Are Solar Panels for Your Home Worth It?

By Tara Sebolt

Solar panels are often associated with being expensive. Ten years ago, this may have been true. However, with the advancements in solar technology, solar panels have become much more cost-effective. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the price of installing solar panels has decreased by more than 70% in the last decade.

Falling prices have made solar more affordable than ever. If you’re considering installing solar panels for home energy savings, you probably have questions. This article breaks down all the most important aspects of installing solar for home use. From energy savings estimates to the best place to install a solar panel, you’ll gain a better understanding of the costs and benefits of residential solar panels.

Solar system on house rooftop

What are solar panels?

Solar panels, sometimes called solar modules, convert light energy into electricity. The technical name for solar panels is photovoltaic (PV) panels. “Photovoltaics” refers to the direct conversion from light to electricity.

As the sun shines onto the solar panels, solar cells in the panel absorb photons from the sunlight. This creates an electric field between the layers of the panel, which allows electricity to flow through the solar panels and into your home.

Top benefits of using solar panels for home energy

Solar power is a great resource for energy, as it’s renewable and abundant. This environmentally friendly energy resource can reduce your dependence on nonrenewable energy. In addition to environmental benefits, solar energy for home use can bring cost and energy benefits to your home. Some of the top benefits of solar power include:

  • Lower monthly utility bills
  • Tax savings with rebate programs and tax credits
  • Increased home value and better HERS rating
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption

Cost of installing solar panels for home use

Although prices for solar panels have declined over the past decade, the initial investment to install a solar power system can be daunting. Installing solar panels on an average-sized home costs roughly $18,000. This is based on the average cost of $3.05/watt for solar panels to power a home.

This price, however, is before incentives like rebates or tax credits are applied. After applying tax credits and other potential incentives from local or state programs, you may end up saving thousands on the price of your solar system.

Determining the cost of solar

The cost of solar panels vary greatly between home size, location, and energy usage. The cost of solar is generally dependent on energy use and what size solar system you will need. The average size for solar panel power is 6 kilowatts (kW). Smaller systems will cost less, and larger systems will cost more.

Two 1,500-square-foot houses, for example, may require different sizes of solar energy systems. If the home is owned by a young couple who works long hours and spend lots of time outside their home, they may only need a 3-kW system. This would cost approximately $9,150 before tax incentives. The same size home using average electricity would need the average sized system and cost several thousand dollars more.

The biggest costs of going solar are soft costs during installation. This includes the price of hiring inspectors for your property before and after installation. Most state and local governments require you to apply for permits to install solar panels. The permitting process can be lengthy and expensive.

You can use a solar cost calculator to help you get estimates on the cost of installing solar panels on your home. Likewise, many solar companies allow you to finance your solar panels. You can also lease your panels form the solar company instead of purchasing them outright to reduce costs.

Do you really save money with solar panels?

You can save money with solar panels, but the savings won’t be instant. It’s unlikely that you’ll see cost savings for the first several years your solar panels are installed. The total amount of money you save by adding solar panels depends on how much energy you consume on a regular basis and how big of a solar power system you install.

To determine how much you might save by installing a solar energy system on your home, use the PVWatts Calculator from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. This solar energy calculator allows you to enter your address and details about your potential solar panel system to see cost savings.

Are solar panels worth it?

To determine if solar panels are worth installing on your home, there are important factors you should consider. You may not want to install a solar panel system for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Selling your home soon: If you plan to sell your home in the next one to seven years, you may never see energy savings from your solar system.
  • Poor sun exposure: Your solar panels need to have maximum sunlight for the best cost and energy benefits. Roofs that are blocked by shrubs, trees, or other buildings are probably not going to benefit much from solar panels.
  • Roof in poor condition: Roofs that are older or in bad repair are not good candidates for solar. If you need a new roof in the next five years, considering waiting to install solar until after a new roof with durable materials has been installed.

On the other hand, there are many reasons why solar panels are worth it for your home:

  • Selling a home in the future: The investment of solar panels can boost your home’s desirability to potential buyers.
  • Ideal sunlight: If your roof receives maximum sunlight with no trees or buildings blocking it, you’re likely to get great energy savings from solar power.
  • Reduce energy costs: A savings of just a few hundred dollars a year may be enough to make solar worthwhile for your home. Carefully compare the cost of solar panels and your estimated cost savings along with how long you plan to live in the home.
  • Renewable energy: Solar panels help the environment by using a renewable energy source.
  • Low maintenance: Once your solar system is installed, the panels are incredibly low maintenance and designed to withstand extreme weather. This reduces maintenance or repair costs and can save you money over time.
  • Tax credits or breaks: Get almost immediate savings on the purchase of your solar panels through tax credits and incentives that can cut your cost for going solar by thousands of dollars.

Do I need professional solar installation?

It’s possible to install solar panels yourself, but it’s not recommended due to safety concerns. There are many electrical components to installing solar panels that can be dangerous to work with if you’re not familiar with wiring. Other reasons you might want to work with a North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified solar company include:

  • Dangers in installation: Certified technicians have the technical skills and knowledge to safely install your solar panels and connect your solar system to the electrical panel of your home.
  • Lower quality options: Most store-bought, DIY solar panels are less expensive than panels from a solar company, but they also are usually lower quality. This means you may not get as much solar energy converted to electricity.
  • Warranty: Many solar companies stand behind their products with warranties for many years.
  • Customer service: You can contact your solar company’s customer service to ask questions about your system or troubleshoot issues.

Types of solar panels for homes

There are two main types of solar panels available for residential use. Each type has advantages and disadvantages to using them in your home.

  • Monocrystalline silicon solar cells: Sometimes called mono-si cells, these solar panel cells are round and provide the highest efficiency rates while being the longest lasting cell type. Unfortunately, they also are the most expensive.
  • Polycrystalline silicon solar cells: The first solar cells on the market, polycrystalline cells are the most affordable solar panel option. However, these cells take up more space and have a lower efficiency than mono-si cells.
Mono-si solar cell panels

Image 1: Monocrystalline silicon solar cells

Image 2: Polycrystalline silicon solar cells

Best place to install solar panels on your home

Installing solar panels on your roof requires more planning than just picking a side and getting started. Your solar company will help you determine the best place to install your solar panels.

Things you need to consider include direction, roof pitch, and the size of your roof.

Roof Feature Ideal Conditions
Direction panels face South is the ideal direction for your solar panels, though west and east-facing roofs can generate enough electricity to make solar worth it.
Roof pitch Ideal roof pitch is between 15 degrees and 40 degrees. Flat roofs can have platforms made for solar panels to be angled.
Roof size Large, square roofs that face the south are the best locations for installing solar panels.

Incorporating solar panels into your home’s design

Besides cost, some homeowners shy away from solar panels due to the less-than-appealing look they add to a home. However, the ugly, jarring solar panels of years ago have been upgraded in recent years. Now, you can find solar panels that blend seamlessly onto your roof, giving it the look of a normal black roof.

Some solar panels offer benefits like windows, as well. With a skylight made of solar panels, you get to enjoy the benefits of sunshine more. You could also cover your roof in solar shingles, or energy-saving tiles.

As the price of solar drops and solar companies are able to release more aesthetically pleasing panels, solar for home energy use is an increasingly popular option. While the initial cost may be high, the benefits to your energy costs and the environment can quickly make solar panels worthwhile.


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