For Homes

Options for adding solar power to a home include:

  • Grid-tied solar systems: Grid-tied means your solar system is connected to the electrical power grid on a permanent basis. You can pull power from the grid to supplement your solar energy production. This way, you don’t have to purchase batteries for your system, which can get expensive.
  • Off-grid solar systems: Off-grid solar systems sound exactly like what they are – solar systems that don’t connect to your utility company or other power source. Your solar system alone supports your energy generation. Unless it’s physically or financially not feasible to connect to a utility power grid, most people choose a grid-tied system. Off-grid systems are more expensive than grid-tied systems because they typically require more panels and battery banks.

  • Grid-tied systems with battery backup: Often called a “hybrid system,” a grid-tied system with battery backup has a solar battery that stores energy generated by solar panels in your system. The size (and cost) of your batteries depends on how much electricity you use and how much your solar panels will produce. You may want a battery in case of disruptions in the electric power system or if your utility company charges different rates for power usage based on the time of day or amount of energy you use.

  • Solar leases: You can also get a solar lease rather than buying a full solar system. A solar lease is a financing option that allows you to pay monthly to lease a solar system instead of owning solar panels outright. Leases are similar to power purchase agreements (PPAs), which charge the homeowner a certain price for each kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy they use.

The right option for you will depend largely on your individual goals and needs. A variety of solar panel types are available to fit various budgets and requirements.

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What To Know About Solar Batteries

A hybrid solar system – which is a grid-tied solar system with energy storage – can keep your home powered during an outage and help you save money. Hybrid systems use an inverter that isolates the home and its solar panels from the grid. The system can seamlessly switch to using batteries at night or in cloudy weather to power your home.

Batteries can also power your home during peak demand times. Utility companies often have time-of-use pricing that charges more for power during times when they expect high use. By using energy stored in your batteries, you can potentially avoid these higher electricity rates.

These benefits come with a high upfront cost. Adding a solar battery for backup storage can add an estimated $10,000 to the system price. The final price may be lower if you qualify for government or utility company incentives.

How Many Solar Panels A Home Needs

Homeowners often want to know how many solar panels their home would need. This depends on a combination of factors: The home’s location, the area’s sun number, the home’s typical electricity use and the specific solar panels being used.

Because solar panels come in different sizes, it’s more accurate to think in terms of how much energy your PV array needs to generate rather than how many panels you need. Currently, the average American household uses about 30 kWh per day, according to the U.S. Energy Administration. A solar array rated at 6.62 kilowatts would theoretically serve that home’s needs. While this is a good rule of thumb, it’s always best to work with a reputable solar installation company to understand the exact solar array size your home needs.

Pros And Cons Of Home Solar

Deciding whether you should get solar panels isn’t a decision you want to take lightly. Below are a few pros and cons of solar panels to consider.

Pros

  • You could decrease your monthly electric bill.
  • You could lower your overall carbon emissions by switching to a renewable energy source.
  • A solar installation may be eligible for federal, state or local tax incentives.
  • Solar can increase the value of your home.
  • You can access a wide range of solar products that often offer great warranties.
  • Solar panels don’t cost a lot to maintain.
  • You may be able to get credit for excess energy you put back into the grid.

Cons

  • Solar panels come with expensive upfront installation costs.
  • A solar system may impact your ability to refinance your mortgage.
  • Your roof might not be ideal for solar installation (and you might be limited by the amount of space you have).
  • Solar systems require a sunny environment to work best. If your home is surrounded by towering evergreens, for example, a system may not work for you.

The Cost Of Home Solar Panels In 2022

How much do solar panels for your home cost?

The average residential solar panel system cost has fallen since 2010, from about $4.70 per kilowatt-hour to $2.70 per kWh in 2021. A key factor in this decrease is module costs, which have plunged around 85% in the past 10 years.

To learn about solar panel costs, let’s consider a 5-kilowatt (kW) system. A system this size can produce up to 30 kWh on a sunny summer day, though the system is more likely to generate an average of 20 kWh because real-life conditions are usually not the most optimal. The cost to install a system of this size could range from $15,000 – $25,000 before rebates and tax credits.

Most solar panel systems don’t need much ongoing maintenance, so most of the costs are upfront. In addition, government incentives, such as tax credits and rebates from federal and local agencies, can reduce the cost if you qualify.

However, you’ll also want to calculate how much you’ll save over time compared to how much you spend initially. Homeowners who invest in a 5-kW solar system can save between $44 and $187 per month on their electric bill during the first year that they own their system, according to the NC Clean Energy Technology Center at North Carolina State University’s research on 50 of the largest U.S. cities.

A solar panel calculator can help you estimate your solar savings. Just input your address, electricity bill and roof type.

Money-Saving Solar Incentives And Tax Rebates

Government agencies and many utility companies offer incentives for homeowners to install solar panels. The federal solar tax credit – which Congress recently extended as part of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 – is one of the most significant incentives. Eligible homeowners who install a PV array between January 1, 2022, and December 31, 2032, may qualify for a 30% tax rebate thanks to a part of the bill known as the “residential clean energy credit,” which is retroactive to the beginning of this year. Systems installed in 2033 or 2034 may qualify for a rebate of 26% and 22%, respectively.

State governments also offer a variety of incentives. Some offer tax credits, while others may waive sales tax on solar-related purchases. Homeowners can check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency® to see what’s available in their state.

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FAQs: Solar Panels For Homes

Let’s take a look at a few FAQs for solar panels to help you decide whether you should embark on a solar project.

Can solar panels power my home completely?

The amount of “coverage” you get from your solar panels depends on the amount of energy your household consumes. At night and in cloudy weather, most homes with solar will rely on the utility grid for power. At other times (such as during many consecutive days of sunny weather), your solar array may add more energy to the grid than it uses. Your geographic location, panel efficiency and panel power also factor into whether your solar panels can power your home completely.

With a properly sized system and with energy-efficient habits and appliances, your home’s average production over a year could match your consumption.

You can use a formula to determine the number of panels that you’ll need:

Number of Panels = System Size / Production Ratio / Panel Wattage

From there, you can figure out how many panels will cover all your energy needs.

What’s the ROI of solar panels?

The return on investment (ROI) you receive from your solar system depends on a few factors, including government incentives, your system size, the type of system you install and your location.

However, typical payback periods range anywhere from 6 – 20 years.

You can estimate your ROI using a solar panel calculator, and for more accurate estimates, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on your electric bills. Once you know your numbers, you can divide the total cost of the system by the yearly benefit you’ll receive once you install your solar panels.

Do solar panels still work during a blackout?

If there’s an outage in your area, a grid-tied home won’t be able to use the power it produces. This is a safety measure that protects utility technicians – who are trying to restore service – from being harmed by electricity entering the grid. The PV system’s inverter prevents energy from solar panels from feeding into the grid during an outage.

If keeping your home powered during an outage is a priority, you’ll need backup batteries.

How long do solar panels last?

Home solar installations have an industry standard 25- to 30-year life expectancy. They don’t completely quit producing after this amount of time. Instead, they decline in efficiency but still produce power.

Fortunately, the warranty period for solar panels usually matches the life expectancy, so if something goes wrong before then, you may qualify to have your solar panels replaced.

Note, however, that the inverter in a photovoltaic system usually has a shorter warranty than the panels. You need an inverter because the electricity in your solar panels comes out as direct current (DC) electricity, and in order to use it in your home, DC electricity must be converted to alternating current (AC) electricity. An inverter does just that – it converts DC electricity to AC electricity.

How do I maintain a solar panel?

Most home solar installers recommend cleaning your solar panels regularly because dirty solar panels lose some efficiency if they’re very dirty. Items like bird droppings, pollen, dust, leaves and even sea salt can become a problem for solar panels. You can clean them with regular dishwashing soap or window soap.

It’s important to keep in mind that since solar panels are often located on steep and pitched roofs, cleaning them can be a safety issue. If you’re concerned about safety, you can always hire a professional to clean them. The cost will vary depending on the types of cleaning services in your area.

What if I don’t have space on my roof for solar panels?

You may want to consider ground-mounted solar panels or a solar carport if you have a small roof or a roof that isn’t conducive to solar panels.

Just as it sounds, a ground-mounted solar array refers to a system that stands on its own. It can be mounted on a frame or on top of a single pole coming out of the ground. A solar carport, on the other hand, is a structure that shelters vehicles that can also produce solar energy.

Your solar installer can help you determine the best option for your home.

Can I install solar panels myself?

Installing a grid-tied solar system is a complex job. It requires the knowledge to install racking (solar panel mounting hardware) on a roof or other appropriate surface and correctly wire the components to the home’s electrical system. The hardest part, though, might be navigating the complex regulatory and permitting requirements. With this in mind, it’s likely best to leave a grid-tied solar panel installation project to professional installers.

However, DIY solar projects are feasible in some situations, such as when adding them to a tiny house, an RV or a small off-grid vacation home.

How can I find a good solar installer?

Some valuable resources are available to help you find a good solar installer in your area. First, check with your utility company. They may have a list of preferred solar companies that meet their standards.

Rocket Solar works with Palmetto, an installation provider that focuses on empowering homeowners to go solar in over 25 states and counting.

Looking for an installer that has an established relationship with your utility company can show that an installer understands the permitting paperwork and regulations in your area. Don’t take a solar installer’s word that they’re a preferred vendor with your utility company, though – verify it with the utility company.

Even if your utility company has recommendations, some due diligence can help. You can check with the Better Business Bureau and on consumer websites to see what they say about the solar installers on your shortlist. It’s also a good idea to research whether the company has changed names and why. That can be an indicator of a bad reputation.

Also, better solar installers often have industry-standard certifications. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) is one organization that issues certifications to reputable solar companies.

As with any home improvement project, getting multiple quotes is a smart move.

Are free solar panel offers a scam?

Offers for free solar panels might not be a total scam, but they’re often misleading. For example, many of these offers are for leased panels. This arrangement might not involve out-of-pocket expenses for you, but you won’t own the equipment.

It’s also unlikely that you’ll be able to take advantage of the federal solar tax credit and save as much money. Therefore, it’s essential to read the fine print of any offer from a company advertising free solar panels.


The Bottom Line

Are you ready for a home solar energy system? Going solar has major benefits beyond just potentially saving you money, and as with most major purchases, you’ll want to consider all the angles before you buy. Solar panels can reduce your impact on the environment, make the grid cleaner for utility companies and even increase the number of solar jobs out there.

It’s a good idea to consider your goals and needs before choosing a solar system for you – or choosing one at all. You can pick from grid-tied systems, off-grid systems, grid-tied systems with battery backup and even a solar lease. In other words, you have many options to consider once you decide that solar power makes sense for your short- and long-term goals.

If you’re researching solar panels for your home, make sure your house is a good fit for producing solar energy. Remember to weigh all the pros and cons before you buy.

Rocket Solar does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.

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