When you sell homes every day, no one needs to tell you what a bonus green energy-saving items are. Everyone is concerned with maximizing energy efficiency, both to save costs and to minimize environmental concerns. Adding solar energy to a home is a great way to do both.
Solar panels can cut down on the carbon dioxide a home uses by nearly 36,000 pounds annually. Since carbon dioxide emissions are the prime contributor to greenhouse gases and global warming, that’s a green benefit to be proud of. It makes installing solar panels the environmental equivalent of planting 88 trees.
You should do some pre-planning to make sure solar energy will fit into your current environment, needs and budget. Here are 10 questions to ask about making your home solar.
1. How much sun can your solar panels receive? Generally, solar energy panels need sun from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day. This does not mean you need bright sunshine, however. It means sunlight should be able to hit your panels between these hours. Does a chimney block part of the available roof space? Do trees? Do other buildings? If so, have a solar panel installer give you an estimate of whether your roof is a good candidate for solar power.
Solar panels receive sun not only from the sky, but also from insolation — the degree of solar radiation the ground receives during a given span of time. This varies according to region. A solar installer will be able to give you an estimate.
2. How much roof space is available for panels? If the roof already has roof vents or skylights, there may not be room for the number of panels needed to give you significant energy. In addition to figuring costs, an estimate can be helpful to determine if your roof is suitable for solar panel installation.
3. What types of shingles do you have? Solar panels are most commonly used on asphalt or composite shingles. If you have other types — wood, Spanish tile or metal — it is still possible to place solar panels on them, but it may be more expensive.
4. When will your roof need to be replaced? If you have 15 to 30 years left on your roof, all systems are go. Most solar panels last 20 to 30 years, with less than 0.05 percent depreciation of energy conversion each year. Most warranties last 10 to 15 years.
If your roof will need major work or replacement in 5 years, though, it makes no financial sense for you to be installing solar panels on top of it. It will be expensive to remove solar panels to work on the roof, and they could be damaged to boot. Wait until you have a new roof to put in solar.
5. How much energy do you need? You need to have a good sense of how much energy you use in a year. Either add the kilowatts from the past year’s bills or keep tabs as you go forward. Don’t look selectively at certain months since energy needs change depending on the weather. You’ll need a year to have a good sense to how many kilowatts you need for your energy needs. Then, you can also calculate how much energy savings you can expect.
6. Will your energy needs change in the future? Remember to factor in changes in your life that could cause changes in energy consumption. Are you planning to have a child? That’s likely to result in more energy usage. Do you have two teenagers who will be leaving home in five years? That’s likely to lead to less.
Also, it’s important to consider how your home’s appliances and extras will age. Old appliances can use excessive amounts of energy that may negate your energy savings from solar panels. Energy inefficient doors can account for more than 20 percent of a home’s energy loss. Ultimately, if you want to add solar panels, you should consider your budget for future energy upgrades in your home.
7. Do you live in a house or apartment unit? Do you rent or own? If you own a house, you are free to plan the addition of solar power. If you own an apartment unit, you’ll need to see whether the building allows solar panels. If you rent any size dwelling, solar panels are not in the cards. The owner could install them, but not a renter.
8. What are the permits required? Municipal and state permits vary tremendously by locality. Some require several feet of clearance around the panels. Some will let you build to the edge. It is imperative you know before you engage a contractor. Otherwise, you might be forced to tear down the panels and build again. Check that your electrical systems will be up to code once the installation is complete as well.
9. When can you begin to enjoy the benefits of solar power? Be sure to ask your installer and do research about when the benefits of having solar panels will flow through to your house and your bottom line. However, when factoring in the time it can take to gather the construction and any building permits required, the installation can take from several weeks to several months.
10. What is the total cost of installing solar panels? Luckily, the cost of installing solar panels dropped by roughly 60 percent between 2011 and 2014, according to Forbes. The cost on average is currently $17,000.
Remember that the cost of installing solar panels is offset by a number of tax breaks. Through 2016, there is a Federal Investment Tax Credit that can reduce the costs of installation by up to 30 percent. A number of states and localities also offer tax credits or offsets. It is worth doing research to make sure you obtain the maximum benefit from any tax credits.
Some localities and companies also offer rebates for installing solar panels. Again, be sure to ask about any benefits or rebates that are paired with the installation of solar panels.
Solar panels will not add to your property taxes. Additional taxes are levied by size — so a larger garage or another room may result in higher taxes. Solar panels do not add to the size of your home, so there are no property tax worries.
When crunching the numbers for the cost of solar panels, remember that solar panels will add to the resale value of any home — especially as green energy becomes more and more important.
Few household improvements do more to cut energy costs, make a house green and increase resale value than installing solar panels. With these questions asked and answered, you’ll be all set to embark on adding solar power to your home.
Megan Wild is a home improvement writer who specializes in renewable energy and the options for homeowners. Check out more of her tips on her blog, Your Wild Home.