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Am I Right For Solar? 10 Key Tips

As much as I love solar, solar is not right for every home for one reason or another. For some, it’s not worth the money because they don’t live in a solar friendly State. For others, they have too much shading.

So here’s a list of 10 tips to find out of you’re right for solar.

Solar Fred Tip 1. It’s best that your roof (or your garage’s roof) is oriented toward the South, Southwest, South East, or flat. Having some sunny back yard space will also do nicely as well.

Solar Fred Tip 2. Make sure your roof won’t need replacing in the next few years. If it’s older than 7 years, you might want to wait until it’s reroofing time to get your full money’s worth. Many installers also subcontract with roofers or are roofers themselves.

Solar Fred Tip 3. If you have a home owner’s association that says you can’t put solar panels on your house, be sure to check city and/or state laws that prohibit HOA meddling. For example, in California, The Solar Rights Act (California Civil Code 714) prohibits cities and HOAs from restricting solar panel installations unless they pose a risk to the health or safety of nearby residents. That’s unlikely. Nevertheless, there have been some suits, even in California. If there are no laws, I would try to find common ground about a) fostering energy independence, b) the health and future of our children, c) that solar raises home values by $20,000 for every $1000 saved in electricty costs, according to the Feds, d) that may be able to use BIPV (building integrated photovoltaic) tiles that look like regular shingles (although these are usually more expensive, so payback will be longer than regular panels.)

Solar Fred Tip 4. Got lots of shade from trees? Bummer. Could you use some firewood or have a large back yard or garage that doesn’t have as much shade? Ask an installer(s) for their opinion about what to do to get you the most sunlight. It doesn’t matter if you live in a Northern state. San Francisco is huge with solar and they get lots of rain. Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and even Toronto, Canada is ramping up solar. Alaska…not so much. But snow, rain, are all doable. The main thing is that the less sun hours you have on average per year, the longer the payback. But remember that most solar panels are warrantied to produce power for 25 years and last even longer!

Solar Fred Tip 5. Before calling the installer, gather a year’s worth of electric bills. This will be important for estimating the size of your solar system and any utility rebates. If your monthly average is under a $100 a month, you probably won’t get a quick payback on your solar investment. Of course, you could just do it anyway for the environment, your kids, and the general welfare of polar bears.

SolarFred Tip 6. Check the “DSIRE” website. This has nothing to do with “desire,” but will inform you how much your particular State, utility, or town will give you as a cash rebate or tax credit towards your solar system. An experienced solar installer should know this info too.

SolarFred Tip 7. The Federal Government is also offering 30% tax credit for anyone who buys a solar system between now and 2016. If you owe less in taxes than the actual rebate (perhaps $3,000-$10,000 on a typical system) the balance of the credit can be carried over until next year,up to 5 years. So if you typically don’t owe a few grand in taxes, the solar panels will pay for themselves over a longer amount of time. Check with your tax person about all of this. AMT payers used to have issues with this, but this was fixed in the stimulus package.

SolarFred Tip 8. Don’t owe taxes? Can’t afford the up front cost or have no home equity? See if there is a lease program in your area or a residential solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). Leases and PPAs are VERY variable and not in every state. But they’re getting more common. Home equity loan financing is almost always more cost effective. I’ve got no real beef with solar leases and solar PPAs, but again, I’d first get a free solar quote and see about owning.  Buying, solar can pay for itself in 5 to 13 years, depending on the size of your system and your location and tax status. Leasing and PPAs for the same size, save you money off  your electrical bill, but not as much money as buying. It’s a big difference, but again, you do save with either buying or the leasing way.

SolarFred Tip 9. Think your ready for a quote? Ideally, the installer should have one person on staff who is be certified by NABCEP or some other State authority. He or she certainly should have a contractor’s license, especially as an electrician. A NABCEP certified installer means they’re not just a roofer or an electrician with a pretty face. They have at least 2 years of experience and have seen your situation before. Regardless, of NABCEP certifications, ask for references. Go see their houses. See if the installer will give you their number or email. If those customers are happy, chances are you’ll be happy.

SolarFred Tip 10. Get 2 or 3 quotes and don’t be afraid to ask your installer questions. Each installer should be able to tell you when you’ll see a pay back for your system, how much money you’ll save over the life of the system. On a national level, they should be charging somewhere around $3.50 to $4/watt DC, installed, BEFORE rebates and tax credits. Competitive markets like California and Colorado will be on the lower side and perhaps even in the low $3’s. I can’t tell you how much that $3-$4/watt will ultimately cost YOU because every home is different, but that’s why you should get at least 2 or more quotes.

Hope that helps. Have any questions, please contribute to our lovely and convenient comments section below and share. We also have our famous Ye Old FAQ page and our even more famous Top 10 Solar Myths. Enjoy.

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3 thoughts on “Am I Right For Solar? 10 Key Tips

  1. Mike Paz says:

    Great info. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" says:

    Thanks, Ken! I've updated that section. Prices are getting more competitive. Great for solar and I hope great for you too.

  3. Ken Oatman says:

    Good angle on obstacles to solar, Tor.FYI: We're quoting systems at $6.30 per watt, installed, before rebates, out here in Colorado.

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