You’ve done your initial research and are ready to have the freedom of solar energy independence by getting solar panels for your home. To see if going green is in your future, read our guide for everything you need to know about solar panels for your home. We’ll answer all your frequently asked questions about home solar panels, from parts to cost and financing to installation.
Main components of home solar power systems
Getting solar panels for your home involves several elements. The panels themselves are the most obvious, but several other parts are essential to a home solar energy system. Here are the features that make up a home solar panel network, along with a brief explanation of each:
- Panels: The rectangular units made of photovoltaic (PV) cells that absorb sunlight and convert it into direct current (DC) electricity. The average home will need around 20 solar panels.
- Inverter: A large box-like structure that converts the DC into alternating current (AC) electricity. AC is what we use to power our homes. Like solar panels, the size of an inverter is measured in kilowatts and should correlate to the size of your solar panels that you select. The physical dimensions are usually less than half of the size of a single panel but can still weigh several hundred pounds. Your installer can advise you on the appropriate inverter for your system. If your inverter is too small, you risk wasting solar energy.
- Mounting racks (fixed or adjustable): As their name suggests, fixed racks mount the panels to your roof at a set angle, while adjustable racks allow the panels to be manipulated to take advantage of the sun as it moves across the sky. Both of these options are retrofitting the panels to your roof. However, a third option, the solar shingles made famous by Tesla, are different in that they do not retrofit your roof but rather replace your existing roof.
- Battery: A large lithium-ion battery is an optional addition to your solar system that allows you to save excess energy for use during off-peak times. Other battery types are available; however, lithium-ion batteries last the longest.
Purchasing solar panels for your home
Purchasing solar panels for your home is arguably the most crucial step on your path to getting solar for your home. When going through the buying process, you’ll want a plan for the budget of your solar panels and how you are going to buy them. We will explain your options below.
How much do solar panels cost?
The average price of a solar panel system for your home is $15,000-$25,000, but that price has been steadily declining in recent years. Solar costs are getting cheaper across the board as solar technology advances and more companies join the solar manufacturing industry. Declining costs, coupled with the growing popularity of solar and limited-time federal tax incentives, make now the perfect season to get solar panels for your home.
However, if you’re considering spending several thousand dollars on a home improvement project like solar panels, you’re probably wondering when you will earn back the money you invested. For buyers wanting to know when they will break even, the good news is your solar system could end up paying for itself in as few as six years. Your payback period could differ depending on the size of your solar panel system and state incentives, among other factors.
Even though the breakeven point for your solar system may be a few years away, you’ll begin seeing returns on your investment almost immediately in the form of savings on your electric bills. Your monthly electric bill could be virtually free if your system is optimized to provide 100% of your home’s energy needs. With the average annual U.S. residential electricity costs in the ballpark of $1,500 per year, that’s enough for an extra family vacation.
And as a bonus, adding solar to your home can increase the value of your home by about $15,000 and is a unique selling point that more homebuyers are seeking. Take a look at our state guides for California, Florida. North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia for additional information about solar panels in your area.
Paying for solar panels for your home
Paying for solar panels for your home has several options. So, whether you are looking to pay upfront or need more flexibility, financing options are available for households with different financial situations.
Consider the three types of purchasing options for solar panels and the pros and cons of each:
- Owning is when you buy the complete solar system upfront. While this is cost-heavy on the front end, owning your solar system can give you the most bang for your buck. Financing, or taking out a solar loan, is also an option if you want to own your energy system but would rather pay in installments. (And if you’re wondering if homeowners insurance covers solar panels, the answer is yes, it usually does.) Owning allows you to take advantage of the solar investment tax credit (ITC) of up to 26% deduction on your federal taxes. But act fast because the tax credit goes away in 2024.
- Leasing is when you pay monthly installments for your system and either return it or buy it at the end of the lease. Most solar leases last about 20 years and don’t require an upfront payment but are not eligible for the ITC.
- Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) is when a solar developer builds a system on your property and sells you the solar energy at a reduced rate. A power purchase agreement takes all the responsibility of designing and maintaining the system off of the homeowner.
Pro and cons of solar panels for your home
Solar panels are an investment in your energy future, however there are a couple of pros and cons to consider. One major benefit is the financial rewards of net-metering and Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs).
Net metering refers to the billing credits you can earn toward your monthly energy costs by adding solar energy to the local power grid. SRECs (also referred to as Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) let people that own their solar systems earn money from selling energy certificates to the utility. This process helps utilities meet their quota for renewable energy use.
A drawback of solar panels on your home is that the panels will degrade and become less efficient over many years, so they will eventually need to be replaced.
Solar panel home installation process
The installation part of getting solar for your home can be exciting but also overwhelming. We can make the process less stressful by giving you a good idea of what to expect. The entire solar installation typically takes between one and four days. That’s right, going green can take less than a week and have a lifetime of benefits.
How many solar panels will I need?
An initial question many homeowners have is, “how many solar panels will I need on my house?” As you will see below, various aspects go into the math to find the answer. Working with a qualified installer for a reliable quote is the easiest way to find the sweet spot for how many panels your roof needs. Consider these components of your solar panel system that can influence the number of solar panels your home will need:
- The dimensions of the solar panel: The universal standard size of one residential solar panel is about 65” by 39”, although measurements can vary slightly between manufacturers. Put another way, a single panel is about the size of a 75” TV or a twin mattress.
- The wattage of the solar panel: Different types of panels produce different amounts of wattage, and the higher-producing panels are more expensive. Plus, any solar panel will lose efficiency as time goes on, although they last about 25 years.
- Your home’s energy consumption: The average home uses about 1,000 kWh per month. Take a look at your past several months of electricity bills to see an average of how much kWh your home uses.
- Storage options: Many solar panel owners have a battery to store their energy for use during off-peak hours. If you have a reliable battery system, you may not need as many panels.
- Roof size and shape: Your installer can also assess your roof to determine how to place the solar panels. If your roof is a unique shape or has a particularly shady area, the installer may want to avoid that area in the installation so that you can get maximum efficiency from your panels.
- Shade and average sunlight: Again, your home’s natural shade and also the average amount of sunlight your area receives can impact the number of solar panels you need at your home.
So as you can see, it’s tough to calculate the exact number of panels you need without advice from an installer who has firsthand knowledge of your specific needs from a house visit and assessment.
However, solar panels don’t necessarily have to go on your roof. Homeowners can also choose to have solar panels installed on the ground. However, this option is more typically seen in large-scale installations in wide open spaces, such as solar farms.
Steps to getting solar panels on your home
You probably want to know more about the whole experience of getting solar panels on your home. Here’s what you can expect:
- A solar expert will visit your home. This person may take measurements of your roof and assess the structural integrity of your home and roof.
- The solar representative can also discuss the best panel options, including panel type, placement, and the number of panels based on what you are looking to get out of your solar energy system.
- You will receive a final estimate for the solar system, including material and labor. You can then schedule a time for installation.
- Physical installation occurs, which typically takes less than a week. Some installations are completed in just one day!
- If you’ve purchased your system, the only follow-up is to make sure that you claim your solar ITC deduction at tax time.
Type of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and amorphous
There are three main types of solar panels, with their own set of pros and cons. Each type of solar panel is made from a semiconductor called silicon. Your solar installer can help you select the best kind of panel based on your budget and solar needs.
- Monocrystalline solar panels are made from a unified piece of silicon. These are the most compact and efficient type of solar panel. They are also the most expensive and typically last about 25-30 years.*
- Polycrystalline solar panels are a composite of multiple pieces of silicon. They are slightly larger and less efficient than monocrystalline, but they also come at a cheaper price. They last about 25 years as well.
- Amorphous solar panels are made of a thin layer of silicon on top of a supporting material, like plastic or glass. These are the largest and least efficient type of panel. However, amorphous panels are beneficial because they perform better in low light. Their lifespan is about 10 years.
*Solar panels don’t stop working once they reach their anticipated lifespan. Instead, most solar panels will slowly degrade over time and become less efficient.
Solar panels for home vs. business
Like many technologies, the history of solar energy can be traced to U.S. military use in its early years. Nowadays, both residential and business entities have considered the many benefits of solar panels.
At the core, residential and commercial solar panels work in similar ways. If you’ve ever driven past a solar farm, which is popular in states like California and North Carolina, you may have seen these 6.5’ x 3’ oversized solar panels. Commercial panels are more efficient and produce more power due to their larger size and higher wattage. Of course, commercial panels are also more expensive than their residential counterparts.
Home solar panels FAQs
If I have solar panels, am I still connected to the grid?
Yes, you are still connected to the grid when you have solar panels. The power grid will give you power during times of lower solar energy, and the homeowner benefits from net-metering. Net-metering gives you credits on your electricity bill when you supply energy from your solar panels back to the power grid. It’s a win-win situation.
Will solar panels power my entire home?
Solar panels can supply power to your entire home. A qualified solar installer can help make sure you are getting the most out of your solar installation.
Can I DIY my solar panels?
While technically it is possible to install your solar panels without the help of a professional installer, we do not recommend it. Solar panels must be installed according to specifications to work at peak performance.
What if I use natural gas in my home?
You can still benefit from solar panels on your home, even if you use natural gas in your home. However, you will see a greater benefit if you use all electric appliances.
Will my electric bill be $0?
The coolest thing, pun intended, about solar panels for your home is that it is entirely possible to get a zero-dollar monthly electricity bill due to net-metering credits, which allow you to give energy back to the power grid when you have extra.You can also invest in a battery for solar storage. And as an added safety net, you are still connected to the power grid if you do need energy outside of your solar system.
Can I get solar panels for free?
You can get solar panels for free by entering into a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). With a PPA, a developer installs solar panels on your home, but you do not spend money on the system. The developer then sells you the solar energy at a reduced kWh rate.
What happens to my solar panels if I move?
The good news is homes with solar panels sell quicker and for more money. You can also elect to take your solar panels with you to your new home for an added cost.
What are the disadvantages of solar panels?
Most solar panels last 25 years or more, but eventually the panels will lose efficiency and need to be replaced. Because panels are made with elements and chemicals that need to be disposed of properly, it is a good idea to have either the manufacturer or a solar recycling company handle this process.
Do I need a solar battery for storage with my solar panels?
Batteries are not a necessity for a home solar panel system. They can add several thousand dollars to the cost. However, many homeowners opt for solar batteries to save their excess energy and be more energy independent.