Have you ever considered updating your house with features that are better for the environment? Adding solar panels is one of the most common green updates that homeowners consider. Solar power is gaining popularity with good reason, but how do you know if installing solar panels is the right choice for you?
Roof Sunlight Access
The quickest and most obvious assessment to check is how much sun your roof gets. A south-facing roof is ideal for solar, with west-facing being second best. How many hours of sun does your roof get per day? If you have a large tree or a large building shading your roof for too many hours then solar may not work for your house. If your house is too shaded for solar, you still have lots of options to update your home to be more environmentally friendly. Download our free checklist for Green Updates here.
Second, you’ll want to consider your roof itself. If replacing the roof is already included in your renovation plans then you’re going to want to communicate with your roofers and your solar installer together to make sure that the roof is being replaced with solar needs in mind.
If you’re not planning on replacing your roof, then you’ll need to consider whether it’s ready for solar installation as is. Is your roofing in good condition? If it’s old and needs to be updated, you don’t want to pay for solar panels and installation only to have to remove and re-do everything five years down the road.
Consider the structural integrity of your roof as well, underneath your shingles. Is your roof structure strong enough to support the added weight of solar panels?
Be certain that you and any contractors you work with consider future problems and how they will be handled. It’s helpful to know ahead of time which warranties you have access to. Is there a warranty on the installation labor and a separate warranty on the panels themselves? Which potential issues do these warranties protect you from, and for how many years? If your roof is in excellent condition now but is severely damaged by a hail storm in the next few years, what will that mean for your solar panels?
If your home is part of an HOA, check that your agreement doesn’t ban solar panels. Some HOAs ban solar panels for aesthetic purposes. If you’re interested in trying to advocate for solar change in your HOA, Solar Energy Industries Association has a downloadable guide to navigate the process. Some states even have solar access laws that prohibit HOA’s from denying homeowners solar choices. Find the current laws in your state; your HOA might not be aware of them.
Your HOA may also be interested in this study by Robert Kaufmann, a professor of earth and environment at Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Kaufmann found that there is a positive effect for the whole community on installing solar. In Massachusetts, 40,000 solar households and community groups are reducing electricity prices for all of the approximately three million electricity ratepayers in the state, even those without solar panels.
Connecting to the Grid
Research what is required in your area and neighborhood to connect your solar panels to the existing grid. There are National Electric and International Residential Codes that must be complied with to connect solar panels. Ensuring compliance with these codes is done through locally issued permits, which will probably entail some fees. For instance, in Los Angeles, the LA fire department has requirements about how your solar panels are installed. Every area’s code and permit requirements are going to be a little different, so make sure you or your solar panel contractor are familiar with your specific area permits. Otherwise, your panel installation or hook up to the electric company may be significantly delayed.
There are two ways to get solar panels installed, purchase them yourself, or enter a lease agreement. Each has significant pros and cons. Whichever you choose, solar panels are a long-term decision, consider the implications of the contract over the years as well as what works best for you today.
Solar panels are a great home renovation idea and have a great return on investment for your wallet and the environment. In fact, most states offer rebate and solar incentive options. Like all good ideas, do your homework ahead of time-- so you get to appreciate the benefits for decades to come.