Adding solar panels to your home can be a smart move with a host of benefits. You’ll have a lot to consider though, from the condition of your roof to your homeowner’s association (if you’re in one) to other regulations to your budget to the solar exposure of your home.
Cost savings: If you’re considering adding a solar power, or photovoltaic (PV) system to your home, no doubt you’re expecting that you’ll save money on electricity. How much can you expect to save? That depends on the number of panels that you install, which is determined by your budget and the space available on your roof.
How much you can save is also determined by the cost of electricity in your area. Hawaii has the most expensive electricity in the U.S. at about 45 cents per kilowatt-hour. Idaho residents enjoy the cheapest electricity at around 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. So obviously when you cut your electric bill by 50% in Hawaii vs Idaho, you’re saving quite a bit more money every month, comparatively.
Adding value: Adding a solar system to your home can also add value directly. It’s a value-producing asset that may make your home more valuable in the marketplace, should you decide to sell. This makes sense, of course. If your home is largely similar to other homes in your neighborhood, but uses 50% less electricity, it’s cheaper to own.
Adding battery storage, which is not required when you add solar panels, can also allow you to maintain normal household functionality during power outages. This type of system, which is also an asset, will enable you to choose to use your own battery power when grid power is most expensive. That tends to be around dinner time and into the evening hours.
Using your car to power your home during outages is also an option, though just a few models can handle the job today. Those options will surely expand in the future.
Regulations affecting solar systems: Are solar panels allowed on your roof? Do you see other homes in your neighborhood with solar panels on the roofs? If so, great. Still, it’s best to check with your local municipality to ensure that solar panels are allowed.
Is your home located in an HOA, or homeowners association? If not, good for you. If it is, you’ll need to check your bylaws to see if rooftop solar is allowed in your neighborhood. If it’s not, you can fight it, and good luck with that. But it probably won’t be easy. You might have neighbors interested in getting solar on their roofs as well, so perhaps you all could get to critical mass to make change.
System sizing: You might have noticed a trend toward more electric devices and appliances. Heat pumps and induction ranges are prime examples. We’re now aware that any combustion inside the home is a health hazard, so getting rid of the gas range and the gas furnace is a smart move. But replacing them with electric equivalents is not always plug-and-play. The same goes for a gas clothes dryer and gas water heater. These devices all require the proper wiring and the system capacity to make sure they run optimally. You’ll need to work with an electrician to get those circuits installed or upgraded, unless you have 240V circuits just where you need them already.
Do you need a new roof? Putting a new solar system on a shoddy roof makes no sense. You want to put your panels on a roof that is in good condition. The whole idea is to align the lifespan of your roof and your solar panels so that you don’t have to pay a contractor to pull off your panels and install a roof. Then you have to reinstall all the panels. Since your panels will last about 25-30 years, if your asphalt shingle roof is more than 10 years old, you should probably replace it. Yes, you see the shingle manufacturers offer “lifetime” warranties but that’s a marketing tactic. It does not reflect on the real-world life of asphalt shingles, which will last from 20-30 years in most conditions.
If you have another type of roof, such as a metal roof or a tile roof, it’s another story. Those materials can be 40-plus-year roofs, conservatively. So if you have one of those types of roofs, it’s all dependent on the condition. In good condition they’ll last another couple of decades, so no need to replace. If you want to upgrade to that type of roof, you can probably consider it your last roof if you decide to remain at that home.
You’ll want to talk to a contractor about your roof and about your solar system. And good news here, we’re seeing more contractors doing both roofing and solar installations, which is a natural combination. Why work with two contractors when one will handle the entire job?
Roof orientation/exposure: One factor that a contractor will consider is your roof exposure. While shade trees are a remarkable benefit overall for your home and your comfort, they can be a drawback for solar panels on your roof. It’s definitely possible to perform some skillful trimming to mature trees to maintain their shading function while permitting abundant solar gain for your new system. Most people find that protection from the blazing afternoon sun matters the most, so if you can maintain that shade while allowing open access to your solar panels during the rest of the day, your solar system will work well.
Tax credits: The Inflation Reduction Act provides a substantial boost to most homeowners with tax credits. You can get more information from the Environmental Protection Agency here, but the gist of it is you get a 30% credit against your federal tax bill when you install a solar system and/or some other “solar home products.” If your income is not high enough to completely offset the bill in one tax year you can roll the remainder into the next year's tax filing. This is not a tax advisory post, but the solar tax credit for a home solar panel system is well established. Buy the system and you can get the credit against your tax bill. That’s free money for you!
For most homeowners, adding a solar system is a solid move. If you know your current or planned electricity usage, you can get a feel for what size system you should get and how large a solar array your home can support with Project Sunroof with Google. Once you know you’re in the ballpark, the next step is for you to contact a solar contractor and talk with them about your needs. Good luck!