It’s no secret why installing a solar panel system is a great idea — reduced electric bills and sustainable energy production? Sign us up!
But what goes into solar panel installation? Like any other major home improvement project, there’s a lot of planning and work that goes into making it successful.
This guide will help you determine whether a solar panel system is right for you and will show you how to get the installation process started.
For the DIY expert who’s ready to get started right away, jump right over to our step-by-step guide to installing solar panels yourself.
First and Foremost, Is Solar Right for You?
The prospect of owning a solar panel system might pique your interest, but there are still a few things to consider before kicking the process into motion.
First, let’s address the obvious — you have to ensure you’re eligible to install solar. Consider the following when evaluating your eligibility:
- Home ownership: If you own your home, you have autonomy over what you install on your property (assuming you acquire necessary permits and permission from your local utility agency). If you rent, however, you can’t install solar panels without first consulting the owner. There’s no guarantee they’ll be on board, so be sure to establish an agreement with them in advance.
- Viable space: Not every roof is optimally positioned nor has sufficient space to house an entire solar panel system. If this is the case, you may need to downsize or install elsewhere, like on the ground.
- HOA regulations: If you live under an HOA’s jurisdiction, it may dictate how (or even whether) you’re allowed to install solar panels. Many states protect a homeowner’s right to install solar, but there’s a chance a strict HOA will throw a wrench in this process.
Next, consider the benefits of solar and decide whether they’re worth it for you:
- Utility bill savings: If you can’t help but wince at the sight of your monthly electricity bill, solar panels can help. If you install a system large enough to totally cover your energy usage, you may never have to pay an electric bill again.
- Contribution to clean energy: Solar panels’ carbon footprint is 20 times less intense than that of coal. If you’d like to join the movement in transitioning from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy, solar panels are a great place to start.
- Grid independence: Power outages affect everyone — well, everyone except for solar users. Installing a solar panel system means you can operate independently of the grid and don’t have to deal with issues that affect other utility customers.
Solar Panel Installation Cost
While producing your own renewable energy amounts to significant ROI over time, solar panel installation has a high up-front cost. Make sure you can afford the installation before you commit to it.
Before cost-reducing incentives are applied, the average solar panel system installation ranges in price between $2.50 and $3.50 per watt. Average total cost usually lands between $12,000 and $30,000.
So why is this range so wide? Solar panel systems are highly customizable — you get to choose your system size, component types, and installation method. Each of these choices vary in cost significantly, not to mention the added cost of an energy storage system.
Planning Solar Panel Installation in 7 Steps
Once you’ve confirmed your eligibility and interest in going solar, you’re ready to determine what a solar panel system installation would look like for you. Let the following steps serve as your guide as you get started.
1. Assess Home Energy Consumption
Before you determine your system’s size and type, you need to know how much electricity your household regularly uses. It’s best to look beyond your most recent electric bill, as these bills can fluctuate from month to month and from season to season.
Rather, collect all of your electric bills from the past 12 months, add them together, and divide that number by 12 to get your average monthly energy usage. If you plan to purchase an electric vehicle or install central AC in the coming year, factor in how much electricity they will consume.
You may find that your electricity usage is higher than you’d like it to be. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to address your household’s heavy energy consumption habits before determining your solar system’s size. Here are some easy ways to cut down your usage:
- Swap out your standard incandescent light bulbs for LEDs
- Turn off lights and appliances when you’re not using them
- Weatherize your home to use heating and cooling less frequently
2. Determine Ideal System Size
In order to feel confident that your system will generate enough energy to cover your household’s electricity usage, you need to determine your system’s wattage. Needs vary from household to household, so refer to our guide on solar system sizing to calculate your own number.
Some factors that go into solar system sizing include:
- Your electricity usage: For obvious reasons, the more electricity your household uses, the larger your system will need to be if you hope to fully offset your electric bill.
- Sun hours in your area: The more sunlight solar panels are exposed to, the more electricity they’ll generate. For this reason, homes in areas with high sun hours can install smaller systems.
- Your solar panels’ efficiency: Every solar panel model has a different production ratio. The higher this ratio, the better the panel is able to convert sunlight into electricity and the fewer panels you need.
When in doubt, consult with a contractor to determine an exact system size and type.
3. Decide How to Go Solar
There are several ways to go solar, though not every option provides the same benefits. Below, we unpack the most common ways to enjoy solar power.
- Ownership: If your budget and living situation make solar panel ownership possible, it is recommended over solar renting options. While the up-front cost can be relatively high, ownership means you generate your own electricity and no longer need to rely on the grid. As a result, you’ll save far more money in the long run.
- Community solar: Whether due to property limitations, HOA restrictions, or another interfering factor, you may not be able to install solar panels on your property. If this applies to you, research local community solar initiatives. With these programs, you can rent out some panels in a community solar array, routing the electricity they produce to your home.
- Leasing: With a solar lease or PPA, the leasing or PPA company owns the panels they install on your roof. You then pay that company monthly to “rent” their panels. While this method usually charges you no up-front costs, your long-term savings are far lower than they would be with solar panel ownership.
4. Invite Engineers and/or Contractors for Site Assessments
If you have the resources to do so, it’s a good idea to invite a professional to perform a site evaluation and confirm that your solar installation plan will work. Ask them to verify the stability of your roof (if installing rooftop panels), confirm you have enough space, and confirm that your electrical system doesn’t need updating.
Whenever you contact an engineer or contractor, you should verify that they’re certified to practice and are giving you accurate advice. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) provides a directory of professionals certified to evaluate properties and install solar panel systems.
When in doubt, get in touch with Solartap’s network of qualified contractors.
5. Research Incentives and Financing Options
Not everyone can afford to install a solar panel system without a little help. Let’s explore some opportunities to ease the financial burden of solar panel installation.
If you’ve been looking into solar for a while, you’ve probably heard of the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit, or the ITC. It’s by far the most popular and widely claimed solar incentive, returning 30% the total cost of a solar system installation to homeowners when completing their federal taxes through 2032.
The ITC is not the only solar incentive you can claim. Many states offer local incentives for installing a solar system or producing certain amounts of solar energy. Refer to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) for a comprehensive list.
Many areas’ local utilities also offer net metering programs, which allow homeowners with solar to contribute some of their solar energy to the grid in exchange for credits that can offset their electricity bills.
If the thought of paying for an entire solar panel system up front doesn’t feel realistic, there are financing options that make solar ownership more doable. Explore low-interest solar loan options with the help of a contractor to figure out a payment plan that’ll work for you.
6. Obtain Required Permits
As ready as you may feel to get started with installation, you first have to deal with some bureaucracy. Obtaining permits can be a long and complicated process, so don’t be afraid to contact a contractor and ask for their help.
While you’ll still have to wait for permits to be processed, a contractor will take the paperwork off of your shoulders, helping you secure:
- Electrical and (potentially) building permits
- A solar agreement with your local utility company
- Local solar incentives
As tedious as this process can be, it’s imperative not to cut corners. Doing so could lead to a legal headache that further stalls the process of getting your system up and running.
7. Collaborate With an Installer and Utility Company
As the installation process begins, active communication with your installer and your local utility company is a must. Here are some items to discuss:
- Warranty: Every installer should offer at least some type of warranty on their installation. Ideally, this warranty will last 20 or more years. Before choosing an installer, verify that they will cover any installation-related system issues for the majority of your system’s lifetime.
- Equipment: When installing a solar panel system, you have to make a lot of decisions about components. From your solar panel brand to your choice of inverter and battery, there’s a lot to discuss with your installer. Communicate your needs and ask for their advice whenever you feel unsure.
- Electric bill: Ask your local utility agency about how much you’ll be saving on your electric bill after installing your system. They should also be able to tell you whether there are any net metering opportunities in your area that would allow you to further offset your bill.
Solar Panel Installation FAQ
A solar panel installation is an investment and a very large project. As such, you probably have some questions about the logistics. We address some common questions below.
How Much Does It Cost to Install a Home Solar Power System?
The average solar installation cost falls somewhere between $2.50 and $3.50 per watt, or between $12,000 and $30,000 total before incentives like the ITC are applied.
Where your system falls within (or outside of) this range depends on a number of factors, including your solar provider, your installation method, your system’s size, and the quality of your components.
Solartap’s average prices, on the other hand, often fall around 40% below those of the average solar company. Compare Solartap’s prices with the competition using our solar cost calculator.
Can I Install My Solar Panels Myself?
Yes — you can install your own solar panels. That said, taking on a fully DIY residential rooftop solar project can be very challenging. It’s a good idea to get a contractor’s thoughts and assistance with certain parts of this process.
Are Solar Panels Worth It?
Yes — solar panels almost always offer excellent ROI no matter where you live, as long as you purchase your own panels rather than renting them via a solar leasing or PPA agreement.
The return from solar panel ownership requires some patience, but once the panels pay for themselves you’ll reap several years' worth of electricity savings.
How Many Solar Panels Are Needed to Run a House?
The average house needs about 20-24 solar panels to fully sustain its electricity use.
That said, every home is different, and there isn’t one set number of solar panels that can power any home. The number varies by home size, sun hours in your area, and individual electricity use among other factors.
Solartap makes solar panel installation easier and cheaper than ever. We’ll help you determine exactly what components you need and provide the professional support you need to make installation as headache-free as possible.
Check out our residential solar panel options today.