There is something undeniably appealing about having solar panels installed on your roof. They bring a sense of modernism, of independence and of environmentalism. The decision to go solar is an exciting one, but it should be done with the foresight of the pitfalls that others have made before you. If you go about the process correctly, you too can feel the thrill of seeing your electricity bill dwindle or, if you have an older energy meter, actually watching the meter go in reverse as you sell excess electricity to the grid!
Solar is sexy, energy efficiency is not, that’s just the way it is. But if you are thinking of having solar panels installed on your house, you would be wise to reduce the amount of energy you use in the first place. A home energy audit by a certified professional (with a BPI Certification or HERS Rater certification) can identify where your biggest energy losses are and how to address them. Energy retrofits, smarter purchasing decisions and a few behavioral modifications can save you around 30% on your electricity bill. That makes a big difference when you end up making the purchase for your solar panels, possibly to the point of completely eliminating your electricity bill.
Yes, the price of solar panels is cheaper than ever, but be careful when you see something that seems like the steal of the century, and trust me, there are plenty out there. The truth is that you will end up paying more in the long run. These cheaper (or magically superior) panels are that way for a reason. Either they are making claims that are misleading (Works even on cloudy days!) or don’t come with the services that you’ll wish you had (warranty/repair service). Also, sometimes these cheaper panels are not approved by an independent third party, which leads to all sorts of permitting, inspection and utility connection issues down the line. One way to tell if a panel has passed approval is to look for a certification by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL).
Too often, home owners will look at the energy bills from the last couple months and go out and purchase a solar array to match those kilowatts. The first problem is that this is not a long enough time frame, if you look back at the last five years, you might realize that your energy consumption varies wildly based on the season (and may be steadily going up thanks to all those cool new gadgets you bought). The other problem is that solar panels slowly lose their efficiency each year. So you may be alright for the first year, but you will end up another solar owner who over-estimated production and under-estimated consumption.
If we thought energy efficiency wasn’t sexy, insurance is just repulsive. Still, solar energy is a significant investment that requires that you minimize your risk. While solar panels are generally very durable, there can be malfunctions or unexpected problems with your roof. Most home owners forget to factor in this cost when thinking of buying solar and end up unpleasantly surprised. Also, do not expect any consistency with insurance providers; some add the value to the house to adjust the premium, others will ensure the panels directly and some offer no coverage for solar. In addition, it is important to get all elements of your installation permitted and approved to ensure that your claim will be honored by the insurance company.
Before purchasing your solar panel array, do your homework on how you can get help paying for them. Initially, you should find out whether owning or leasing the solar array is the best path for your situation. If you plan to own your solar panels, do extensive research on the incentive and rebate programs offered by your local and state governments as well as the federal government; these can come and go, so make sure you get a sense of when current incentives are set to expire and when new ones may come into existence. Leasing through a solar company will ensure that all incentives are taken advantage of, but you will enter into a long-term Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), so make sure this is something you are comfortable with.
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