So you’ve decided you want solar panels, but don’t know how to get started? Perhaps you are overwhelmed and don’t know all the information that a homeowner needs to start using this technology.
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with a step-by-step guide on how to start getting solar and using it for your own home!! We also answer any common questions you may have.
As the name suggests, community solar is solar that you share with your community and neighbors. They are also known as shared solar or solar gardens. You can either buy or lease the use of the solar system for your property from the solar panel array already in place.
Usually, these are already pre-installed in your area, and you just have the option to buy in or not. However, if they aren’t available, and you and your nearby community all think it would be a good idea, you can work together to get your community a solar photovoltaic [PV] system you can all benefit from.
This option is ideal for people who can’t put solar up on their homes. This could be due to renting, living in a shady spot covered by trees or other buildings, or being in a place where you don’t have a spot to put solar, such as an apartment building.
Currently, there are 39 states and Washington D.C. which have community solar. The top 4 states are:
- New York
When people think about investing in solar, it is probably a home installation that first appears in their heads. This is the most common method of personally investing in solar, and works for a fair amount of people.
For this method, you hire a company to install a solar system for an agreed-upon amount of energy and they will install the panels on your home. Usually, the installation is done on the roof, but if you are looking to go off-grid and need a lot, they can also just do a whole solar set-up.
This is also a much more expensive option. Instead of just buying some solar energy, you have to pay for the equipment and installation as well. Installation is a big cost of getting solar, and can often double or triple your cost of installing solar.
However, if you live in an area where solar would work well for you, the high initial price is well worth it. Most people pay off their installation in 8 or so years, leaving you with 17 or so years where you are making a profit.
The 5 Steps to Going Solar
Step 1: Determine if You’re a Good Fit for Solar
Before you get your heart set on using solar, you have to first determine if solar is a good option for you.
First, you have to make sure you can afford it. While there are many tax breaks out there, they usually don’t occur until after you’ve bought the system, so you still have to pay the up-front cost. Depending on the solar system, you can easily pay around $15,000 or more.
You also want to make sure getting solar is worth it. Look at your location and the number of sunny days. If you live in a location that rains for a quarter of the year and is cloudy, then solar may not work well for you.
Also, if you live in an area where it is dark for most of the year, you may not get your money’s worth out of solar panels. Statistically, the closer to the equator you are, and the more sunny days you have, the better off you are with getting solar panels.
The final determination is to look at your home itself. It doesn’t matter how many sunny days your area has if your home is always in shade. Get an idea of how much sun your roof gets throughout the day, and even at various times of the year. If it gets a good amount of sun throughout the day, then solar might be for you.
However, solar panels drastically lose efficiency if they are in shade even just a little. So if you don’t have a space to put them where they will be getting full sun on them, then you may need to trim back trees or give up on solar.
Step 2: Gather and Compare Quotes for Solar
Installing solar is expensive. You want to make sure you aren’t paying for something that isn’t legitimate. Look at local installers in your area to determine which ones have good ratings. Pick out the top 4 or 5 and call around.
Not only do you want to know their general cost, but we highly recommend asking them about the systems they use. Usually, you are not able to go and buy the system you want and have a company install it for you.
Most installers have deals with certain solar companies and only use their products. Plus, they can provide certain warranties if they buy the items and not you.
If you have an idea of the companies you want your solar system to be composed of, try to find installers that work with them.
To make life easier, here is a list of things you should ask or figure out about every installation company you are considering [and maybe even some you are not] before making a final decision.
- What system and module do they use
- Their average installation timeline and labor costs
- If they have a minimum installation size
- If they do inspections of your home and roof first to determine what will work best
- What warranties do they provide
- Their reviews
- If they are familiar with your local permit process, and if they get the permits for you
- Does the company have a proper license and certification
- What their response time is
Step 3: Choose an Installer
Once you’ve asked all your questions and narrowed it down, you should have the installer you want to work with. You will have to call them up and get the ball rolling.
Your installer will likely have to work with you for a bit. They will help you find the best place to put your solar system and figure out the ideal tilt to get the most sunlight.
They can also answer any questions you may have, such as what size system you may want, and the efficiency the system will run at. Usually, they will also ask for a portion of the cost up-front.
They will often tell you this shortly after you decide on your system size. This cost is often the amount it costs them to order all the parts, that way, they aren’t losing out if you cancel on them.
You must discuss payments and their payment requirements up-front to prevent any issues.
Step 4: Decide How To Pay for Solar
There are 3 main ways you can pay for solar. You can pay with cash or check, via the money you have on hand, with a finance loan, or even lease the solar panels.
Cash is simple. You can go and write a check for the company and give it to them at the end of the installation. Solar loans work similarly to other loans where you pay a principal and interest every month for a certain number of months or years. You technically own the system unless you stop paying.
Leasing is a little different from the other 2 [we don’t recommend this method]. Instead of owning solar panels, you are simply renting them. Sometimes, there are elevator payments, so you are paying more year after year for about 25 years, but some of them lock on prices as well.
Step 5: Install Your System
Unless you decide to install a solar system on your own, you likely won’t be involved in this process. Your installation company should handle this process mostly on its own. Occasionally, they may ask you things like where you want the inverter and battery, but that is the limit of your involvement.
Once the system is installed, you are ready to go.
What are the upfront costs of going solar?
There are a lot of factors that determine your cost. A solar system, on average, costs about $3 to $5 per watt, with installation and everything. This means that even for a small system [5 kW], you are probably looking at somewhere between $15,000 to $25,000.
Unless you get a solar loan, you are looking at paying all of this cost up-front. You will usually pay about ⅓ of it before installation and the other ⅔ after.
How much will I save on my energy bills?
To get the exact amount, you would have to calculate the amount of electricity you use on average per month and look at how much of that is being offset by your solar system. However, on average, people can knock off 70% to 90% of every energy bill!!
Are there any other benefits to going solar?
Saving money when you are putting a huge deposit down may not seem like a good enough incentive. However, that isn’t the only benefit. Some other benefits include:
– Higher property value if you go to sell, as high as 4.1%
– Tax credit or rebate of 26% to 22% via the Federal Solar Energy Credit under the Energy Policy Act enacted in 2005
– Better for the environment by reducing greenhouse gasses
– Little to no maintenance in the 25-year lifespan
– Fewer chances of being impacted by power outages
What is the warranty on solar panels?
Solar panels have a warranty that can last between 10 to 25 years depending on the company you use. However, they usually have a secondary warranty that works from the 25 to the 30-year mark.
This warranty usually states that while your solar panels degrade, they will not degrade by more than 0.5% per year. This means that in 25 years, your solar panels should still be about 85% effective.
Sometimes, your installer and your solar company will both provide warranties, so the work, installation, and machines themselves should all be protected.
What are the maintenance requirements for solar panels?
Usually, the maintenance is minimal, requiring nothing more than cleaning occasionally and a yearly inspection.
How much solar energy will I generate?
The amount of energy you generate depends on your system, and the systems are usually labeled by how much energy they generate. If you are in full sun, you should get almost the amount your system lists, but if you get partial sun, that number will drop.
What are the tax incentives for going solar?
Every state, and even counties within each state, has different solar tax incentives. However, each state has at least the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) which provides you with a 22% to 26% tax credit for installing a solar system.
States like Florida have Net Metering Systems which buy back the energy you aren’t using. Sometimes, you can even get discounts on property tax and sales tax as well.
What happens if my solar panels don’t produce enough energy?
If your panels don’t produce enough energy, there’s no need to worry. You will still have a tie to the grid and will pull energy like you would before the solar system. That just means you will have a utility bill, but it will be cheaper than normal.
What is the payback period?
The payback period [also known as the buyback period] is the time it takes you to recover the initial money you spent on solar panels. It is usually based on how much money you save on utility bills per month. This number is usually 8 to 8.7 years.
How long do solar panels last?
Most high-quality solar panels last about 25 to 30 years if taken care of and not damaged. After that, the solar panels are still usable but will begin to lose efficiency.