The Top 8 Questions Every Homeowner Should Ask Before Going Solar
Looking for solar energy experts to answer some of the following questions:
- What’s the most important thing for a homeowner to consider when choosing a solar panel
- What is the single most important thing homeowners should know about installing solar
- What does the solar installation process look like?
- What is the average cost of adding a solar panel project in the United States?
- Can solar panels eliminate your electricity bills?
- Are solar panels worth it?
- Which brands of solar panels are best?
- Do you recommend installing solar energy storage systems? Why or why not?
And anything else you may think is helpful to homeowners considering purchasing solar panels? More than ever homeowners are more interested in installing solar panels in their homes in order to reduce their electricity bills. But most don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t know what questions they should be asking to make sure that solar is the right choice for them.
Now more than ever, the national and state power grids have gotten weaker. Power outages are now far more common. Some areas face at least one blackout per month on average whereas some are getting them about once every season. Either way, the rate of blackouts is only increasing.
Homeowners want to reduce their electricity bills as well as have power if the local power goes out. There are easy ways to do it, but here are the questions they need to ask first.
1. What’s the most important thing for a homeowner to consider when choosing a solar panel installation company?
Choosing a solar company is more complicated than most people think. Most of the time, a solar sales rep will go to a homeowner’s front door, speak with the owner, and then choose to get solar panels or not. The majority of the time, homeowners are approached by door-to-door reps instead of looking around at companies on their own.
Or if the homeowner looks around on their own there are either very few companies doing installations locally, or there are so many it’s impossible to choose.
The number one thing to ask the solar company is if they are the actual company doing the installation or if they use a contractor to do the installation. Oftentimes, solar companies are only there to get sales, and then they contract out the installation to the lowest bidder. If the solar company is using contractors to do the installation, stay away from that company.
If a solar company hires out the installation it doesn’t necessarily mean that the quality will be poor or that the homeowner won’t get the result they’re looking for. But it does mean that it will likely be at least 6 months until their system gets installed. Sometimes people wait over a year.
The other main issue is if there is an issue with the system, the contractor has to come back to work on it but they are doing more installations and likely do not have the time. That means to get what could be a simple fix done, you could wait over a month or two before someone can come to check it out. They may not even get around to fixing it on that trip, but just diagnose it.
Solar companies that have their own installation team are much faster at getting the project installed and operating sooner. Also, if there is an issue with the system, they are generally much faster at having a technician go out to the house to get it looked at and fixed.
2. What is the single most important thing homeowners should know about installing solar panels?
The single most important thing homeowners need to know about before installing solar panels is that it is a process. It takes a lot of time. Because the vast majority of solar panel installations are on rooftops, there are procedures and permits that must be obtained to proceed.
Not only that, but a detailed analysis of the average power usage within the house needs to be checked to ensure that the proper amount of solar panels is installed. There is a big difference between the house that uses 30 kilowatt-hours of power each day versus the house that uses 100 kilowatt-hours per day. It may not be feasible to offset 100kwh of power usage per day with the roof space and environment.
There is an average of 6 solar peak hours per day in central and southern states in the USA. In order to completely offset the electricity bill, the solar panels must produce a 24hrs worth of power in those 6 hours. If a house uses 100kwh per day, that means the solar panels installed on the roof need to have a total wattage of at least 16.7kw. That is an extremely large system that will take up a lot of space. And if there isn’t that much space on the roof that is facing south, then it’s not possible to offset the entire electricity bill unless the solar panels can be ground mounted facing south with that many watts of solar cells.
It’s not as simple as some people think. Many people see solar panels on the roof of a house and automatically think that the house no longer has to pay for electricity. But that may not be the case. It takes time to analyze all of the data, make the system the proper size, get funding, get permits, get the parts, then finally install the equipment, and lastly waiting for an inspection from the electrical company in order to start saving money.
The average household solar system takes 6 months from the first day of signing papers to getting the inspection done. That means that some people are lucky to get it done in 3 months, and others wait over 12 months before it’s done.
3. What does the solar installation process look like?
The solar installation process varies a little bit from house to house but generally, there are certain things that always happen.
First, the solar sales rep and the homeowner have to determine how many watts of solar panels they will need in order to meet the homeowner’s needs. The homeowner may want to offset their bill, or completely cover it. They may want to reduce their bill by 50% or 100%. In some cases, homeowners want to make a lot more than what they need in order to sell the extra power back to the power company for a small earning or credit.
Second, the solar sales rep will typically do some form of soft credit check in order to find out what kind of financing the homeowner is capable of getting. A small solar installation can easily be at least $30,000 depending on the region. Typically the loans are anywhere from 7 to 35 years in length and try to have the lowest rates possible as long as the homeowner’s credit is good. The homeowner is essentially trading an electricity bill that is guaranteed to increase in price per kilowatt-hour over time. But if they get in on a fixed-rate loan, their price will never go up. That’s the main trade-off. Once they’ve decided on a loan they will begin the process of getting the funding which usually takes a minimum of one month.
Third, the installation of the solar panels will be analyzed and decided on by a solar array tech. They will take measurements of the roof or ground to determine how many solar panels will fit it the designated space and figure out the configuration of the solar panels. Since most roofs are not empty or perfectly free of objects or angle changes, it can be tricky to figure out where solar panels will go.
Fourth, once all of the paperwork has gone through and financing is established, the solar company will either portion out the equipment and solar panels from their warehouse for the installation, or they will let the contractor figure it out on their own. At this stage, they are getting close to doing the installation and are doing an inventory check to make sure they have all the pieces in stock and ready for the installation.
Fifth, the installation team arrives and can generally install the entire system in 1 to 3 days depending on its complexity of it. This will include installing aluminum rails and legs onto the roof or ground in order to attach the solar panels to them. They will usually install microinverters where each solar panel will go to increase the output of each solar panel. Then the solar panels get installed on the rails above each microinverter. Cables will be run to an inverter that is typically mounted in the garage, mud room, or some inconspicuous location. As well a grounding wire will be attached to every solar panel and connected to a ground rod to increase the safety of the system. All the proper connections will be made but it won’t be turned on until the inspection is completed.
Sixth, the electrical company will send a technician to inspect the entire installation and make sure it is up to code. If it is, they will give the “thumbs up” to turn on the system and start reducing or eliminating the electricity bill.
4. What is the average cost of adding a solar panel project in the United States?
The average cost of having solar panels added to a house varies quite a bit. It completely depends on how much the homeowner wants to do and can get financing for. It is not uncommon for an average solar panel installation to range between $60,000 and $90,000.
Just recently a solar rep gave a complete quote to have a solar installation put in on a house that was for an 8,000w inverter, 10,000wh of battery backup, and 8,000w of solar panels. The grand total for the entire system was $72,000. After upfront incentives, the total would be $69,000. The average American household uses 30kwh of power per day. This means this particular household would have about 8 hours of battery backup but would be able to have no electricity bill. However, the monthly loan payment was equal to or higher than their average electricity bill.
Would it really make sense for them to do it? Only the homeowner can truly answer that, but in my opinion, no. They wouldn’t be saving any money until the electricity company increased the electricity rate. And the loan was for 30 years.
As a comparison, another homeowner wanted to go completely off-grid. They wanted to have enough battery backup power and solar panels to never need the electrical company. In their household, they used an average of 105kwh per day. That means they needed a 15,000w inverter at the minimum, at least 100kwh of battery capacity, and at least 25kw of solar panels. A system like that easily costs over $250,000 to have a local solar company install it. Is being off-grid really worth much? Again, only the homeowner can say for themselves, but in my opinion, no.
Where it makes a lot of sense for people to go solar is where electricity costs are very high. They need enough roof space facing south and live in a fairly sunny region. In those cases, it’s quite easy to completely eliminate the electricity bill. But even still, without a battery backup installed, there will be no electricity in the home if the grid power is down. So it only serves to save on electricity if there is no battery backup.
5. Can solar panels eliminate your electricity bills?
Solar panels can absolutely eliminate the electricity bill. It simply needs to be sized properly. It’s best to take at minimum that lasts 12 months of electricity bills and check the monthly power usage. Then build the solar array based on the month with the highest electrical usage. This will help ensure that when more power is needed, the solar panels are gathering enough to completely power everything easily. Then in the months when less energy is used, the electrical company will either give a check for the value of the extra energy provided that they sold to other households, or a credit to offset your house’s electricity bill. Learn more about net metering here.
6. Are solar panels worth it?
Generally speaking, solar panels are worth it. But not every house works great for solar. Houses in the northern states will have a lot more difficulty making enough power from their solar panels because the northern states face more cloudy days than the southern states. The closer to the equator, the better the weather for solar panels, generally. That means if you’re in a northern state you’ll want to over-size the solar system to account for cloudy weather. It’s not uncommon for poor weather to be around for 2 weeks or more where the sun hardly shines. As long as you can get enough sun exposure, and you’re not paying more than you’re currently paying, then it’s worth it.
7. Which brands of solar panels are best?
There are many brands of solar panels available. Some of the most recognized high-quality cells are SunPower, Panasonic, REC, Q Cell, Silfab, Trina, Jinko, Canadian Solar, and AXITEC. This doesn’t mean that if the solar panels are not from one of these companies they are of poor quality. These companies simply have a long track record of making high-quality cells. Other brands may be just as good but not have been around as long and are creating the exact same solar panel with the same cells.
Regardless of the brand, it is best to stay away from polycrystalline (blue) solar cells. They are older technology and work fine but the amount of watts produced per square inch is much less than monocrystalline cells. Monocrystalline (black) cells are much more efficient and so they need fewer square inches to make the same amount of power as polycrystalline. Also, monocrystalline cells will produce more energy in poor weather conditions.
8. Do you recommend installing solar energy storage systems? Why or why not?
I highly recommend installing solar energy storage systems with solar panel installation. This means adding batteries to have as backup power. Most people do not understand that if you have solar panels on the roof of your house and no battery that when the grid power is out, you will not have power either. The reason for this is, is because when solar panels on your roof are making energy, they will likely make more than the house needs to use. The excess energy gets sent through the power lines back to the electrical company substation and then sent to another house for them to use it.
If there’s a power outage, usually there will be power line workers, and linemen, working to fix whatever caused the power outage. Since there is no electricity moving between the substation and your house, as well as all of the other houses without power, he cannot get electrocuted. But if your solar panels are sending energy through the lines back to the substation, and he starts working on that line, it can easily have enough energy to electrocute or kill the lineman. That is why if the grid is down, and you don’t have batteries, you don’t have power either.
Having batteries added to your solar panel array will mean that any excess power will go to your batteries, and not back to the grid. You must have a different kind of inverter installed which is called a “hybrid inverter.” This ensures that you still get to use power from your batteries when the power is out. It makes it possible for solar panels to recharge their batteries. And makes sure that no excess energy is going into the power lines to shock anyone working during the power outage.
Most people believe that since they have solar panels, they will automatically have power in their house when the power is out. That is only the case if you get batteries as well.
One option most people do not consider is a solar generator backup system like what is found at PoweredPortableSolar.com. The reason these are so great is they are generally much less than $30,000. They can have enough battery capacity to run all of the essential devices and appliances in a house for blackouts and emergencies. And they can recharge with solar panels
in a single day while still running that equipment. If someone is not entirely concerned about their electricity bill but wants backup power that only takes the push of a button to get, then backup solar generators and power stations are great options.
Getting solar panels installed on a house is an incredible idea and a wonderful benefit to many people’s budgets and lifestyles. But, most people don’t know what they don’t know. That is why they need to look at these top 8 questions every homeowner should ask before going solar.
After going through these questions, you understand that the process can take a very long time, it can absolutely reduce their electricity bill, and they may want to get a backup battery to go with their system. The best way to learn more about portable solar panels is by contacting Powered Portable Solar today.