Solar Roof Shopping? Things You Should Know

September 17 | Guest post by Aurora
Is that a solar panel, or is your roof just happy to see me? © by mararie, used under Creative Commons license.

I don't know about the rest of the country, but in Massachusetts, green is the new black. The state continues to offer rebates and special deals for folks who decide to put solar paneling on their roofs to help the environment. But as I learned, it's not one-size-fits-all shopping. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Why do I want a solar roof?
Are you looking to become more environmentally conscious, or are you looking to save money? Both are great reasons to go a head and get a solar roof, but you need to keep in mind that a) not all houses can hold a solar roof, b) whether or not the solar roof will add to or detract from the value of your home if/when you sell, and c) what your current electric bill is and what it will be after the solar panels are installed.

Will my house hold a solar roof?
Solar roofs are designed to last twenty or more years, and your roof needs to be facing toward the sun in order for you to even consider having solar panels installed. A solar panel company wants to make sure that they are getting their investment back, especially if a rebate or deal is involved, so they're going to want to make sure that the roof is sturdy enough or new enough to hold the weight of the panels.

With my home, which is over 150 years old, there were several construction snafus that would have made it cost prohibitive to install panels. It wasn't until recently that construction work was standardized, so many older homes are built outside of modern standards and would need a major overhaul to make solar panels feasible. Also, a lot of older homes in my area were turned into duplex homes for renting, meaning there are two separate electric meters which will have to be put onto one meter for the solar panels.

Will a solar roof add to or detract from the value of my home?
This depends on the area that you live in and the type of home you have. Many people aren't going to like the look of solar panels on a classic Victorian home, but people generally don't mind the look so much on a home that was just built. Do you live in a more progressive area where things like recycling and bicycling are popular? Solar panels may be a great fit. Also, how long will you be staying in your home? If you plan on selling in a few years and if you live in a more conservative area, solar panels may make your home more difficult to sell. Remember — the company is looking to have these on your roof for 20+ years.

What is my electric bill now, and how much will it go down after the solar panels are installed?
Your mileage may vary, but in my case, I'd only be saving about $10 per month on my electric bill. If cost is your driving factor, here's where the age of the home comes into play. A newer home that needs little to no construction and that would look more aesthetically pleasing with solar panels may be worth the installation. If your home is older, then how many months of $10 savings are going to make up for the construction cost? If you're on a tight budget, $10 savings may be perfect. But for me, little tricks like using energy efficient bulbs and sticking all your cords on a power strip and then unplugging said power strip while not in use could probably save that $10 without the installation costs. The only things that I regularly keep plugged in are the DVR, fridge, stove, and microwave.

So, in short: if you're looking to be more environmentally friendly, you have the cash to spend, and you plan on staying in your home long-term or live in an area where a solar roof would be a boon, solar panels are something you may want to consider. If you're looking to save costs but live in an older home, you may want to consider other life hacks to save on your electric bill. Good luck, and happy hunting!

  1. Along with what the potential savings is, if you are looking at it to save money you need to look at how long it would take for it to pay for itself. If you are putting solar panels on a house that you are in the middle of building, it won't take as long. Especially with the other energy saving elements that can go into most homes. But if it is on an older home (even just 15-20 years older) it can take a while to recoup the cost of just the installation. That doesn't include any modifications that may be needed on your home. Depending on how energy friendly your home already is it can take anywhere from 20-200 years (Yes, 200 years!) to save enough money from solar panels to recover your initial investment. If your house is still really drafty and has bad wiring, it is a loss either way.

    If you are doing it to help the environment, then money doesn't matter. Or at least as much.

    I am just putting this out there. I love the idea of solar panels and wind turbines (since I am from WY this is a VERY popular option). But keep everything in mind before you decide to do it.

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    • Cost for solar voltaic systems are REALLY going down compared to even just a few years ago.

      In Wisconsin the rebates are so good that it only takes about 5-7 years to recover your investment. After that it's all money in the bank (plus the feeling that you're part of the solution… making a difference, etc…)

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  2. WOW! solar roof shopping is a trend now on internet. I was just looking for this kinda info and found the right one's here :)

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  3. In southern California–especially inland–it can be a very good option. My folks had it done to their home (build in the 70s) about a year-and-a-half ago. They lease their panels (about $120/month) and now get an annual bill from local electricity company. Since they were averaging $120/month in electricity in the winter (well over $300 in the summer) before the installation, it works in their favor. Their annual bill is less than $100.

    We moved into a new build and had ours installed with the house–since we just moved in, I'm not sure what the savings will be, but a lot of the new builds are including solar panels as inexpensive options.

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  4. UHF! Also, I've been dreaming of solar panels (though I'm not a home owner) and as a lover of older houses, this has really helped me learn what kind of questions to ask.

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  5. I don't know much about buying solar panels, so I got confused by the part where you said the company will want their investment back. Do you not buy the panels? And even if you're renting them from the company, how would they not get their investment back if you're paying them rental fees?

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    • Jen – in MA, where I live, they offer a lot of discounts on the solar panels through the state – i.e., the solar panels themselves will be free, but the installation is what you pay for. What happens with solar panels is that the electric company (National Grid) gets the extra electricity that you don't use and that's how they recoup the cost of free solar panels. I hope that clears up things for you!

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      • This is interesting because it works differently in Southern California. Here, there are separate companies that sell or lease the panels to you. These companies will install the panels for you and, if you lease the panels, they'll also do any maintenance on them. Once installed, you register the panels with the electricity company (in this case, Southern California Edison, SCE) who gets all the electricity and credits your account for the electricity your panels generate.

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        • Thanks for the info! I'll have to find out the what situation is in Ohio. :)

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        • If you live in an area that credits your bill for power, remember that it's probably wholesale prices.

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  6. We are having the following problem in Australia…

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/breaking-news/solar-panel-feed-in-tariffs-slammed/story-fn3dxiwe-1226476663040

    My parents got a government funded rebate to assist them in getting the solar panels. Pay an inflated price (due to rebate) and then the additional installation fees charged by contractors. Batteries weren't allowed under the contract they signed so what ever the house isn't using it gets fed back to the grid. They are under this contract until 2016, selling excess to the grid for 4 cents per kilowatt hour then getting charged at night for 13 cents per kilowatt hour.

    The government is putting forward these changes so that once individual contracts end it then becomes open slather and they can essentially charge what they like.

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    • Whoa nelly, that is messed up! I work for one of the largest energy retailers in Aus, but have been on maternity leave for the last 3 months. We were waiting on QLD gov to announce changes (every other state already had) but that proposal would make QLD the worst state to have solar, by a lot! Regarding the 2016 contract expiry, my understanding was that the government had to honour their contracted buyback (44c) until that date for anyone who had solar panels installed before the cut off. Your parents could call their electricity retailer to check on that, a lot can change in 3 months! Still, I would have thought that the government would be contractually obliged to follow through.

      Hope that helps!

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  7. I work for an electricity retailer in Australia, and see a lot of customers extremely frustrated at the change (or lack of) that having solar panels installed made to their bills. I'm not sure how it works in other countries, but in Aus you buy your panels and pay to have them installed by a solar company. Once they are connected your meter keeps track of how much power is fed back into the grid, and the government pays you a certain amount per kWh. There are 2 types of solar metering, net and gross. NSW only offers gross metering, which means that all power generated by your solar panels is fed back to the grid. Consequently the buy back amounts in NSW are comparatively small. In other states you have the option of gross, but systems are automatically configured to net. In net solar metering household consumption is met first (lowering consumption from the grid) and anything left over is fed back into the grid. Net solar metering has better buyback incentives than gross.

    The type of metering you have, as well as the number, capacity, placement and quality of the panels and weather all affect the benefit to your bills. You could have a 1kW, 5kW or 10kW system but if there is significant cloud cover you won't generate much. Worth taking into consideration!

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  8. I live in Ontario (waaay up in Canada;), and my best friend works for our hydro service provider (province wide, called Hydro One). I understood that the power that's generated through solar panels is sold back to the hydro company and put in "the grid" (no clue what that means). So basically, if you have solar panels, it's not power that gets used in your own home. I always had this vision of living off the grid with solar panels powering my home. Sadly, not so. Also, she tells me that the cost to purchase and install solar panels is so high that most people do it on credit. Often, by the time they are able to pay them off, they're obsolete/old and need to be replaced. The only people that can make it worth having them are usually farmers that have a lot of space and the capital to be able to purchase them outright. The lifespan of the panels and your roof, as mentioned, are concerns as well. I live in the country and see many farms with multiple panels right on the ground as they have the space. Makes me wonder if it's more worthwhile to have multiple large panels. Again, this must mean these people have the capital to purchase and install the panels. I think from all the work and money that's required to get started with solar panels, I'd prefer to maintain the items in my home that save me money – efficient bulbs, proper weather sealing on doors, solid window frames, window film that preserves beat or cool, etc.

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