Solar Panels On A house

Tips For Going Solar

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Christina Mathieson, LEED GA

The end game of going solar is producing your own clean, renewable energy on site for up to forty years, eliminating power supply charges on the energy you produce. A homeowner can lock in their costs at today’s rates, or lower, and reap the rewards for years to come. A solar system is a revenue-producing asset to a home when owned.

Tips for going solar:

  1. Do your homework.
  2. Look at your home on Google Earth and determine whether the sun hits your roof. Solar panels should not be installed in a location that does not have direct sunlight such as a tree-shaded area or an area that is blocked by an adjacent home or structure.
  3. Know the “orientation” of your roof – the direction that your roof planes face. The best direction is south however east and west-facing roof planes can be used if the roof pitch is not too steep. North-facing roof planes are not optimal for solar production.  Not every home is a prime candidate for solar.
  4. Understand that you can buy the best, most-efficient solar panels in the world but if the sun does NOT hit them for a considerable portion of the day it’s like owning a sports car that has no gas. You’re not going anywhere.
  5. Find out exactly how much power you use annually from your electricity provider and understand that if you can generate even as much as 30% of your home by installing solar panels, you’re saving a lot. This is done by calling the customer service department, providing your account number and requesting your “annual usage”. You will be given a number in the thousands. A home with less occupants whose occupants are conservative may have a usage of 6000 kWh annually while a home with a family that includes teenagers who don’t turn anything off may have a usage of 24000 kWh.
  6. Demand a full cost/savings analysis from prospective installers. Be sure they do not use an annual rate of escalation of electric costs that is more than 4% when calculating your savings. Ask that your solar installer walk you through every aspect of their calculations. You want to be sure he or she fully understand the “what’s” and “why’s” of your proposal. Questions like “can you explain how you’ve determined how much power this system will produce?” or “can you provide the details in terms of cash flow and show me how you arrived at the20 or 30-year savings number?” are a good starting point.
  7. Be aware that there are different types of solar panels. There a number of manufacturers and a variety of efficiency levels. Ask installers that you are speaking with for a “good, better, best” proposal.   If you are lucky enough to be able to produce the full amount of power you use from “good” or “better”, consider going that route.
  8. Warranty is of the utmost importance. The installer should offer at least a five-year installation warranty on the installation itself. You want to be sure that if an issue arises after six months that you will not be charged for a service call. The majority of quality solar panel manufacturers offer a full 25 year warranty on product, performance and include all or a portion of any labor costs involved. Understand that the inverter(s) are the only part of a solar system that has moving parts and be certain that your warranty on the inverter (that’s separate from the panels) is at least 20 years.
  9. If your choice is to lease or obtain a power purchase agreement (a third party will own the actual panels, inverters, etc.) find out exactly what needs to be done to transfer that obligation to a new owner should you move during the term of your agreement. Be sure you’ve compared this to direct ownership through financing to be certain that this is a better option for you financially.
  10. Find out the actual percentage of your annual electrical consumption that will be offset by producing your own power on site and really look at the savings over time.
  11. Understand that you will remain connected to the utility and that you do NOT want to cash out your energy credit bank when it’s full. Optimally, your system’s “anniversary date” will be in March so that you can bank energy that is produced in excess of what you’ve used for your own use later in the year (December/January) when days are shorter and les power is produced due to less hours of daylight.
  12. Explore your finance options.
    1. If you have project funding available to such as available savings, a HELOC or mortgage refi with competitive interest rates, use it.
    2. Don’t simply accept a monthly “payment” that is less than you’re currently paying. Dig in. Calculate the payments over the loan term to find out your real cost and be certain that your savings over the same period of time are greater.
    3. If you pay federal and state taxes via payroll deduction or quarterly payments (not property taxes), you should seriously consider ownership through financing so you can utilize the generous tax credits available for going solar rather than giving some or all away through third-party ownership.
    4. Financing can be obtained with zero out of pocket cost for credit-worthy consumers. Ask for the cash price and the financed price from your installer so you know exactly what you’re paying overall.
  13. Work with an installer that actually does the installation, not a marketing company that sub-contracts that installation from someone else. Workmanship matters. This is your home. Look at photos of their past installations and ask for references from the installer of at least ten prior customers and call or email those homeowners.
  14. Ask for proof of that installer’s contractor license for your county and of their liability insurance policy. Call the county and inquire about the contractor.
  15. Work with an installer that has been in business for more than ten years and can provide documentation of thousands of installations. You do not want to be number 10 or even number 100. They’re still learning.
  16. Check the Better Business Bureau for unresolved complaints that have to do with the solar installation.
  17. Be sure that your roof will be thoroughly inspected prior to installation. If you have more than one layer of shingles or your roof that will need to be replaced in the next couple of years, you may be able to include a new roof in your solar installation or replace the roof prior to installation. You do NOT want to go into a project that will net you long-term savings with the intention that you’ll remove the solar in a few years and reinstall it. No matter what you’re told, it’s way more than $500 to do this.
  18. Should you include a roof in your solar installation, find out who that roofer is and be certain they have Roofer’s Insurance and check them out the same way you checked out your solar installer.
  19. The best time to go solar is when you purchase the house as you may be able to include the cost in your mortgage and keep the tax credits for home improvements or additional energy efficiency projects that will grow your savings not your cost of home ownership. If you’re planning to get an electric car, and everyone should, you can oversize your solar system in anticipation of an increased electrical demand at this time. Think long term.
  20. Understand that the cheapest installation may cost you more in the end. Quality and workmanship are not overrated.
  21. READ WHAT YOU SIGN.   Regardless of what you may be told, every part of this agreement is binding for the entire term of the contract.
  22. If you’re planning to sell your home at any time, be sure to work with a real estate professional that has been trained to understand the various finance methods available now and in the past so that you can be properly represented. It is of the utmost importance that you, as the seller, are fully transparent with potential buyers from the day you list the property regarding the agreement you’ve signed so that it can be part of the negotiation. The buyers will be obtaining the financing to buy the home you’re selling and finding out there is an unresolved issue at the closing table can cost you way more than you ever expected.
  23. The appraisal institute of America does not consider a solar system owned by a third party as an asset to a home and it will not increase your property value. A leased solar system or a power purchase agreement is considered personal property. Details Here
  24. The best savings you can achieve is not using that power at all. Get a home energy audit and find out how you can use less power. The combination of using less power through energy efficiency (insulation, efficient systems, LED lighting) and solar energy is the biggest win of all.

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