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Getting Started with Solar Power in Your Home

Updated for 2023

Is My Home Suitable For Solar Panels?

Solar panels function under any climate. They are durable and flexible in practically any setting. Solar panels last between 10 and 50 years, depending on the construction of the panel. However, surrounding components in the solar panel’s environment determine whether or not they are suitable for particular roofs—specifically residential roofs. The viability of home solar is dependent on a number of factors including the roof’s age, condition, shape, and tree coverage. 

Because solar panels rely on sun rays to produce solar energy, tree coverage (or any obstruction) can reduce the effectiveness of solar panels. A slight shade doesn’t make the solar panel’s purpose completely worthless: what to look for is excessive shade, in which the panels absorb little to no sunlight. 

The roof or surface angle is another important aspect. Most solar panels function best when positioned at an acute angle of about 30 degrees by default. The steepest your home panel system should withstand is 40 degrees. Surfaces that elevate more than 40 degrees will reduce the amount of solar energy your panels can absorb. On flat roofs, solar panels are comparably more flexible than if they were slanted. On typical roofs with a slope, you will need to install mounts penetrating the roof and securing its position. However, with a flat roof, using a ballast system, which are concrete blocks that weigh the panels down, disabling them from moving. Ballast systems work well for impenetrable surfaces, including soil. 

The surface area of your roof is another determining factor. An averaged size home uses 17—25 solar panels to power all of the home’s energy. The size of a solar panel system also decides the amount of power you should anticipate. Your roof should have at least 400 square feet of space available for solar panels. The more surface area you can utilize, the more solar power you will receive. 

Unsurprisingly, the age of your roof is also a component in determining if you can install a home solar panel system. In this case, age equates to quality. Older homes with unsteady roofs aren’t ideal. Although solar panels have little effect on surfaces due to how little they weigh, they could become the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

What Are the Costs of Using Solar Power?

Even though solar panels save you on energy and electricity costs, purchasing and installing solar panels is a hefty investment that requires a careful commitment. There is no definitive price for solar panels—they can range from a few thousand dollars to upwards of $35,000. These costs depend on the region. States with sunnier, clear days will cost you more. States that are generally cloudy, like Washington, will cost you less. Once the installation is complete, solar power is renewable energy, meaning it’s inexhaustible. The sun is the source, which isn’t going away anytime soon. Installing a home solar panel system is the most self-sufficient way of using power, allowing you to avoid electrical bills and use the sun’s rays for free. However, the sun is not available 24 hours a day. The sun will set, and eventually, the means of obtaining power are null. Typically, homeowners will either resort to electricity at night or utilize accumulated solar energy stored in a battery for later use. Using power with solar energy at night will cost you, even with a solar home panel system installed.

Energy Independence 

Being energy independent is gauged by how much renewable energy you use. There’s a spectrum of ways you can become energy independent – the most common way for homeowners is installing solar panels. Installing an off-grid solar panel system will completely cut off your ties to the electrical company – off-grid systems work independently, unlike the conventional installation where your system flows through a utility power system. By using an off-grid solar panel system, the only thing you need to rely on is a battery to store excess solar power produced by the solar panels. 

Can I Install Solar Panels Myself?

In short, yes. However, it is not always advisable. Depending on regional regulations such as the homeowner’s association, installing a home solar panel system on your own may be restricted. Strenuous physical work is required. Hence, most people hire professionals to do it for them. Attempting to install solar panels alone or under amateur circumstances is not recommended—this can lead to serious, fatal consequences. In some states, people operating on solar panels are required to have a state solar certification. If you neglect to have this or lack basic knowledge of the tools needed for installation, it is ideal to rely on a professional. 

How Long Does It Take to Install Solar Panels?

Installing a home solar panel system takes an average of 1-3 days, as long as the weather and days of the week permit it. The installation process is usually handled by certified electricians or professional PV installers. More often than not, the job is completed before a few days. However, you don’t need to resort to a major retailer to install the solar panels for you – there are plenty of independent contractors willing to do the job. Make sure that whoever is installing your home solar panel system has a state solar certification which, depending on the state, is required by law.

Community/Homeowners Association Restrictions

There might be restrictions on installing solar panels according to HOA rules. Some states, like Arizona and Texas, prohibit any HOAs from restricting the  installation and use of residential solar panel systems. Although, in states like California, there are limitations within the fine print explicitly state regulations of the purchase, installation, and usage of home solar panel systems. Sites such as FindHOAlaw.com clarify details of these restrictions you must abide by within your community. Most of the time, no matter your location, there are no restrictions to installing solar panels or utilizing solar energy. However, you should conduct extensive research into your communities rules before committing to solar power.

How to Buy Solar Panels

Solar panels and solar accessories are sold in physical hardware or technology stores such as Home Depot and Best Buy. You can also buy solar panels from solar energy and equipment suppliers, in which employees have a better gauge of the overall subject compared to a large retailer like Lowes. Solar panels are also online and purchasable across hundreds of different shops from retailers and companies across the nation that specialize in delivering solar panels to your home. In stores like Best Buy, there is a spectrum of different solar panels to choose from, ranging from foldable to doorbell panels. However, you will notice that the largest and most reliable solar panels are sold in solar-specific supply shops and hardware stores. Solar suppliers often install them for you as well. The easiest way to find suppliers and installers near you is to search for them online. 

Getting An Estimate

As stated prior, the costs of solar panels vary depending on the state. Across all 50 states, the initial cost and installation of solar panels are between $13,000-$19,000, which doesn’t include other fees like the cost per watt (between $2.33-$2.87) and additional add-ons and equipment. You can get a more definitive estimate by having a phone or in-person consultation with your local solar supplier or provider. Moreover, contacting other suppliers like large retail stores may be able to offer viable information as to how much you should expect to spend.