Is My House Right for Solar Panels?
Solar energy is no longer the wave of the future. It’s already here. Thanks to falling solar panel prices and aggressive government incentives, photovoltaic system installations have grown exponentially over the past ten years. That’s because in addition to being among the cleanest renewable energy sources on the planet, solar power is also one of the least expensive. Consequently, more and more homeowners are installing solar energy panels to eliminate monthly electric bills and free themselves from the unpredictability of utility-sourced energy.
Energy Independence Now
Despite heavy regulation, power companies have consistently managed to find ways to increase their prices. Because most Americans don’t produce their own power, they just pay their monthly bills and brace for the shock of seasonal price fluctuations and continual rate increases. A solar panel system, however, can end your financial dependence on utilities. By producing your own power, you can immediately eliminate your monthly electric bill, and possibly even make a profit by selling excess energy back to those same power companies.
Has Solar Power Really Become Cost-Effective?
A 2014 U.S. Department of Energy report on solar power pricing trends showed a consistent decrease in the cost of purchasing and installing solar energy systems in homes. According to the report, “Analysts expect pricing in all PV markets to decrease in the long-term.”
In addition to the falling costs, the Federal Government now allows a 30% tax deduction known as the Solar Investment Tax Credit (SITC) to homeowners who invest in solar energy systems for their houses. That means under current law, residents who install solar panels can deduct 30% of the cost of the panels from their income taxes. If that wasn’t enough incentive to go solar, in many states, like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, excess energy produced by your solar panels can be sold to the utility companies through net metering — the process by which the utilities can monitor and purchase the excess electricity that your home produces.
Now Is the Best Time for Solar Panels
Right now is the perfect time to install a solar panel system in your home. Why? While the cost of solar panel installation continues to fall, the 30% tax incentive is subject to review. Last year, the SITC was extended until 2023, but as more homes turn to solar, that incentive could be viewed as unnecessary to promote solar energy growth, and the tax break extension could be reversed. Additionally, as the demand for solar panels increases, the falling price trend is likely to reverse itself. That means we are currently in an economic “sweet spot” for homeowners who want to upgrade to solar.
Why Do People Go Solar?
It’s no secret that solar has become a clean, efficient and cost-effective way to provide electricity to homes, but what could account for the 60% compounded annual growth rate of solar energy over the past ten years? Among the reasons are:
- Falling solar panel prices
- Decreasing installation prices
- 30% federal tax credit (SITC)
- Improved energy output from solar panels
- Rising cost of non-renewable energies, like oil and coal
- Concerns about the environment and climate change
- Ability to sell back unused energy to the power grid through net metering
- Increased home valuation
The Best Homes for Solar Panels
With so many people clamoring to convert to solar energy, how do you determine what makes a house right for solar panels? Among the factors to look for in determining a home’s suitability for solar panels are:
- Projected cost savings
- Type of residential structure
- Type of roof
- Roof surface area
- Availability of net metering in the area
- Regional incentives
Projected Cost Savings
Sometime during the life of a solar panel system there is a point when the total amount of savings equals the total cost of installing the system. This is known as the break-even point, and all reputable solar panel installers will work with you to try to determine when this will occur.
For example, if after the SITC and other incentives, a solar panel installation costs the homeowner $15,000, but they save/earn $2,000 per year, the break-even point would be 7.5 years — the initial cost divided by the savings per year.
Because there are a number of factors involved in calculating both the costs and savings, the break-even point varies from state to state and even from residence to residence. The break-even point is how you know solar energy is right for your house. Homeowners who are expecting to sell their property before the break-even point, may want to reconsider their plan for solar panel installation — or at least try to determine whether or not the increase in their house’s marketability and value is worth the initial cash outlay.
Calculating the break-even point requires you to know:
- The wattage requirements of the household
- The amount of wattage that the solar panel system is expected to produce
- The cost of the solar panels and installation
- The cost of local licenses
- Whether or not the state where the residence is located participates in net metering
Type of Residence
While most homes can benefit from solar energy, the unfortunate reality is that not all are suitable for solar panels. An obvious example would be most apartment buildings and condos. Multi-family dwellings usually don’t allow their occupants to attach structures to their rooftops, but even some single family homes may not be ideally situated for solar power. Generally speaking, the best homes for solar panels are the ones with the best roofs for solar panels. Some things that might make a house less than ideal would be:
- Positioning near a tall building that casts a shadow over the roof during daylight hours
- Houses surrounded by tall shade trees
- Houses with old or crumbling roof tiles
- Houses in HOA developments that have restrictions against solar panels
Naturally, most of these problems aren’t insurmountable, but tree removal and roof replacement could add significant costs to your solar conversion project. Reputable solar panel system installers will prescreen properties to make certain that solar energy is a good option.
Type of Roof
A house with a deteriorating or crumbling roof may not be suitable for solar panels. But even some newer rooftops can make solar panel mounting difficult and drive up the cost of installation. As a rule, flat surfaced roofs with a thin covering material, like asphalt shingle, are the best roofs for solar panels and the easiest for mounting. Barrel tile or thick concrete tile can be more problematic and may cause the price of installation to increase. Even if your roof is currently in good shape, it may be in your best interest to delay installing a solar panel system if you expect to replace it within the next five years. Removing and reinstalling solar panels can be an expensive add-on cost that can offset the savings from solar energy conversion.
Roof Surface Area and Angle of the Roof
As the sun rises and sets, it casts light from different angles. While modern photovoltaic panels are designed to catch diffused light as well as direct sunlight, the best roofs for solar panels are the ones that have the greatest exposure to the sun. That means the angle of your roof can impact the solar energy captured by the sun.
Your roof’s surface area also affects your home’s suitability for solar panels. Solar panels run in widths from 31” to 39” and in lengths from 52” to 62”, or about 15 square feet in area. You can approximate the number of panels your roof can fit by dividing its total surface area by 15. The figure can be used to estimate the expected kilowatt output from the panels, which will tell you whether or not the system will meet your needs. If you have roof-mounted air condition units, skylights or vents, they can reduce the available surface area for solar panels, but they don’t necessarily make your home a bad candidate for solar energy.
This is a way of monitoring the flow of electricity in and out of your home. Most modern solar power systems are connected to a local power grid. The power grid can feed electricity into your home and receive excess electricity if your home is powered by solar panels. During the day, your solar panels convert light into energy. If you don’t use all of it during that time, the excess flows out of the home into the grid. Later at night, when your panels are not exposed to light, you may need to draw energy from the same power grid. In most cases, the energy sent out into the grid is more than the energy drawn from the grid — so your home can become a profit center!
Solar panels will perform well in just about any state, but some states are more supportive of solar energy than others. For instance, New Jersey offers a variety of incentives for solar power conversion, including performance payments for producing electricity and a fair rate of exchange for selling power back to the utilities. Some states will not include solar panel upgrades in the assessed property value, which helps homeowners with their property taxes. Others offer rebates with the purchase of solar panels.
How to Determine If Solar Energy Is Right for Your House
Now that you’ve educated yourself as to some of the factors professional solar panel installers consider when making recommendations to prospective buyers, you may still have some questions about whether or not it’s a smart investment for your house. We have compiled a list of some of the concerns that many of our customers have had when they’re considering a solar panel purchase.
- I don’t live in a sunny state – This may be one of the biggest misconceptions about solar energy. While it’s true that an overwhelming majority of solar power homes are in southern states that are not as affected by winter elements, modern advances in photovoltaic panels have improved performance in winter conditions. Solar panels draw energy from light, not heat. That means as long as the sky is clear, it doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold outside.
And while winter often brings overcast skies, quality solar panels can absorb diffused light as it comes in from different angles. Winter days are shorter, however, which means that there are fewer solar energy hours. So, generally speaking, solar panel energy output can be lower in the winter than during the longer summertime days.
- Solar panels won’t produce enough energy during times of heavy usage – Your solar panels energy output will not be constant on a day to day basis, but neither will your energy consumption. The good news is that solar panel systems no longer work with local battery storage. They’re connected to the power grid, so you’ll never “run out” of electricity. Usually, we can determine whether or not your solar panels will cover your energy needs, but even during periods of heavy usage, you can draw the excess energy you need from the grid. Most of our clients end up sending power to the grid and receiving credits for their excess energy.
- Solar panels require too much maintenance – This may be among the most common fallacies about photovoltaic panels and one of the biggest reasons that some of the best homes for solar panels have not converted to this clean, renewable source of energy. Solar panels are durable and lack moving parts, so they operate pretty well with very little maintenance. Surfaces sometimes become covered with debris (i.e. leaves, snow, dust, etc.), so they may need to be cleared occasionally. Sometimes, though, even a good rain is enough to clean the surfaces.
- Replacing solar panels is too costly – Solar panels do require an initial cash investment, and even with the various tax incentives, installing a system is not something that anyone wants to do too frequently. How quickly your solar panel installation will pay for itself depends on many different variables, but most homes break even over several years. The panels we use are guaranteed for twenty years, but are expected to last well beyond the guarantee period. While your monthly savings will begin immediately after your solar panels are connected to the power grid, your system should work for years beyond the point where you break even.
- Solar panels “go bad” after a few years – Your solar panels should work well beyond the warranty period, but will lose .5% to 1% efficiency per year. Over the life of the warranty, that’s 10% to 20%. If a solar panel stops working during the 20-year warranty period, your installer should replace it at no cost.
- Solar panels will damage or weaken my roof and cause leaks – We don’t recommend solar panel installation on old or deteriorating roofs. If your roof is suitable for solar panels installation, however, the mounting will not damage it. The mounts for solar panels have a weatherproof flashing at the base, and installers use a sealant at the anchor points. In fact, one of the side benefits of solar panels is that they provide an added layer of protection to the surface of your roof.
Getting Started With Solar Energy
While some homes are just not suited for solar panels, the overwhelming majority of houses in the United States are ideal. For years, Bright Eyes Solar has been helping homeowners in PA, MD, NJ, NY, DE, MA and CT achieve independence from power companies. We offer free consultations and are available to answer any questions about your home’s suitability for solar panels. Before you make any decisions, speak to a solar panel professional from Bright Eyes Solar.