Thinking about solar panels for your house? Some things to consider
Last updated: January 1
Solar panels may be an option if you’re looking for a more environmentally friendly way to use energy.
Solar panels help produce electricity from sunlight, resulting in less reliance on traditional power sources, Energy.gov says. Using solar energy also helps reduce environmental pollutants, such as carbon, and may help you save money on your electric bills, according to Energy.gov. Here are some things to consider if you’re thinking about installing solar panels on your home.
How do solar panels work?
Solar panels, which are installed on your home's roof, are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells, which harness sunlight and transform it into energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. PV cells are typically made from silicon, surrounded by a protective material, and connected into panels, Energy.gov says.
To generate maximum solar energy, sunlight should hit your roof directly during peak hours and without obstruction by things like trees or other buildings, Houzz says. The amount of power generated by solar panels on a home will vary based on the type panels you install, how they are positioned and the weather, according to NREL, which provides an online calculator to help estimate solar energy production and costs based on your address
Buy or lease?
Homeowners can either buy or lease solar panels, according to Houzz. If you choose to lease solar panels, you'll likely have lower upfront costs and the leasing company typically covers the cost of maintenance and repairs, Houzz says. If you opt to buy your solar panels outright, you may qualify for a federal tax credit, according to EnergyStar.gov.
Some states and municipalities also offer financial incentives to homeowners who install solar panels, Houzz says. Check with your local government to learn whether any incentives are available in your area. In addition, says Houzz, a home with permanently installed solar panels may add value to your home when the time comes to sell.
Solar panel installation
Solar panels should be installed by a professional who can help you navigate the steps of the process, says Energy.gov. That may include obtaining permits, choosing the equipment that is the right fit for your home and ensuring proper positioning and security on your roof, according to Energy.gov.
A home with solar panels can either go off the grid, where solar energy becomes the sole source of electricity, or have a grid-connected system, where solar energy and regular electric utility are both used in the home, according to Energy.gov.
If you opt for a grid-connected system, your electricity will be powered by solar energy on sunny days, and any excess power your solar panels generate will feed back into the grid, Energy.gov explains. If your solar panels don't produce enough electricity, you'll get power from the grid, just as you did without solar panels. Meanwhile, if your solar panels produce extra power that is returned to the grid, many electric companies will credit you for the contribution, further reducing your utility costs, Energy.gov says.
Meanwhile, if you decide to go off the grid, your electricity will come solely from the solar power produced by your panels. Before taking that step, it's a good idea to tally your current energy use and make sure the system you install can produce the power you need, suggests Energy.gov. You may also want to consider installing a battery storage system that will store excess power created by your solar panels to be used on days when your home isn't generating solar energy, Energy.gov says.
Solar panel maintenance
Solar panel manufacturers typically offer warranties, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Check with your manufacturer to learn about its warranties for the panels and other components.
As with other parts of your house, preventive maintenance is also a good idea. You may need to have your solar panels cleaned every now and then, especially if you don't get much rain, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says. And if certain parts aren't covered by your warranty, you may be responsible for any repairs or replacements, according to the FTC.
If you think solar panels are a good fit for you, it's important to do your homework before moving forward. Armed with the information about how solar panels work and how much energy they may generate, you may be better prepared to decide whether sun-generated power makes sense for your home.