9 Questions To Ask Before Buying Solar Panels

Despite the immense solar energy generating potential of the United States, the federal government insists on using millions of dollars in tax subsidies to prop up the dying fossil fuel industry.

Thank goodness consumers can see what the government cannot: solar (and all other forms of renewable energy) is the energy source of the future. As such, the industry expects to see thousands of new residential solar arrays purchased in 2012, especially in California.

Deciding to invest in a residential solar system is one of the biggest decisions a homeowner can make, besides the purchase of the home itself. To help homeowners and landlords better understand their options,residential provider American Solar Direct offers these nine essential factors to consider when seeking energy independence.

1. Lease versus own? An average home-solar installation can cost $25,000 or more. The easier alternative is to have a licensed contractor install the system and offer lease financing for little or no money up front. The installer owns and maintains the system, not to mention handles securing permits and managing the many other small details leading up to turning on the system. Solar leasing is affordable for many homeowners because they immediately see savings from lower electric bills and someone else worries about the system’s maintenance.

2. Net metering? When a rooftop solar system produces more energy than needed for a home, the excess is supplied to the local electric utility. Homeowners can see some of their greatest monthly cost reductions when their rooftop solar panels are providing energy back into the system.

3. Rebates? Since a leased solar panel system is “owned” by the installer, rebates will go to the company. This enables the installer to further reduce the overall price of the solar project, which in turn lowers the lease payment. Rebates will vary by region. It also is important to know that some rebates are currently scheduled to expire in a few years.

4. In-house service vs. outsourcing? Does a solar installer have all staff and services from customer representatives, to installers, to ongoing maintenance and financing within their company? Or, do they provide some or all of these services through third-party entities? The “continuum of care” is usually more guaranteed by an installer providing these services by their own employees.

5. Home values? Several current studies show that a home’s value increases when it contains the best available energy efficiency devices. Why? Because a home’s overall “operating cost” decreases as it uses less water, gas and electricity. Rooftop solar is becoming a standard feature on new homes for this reason.

6. What if I move? Typically, a homeowner can assign a solar lease to the purchaser (following a simple credit check of the new owner). Studies show an increase in the percentage of prospective homebuyers actively seeking residences with multiple “green” features, such as solar.

7. Remain energy efficient? With solar panels on the roof, it is tempting to crank up the air conditioning, keep lights on throughout the house or otherwise revert to energy wasting habits. Since some power must still come from an electric utility, being energy efficient ensures the lowest monthly costs even as solar dramatically reduces the amount of utility-supplied power purchased on a monthly basis.

8. Appearance? Some state laws prohibit homeowner associations, municipalities and other organizations from enforcing rules that would prevent a homeowner from installing rooftop solar. But, you also don’t want to upset your neighbor. After determining a home has enough roof space for solar, an installer will usually create a custom design to ensure a solar panel “array” will blend into the roof as much as possible.

9. New technologies? The rate at which solar cells convert sunlight into electricity has increased since the first cells were made. While gains continue to be made, they are at small incremental rates. Therefore, the panels bought today should continue to be very efficient for their 20- to 30-year life. As solar becomes more popular, companies also are developing new solar technologies and cell designs. However, until these designs are incorporated into mass production, these more “exotic” solar panels may be too expensive for the typical homeowner.

Related Reading:

The Solar Power Funding Avalanche

3 Solar Financing Options Most Americans Don’t Know About

Communities Crowdsource Clean Energy With Solar Mosaic

Image Credit: Flickr – joncallas


Chris G.
.2 years ago

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Lindasy G.
Past Member 2 years ago

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Ray Boggs
Ray Boggs4 years ago

The leasing companies got their foothold in the market because originally in 2008 a solar lease was the only financing option in town. Now there are multiple $0 down financing options that allow the homeowner to retain their 30% federal tax credit and other financial incentives and own their little to no maintenance solar system for a far better return on investment. The knowledge of these new $0 down financing options, especially the new PACE based (Property Assessed Clean Energy financing) programs are rapidly penetrating the market and when it reaches saturation, the reign of the solar leasing a PPA companies will probably be over. In addition consumers are beginning to report that they are experiencing difficulty when attempting to sell their homes when a lease or PPA is attached because their potential homebuyers want nothing to do with the additional expense of their lease payments. This is not good news for these companies.

Frank D.
Frank D.4 years ago

I am hoping that you can help me out with this. I am entertaining installing Solar panels on my roof. I currently have a generator which provides power to my electrical panel when the utility is down. I have a interlock devise which does not allow me to have on either of the generator feeds to the panel without disconnecting the panel from the utility. Obviously I would not want to endanger a lineman working to re-establish power to my home by be back-feeding my generator power back to them.

I am told that I cannot power the inverter from my generator power which although I am generating DC from the panels, the invertor will not be powered so I will not generate AC to my electrical panels..... I have looked for a device that I could "legally" accomplish this and thus far I have found nothing to accomplish this. I will be grid dependent when solar is installed. It looks to me that the design allows to relay to be operated only when the utility is and the contacts from that relay will either feed or not feed the DC from the panels to the inverter.

What am I missing here......... There has to be a legal way to accomplish this and keep the integrity of the field technician safe.

Ruth R.
Ruth R4 years ago

Some good points!

Ruth R.
Ruth R5 years ago

There needs to be only the regulations that guide people to stay safe and not get hurt, and no charges, fees, and no monies involved.

Jane H.
Jane H5 years ago

i have solar panels, but wish I had had this list before buying.

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton5 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Neil A.
Neil A5 years ago

I need to get it soon but would like to see the price drop a bit more & ancillary equipment is expensive but worth it in the long run as costs of electricity likely to still rise in future!

john papandrea
John p5 years ago

Another important question to ask: where are the solar panels made? China or USA? Insist upon American-made to support local workers & businesses.