Solar energy applications have been around for decades, but residential and small business solar have only recently hit the mainstream tipping point. Getting the chance to be a pioneer by installing rooftop solar is exciting, but it can also be overwhelming and you may not know how to get started. Your friends and connections can probably recommend good contractors to tile your bathroom, but they may not have any experience hiring a company to install solar panels.
For homeowners who are thrilled to upgrade to solar but are nervous about the actual process, here are a few tips that will help you feel like a savvy solar customer in no time.
Optimize for Energy Efficiency First
In order to get the most out of your PV solar system, it’s important to get an energy audit to see where you’re wasting energy. Replace inefficient appliances, windows, and light bulbs. You’ll also want to add insulation, caulking, and weather stripping where necessary to increase energy efficiency. Don’t get hasty and invest in a solar system until you’ve tightened your energy load. Reducing your energy consumption means you’ll need fewer solar panels to cover your electricity needs.
Your Roof Needs to Be in Good Shape
The average lifespan of an asphalt roof is about 20 to 25 years. A typical solar system can perform that long—if not longer. If your roof is 15 years or older, you may want to think about re-roofing before you install roof-mounted PV panels. Your solar installer will inspect your roof, discuss your options with you, and provide a recommendation.
The Incentives Won’t Last Forever
The federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) currently allows you to deduct 30 percent of your solar installation costs from your taxes. It applies to both residential and commercial projects, but only until 2020, when it lowers to 26 percent and will continue to decrease. It was originally supposed to expire at the end of 2016, so take advantage of the extended opportunity to claim this incentive. Depending on where you live, you may be able to take advantage of state, local, and utility incentives that can speed up your solar payback.
Is Net Metering Available in Your Area?
Part of what allows for incredible savings with solar is that, in many circumstances, you can sell the excess energy back to the public power grid. This offsets the costs of going solar and prevents excess solar energy that you aren’t using from going to waste. Check the net metering policies in your area and make sure this is an option so you can further offset your solar investment.
How Experienced Is Your Installer?
You want a solar installer you can trust to protect your home during the installation process, design your system to be as productive as possible, be familiar with all the permits and incentives qualifications, and be there to provide decades of support for your system. Additionally, you want to hire someone who is communicative and willing to offer references. Different states require different licenses and insurance, so make sure your installer is willing to furnish these documents.
What Are Your Financing Options?
Carefully review various finance options before you make a commitment. There are many options available, and there are advantages to each choice depending on personal factors. But the best way to get the most benefits from your solar system is to purchase it. You can take advantage of incentives that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise—for instance, if you chose to lease your system instead. Don’t have the up-front cash to purchase? No worries—you can take out a solar loan to buy your system and still reap the benefits of solar ownership.
Read and Understand Your Contract
Your contract should include a payment plan that you can clearly understand, as well as any additional fees and charges. You should know what maintenance is covered, how long the panels are warrantied, and who will take responsibility if any damage occurs during installation. And last but not least, you should have a performance guarantee that outlines how much energy your system will produce, and how an underperforming system will be addressed.
When done thoughtfully, converting to solar is a positive, exciting, responsible investment that will change your life and allow you to take ownership of your electricity use and your impact on our planet.
Hannah West writes for Modernize with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence. In addition to her focus on home improvement, she has a young adult novel, Kingdom of Ash and Briars, debuting in fall 2016.