Soak Up The Sun

By Sharon Naylor

May 6, 2014 6 min read

A sunny day does more than just boost spirits and help your garden grow. When you have solar panels installed, that bright sunshine creates energy for your home. With it, you can run electrical appliances, heat water, warm or cool your home. Perhaps you can even power your car, all without adding to air pollution created by some conventional energy sources. And solar power can vastly cut down on those ultra-pricey energy bills. Solar panels (also called solar modules) are typically installed on the roof, and are made up of photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into direct current power, say the experts at solar energy company Solar City. An inverter takes the DC power and converts it into alternating current AC power, the standard electrical current used in your home.

What many people don't know is that if your solar panel system creates more power than your home needs, your utility meter actually spins backward, accumulating credits with your utility company that offset your next bill, say the Solar City pros.

If you think solar power can help your home operate more energy-efficiently and create savings for your household budget, here are some things to consider before getting solar panels on your home:

1) Determine whether your home gets enough sun exposure during peak hours of the day. If your home is surrounded by shady trees, your panels' efficiency will be greatly reduced and your home energy costs won't reduce by much. If you have to cut down all of the trees around your home, a very un-green idea, you'll lose nature's own energy-saving shade. Panels are most often installed on rooftops, but you may have other placement options to maximize sun exposure.

2) Decide which solar energy benefits you'd like. In addition to creating energy to run electrical appliances and heat and cool your home, you might also have a pool or even a hot tub you'd like to warm up via solar power. Solar power can be used to heat water as well, says the U.S. Department of Energy.

3) Research the cost of solar panel installation. At http://www.findsolar.com, you'll find an average cost calculator provided by the American Solar Energy Society, plus rebate information that can recoup some of your expenses. Another perk: According to Energy Star, some models of energy-efficient solar panels may qualify for a tax deduction. Energy Star reported a tax benefit of "30 percent of cost with no upper limit," for principle residences and second homes expiring on Dec. 31, 2016. As with all things tax-related, check with your accredited accountant or at http://www.irs.gov to be sure you understand the current tax laws and rules.

4) Ask what professional solar panel installation companies will do. Many will create a custom plan for your home and handle all of the permit applications for you. They may also inform you on current incentive programs. Check with your local American Solar Energy Society for leads on reputable solar energy companies in your area.

5) Check the fine print on solar panel installation offers. Warranties for parts need to be longlasting in order to help prevent your panels from costing you a fortune down the road if weather causes damage to them. The editors of Living Green magazine say that most solar panels have a warranty of 25 to 30 years. "However, with proper care and maintenance, your panels may last as long as 40 years."

6) Consider whether you want to be on or off the grid. A grid-tied system lets you tap into the city power system if you need to, while being off the grid means your power source is generated solely via your own panels and is stored in batteries.

7) Understand how long it will take you start saving money. From the time of installation, your solar panels will start harnessing energy, but it can be just a few weeks up to several months before you start seeing significant savings on your usual energy bill. Talk to your solar power company to get an estimate of what your system's savings delivery timeframe might be.

8) Consider your type of roof. Some solar panel companies say they will only install on composite shingles, as opposed to metal, wood shingles, Spanish tile or other material. This may be because they don't have the mounting systems needed for, say, Spanish tile. Find an installer that has experience with your type of roof.

9) Understand permits needed. You absolutely must have the proper building permits as required by your town. Some communities require an additional variance or don't allow solar panels at all. Before you invest any money, be sure the road to installation won't be a rocky one, nor a dead end.

10) Understand what you'll need to do to maintain your solar panels. Solar modules need to be cleaned occasionally. This entails hosing off dust, leaves and pollen to keep your system operating to full effect. Consider how you'll access your rooftop solar panels safely or what it will cost to hire a professional cleaner.

There are other considerations, including your region's tendency toward freezing weather, which can require cold-temperature-hardy systems and the type of Web-based monitoring you'd like. Talk to a reputable solar power company for details customized to your home and your family's energy use.

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