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How to Look at Solar Panels for Your Home

Updated on December 26, 2016
Max Dalton profile image

Max holds a B.S. in Mass Communications from SIU and an M.A. in Communication from U of I and is pursuing an MBA from Webster University.

Google's Project Sunroof website can get you off on a great start exploring whether solar panels are right for you.
Google's Project Sunroof website can get you off on a great start exploring whether solar panels are right for you. | Source


Getting solar panels put on your house is not as easy as flipping on a light switch. The energy you can put into just determining whether or not you can put solar panels on your house can be overwhelming. And if you do have the option to put solar panels on your house, then you have to settle in and start working the math to determine whether or not getting solar panels installed is even worth it for you. The goal of this article is to call out some of the high-level factors to look at or consider while you're determining whether having solar panels installed on your house is the right move for you.

Your Homeowner's Association

It's important to check with your homeowner's association before doing anything else when exploring whether or not to get solar panels for your home. Even if your HOA does let residents have solar panels, they may have rules about where you can place them, and you may have to fill out a mountain of paperwork and get approved by a review committee. Additionally, restrictions around where you can put them need to be taken into consideration when calculating a payback period.

Home Insurance

One of the assumptions I had when I was exploring solar panels was that it would cause our home insurance to go up. Ironically, this was not the case. In speaking with our insurance company, they said that they don't raise the home insurance cost for people who install solar panels because the solar panels are so tough that they don't get damaged and they don't come flying off the house in the event of high winds. Additionally, our agent said that they also protect the shingles they cover and can actually prevent damage to the roof.

A SunEdison solar plant.
A SunEdison solar plant. | Source

Your Electric Company

Some electric utilities may not support solar, while some may support it to varying degrees. Our electric company is a small utility, so they said that we could put solar panels on our roof, but that we were the only people who could use the energy that we generate, and that they did not have a program in place to buy the energy back from us, which significantly reduces the value proposition associated with putting solar panels on a house. Additionally, if your electric utility does support solar, you'll likely need to provide up to a year's worth of electric bills to help you calculate your value proposition and payback period.

Leasing or Buying Solar Panels

This can be a tough decision, and it's all about how much risk you want to assume. If you choose to lease, then you're not responsible for the solar panels and they're covered in the event that something does happen to them. However, at the moment, the incentive from the federal government is very attractive if you want to buy. The incentive has actually become so attractive that a number of businesses that sell the panels don't put forward a leasing option.

Leasing vs Buying Solar Panels

Cast your vote for Google's Project Sunroof

State Laws

If you do find yourself dealing with a homeowner's associated that frowns upon installing solar panels on your home, don't worry. Do some research around your state laws and see if there is something to the effect of the Clothesline Law in Florida that allows residents the absolute right to put solar panels on their house, regardless of what rules their HOA may have in place. This fight is actively being fought in most states, so its important to do your research and see what the status of the battle around solar panels is.

Payback Period

This is another tough one. It's important to put a fair amount of your own energy into gathering information around where you can even put solar panels, projecting how much energy those panels will generate over the course of a year, how much of your energy bill that will offset, and how much energy you'll be able to sell back to the electric company, if you can sell energy back to your electric company. And on top of that, you'll need to spread your projected payback period/value proposition out over the duration of time that you feel like you'll be in that house, and also bake in some projection around the cost of energy. It's a lot. Thankfully, there are tools that can help. Google has gone live with an application called Project Sunroof that lets you plug in your address and then shows you which part of your house is best suited for solar panels, how many hours of usable sunlight that area gets, and how many feet you have available for solar panels. Additionally, you can find a solar provider and get a lot of other great information from the Project Sunroof website.

Project Sunroof Overview

Sungevity outlines the savings associated with going solar.
Sungevity outlines the savings associated with going solar. | Source

Evolution of Solar Technology

Do you remember the large satellite dishes that took up massive real estate in neighborhood yards when satellite TV was rolled out? Over time, the delivery system for cable television became more efficient, the technology became smaller, and the product ultimately became accessible to more people along the way. Right now, solar is at a similar point. As more people embrace solar technology it will make more sense for electric utilities to embrace it as well. As a result, the technology will become smaller, and the cost of that technology as a whole will come down as more people enter that market. So if either the cost of the panels or the size of the panels is a turn-off for you, just wait a few years and you may get a better entry point.

© 2016 Max Dalton


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    • Max Dalton profile image

      Max Dalton 10 months ago from Greater St. Louis, Missouri

      Great stuff. Our effort stalled out when we realized we couldn't sell back anywhere. Completely changed the value proposition and payback. Just made it not worth it.

    • CHRIS57 profile image

      CHRIS57 10 months ago from Northern Germany

      Just a little food for thought - please:

      Before installing anything on your roof, check your energy bills. A typical household will probably use some 4.000 to 5.000 kWh per year. If you can´t sell the electricity you generate, make sure you need it yourself.

      Typical solar panels will let you harvest some 900.. 1200 kWh/year for every installed kWpeak. Thus you will need only 5 and more kWpeak for you home project. Bad thing: In winter time, solar panels are almost useless, in summer time you get way too much.

      Typical panel cost will be some 1200 to 1500 USD/kWpeak. A rough order of magnitude calculation will tell you that you get a payback within 10.. 12 years if you saved some 10 cents for every 1 kWh not taken from the grid.

      But you will need storage and the issue will be solar energy storage, not production. The storage thing will make your business cases get lost. Storage is still much too expensive for total off grid independance.

      Totally different story if you can sell your excess electricity to the grid.

    • Max Dalton profile image

      Max Dalton 18 months ago from Greater St. Louis, Missouri

      Very cool. Yeah. Our local power company would only let us use the solar power we generated through our panels, and they currently were not buying our unused solar energy, so it really changed our value proposition. I agree that virtually everyone should have them, but the tech is still in the early stages, and at some point there will be something that's not as large and a bit more aesthetically appealing than strapping large panels on the roof, lol. There are scenarios where it doesn't make sense, such as if someone is only going to be in their house for a few more years.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 18 months ago from United States

      We recently had solar panels installed through Solar City. I'm not sure why everyone doesn't do it, so long as it's available in their area and their home is structurally sound-- and SC checks that out for you. They also insure the panels. I'm not sure our HOA approved; I don't think we even checked it out! lol Anyway, it cost nothing up front for us to go solar, the cost coming out of the energy we produce over time. My husband follows how much energy we produce online, and how much the power co. buys. The process of going solar was not quick, but it was surprisingly easy.