Read This Before Choosing Solar Panels For Your Home
“Hey,” you say. “Look at that. Another neighbor has installed solar panels. Maybe it’s my turn?”
Good question, and one you might ask these days as Mr. Sunshine – love that guy! – extends his summertime visits. But are solar panels right for you? Maybe so. A solar system can reduce your electricity costs, increase the value of your home and make you feel good about reducing your carbon footprint.
Nearly 80,000 homes added solar panels in 2019, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. In total, more than 2 million American homes now take advantage of the technology that uses semiconductors to convert sunlight into electricity.
One incentive for moving ahead now rather than later: In 2020, small solar energy systems are eligible for a 26% tax credit. That’s down from 30% last year. But it’ll drop to 22% in 2021, and then expire on December 31, 2021.
Before going solar, I recommend taking other short term measures to reduce your energy use. Consider a DIY energy audit, or hire a professional. If you need new appliances, look for those that are highly efficient. Switch to LED light bulbs. And make sure to weatherize your home.
OK, once those boxes are checked, it’s time to do your solar homework. Generally, here’s how the systems work: The panels on your roof are wired to the local electric grid. If your solar system generates more power than you need, you’ll be able to sell excess electricity to the grid. On the other hand, if you require more electricity than your rooftop system delivers, you’ll draw electricity from the grid as usual.
Before getting too serious, here are some early, important thoughts to consider:
1. Do you get enough sunlight to support a solar system? Some mapping services and tools can help you make the assessment. But ultimately, you’ll need to work with a local contractor to grade your home’s true solar potential.
2. How old is your roof? It doesn’t make sense to install a system shortly before a roof replacement.
3. Do you have the upfront capital to purchase the system? Or, are you willing to work with a lender – a bank, utility or installer – on a financing arrangement?
4. What federal or state of Maryland tax credits might be available to reduce your costs? Lots of information on that topic is here.
5. What kind of homeowner restrictions might apply in your neighborhood? And are you ready to be responsible for maintenance or repairs? Most systems offer warranties.
6. If you’re committed to moving forward, get ready to choose a contractor. Your selection will be super important.
7. Before meeting with potential contractors, gather information about your home and electricity use. Check your kilowatt-hour usage in all months. And think ahead: If you’re expecting to buy an electric car or planning a home addition, that will change the picture.
8. Seek contractor recommendations from friends and neighbors. And check on companies via the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, which provides solar industry standard certifications.
9. Get at least three bids. Ask each contractor to show proof of licensure, provide references from other local customers, and show they’ve been successful in obtaining building permits and system connections. Each proposal should clearly state the maximum generating capacity of the proposed system—measured in Watts (W) or kilowatts (kW). Also request an estimate of the amount of energy that the system will produce on an annual or monthly basis (measured in kilowatt-hours). This figure is most useful for comparison with your existing utility bills. Bids also should display costs for everything – getting the system up and running, hardware, installation, connection to the grid, permitting and sales tax. Check the system warranty.Most equipment is backed by an industry standard warranty (often 20 years for solar panels and 10 years for inverters).
10. Contact the state electrical board to see if your potential contractor has been subject to judgments or complaints. The Better Business Bureau is another source of information. And make sure you know who’s responsible for maintaining and repairing the system.
I know. It’s a lot. Making the decision on solar is complicated. For more help, go to websites offered by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Maryland Energy Administration. The trick is doing the research and getting someone reliable – a contractor you can trust – to help you make the best possible investment.