Is my home a good fit for solar?
Last updated 4/6/2020
Fortunately, while not every property is perfect, most homes are well-suited for a solar energy system. Here are seven questions to help you figure out whether solar panels are a good fit for you and your home.
#1. Do you own your home?
First and foremost, it’s generally more difficult to install solar panels on your home if you don’t own it– you can certainly ask the owner of the property whether they’d consider installing a system and assist as a solar advocate, but ultimately, they’ll be the final decision-maker.
Need help convincing them? Talk to your landlord about how solar will help increase the value of their property, the environmental benefits of solar power, tax credits and other incentives they take advantage of, and more. Take a look at our top 10 reasons to go solar for more ideas.
#2. Are there nearby trees or buildings shading your property?
If your home only experiences a bit of shade throughout the day, don’t worry – contrary to popular belief, your home doesn’t need to be perfectly sunny all of the time to benefit from a solar panel system. While it’s true that the sunnier your roof or property is, the more electricity you can produce with solar panels, the right equipment (such as microinverters and power optimizers) and a well-designed system from your solar installer can help minimize the negative impact of shade hitting your system.
That said, if your home is shaded for the majority of the day, it’s not a good idea to install solar panels without trimming or removing trees: regardless of the solar technology used, a solar panel covered in shade cannot produce electricity.
#3. Is your roof suitable for solar?
Outside of shade and availability of sunshine, there are a few factors to consider when evaluating the solar potential of your roof:
Solar panel systems last a long time (often more than 30 years!) If your home’s roof is towards the end of its life, you should replace it prior to any solar installation. This will add to the upfront cost of the project, but replacing your roof prior to installing solar certainly has its advantages: for one, you avoid the trouble and costs associated with uninstalling and reinstalling your solar panel system in order to work on the roof. Additionally, solar panels will help extend the life of the portion of your roof that they cover, as they’re durable and protect the roofing material from the elements.
Thanks to continuing innovation and variety in solar mounting equipment, you can install solar panels on most roofing materials, including standing seam metal, clay tile, asphalt, and rubber.
Two of the more difficult roofing materials to install on are slate and wood: given how brittle both materials are, the installation process is more delicate than with other materials and requires specialized equipment (which can be costly). Because of this, most installation companies do not install solar panels on these types of roofs, so it may be difficult to find a company to work with.
Solar panels come in a fixed, rectangular shape, and most residential installations use at least 10 solar panels. In order to maximize your solar savings, you’ll need adequate space on your roof. With more uniquely-shaped roofs, different structures such as dormers, chimneys, vents, or widow’s walks may cut off certain portions of your roof from installation, making it more difficult to fit enough solar panels for a viable installation.
You can install solar on a flat roof, but installing solar panels on a flat roof typically requires more space since you need to tilt and stagger the rows of panels for optimal electricity production. Tilted solar panels are also important for the self-cleaning of the equipment.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, panels that are installed on a steep roof generally produce less electricity and are more difficult to install. As a rule of thumb, anywhere between 30 to 45 degrees is the optimal tilt for most solar panel systems.
Your roof’s orientation, or the direction your roof faces, will impact how much electricity your solar panel system generates. Generally, solar panels that face due south receive the most exposure to sunshine (note: this is the opposite for properties located in the Southern Hemisphere.) However, while south-facing is ideal, it’s certainly not a necessity for going solar: panels facing east and west can often receive more than enough sunshine to make your installation a worthwhile investment.
#4. ...and if your roof isn't suitable, do you have enough sunny land available for an alternative installation type?
If you can’t or don’t want to install solar panels on your roof, consider doing so on available, sunny land space – with a ground-mounted system, you’re less likely to have space limitations and can install your array at the perfect tilt and direction, as opposed to being restricted by the dimensions of a roof surface.
#5. How much do you spend on electricity?
There are a lot of factors that go into how much you can save with solar, but none so much as your electricity costs: how much electricity you use and how much you pay for it play an integral role in eventual solar electricity savings.
If you’re a homeowner in a state that experiences high electricity rates, you will save big by switching to solar power. Alternatively, if you use very little electricity over the course of a year or live in an area with particularly low electricity rates, you can still save money with solar, but it’ll take more time to witness significant savings and break even on any upfront investment.
#6. Does your state or utility company offer solar-friendly incentives?
There’s no doubt that it’s certainly easier to go (and save with) solar in some states more than others due to local policies and incentives.
One of the most important solar incentives to keep an eye out for is net metering. Offered in most states, net metering allows you to send any excess electricity your solar panel system generates to the grid in exchange for credits on your electricity bill. You can then use these credits when your solar panel system isn’t producing the energy you need (like at night).
Outside of net metering, many states and utility companies offer tax credits, rebates, or performance-based incentives to help you save with solar. The federal investment tax credit (ITC), available to everyone in the U.S., allows homeowners who purchase and install a solar panel system to claim a percentage of solar costs as a credit towards their federal taxes.
#7. How much does it cost to go solar in your area?
Lastly, cost: this will impact how much you can save by going solar and how quickly you can break even on the investment (note: the average payback period in the U.S. is close to 8 years).
It’s more expensive to install solar in some areas of the country than others depending on the availability of incentives, labor and permitting costs, and more. However, regardless of solar costs in your state, you don’t need to pay for the entire system upfront – there are many financing options available that allow you to go solar with no money down.