Know Before You Buy: Should I Go Solar?

Tori Barrington

6 Questions to Begin Your Solar Research
  • Become literate in the language of solar.
  • Map out what you want to get out of going solar.
  • Understand your home’s unique qualities that affect solar.
  • Inspect your roof. Do you need repairs?
  • Set a budget. Do you want to buy or lease?
  • Trust fellow consumers - read tons of customer reviews.
  • Because solar panels have many positive financial and environmental implications, you might be considering going solar. However, purchasing a solar panel system for your home can seem like a daunting task. Diving head-first into research is overwhelming if you don’t know what you are looking for.

    Here are some questions to consider as you begin your solar research.

    What do these solar energy terms mean?

    You will find as you conduct your research that solar energy has its own language. There are words and acronyms you most likely have never heard of before. Understanding the basic vocabulary used in the solar power world will make the research process a lot less stressful.

    Terms & Definitions
    PV Cell Many photovoltaic, or PV, cells make up a solar panel. They absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity.
    Watt A watt (W) is a measurement of power. Solar panel watts are how much power the solar panel will produce under optimal conditions. If a solar panel is 400W, it should produce that much power in perfect sunlight and temperature.
    kW A kilowatt (kW) is equal to 1,000 watts.
    kWh This metric is used to describe how many kW are produced each hour. For example, if a solar panel produced 400W and received 4 hours of direct sunlight, it would produce 1.6 kWh each day.
    Solar Efficiency This is the percentage of sunlight that is converted into electricity by the solar cell or panel. The average solar panel energy efficiency is between 15% and 20%.
    STC Rating Solar panel wattage and efficiency is normally advertised as the STC, or Standard Testing Conditions, rating. This means the wattage and efficiency of the solar panel were measured under optimal sunlight and temperature conditions.
    PTC Rating This rating of solar panel wattage and efficiency is more accurate to how the solar panel would perform in reality. The PTC, or PVUSA Test Conditions, rating is measured under real world conditions.
    Monocrystalline Panels Monocrystalline solar panels operate at the highest efficiency and wattage compared to other panels, which is why they are the most expensive. The cells on these panels are black.
    Polycrystalline Panels Polycrystalline solar panels have lower efficiency and wattage compared to monocrystalline panels. A polycrystalline panel is blue and silver. They are less expensive than monocrystalline.
    Thin-film Panels Thin-film solar panels are very thin, flexible, and light-weight. This makes them great for nontraditional roofs. They operate at a lower efficiency and are the least expensive.

    These technical terms should help you get started, but as you conduct research and come across words you don’t know, we highly recommend looking up their definitions, so you can understand what the solar panels or companies are advertising.

    What do I want to get from going solar?

    It is important to know what you are expecting to get out of going solar before you purchase a solar panel system to cover your entire roof.

    Do you want to reduce your electricity bill? Or do you want to get rid of it completely?

    This is a very common reason for wanting to switch to solar power. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average household spent $115 on their electricity bill in 2019; that’s over $1,300 a year spent on electricity.

    The answers to the above questions will affect the number of solar panels you’ll want to purchase. After meeting with a representative and doing some math, you can calculate how many solar panels you should purchase to meet your needs.

    Are you switching to solar power for the federal tax incentives offered?

    If so, make sure you understand the solar incentives and how you can leverage them.

    For example, there is a tax credit you can claim on your federal income taxes called the federal residential solar energy credit. If part of your reasoning for installing solar panels is this tax credit, be sure you are eligible and meet the criteria.

    Do you want solar panels because you live in an area at risk for power outages and severe weather?

    If this is the case, you need to research solar batteries to find the one that would prove most useful to your situation. Solar batteries store excess energy to use in case of emergencies.

    Are you trying to increase your home’s value?

    In general, property value does increase with the installation of an efficient solar system. Factor this into your research. Have solar panel systems increased value on homes nearby? How extensive were their systems?

    Do you want to help the environment?

    Electricity is typically produced from fossil fuels, which harms the environment by polluting the air and water. Solar panels produce clean energy, which can help reduce carbon footprint. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, using renewable energy sources like solar “can help reduce air emissions and improve air quality.”

    The Solar Energy Industries Association has also said, “Solar energy plays an important role in transitioning the U.S. to a low-carbon, sustainable future.” By going solar, you play an important role in this transition.

    Is my home a good candidate for solar panels?

    To decrease your energy bill, your solar panels will need to generate electricity, and there are many factors that affect how much energy your system will be able to produce.

    As a homeowner, it is important to understand these factors so you can have a realistic expectation of how much solar energy your home will generate.

    1. Weather

    What is the weather like where you live? Is it sunny most of the time? Or is it more likely to be cloudy and rainy? Sunlight is required for solar panels to produce electricity, so take into consideration how often it is sunny in your neighborhood.

    2. Shade

    How much shade does your roof get? Are shadows cast over your rooftop by tall trees or buildings nearby? Even a chimney or satellite dish on your roof will cast shadows during the day on sections of your roof. The more shade on solar panels, the less effective they will be.

    3. Time of Year

    Don’t forget to take into account the time of year. Solar panels will receive the most direct sunlight during the summer months, because the sun rises earlier and sets later.

    4. Location

    Location can also affect solar energy production due to climate and day length.

    For example, there are 14 hours of sunlight in Florida during the summer and 10 hours in the winter, but Washington gets 16 hours of sunlight during the summer and 9 hours in the winter. Even though the sun is out longer in Washington, the climate there is more cloudy than in Florida. This is why you must take all factors into consideration.

    5. Air Quality

    Air pollution and smog can reduce the amount of energy solar panels can produce. When predicting how effective your solar panel system should be, think about the amount of pollution in your area.

    After taking into account all of these factors, you should have a better idea if solar panels on your home would be effective.

    Does my roof need to be replaced to install solar panels?

    It is not necessary to replace your roof before installing solar panels, but it is recommended to have your roof assessed.

    You can get an expert opinion or you can assess the roof yourself. Check your roof for leaks, shingles with curled edges, cracks, weather damage, and any sagging sections.

    It is in your best financial interest to make sure the life of your roof is in line with the life of your future solar panels. Solar panels are built to last about 25 years. Roofs, depending on the material, are built to last anywhere from 25 years to more than 50 years. If your roof will need to be replaced within the next few years, it would be wise to replace it before installing your solar panels.

    If your roof does need to be replaced or repaired, you’ll need to decide if you want to find a solar company that also installs roofs, like Solar Optimum, or if you’ll want to work with two separate companies.

    How much money do I need to spend on solar?

    Solar panels are an expensive purchase for your home, but they can pay for themselves through reduced utility bills.

    Deciding how much money you are willing to spend on solar panels will help you choose a financing option that best suits your situation.

    If you have enough savings and would like to own the solar equipment, you can purchase everything upfront. If you would like to own the equipment but cannot afford to pay off everything at once, you can pay the solar company back monthly.

    If owning the solar equipment is not important to you or you do not have enough in your bank account to purchase the system upfront, you may consider a solar lease.

    Another option is a solar loan. Solar loans can be borrowed from a bank, lender, or even a solar company and paid back with monthly payments. Once the loan is paid off, the homeowner owns the system.

    There are many pros and cons to buying, leasing, and borrowing a solar loan so we suggest conducting thorough research to choose the best financing option.

    While many solar companies offer flexible financing options, some only offer specific plans. Deciding which financing option is best will also help you choose the best solar company for you.

    Do other homeowners have good experiences with solar?

    When you are ready to begin researching solar companies, one of the most important things to consider are customer reviews.

    While you should read up on which solar panels, financing options, batteries, and warranties they offer, the deciding factor should be based on customer feedback.

    The company’s website may boast amazing and responsive service, but customer reviews will reveal whether or not their claims are true. A company may appear great from your Google search, but past customers will unveil any negative qualities that the company does not advertise on their website.

    Look for answers to the following questions when reading customer reviews:

    • Are their sales representatives pushy or considerate?
    • Did customers actually save on their utility bill?
    • Is customer service quick to resolve any problems that arise?
    • Do they install high quality equipment?
    • What’s the solar panel installation process like?
    • Do they offer and uphold a good warranty?
    • Did customers think their pricing was competitive?
    • If they offer an app to monitor the system, is the app easy to use?

    We know that all of these factors can seem overwhelming. Our recommendation? Prioritize.

    Is it more important to choose a solar company that has flexible financing options or that sells panels that are effective in the shade? Would you rather a solar company with amazing customer service or one that sells batteries to store power in case of emergencies?

    Understanding your goals, your home’s unique qualities, and your financial situation is a great place to start.

    Ready to find a solar company near you?