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What to know before you shop for a home solar power system

Home improvement projects come together best when you know what you’re looking for before you talk to a salesperson. Here’s what you need to know so you sound savvy and get the best home solar system for your family.

The pros of solar roof panels

  • Renewable energy – As thankful as I am for all the good things fossil fuels helped create – planes, roads and big screen TV’s – it’s time to gently escort them out like a drunk relative at Thanksgiving. A home solar system lets you use renewable energy to power your home.  
  • Save on electricity – How much you save depends on how you pay for the roof solar system. Use a solar calculator to see how much you will pay for and save with a home solar power system.
  • Solar storage – If you also get solar storage you get to tell people you’re off the grid. When a storm takes the power out you still get TV and heat.

Read: The ultimate solar home guide for single-family residences

The cons of solar roof panels

  • Commitment – A rooftop solar system is a 20-year commitment. Most marriages don’t last that long.
  • Your roof – If you have an old roof you may need to replace it before you put solar panels on. You can always remove your panels to update your roof, but that can cost a good chunk of cash when the time comes.
  • Maintenance – You need to clean and service the panels every few years.
  • Yearly true-up statement – I did not see this one coming the first year. The energy company doesn’t charge you for the electricity you pull from the grid until the end of the year. If you use a lot more electricity than you produce the true-up statement can be big.

Community solar

The Internet is full of reviews plugging the best rooftop solar providers, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. Community solar is a thing too. It’s not widely available yet, but it’s worth finding out if it’s an option.  

The pros of community solar farms

  • Price – Utility-scale solar PV is usually cheaper than rooftop solar and growing fast.
  • Roof – You don’t have to worry about the type or age of your roof.
  • No maintenance – The solar farm takes care of the maintenance.
  • Renters – Anyone can participate in community solar so this is great for renters who don’t own their roof.
  • Condo’s – Apartment buildings don’t always have space for rooftop solar panels, so a community solar farm or co-op is a great option.

The cons of community solar farms

  • Availability – You’re dependent on a community solar project being available in your area, which is not always the case.
  • Low competition – Community solar is still not widespread so there’s little to no competition to price compare.

How will you pay for your home solar power system?

  • Cash – Cash is the easiest and least expensive option.
  • Financing – There are lots of ways to finance solar panels. A home equity loan is one option. Banks and credit unions are happy to lend you money too.
  • Solar lease agreement / PPA – Lease the equipment directly from the solar panel provider. With a solar lease agreement, you may not qualify for tax credits because you do not own the home solar system.

Before you get a home solar estimate

  • Know your roof – How old is it? What type? Composite, shingles, flat? The salesperson will need to know.
  • Electric bill – Have a copy of your electric bill ready. Any residential solar company will need it to give you an estimate.
  • Tax credits – Determine if you qualify for tax credits.

Home solar: Words to know

Every industry has a secret language. Here are the words and phrases you’ll need to know before you talk to a salesperson.

  • Solar Photovoltaic – Solar photovoltaic (PV) is the technology that makes electricity from sunlight. It’s what the rest of us call solar panels. There are several types of solar PV panels, but the most common are monocrystalline and polycrystalline.
  • Monocrystalline solar panels – Mono panels are more efficient and also more expensive than polycrystalline solar panels. They have a black hue. They work well on smaller rooftops since they need less area.
  • Polycrystalline solar panels – Poly panels are less efficient but also less expensive. They have a blue hue. The less efficient panels may save you money if you have a lot of roof space. A good sales representative should walk you through the pros and cons of the mono and poly panels.
  • Net energy metering – Your home solar system will generate different amounts of electricity each month depending on sunlight. Some months you’ll make more electricity than you use and the energy company will sell the extra electricity to your neighbors, and you will receive a credit. Other months you’ll use more electricity than you produce and they accumulate as net energy metering (NEM) charges.
  • True-Up – You pay the net metering charges once per year in your “True-Up” statement. Your energy company will still charge you for gas and other fees and taxes each month.
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