For many homeowners, the decision to go solar is a two-part process. The first is the financial side: Will the Return on Investment (ROI) pay for itself and reduce or eliminate electric bills? Assuming the answer is “Yes” , then here’s the next part of the process.
How does solar work? Multiple panels are wired together into a solar array. When sunlight hits the panels, the energy is converted into usable electricity. Your home consumes the electricity produced by the system. The solar array connects to the local grid, so you receive electricity when panels aren’t producing enough or any electricity. The grid also stores any excess solar energy you produce and through “Net Metering”, ensures you get credit for all of the electricity your systems creates whether you consume it immediately or send it to the grid and use it later.
Is my roof good for solar? Adequate sunlight is key. Solar panels won’t work for rooftops heavily shaded by trees or adjacent structures. Other roadblocks include insufficient roof space, a complex roof design, or the age and slope of your roof. Typically, solar panels perform best on south-facing roofs with a slope between 15 and 40 degrees. However, east and west-facing roods also work. The Sun Number score ranks the suitability of a structure’s rooftop on a scale of one to 100. The higher the number, the better suited a home is for solar.
My roof is kind of old. Does that matter? Yes. Your roof should be less than 10 years old or if it’s a roof with a longer lasting material such as tile or slate, have at least 10 years of life left. It should also be in good to excellent condition because if your have to replace your roof for any reason other than insured storm damage, it’s expensive to uninstall and then reinstall the panels and frames.
Are all solar panels alike? Although panels operate similarly, the key difference is efficiency: how much sunlight they convert into energy. Typically, high efficiently panels come with a higher price tag but produce more electricity over the life of the system. If you have a smaller roof, you may opt for more efficient panels. Those with a larger roof may also choose high efficiency panels to use fewer of them. Consumers should look for panels that are at least 20% efficient or more.
What is degradation? Degradation is a measurement of how much efficiency is lost over time. Panels should retain 80% to 90% of their efficiency over 25 years.
Do panels work in all climates? Panels produce more energy on clear, sunny days in the spring, summer and fall but even on winter’ shortest days or during rainstorms the panels will generate some electricity. Although a snow-covered panel can’t generate electricity, snow doesn’t stick too long to the steep, slick panels.
Are solar panels easily damaged? They are built to withstand wind, hill, snow, and torrential rain. In fact, the biggest problem is not hail or storms but squirrels that chew the wires.
How do I find an installer? Ask friends, neighbors and family who have gone solar about their experiences. Check review websites such as EnergySage, SolarReviews, ConsumerAffairs, and Verified Reviews. When looking for at reviews, make sure you are comparing your roof with ones of a similar material (slate, tile and shingle).
What am I seeking? You want a company that has been in the business for a long time and is going to see the process through from beginning to end. Avoid those selling solar energy systems installed aby a third party. These are intermediaries that hire contractors and bear nor responsibility for installation quality or performance. You want one that seats the details. For example, the installer should discreetly hide the conduit from the panels on the roof to the battery storage unit in the garage to maintain your home’s aesthetic qualities.
What questions should I ask?
Will I hear false claims? Walk away when you hear these types of statements:
How do I make sure companies are legitimate? Verify certifications and state and local licensing and if companies belong to Solar Energy Industries Association. Are they certified? Certified installers must have a background in energy efficient technologies, have installation training and have been part of the decision-making process for a variety of installation projects before applying for the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners PV Installer Specialist exam. Make sure it is someone who you like and feels trustworthy, then verify the information they gave you.
How long is the installation process? Typically, from the time you agree on terms to the installation it takes two to three months. Installation takes one to three days depending on the size of your home and either you opt to add battery storage and/or electric vehicle charger. After your panels are installed, there may be a post-installation inspection, then the utility company will connect you to the grid.
What kind of warranties are included? Your installation should come with three warranties: product, performance and labor. Product warranties cover potential defects in your equipment. Performance warranties guarantee that your panels won’t degrade by more than a certain percentage per year and will still produce a minimum percentage of their initial rated capacity for a set number of years. Both of these warranties would be for 25 to 30 years. A labor warranty covers the installer’s work including electrical wiring and roof damage. These typically run 3 to 10 years. In general, a well-known manufacturer that has been in business a long time will be able to honor a warranty.
Any add-ons I should consider? With the instability of our power grid, more consumers are asking for battery storage as a way to generate and safe their own power. The right-size solar system will recharge your batteries every day. At sundown, the batteries then power your home, drawing less electricity from your power company. And should the utility grid go down, solar continues to work so you can use your battery to power your basic home electrical needs such as lights, refrigerator, or designated outlets.
Do solar panels require maintenance? Not really. They don’t need to be washed; rain and snow will do the job. If you live in a dry and dusty area, an occasional professional cleaning may improve performance.
Where can I find more unbiased information? Both Solar United Neighbors and the U.S. Energy Department offer helpful guides and fact sheets. SUN’s Go Solar Guide and the Energy Department’s Homeowner’s Guide to Going Solar offer an intro to what people should know as they start researching. The Solar Owner’s Manual offers in-depth information for prospective and current solar owners. For a deeper dive, read about solar panel basics and how solar works. SUN’s Batter Storage Guide is comprehensive review of batter technology and economics.
Freelancers, the self-employed and those who depend on tips or commissions can have a great-paying month or a bad one which leaves us vulnerable. The best advise is to plan ahead as much as possible. Here are some tips for managing money when paycheck fluctuates: Step 1 - Build an emergency fund. First, fortify your finances to make sure you are prepared for a disaster. Even before paying down high-interest credit card debt or chipping away at student loans. If you have been able to save a little cash over the past year, your emergency fund should be your top priority. The rule of thumb is we should save nine months's worth of living and health care expenses in an emergency fund. If Covid-19 in 2020 has taught us anything, it's the importance of saving an emergency fund. It's more than the standard recommendation of three to six months' worth to cover expenses in a month we don't get paid as much. One program to help jump-start a savings habit is saverlife.org. Step 2 - Tackle high-interest debt. This is not the most glamorous path but it is the one that will offer by far the highest returns. Consider paying down or off any extra money toward debt with interest of around 6% or higher. Carrying high-interest debt makes the magic of compound interest work against you. The more money you owe, the more interest you owe.
Step 3 - Budget what you spend. Irregular income means that we must live below our means. Because we don't know our income for a given month, we must construct our budget around baseline/necessity spending such as housing, utilities, food, insurance and transportation and a monthly amount for annual bills such as property taxes. As app that tracts spending such as Mint or Personal Capital can help us estimate. Step 4 - Create a steady paycheck by setting up separate accounts for deposits and spending. Deposit paychecks into one account and pay yourself a "salary" that covers expenses.