An introduction to having solar energy installed for personal use at your home. Pros and cons, possible concerns, and our experience with the installation process.
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Back in 2014, we had solar energy panels installed on our single family home in Maryland. We took advantage of some substantial government incentives at the time. I want to walk you through some of the advantages, disadvantages, some of your installation options, and the return on investment.
If you love ecofriendly products, check out my post about the Pros and Cons of Electric Vehicles.
Solar Power: Advantages vs. Disadvantages
- Save Money: Solar panels are a large initial investment that pays off after about 10 years. They can eliminate or decrease your monthly electric bill.
- Solar panels can add value to your home.
- Unused energy an be setup to go back into the grid and the electric company pays you the going rate for it. This may not be true for some areas.
- It’s a GREAT choice for the environment.
- The panels provide some protection for your roof. Essentially they’re blocking your roof from solar radiation, as well as from hail or snow, which increases the longevity of your roof. Here’s a little more information on solar panels and how they impact your roof.
- Snow and ice seems to melt off solar panels much faster than a bare shingled roof.
A note on solar energy credits: Solar energy credits are like stocks for solar. The electric companies need to go green and are supposed to meet a certain amount of clean renewable energy “credits”… you earn the credits by using solar power, then you can sell those credits to competing electric companies. I’m not sure if this applies just to Maryland or if this is national. Most solar companies give you information on where to go to trade these credits. Our solar company did it in house and did not require a fee for it. So essentially you get paid to have solar power. We thought this might give us a decent credit each year, but it ended up being pretty negligible as so many people in our area were on solar.
- You return on investment is extremely dependent on your weather. Sunny all the time? You’re in great shape. Lots of cloudy days? You’ll see a huge decrease in your production. In some areas, solar is just more of a sure deal than others.
- Just because solar panels might protect your roof doesn’t mean your roof can’t get damaged by inept installers. Make sure you hire qualified and honest installers.
- If your roof needs replacement, the panels need to be removed first. When you’re expecting to replace your roof in the next few years, it’s better to wait off to install panels.
- It’s a substantial upfront investment if you purchase your panels.
- If you do a solar lease, it may be difficult for real estate transactions if you sell your house before the end of your term.
- You may not get your investment back if you sell your house soon after adding these to your home.
- Some people don’t like the look of solar panels on their roof.
You may want to consider other ecofriendly energy options as alternatives. It’s good to weigh the costs and benefits of solar energy vs. geothermal systems, for example. Geothermal makes more sense in some areas. I’ve wondered at the ROI for wind systems in areas like mine where we get a lot of wind.
Return on Investment for Solar Panels
I think going with solar involves remembering that you’re not only making this choice to save money. It’s a long-term investment that SHOULD work out to be beneficial, but no, you won’t make your money back as fast as a high risk investment opportunity. It’s an investment in the environment as well.
Just keep in mind, it’s a low risk investment if you plan to stay in your home. Solar panels are STURDY and while inverters may go, some companies offer warranties on them. And if it takes 10 years to earn back what you spent on the system, the systems can still produce 20 years and beyond so you’ll be on “free” energy after that point.
Solar Panels for Your Home
Purchase vs. Lease
Purchasing panels is pretty straight forward. You pay for the panels. You pay for someone to install. You get the tax incentives. Any energy you produce is energy you AREN’T paying for from the electric company. With most setups, you’re still attached to the grid so you can buy additional energy if you go over what your panels produce (because the panels don’t produce when it’s gloomy or at night). Hopefully we’ll see solar panel pricing decrease in the next few years so it’s more accessible to most home owners.
Many areas now have big companies offering the option of leasing the solar panels. Purchasing the panels outright is expensive. What the leasing companies do is eat the cost of the panel purchase, provide their own installers, and in return you get “free” panels… except they’re not free. You pay for all the energy production that they provide.
Each month you get a bill for the energy the panels produced. The company will give you a contracted rate for the energy (which will likely be less than the current going rate from your electric company). The company will also get the tax incentives.
This is a sweet deal for the solar leasing companies, but it’s not a terrible deal for the homeowner either. Assuming energy prices from the electric company go up, not down, you should still come out ahead. Should.
The problem comes up at the sale of your home. The solar lease needs to be transferred to the new owner. If the new owner can’t afford to take on that “lease” then it could delay or prevent the home’s sale.
Solar Panel Installation
I recommend finding a company you like and trust to install your panels. We saw neighbors with sloppy wiring on their panels and felt our installers did a fantastic job.
Our installation began at 8am. The installers did need to get into the house to access the electrical panels, as well as the internet router. They worked until noon to install all of this:
I believe these were the brackets to mount the solar panels onto, as well as the microinverters… which are the pieces that “read” how much electricity the panels are generating. Each panel has one behind it with the way our panels were setup.
At noon some of the guys took a lunch break (two stayed and continued working) and went to go grab the panels.
The panels were different than I expected… not that I necessarily had any expectations. They just look so big up together on roofs. But prior to install they’re actually pretty small and we had an opportunity to go touch them. I wanted my kids to see them before they were installed so we gave them a little pet. Haha.
They’re very smooth and he told me not to worry about hurting them because they’re meant to withstand harsh weather like hail. Still was super careful because… scary.
Here’s a photo of the house with the panels installed…
Once they were installed, we had to wait for the electric company and inspection to come inspect everything, at which point everything would be finalized and connected to the grid.
The gray tubing alongside the gutter is the wiring for the solar panels…
And there’s the boxes for the panels…
The waiting time from inspection to electric company approval for us was “up to 15 business days.” They came around 13 business days. We were excited to finally be able to watch our daily production on the app.
Final Thoughts and Warnings
We sold our home with the solar panels in 2018. Our house sold FAST and while I can’t say the solar panels had anything to do with it, the fact that we owned the panels outright meant we had NO delays with our sale due to them.
I don’t know that we got our money back on them. If I’d known we’d end up selling within a couple of years, I might have waited to install them on our next home.
I also wish we’d evaluated our options with geothermal as well. We might have been able to purchase a geothermal system and lease a solar system, doubling our home’s productivity. We noticed that a bulk of our expense for our home’s “energy use” was heating and cooling. Geothermal systems are great for heating and cooling so perhaps it might have paid off faster.
One thing that I learned the hard way is to keep a careful eye on your energy data for the panels. We had an easy to use website to check out monthly energy production and I never noticed that the production had dropped. When I called them up to ask about transferring the panels to a new owner, they let me know that two of the panels were out! They sent out replacement parts and had the panels quickly and easily fixed as they were under warranty. I wish I’d caught it earlier!
Would I Get Solar Panels Again?
We now live at the top of a hill and the house gets lots of sun. There’s no trees blocking the roof. Our “new” old home WOULD be a great candidate for solar.
However… our roof is older and will need replacing in the next 5-10 years. I would not purchase panels at this point.
I’m hoping that by the time we replace our roof, panel prices will have dropped substantially to make it an investment we can make at the same time as our roof replacement. It would be great if they start working panels into the roof shingles, although so far those solar roofs aren’t producing as well as traditional panels.
At this point, I think it would be a better investment for us to replace our traditional electric HVAC system with a geothermal heating/cooling system. I think the upfront cost will be lower, the return on investment will be better, and it would make sense considering the amount of space we have on our property for this type of setup.
The long term plan will be to replace items as they die. We assume it will be in approximately this order: The HVAC will be replaced with geothermal, the water heater with a tankless heater, the roof will be replaced, and then we can consider solar panels again.
Looking for more ideas? Read my post: 7 Tips for Saving Money on Home Improvements.
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