The Complete Novice’s Guide to Solar Installations

The Complete Novice’s Guide to Solar Installations
  • Opening Intro -

    Wouldn't it be nice if you could cut your home energy costs and get your energy from a free, renewable source?

    To lead the pack in energy awareness, and make your household greener and more self-reliant to boot?

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by Erin Vaughan

Solar energy systems are one way homeowners meet all of these goals—but they come with a lot of questions. What kind of equipment is required? How much do systems cost? How much energy will they generate? You suddenly have more questions than the day is long!

Here at Home Improvement Leads, we hear from homeowners everyday, most of them just beginning their journey into purchasing their own solar energy systems, so we understand how overwhelming it can be at first. That’s why we decided to compile this list of the most common questions we get from solar newbies, to get you the answers you need fast.

What exactly is a solar energy system anyway?

You’ve probably seen solar panels before—either installed on homes in your neighborhood, in pictures online, or even on public buildings or along highways. But panels are just a part of the equation that converts solar energy to useable power. What you didn’t see working was the wiring, inverter, and meter that make grid-connected solar power possible.

Panels do the bulk of the work, absorbing solar energy and converting it to direct current (DC) energy by passing the electrons through small cells made up of silicon and metal—in other words, making electricity. That electricity is then passed through DC wiring to an inverter, which converts it to alternating current (AC) energy—the type that’s compatible with our electricity grid.

Then there’s the meter—while you most likely already have a utility meter installed on your property, once you go solar, you generally need to have a representative stop by to put in a digital meter. That way, your utility can monitor the amount of energy you generate versus how much you take off the grid.

How much energy will a solar energy system generate?

The amount of energy your solar power system generates depends on a wide range of factors, including your location, the pitch of your roof, the direction your home faces, and the size of your system and the number of panels you have.

Generally, if you live in the South or Southwest, you’ll see greater production numbers (you can refer to this map from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for more precise information). The pitch of your roof matters, too—while the ideal angle depends upon your latitude, generally the steeper your roof, the less energetic your system will be. Additionally, if your home faces south or east, count yourself lucky—you’ll get slightly better production.

The size of your system, however, is probably the most important factor that will determine how productive your array will be. A typical panel can produce around 200 watts of power. Most residential systems are made up of around 25 panels, meaning they’ll generate around 5 kilowatt hours of power. To give you some perspective, the average American household consumes around 900 kilowatt hours per month, or 30 kilowatt hours a day.

How much do they cost?

An exact price is difficult to pinpoint, because costs will vary depending on your location and the size of the system you decide to purchase—even your type of roof could make a difference in the final pricetag.

An average system, however, ranges somewhere between $25,000 and $40,000. Remember, however, that you’ll also need to factor in installation and permitting costs. But bear in mind that federal, state, and local incentives can significantly offset those costs.

What if I can’t afford to purchase a system outright?

Most people don’t have thousands of dollars just lying around, even if purchasing solar equipment will save them money in the long run. Thankfully, however, there are plenty of incentives and loan programs out there that help make solar energy systems more affordable.

First off, no matter what part of the country you call home, the National Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit returns you 30 percent of your equipment costs when you file your taxes the next year. Taking their cue from the federal government, many states offer similar programs, which can be combined with federal savings for a system that’s much more affordable. State governments may also have low-interest loan programs available, which you can use towards the purchase of solar energy systems.

How much does solar REALLY cost?

Don’t forget to check with your local energy provider

Your local energy provider is another resource—check with them to see if they have any programs or offerings in place to encourage homeowners to install renewable energy systems. Meanwhile there’s solar leases—companies like SolarCity and Sungevity, which operate in a handful of states, will allow you to rent equipment for a monthly fee, in exchange for your state’s incentive dollars. And then, there are good old-fashioned personal loans—if your credit and banking history are good, a financial institution may furnish you with a loan to use when you buy your solar energy system.

These are just the basics, of course. Once you’ve mulled over this information, your best bet is to contact a solar energy professional, who can assess your individual situation and give you some personalized information based on your household needs and your location. That way, you’ll get an idea of exactly how much money solar power stands to save you—and how it can transform your household energy use.

Home Improvement reference:

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Last update on 2019-04-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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