Residential Solar Panel Installation: How to Prepare and What to Expect
Research has shown that solar energy can save homeowners anywhere from $10,000-$30,000 over a twenty-year lifespan.
If you’ve been thinking about taking the leap into solar energy for your home, consider that the cost of solar has decreased dramatically over the last ten years, and it is likely to continue to drop.
However, it is also important to consider what comes along with residential solar panel installation.
Is your roof strong enough to handle the mounting? Do you get enough sunlight?
Preparing your roof and home for solar panels can be done prior to installation and will make the process much smoother when the time comes.
Let’s take a look at what you can do at home to prepare for solar, and what you can expect during installation.
How to Prepare for Residential Solar Panel Installation
Along with the structural integrity of your roof when looking at solar panels for home use, you must also consider the cost, the amount of sunlight the panels will receive, the size of the space available, the type of roofing material, and whether there are any obstructions, such as trees.
Can You Afford Residential Solar Panels?
According to popular solar lender Loanpal, the reason we don’t see more solar in residential areas is due to lack of financing. With an average cost of $15,000-$29,000, solar is often out of reach for the average homeowner.
However, as the demand grows, so does the number of financing options. Coupled with federal tax credits, residential solar panels have become far more accessible. The cost is likely to drop further over the next ten years.
Does Your House Get Ample Sunlight?
When installing residential solar panels, it is important to take into account the number of peak-sun hours during the average day in your area.
In order to produce enough energy for a typical household, your solar panels will require at least three to five peak hours of sunlight in a day.
Peak hours refer to the time during the day when the sun is at its most intense.
You can check how many hours of usable sunlight your home gets through Project Sunroof by Google. This will give you an idea of the savings you can expect from installing solar at home.
Is Your Roof Big Enough?
One solar panel can take up as much as 18 square feet from your roof, and if you are looking for 100% usage, the average house requires 25-30 panels.
Though having a smaller roof does not mean you shouldn’t consider using solar. Some of the best residential solar panels are very energy efficient and can make a difference in your electricity bills in the long run.
Can Your Roof Support Solar Panels?
The age and condition of your roof could be the deciding factor when looking at solar energy at home.
Unfortunately, older roofing with structural damage, or delicate materials could mean the need for a new roof before any solar panels can be installed.
Check the rafters and edges for any signs of leakages or mildew.
If you are unsure, a professional will be able to assess any potential issues and give an estimate on the cost of repairs.
Similarly, if you have ceramic tiling on your roof, you may find that the mounting panels used for residential solar panels will not fit, or will be more difficult to install. Ideally, you should have metal or asphalt as a solid surface.
Are There Any Obstructions?
On your roof, solar panels will need to lay side by side and flat. If you have an unusual shape to your roof, or vents or chimneys, the solar company may find it difficult to install the panels.
Though the solar company should be able to work around such obstacles, designing a plan that will work best for your situation, it is possible that this will affect the overall efficiency of the system.
Other obstructions can include satellites and surrounding trees.
What to Expect When Installing Residential Solar Panels
There are five main steps involved when installing solar panels for your home, and your solar provider will walk you through everything before they begin.
Before you sign any contracts, the solar energy company will send out an engineer to evaluate your property.
During this visit, they should check the size of your roof, the materials used, and the angle of the pitch. They will also take note of any potential obstructions, such as surrounding trees that might block the panels.
In some situations, they might take some measurements and pictures before drawing up contracts.
Before you can begin any installation, a contractor will need to visit your home.
This contractor may work for the solar company, but could also be an independent professional. Either way, they will come for a site inspection once you have signed your solar energy contract.
During their visit, this contractor will assess your home’s electrical system. They will need to look at how their system will integrate into your home and ensure it will be as effective as possible.
In addition, they will check the structural integrity of your roof.
These initial assessments can take anywhere between one and four weeks.
Your solar provider will handle all the paperwork involved, such as acquiring permits and checking building codes.
However, as a homeowner, it is important to know exactly what the process can involve.
Specifications will vary by state with different restrictions and specifications for how solar panels can be installed.
In addition to applying for permits, your solar company should also be looking at state and federal incentives.
For example, in Pennsylvania, homeowners can receive a personal tax credit of 26% when including solar energy for the home, as well as possible rebates for certain appliances.
This whole process can be labor-intensive and can take as long as eight weeks to complete.
Once the paperwork has been filed and approved, the installation of your solar system can take as little as one to three days, dependent on the size of the system and permitting for harsh weather conditions.
The contractor will prepare your roof by checking that the shingles are correctly attached and safe to mount their panels on. They will also need to have access to your roof from the inside as their mounts will need to be properly secured.
Technicians will secure metal rails to your roof with a series of screws and bolts. This creates a solid foundation onto which they can attach the solar panels.
Electrical wiring and an inverter will be fixed to the roof and connected to your home’s electrical panel. Depending on the type of system you have chosen, they may also install batteries to store excess energy.
Once everything is in place, the solar panels are fixed onto the rails and hooked up to the wiring and your home’s electrical system
The crew will perform a series of tests to ensure everything has been properly connected and is in working order.
Two to three weeks after installation, an inspector will need to come and check the system.
During this time, they will check the wiring and the construction on the roof, looking at the quality of the mourning to ensure it is safe.
If they give approval, your home can finally be connected to the power grid.
A representative from the electrical company will need to come by and double-check everything for their own records. Once approved, your system will go live and you can begin running your home with solar energy.
What to Expect from Your Residential Solar System
From the initial visit to the final inspection, installing residential solar panels will take a few months.
However, once officially connected you can expect to save 50-90% in electrical bills.
Generally, solar panels require very little maintenance. Other than clearing occasional debris, such as fallen leaves, the most you will have to work is if you experience heavy snowfall. Using lukewarm water, you can melt the snow from the panels safely and easily.
Luckily, solar panels are typically set at an angle, allowing debris and snow to slide off. The angle encourages self-cleaning which is enhanced by any rain.
During dryer months, it is recommended to clean your panels manually to help maintain efficiency. You can do this with a leaf blower or a garden hose.
If properly installed and maintained, the average solar system should last upwards of 25 years.
Are Solar Panels Right for You?
Although the initial cost of residential solar panel installation might seem daunting, the potential future savings are well worth it.
As solar energy becomes more popular, homeowners can find far more options when it comes to solar energy and how they pay for it. Financing companies that specialize in lending for solar are helping to bring the technology to more households.
If you found this article helpful, check out other great home improvement ideas in our Lifestyle section.