Because I’m in the solar industry, friends and neighbors often ask me whether they should go solar. I usually tell them to go ahead and get a free home solar quote because doing so is so easy and will give them a wealth of information. In the meantime, I suggest they consider four basic questions:
1. Are you paying too much for electricity?
Most utilities force heavy electricity consumers to pay at a higher rate than “baseline” consumers. Home solar arrays are typically sized to offset higher usage so that the remaining electricity you’re buying from the utility is at the lower baseline rate. So a typical array will produce enough to cover 70-80% of your electricity consumption.
Look at a few recent utility bills and be careful to examine only the electric portion, not gas. (If your gas bill is high, consider a solar hot water heater). If you run air-conditioning, be sure to look at your summer season bills.
When you get a home solar quote, it will include a comparison chart showing how much you’re paying for electricity now and how much you would be paying for electricity plus your monthly home solar loan payments if you go solar. (It will also show you how much it would cost to buy the system outright, but the vast majority of home solar customers finance with a lease or a loan).
Air conditioning serves as a pretty handy litmus test. If you run it, chances are very good that you’ll save money from day one by going solar. Other candidates for immediate solar savings are large homes, homes with older, less efficient appliances, households that do a lot of laundry and homes with swimming pools, space heaters or grow lights.
But even if you’re a fogged-in northern California energy miser and your electric bill is minuscule, you’re still going to save money with solar over the life of the panels. Folks with high bills start saving right away but virtually everyone will save over the long run. And for people who fall somewhere in the middle, you’ll probably break even in the short run and save over the long term.
2. Is your roof suitable for solar?
The most common roof problems are excessive shade and older roofs. If you live under a giant redwood tree, you’ve probably got too much shade. But often tree limbs can be trimmed so as to open up an area of the roof to more sunlight — after you get a quote, a solar installer will come out to look at your roof and advise you.
If your roof will need replacing in the next ten years, it’s probably better to wait until the new roof is in to go solar. If you have an older home, it’s possible (though not likely) that the roof cannot support the weight of a solar array — again, a professional installer will let you know if this is an issue.
3. What rebates and incentives can you get?
Government rebates and incentives can bring the cost of going solar way down. There’s no need for you to research the maze of local, state and federal incentives — when you get your home solar quote, it will show you all of the incentives you’re eligible for. And if you choose to go solar, most installers take care of all of the paperwork for you and make sure you get every penny you’re entitled to. But one word to the wise — these incentives won’t last forever so get in while the going’s still good.
4. Can your homeowners’ association stop you from going solar?
Don’t lose sleep over this one. Most states, including California, have laws that protect property owners’ right to install solar over the objection of a homeowners’ association. Check the map of solar access laws provided by the U.S. Department of Energy to learn about the law in your state.
Still not sure if solar is right for your home? Take ten seconds to get a free quote and learn more.