If the barrage of advertisements for solar installers is finally wearing you down, you are not alone. More and more consumers are seriously considering the installation of solar panels on their roofs. Yet some are asking if this technology will work with the unique features of their properties. If you have ever wondered if your home is suitable for solar panels or if you can afford it, this frequently asked questions module is for you!
Q: How do I choose an installer?
A: While solar installation companies have sprung up virtually overnight, it is a good idea to go with a professional who is certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). Certification is voluntary for professionals in the business. It involves an application and examination process.
Q: How much does it cost to put solar panels on my house?
A: This answer varies depending on where you live. Yet the City of Seattle crunched the numbers and came up with a ballpark price of $5 to $8 “per watt of capacity installed.” In other words, if you install a 5,000-watt system, expect to pay between $25,000 and $40,000. If you opt for a 2kW system, the cost goes down to an estimated $10,000 to $16,000. Get multiple estimates from certified installers.
Q: Are solar panels worth the initial investment?
A: Recouping the initial investment is up to you. Consider that the average system has a 25-year useful life. During this time, you have to undercut the cost of electricity you usually pay to your utility to make this expense worthwhile. Oliver Seely from the California State University Dominguez Hills did some calculations and discovered that location – being too close to the coast – can reduce the actual exposure to sunlight. Other factors that may reduce the amount of sunlight shining down on your panels include changes in the seasons and gradual dirtying of the panels.
Yet where the real savings are made – or broken – is the tier plan of your local utility. If you are in a time-of-use metering scheme, you might come out ahead. This advantage only applies if your panels produce sufficient electricity to meet all of your energy needs in summer and winter. A flat rate billing plan does not necessarily benefit you either. Ask your installer to help you crunch the numbers.
Q: Is my house suitable for solar panels?
A: Whether your home is suitable for solar panels depends on the overall condition of the structure and roof. If your roof is due for a replacement, do not install solar panels first. If you are uncertain about the overall health of the structure, invite a home inspector to give your property an inspection.
Q: How can I finance the purchase of a system?
A: The California Public Utilities Commission explains that some solar companies have devised financing plans to help consumers afford the initial expense of a system installation. For example, power purchase agreements give ownership of the system to a third party, which then sells the energy to the consumer. In contrast, solar leases stipulate a period of time during which the homeowner rents the equipment from the solar company. Yet be careful here: Installation of solar panels can entitle you to a tax credit, which you may forfeit when choosing one of these types of schemes. The fine print of your agreement should spell out who is entitled to take the credit.