The cost of getting solar on your roof has dropped significantly over the last decade, and the appeal of reduced utility bills and a lower carbon footprint are mighty attractive for most homeowners. But are you sure your house is solar-ready? Maybe you have an older roof, or maybe you’re dealing with an unconventional architecture.
How can you find out if your house is a good candidate for solar? You may be surprised by how accessible solar can be — and just how easy it is to ensure your home is solar ready.
When determining if solar is the best energy option for your home, you’ll first want to consider if your home is compatible and would benefit from solar technology. With that in mind, here’s a quick checklist for you to keep in mind as you consider going solar.
The Costs of Solar
Before diving into the installation process, you’ll want to consider the current cost of your electric bill and see how big your savings with solar could be. A big household can rack up some hefty monthly energy bills and would definitely benefit from switching to solar power; while a cost-conscious couple living in a smaller home may find their biggest benefit coming in utilities buybacks. Luckily, there are solar calculators available online that can help you determine if solar power is the best energy bargain for you.
The cost of installation can look like an expensive barrier to solar savings — between materials, labor, and other potential charges, the installation of your system can reach $18,000 for a U.S. household. But don’t let the price tag scare you: between tax credits and payment options — plus the huge cut in your utilities bill — you likely won’t need to empty your savings for solar.
You have the power to make the payment process both reasonable and affordable. It’s important to take the time to search for a payment program that best suits your financial needs. Your installer may offer deals and financing options for you as well. Remember, solar installation may seem expensive now, but as soon as your new energy bills come in — and especially once your system is paid off — you’ll realize some really great savings.
The amount of direct sunlight hitting your panels will affect the efficiency of your system. Keep in mind that a solar system works best with up to 4 hours of peak sunlight each day, so it’s important to find out how much sunlight your house receives on a daily basis. Online tools like Google’s Project Sunroof can provide you with a pretty good idea of your home’s solar potential. You’ll also want to take into account the location of your property (a south-facing roof is the best angle to capture energy) and potential obstructions that could block your panel’s access to direct sunlight, such as: shade from tree cover, chimneys, antennas, and neighboring buildings.
Some obstructions — like tree branches — can be easily removed to provide your panels access to direct light, while larger shade causing culprits (like surrounding buildings) may be difficult to manage and could impact your solar experience.
It may come as a surprise, but climate doesn’t factor into your home’s solar-readiness as much as you’d expect. If you live in an area with regular cloud cover (think Seattle), no need to worry, solar is still completely viable.
Today’s solar panels are highly efficient at drawing power under low-light conditions. Your home’ solar system only needs a sufficient amount of sunlight to work efficiently. Temperature, whether hot or cold, won’t make a difference, as long as there’s direct light reaching your panels.
Yes, there are ideal roof types for solar installation. The installation and maintenance of solar panels requires a durable roof to handle the foot traffic and mounting process of the install. Clay or Spanish tile, asphalt, and metal standing seam roof panels are ideal materials for solar installation, because they’re sturdy and secure, perfect for standard penetrating mounds used in the install process. Other roofing materials, like wooden tiles or slate, will be problematic because they can be brittle and easily break under stress. You can still have your solar panels installed on this weaker material, but this usually comes at a more expensive install cost.
You should also keep in mind the age and state of your roof before starting installation. What condition is it in? Does it need to be replaced? Will it need to be replaced in the near future? Solar panels are a durable technology, capable of lasting over 35 years. You don’t want to install your panels now just to reinstall them next year. The cost of installing a new roof just for a solar system may seem a little excessive, but when you consider the yearly savings from your panels and the improved value of your home, the installation of a new roof practically pays for itself.
Space on Your Roof
The amount of space you need on your roof depends on how much energy you’ll need to produce. On average, solar panels are about 17.5 square feet apiece — and the average home needs 30 panels to produce sufficient power. So that means the average roof should have about 500-600 square feet of space available for laying panels down. That’s not including vents, eaves, or other obstructions.
If the Roof Won’t Work, Consider the Ground
If, for any reason, your roof isn’t ready for solar, but you’re committed to making the switch, then you could always opt for ground mounted solar panels. Ground mounted solar panels may come at a higher cost, but they’re just as easy to install as rooftop solar panels, and unlike rooftop solar, they have the benefit of being easily placed where solar conditions are best.
The Bottom Line
Feeling good about your home’s solar potential? Not so sure yet? If you’re committed to solar and your home doesn’t fully meet all of these standards, try not to worry. Consult a solar technician. They can assist you in taking any additional steps you might need to install your solar system. No matter the problem, there’s almost always a solar solution, and it will be up to you and your installer to explore them together.