Should I Add Solar Power to My Home? | Real Estate

The sun is one of the most ubiquitous things in most people’s lives. It’s there, whether they think about it or not, shining and radiating effortlessly. It’s no wonder that increasingly, homeowners are trying to harness the power of the sun to generate electricity for their homes. The appeal is undeniable – who wouldn’t want to better control their power costs, especially as winters and summers are getting increasingly dramatic and unpredictable?

But is solar right for your home?

How Do Home Solar Systems Work?

You’ve almost certainly seen solar panels mounted on homes in your area or standing together in large fields like extremely smooth, flat cattle on solar farms. It’s important to know more about them than just what they look like if you’re going to invest in the technology. Solar panels are fairly simple devices that collect energy from the sun to pull off some pretty complicated tricks.

“Solar panels are collections of solar or photovoltaic (PV) cells, which are used to generate electricity through photovoltaic effect,” says Jay Radcliffe, president at Renu Energy Solutions in Charlotte, North Carolina. “They allow particles of light to separate electrons from atoms, which generates a flow of electricity. The grid-like pattern of a solar panel is made up of individual cells, combined together into a larger unit.”

When put together, the solar panel array creates electricity and channels it toward an inverter that transforms your solar power from direct current (DC) to the alternating current (AC) that your home can use. Once inside your home, the power is consumed by devices actively using electricity. Any electricity not used continues to move down the wires toward your meter and out into the larger power grid. Generally, you’ll have an agreement in place with your utility company for them to purchase your excess power for a set fee.

Pros and Cons of Home Solar Systems

Choosing to go solar is a very personal decision for homeowners, and one not to be taken lightly. The solar panels you buy today should be capable of servicing your home for 20 to 25 years, and can bring with them extra considerations.

For example, many home buyers find solar systems to be an attractive and valuable upgrade to a potential home they’re considering, but only if the system is purchased, not leased.

“For a 10 kilowatt solar system, your home value will increase by around $60,000 or even more, in the current market. For each kW, it’s $5,911 on average nationwide, which is 4.1% of the total resale value of any home,” says Jeff Tricoli, broker associate with Tricoli Team Real Estate in Palm Beach County, Florida. But, of course, there are drawbacks for buyers and sellers, too. Some people may simply not like the aesthetic, or they may consider a solar system just another maintenance headache. They do require ongoing care to work at their best.

“Solar panels will need to be cleaned every few years,” says Hubert Miles, certified master inspector at Patriot Home Inspections and owner of HomeInspectionInsider.com in Boston, Massachusetts. “Over time, dirt and other buildup on the panels can reduce their effectiveness.”

When it comes to deciding on whether or not to go solar in the first place, expense can also be a big problem. Many people choose to DIY home projects to save on labor costs, but solar systems aren’t easy to do yourself.

“While a small number of systems can be installed as a ‘do-it-yourself’ kit, it’s recommended, and in some cases, required by the utility, that a whole home system is installed by a professionally licensed general contractor and electrician,” Radcliffe explains.

What Is the True Cost of a Solar System?

Home solar systems can vary in cost, since they’re custom-designed for a home based on the roof structure, the amount of power the household uses, the direction the roof faces and myriad other factors. There are also various incentives available depending on the state you live in and when you buy your system.

“In 2021, our average PV deal amount was $30,945, which is holding true so far this year, with a projection of it going up due to the cost of materials,” says Radcliffe.

Once you have your solar system, there may be additional costs involved from your insurance company. Although they’re usually covered by homeowner’s insurance, you’ll need to disclose that you have the system, which could increase your insurance company’s replacement value of your home. Be sure to check with your agent before making a purchase.

“Solar panels can be included in homeowner’s insurance after they are installed so that it is included with your home’s coverage plan,” said Radcliffe. “This is an extra step that the homeowner must take to inform their homeowners insurance of a solar system addition.

“Coverage options vary by insurance company so it’s important to get to know your options prior to installing a system if having it covered in the policy is important to you. It is usually added to protect against the financial loss of a system due to events that are deemed ‘acts of God’ such as a wildfire or hurricane that are outside the scope of a manufacturer’s or installer’s warranty coverages.”

Where Do Solar Systems Make Sense?

Solar systems can be installed literally anywhere that the sun shines, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everywhere the sun shines is going to get you a decent return on your solar investment. According to Miles, even areas in the very far north, including Alaska, can benefit from solar panel systems as long as there are additional power sources for long, dark winters.

Alaska aside, there are some parts of the U.S. where solar just makes sense. Those include areas with good sun exposure, as well as states with good incentives that can make up for a lack of sun exposure.

“In the US, the Southwest is often the best location for solar panels as they generally receive the most sunlight,” says Radcliffe. “However, my state, North Carolina, for example, is ranked fourth by the Solar Energy Industries Association for solar production. A combination of high sun exposure, net metering and many local and utility incentives make North Carolina a great state for solar.”

Do You Need to Replace Your Roof Before Going Solar?

Since most traditional solar systems are installed on top of roofing materials to maximize their sunlight potential, an important question often comes up about roofing: Do you need to replace it first?

“There is no general rule about whether or not you should replace your roof before installing solar panels,” says Miles. “It depends on the condition of your roof and how long you expect your solar panels to last. If your roof is in good condition and you expect your solar panels to last for 20 or more years, there’s no need to replace the roof. However, if your roof is old or in poor condition, it may make sense to replace it before installing solar panels. Removing solar panels and reinstalling them can cost $10,000 or more, depending on the number of panels and system complexity.”

The good news is that if you do need a new roof before your solar system can go in, many solar installers can help you out. There’s also a federal tax incentive that can help pay for part of your new roof, if it’s considered part of a solar panel installation.

“Most solar installers also offer roofing or have a partner company who can handle either roof repairs or replacement prior to installing,” says John Harper, director of marketing for Green Home Systems in Northridge, California. “If a new roof is advised, it’s an excellent time to get it replaced while going solar, as the two can be bundled and the homeowner can take advantage of the 30% federal tax credit on the cost of both the solar energy system and the new roof.”

Going Solar Is a Personal Choice

Although there are plenty of compelling reasons to choose solar power, from reducing your carbon footprint to simply reducing your home’s electricity bill and your dependency on your local utility company, solar panel systems aren’t for everyone or every home.

If, for example, you aren’t home much and don’t use a lot of power, it might not make sense to buy yet another thing that requires maintenance and care. Or, if you expect your usage to change dramatically in the short term, you might want to wait until that change happens so your longer-term electricity usage can be determined before your system is designed.

Regardless of your household situation, choosing solar should be a carefully considered decision because you’ll be committed to it for a very long time.

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