What to know about buying a house with solar panels
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David McMillin is a contributing writer for Bankrate and covers topics like credit cards, mortgages, banking, taxes and travel. David’s goal is to help readers figure out how to save more and stress less.
Arrow Right Senior editor, Home Lending
Troy Segal is a senior editor for Bankrate. She edits stories about Homeownership in addition to stories about the finer points of mortgages and home equity loans.
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If you’re looking for a new roof over your head, you might also be thinking about whether what’s actually on that roof can help the planet. According to the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) “2022 REALTORS and Sustainability Report”, more than 50 percent of real estate professionals say their house-hunting clients are interested in sustainability. They’re finding plenty of options to match their needs, too: 77 percent of Realtors indicate that there are homes with solar panels available in their local markets.
Currently, solar energy produces over 4 percent of all electricity in the U.S., according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). But that figure is going to increase with new legislation that just made it through Congress. According to estimates from the White House, approximately 7.5 million more households will be able to install solar panels on their roofs thanks to the tax incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
If you’re thinking about getting ahead of the curve and buying a house with solar panels, here’s what you need to know.
What are solar panels?
First, a quick primer: Solar panels (not to be confused with solar shingles or tiles) are devices that collect sunlight and convert it into energy, which can be used for electricity or stored in batteries for later use. As much of the world looks for renewable energy to help replace fossil fuel consumption, solar panels – also known as photovoltaic, or PV, systems – harness the natural, “clean” power of the sun in the sky and help negate the effects of driving gas-guzzling cars and relying on coal-fired power plants.
Interest in such environmental concerns is figuring more and more in residential real estate transactions. Half of agents and brokers in the NAR study indicate they helped a client buy or sell a property with green features during the past 12 months — a notable jump compared with 32 percent who did so in 2021. specifically, the presence of solar panels on a property roof bumps up its perceived value, one-third of Realtors say.
questions to ask before buying a home with solar panels
When surveying a solar-paneled home, be sure to ask these key questions.
Who owns them?
While you might assume that buying a home means buying every piece of it, that’s not always the case with solar panels. In some cases, there is a lease arrangement where the owner of the home pays the company that owns the panels. Justin Baca, SEIA vice president of markets and research, says that around 25 percent of homes have third-party-owned solar panels, meaning the owner of the home pays a company a fee to use them.
“Homebuyers should ask whether the solar system is owned outright by the seller or whether they would have to take over a lease,” Baca says. “If there is a lease, they should check the terms to make sure they understand the costs and any options to buy out the lease. Either way, solar panels on the home are a great feature.”
Who installed the solar panels?
Make sure you ask whether a licensed professional installed the solar panels. There are plenty of self-installation kits available for DIY homeowners who aren’t afraid to get on their roofs. However, if the homeowner (or any non-professional) installs them, these panels may not qualify for protection under a warranty if the equipment fails.
What’s the condition of the roof?
With any home purchase, you want to know what sort of shape the roof is in. With a roof that has solar panels, the condition becomes an even more critical factor. If the roof is in bad shape, the panels have to be taken off before the roof can be repaired or replaced, and then reinstalled. This can add to the complexity, cost and length of any re-do. So, “the most important questions to ask are about the condition of the roof and panels themselves,” Waheed Akhtar, broker and owner of RE/MAX Dream Homes in Sacramento, California, says.
What will the maintenance needs be?
Like everything else in your home, solar panels may need to be cleaned or serviced from time to time to ensure they’re in the best condition possible.
“If you own the system in a place that gets a decent amount of rain, you likely won’t have to think about it for years,” Baca says. “I haven’t done a thing to my five-year-old system [in Syracuse, New York], and it’s performing as new.
However, “in places with more dust and less rain, cleaning based on local conditions isn’t a bad idea but should be done by an installer or other professional qualified to be on a roof safely,” he notes.
If you don’t own the panels outright, Baca points out that you won’t have to worry about the maintenance responsibilities. “If you have a lease, you likely have a performance guarantee, which will lower your lease payments unless the system performs to a certain level,” he says. “That makes maintenance the leasing company’s responsibility.”
What’s their average output versus the home’s average usage?
The main reason you’re buying a home with solar panels is to cover most – if not all – of your home’s energy needs. So, you’ll need to research the home’s average usage and compare it with the typical solar output. You can ask the seller for figures from the past year, and you can also use the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s calculator to get a sense of how much energy you can expect to produce based on the location and the type of system.
After you understand how much of your own energy needs will be satisfied by the solar panels’ output, you’ll want to know if you have options with any surplus energy that you don’t use. Net metering, which involves selling the energy you don’t use back to other customers who need it, can provide additional financial benefits for you. This varies based on where the home is located (SEIA offers a map of states with net metering rules in place as a starting point). Be sure to ask your real estate agent for assistance in understanding if net metering is available for you.
What is the production guarantee?
In addition to knowing whether you can benefit if your system produces more than you need, it’s important to have an understanding of what happens if it produces less. Most companies offer production guarantees, which will reimburse you a designated amount if the system fails to deliver. For example, you might be guaranteed 12,000 kilowatt-hours in a year. If the system only produces 9,500 kilowatt hours, the company may need to issue you a check. Look at the contract to determine what, if any, guarantees are offered.
than one-third (36 percent) of Realtors feel that having solar panels on a home increased its perceived property value, according to the NAR’s “2022 REALTORS and Sustainability Report.”
What you need to know before converting your home to solar
Solar power is a sustainable energy alternative, but it isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking to install solar panels on your home, there are a few questions you should know the answers to before you talk to a contractor.
Here’s what you need to know before converting your home to solar so that you can tell whether solar energy is right for you and your home.
Is your home a good fit for solar power?
A few qualifiers make a home a good candidate for solar power. From a standpoint of immediate savings, your area should have a high solar energy bill, as homes that don’t use a lot of power or that don’t have high energy bills won’t see big returns on their investments. Also, if shade covers a lot of your roof for most of the day or if you don’t have a south-facing window, solar power may not be the right option for you. Too much shade won’t allow your panels to gather enough energy, and if your panels aren’t on a south-facing roof, you’ll need to purchase more solar panels to garner enough power.
What will you do in case of a power outage?
In some areas, regulations don’t allow the use of solar panels when a power grid is down. In this case, you’ll need to turn to an alternative form of energy or forget panels altogether. However, if your power grid does allow solar usage during outages, you’ll need to cross-reference how much power you’ll need with how much power your panels can produce and store. But if you can’t decide whether to use generator or solar system, there are hybrid options.
Can you afford solar panels?
There are ownership packages that offer cash or loan financing and leasing deals, but with these options, you don’t own the panels yourself, and you’ll need to call the solar company that installed your panels instead of a utility company. In addition, a solar panel system that completely takes care of your solar needs will cost around 20,000 dollars on average. As we stated, the value of your solar investment depends on how much you’re currently paying for electricity. Most solar companies will give you an estimate based on your previous electricity bills, but you don’t have to install solar panels that take care of all your energy needs. But once again, the pricing will depend on how much you currently pay, how much power your solar panels will generate, and how much energy you need.
Now that you’re more confident in what you need to know before converting your home to solar, you can shop without worry. Get a quote from your local solar contractor today and see if solar conversion is the right option for you.
How Does Solar Power Work on a House? Your Questions Answered
How does solar power work? A simple explanation is that solar panels convert sunlight into electricity that can be used immediately or stored in batteries.
The sun essentially provides an endless supply of energy. In fact, with the amount of sunlight that hits the earth in 90 minutes, we could supply the entire world with electricity for a year — all we have to do is catch it!
That’s where solar panels come in.
How solar panels power a home
Solar power has many applications, from powering calculators to cars to entire communities. It even powers space stations like the Webb Space Telescope.
But most people are concerned about how solar panels can power their house and reduce their electricity bill.
Here’s a step-by-step overview of how home solar power works:
- When sunlight hits a solar panel, an electric charge is created through the photovoltaic effect or PV effect (more on that below)
- The solar panel feeds this electric charge into inverters, which change it from direct current (DC) into alternate current (AC) electricity
- The AC electricity runs through your electrical panel and is distributed throughout your home — just like grid energy
- Excess solar energy is stored in batteries or pushed onto the grid to power local systems (like your neighbor’s house!)
- Through net metering, solar owners get credit for the excess energy they put on the grid to offset the grid energy they pull off the grid when their panels aren’t producing
- With battery storage, solar owners can store excess production to power their homes at night
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s break down how solar panels work in more detail.
How does solar power work? The photovoltaic effect explained
Solar panels turn sunlight into elctricity through the photovoltaic (PV) effect, which is why they’re often referred to as PV panels.
The photovoltaic effect occurs when photons from the sun’s rays hit the semiconductive material (typically silicon) in the cell of the solar module. The photons activate electrons, causing them to free themselves from the semiconductive material.
Photons hit the solar panel causing electrons to be freed during the photovoltaic effect.
The free electrons flow through the solar cells, down wires along the edge of the panel, and into a junction box as direct current (DC).
This current travels from the solar panel to an inverter, where it is changed into alternative current (AC) that can be used to power homes and buildings.
How is solar energy used to power your home?
Most home solar systems are “grid-tied” meaning that the solar system, home electrical system, and local utility grid are all interconnected, typically through the main electrical service panel.
Connecting these systems means you can power your home with solar electricity during the day and grid electricity at night. It also means your solar system can push excess electricity onto the local grid to power surrounding systems, like your neighbor’s house.
Through net metering, you earn credit for excess solar production that can be used to offset the grid electricity you use at night.
Home solar with battery storage
Home solar with battery storage works similarly to the process above, but intsead of pushing excess solar production onto the grid, it’s first stored in batteries in your home or garage.
Pairing solar and battery is especially handy for:
- Off-grid solar systems
- Backup electricity during power outages
- Areas without net metering policies
- Powering your home on 100% clean and renewable energy
What types of material are used in solar panels?
The most common residential solar panels contain monocrystalline or polycrystalline (also called multicrystalline) solar cells.
Both types of cells produce electricity when exposed to sunlight, however there are some key differences between the two:
|Monocrystalline solar cells||Polycristalline solar cells|
|Tend to appear darker in color, often black or dark grey||Often appear a dark blue when exposed to light|
|Performs better in high temperatures and shady conditions||Less efficient at higher temperatures|
|Tend to be more expensive||Tend to be less expensive|
If space is limited on your roof or project site, a higher-efficiency, monocrystalline panel may be preferred, and could result in a better return on investment. Alternatively, a lower-cost, slightly less efficient, polycrystalline panel may do the job just as well if you have ample roof space on your home.
Many panel manufacturers also build panels containing both mono and polycrystalline wafers to form solar cells, capable of harvesting energy from a wider spectrum of light.
Be sure to ask what type of cell (“mono or poly”) your home solar system design contains, This distinction may affect the aesthetics and economics of your project.
How does sun exposure affect solar panel efficiency?
It is important that your solar panels receive good insolation (sun exposure) throughout the day and are free from as much shading from trees or neighboring obstructions as possible.
There are a number of factors that influence solar panel efficiency. They include:
- Temperature — Solar panels operate best in temperatures between 59 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit
- Type of solar panel — Solar panels typically range from 15-20% efficient, with the best panels pushing 23%.
- Shading — Solar panels perform best in wide-open sun. Even partial shading can substantially reduce the efficiency of a panel
- Orientation and angle — Solar panels perform best when they are directly facing the sun and are often tilted to increase efficiency
Solar engineers use satellite imagery to determine which panels and placement will provide optimum solar panel efficiency for you home.
How does solar power work FAQs
How does home solar power work?
Solar power works by converting sunlight into electricity through the photovoltaic (PV) effect. The PV effect is when photons from the sun’s rays knock electrons from their atomic orbit and channel them into an electrical current.
Using PV solar panels, sunlight can be used to power everything from calculators to homes to space stations.
How does solar power work at night?
Solar panels require sunlight to generate electricity, so they do not generate electricity during the day.
However, home solar systems typically generate excess electricity during the day, which can be stored in batteries or sent to the local grid in exchange for net metering credits. This is how solar owners maintain power when the sun isn’t shining.
Do solar panels work on cloudy days?
Yes, solar panels still generate electricity on cloudy days, although not as effectively as sunny days. Solar panels can capture both direct and indirect light (light that shines through clouds), but perform at around 10-25% of their normal efficiency when it’s cloudy.
Cloudy days can be beneficial, however, as rain washes the panels and increases their overall efficiency.
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Walk me through converting my house to total solar power.
This article will serve as a go-to guide for homeowners in Atlantic Canada looking to convert their homes to total solar power.
By adding solar to your home, you can earn financial benefits, improve your home’s resilience to the event of a local power blackout or other emergencies, and most importantly, reduce your home’s environmental impact.
The vast majority of solar systems being installed currently are grid-tied, meaning electricity flows to the home’s electrical panel where it is used up by the home’s electrical equipment, with any surplus electricity being exported back to the electrical grid.
A typical grid-tied solar system is made up of the solar panels themselves, racking equipment to affix it to a roof or a ground mount, one or more inverters to convert the electricity into its more usable AC form, and any other piece of electrical equipment necessary to connect an approved system to the home and/or the grid. These “balance of system” components are in most cases required by the Canadian Electrical Code, and include things like appropriately sized wiring, disconnection devices, junction boxes and breakers, along with a bi-directional utility meter and optional system monitoring equipment.
When considering a solar system for your home, one of the key decisions you will need to make is which type of inverter to install. After the panels themselves, inverters are the most important equipment in your solar PV system. There are three main types of inverters currently available for your grid-tied solar PV system: string inverters, microinverters, and power optimizers (also known as string inverters with power optimizers or DC optimizers).
Deciding if a solar system is right for you takes a trained eye. How much usable roof area is available? What is your sun exposure? How much electricity do you use? What size system can your electrical panel support? The best way to answer these questions is to speak with an approved solar installer.
When you decide to convert your home to solar power, the first thing that you can do is to make your home as energy efficient as possible before you do anything with solar panels. You can do so by:
- Installing energy-efficient Windows
- Using environmentally friendly insulation
- Installing energy-efficient appliances
Many people are concerned about the cost of installing a solar system. The good news is that solar is becoming increasingly affordable, especially with assistance from rebate and financing programs
Net metering (also known as net energy metering or NEM) is a solar incentive that allows you to store energy in the electric grid. When your solar panels produce more electricity than you need, that energy is sent to the grid in exchange for credits. Then, at night or other times when your solar panels are underproducing, you pull energy from the grid and use these credits to offset the costs of that energy.
With the right size solar energy system, you can produce enough electricity to match your home’s electricity use for the entire year. However, the amount of electricity your solar panels produce will vary throughout the year. Net metering helps you account for these differences by crediting you for the excess electricity your panels produce so you can use it later.
Residential solar PV systems must be appropriately sized to meet your electricity consumption. This means that the amount of electricity your solar PV system produces must be comparable to the amount of electricity used by your home. As an example: Nova Scotian homes use an average of 10,000 kWh per year. Where a well-designed solar PV system generates around 1,150kWh/kW of electricity per year in Nova Scotia, then a solar PV system that is 8.7 kW would be sized to meet approximately 100% of its annual energy use. Under the Enhanced Net Metering Program, all grid-tied solar PV systems require that an Interconnection Request and Equipment Information Form be submitted to and approved by NSPI. Before you have a solar system installed, your solar installer will typically complete this form on your behalf.
Converting your home to solar power may cost you a bit upfront, but if you do the math for the next ten or twenty years, you will be coming out ahead by quite a bit in financial savings. You are also being conscientious of the environment and the Rapid depletion of fossil fuels. Solar power is becoming a more viable option for homeowners as continue to drop and people hear more and more about it. The time has never been better for Nova Scotians to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and save money by embracing solar energy.
Brian McKay(aka The Solar Guy)
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How Is Renewable Solar Energy Produced
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How Solar Energy Powers My Home. Step by Step
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How Does Using Solar Energy Help The Environment?
How Does Using Solar Energy Help The Environment? How Does Using Solar Energy Help The Environment? The world is facing a significant challenge of climate change, and the need for renewable energy sources is more crucial than ever. Solar energy, one of the most promising forms of renewable energy, has the potential to make a significant impact in reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change. The use of solar energy is not only good for the environment, but it also offers many economic and social benefits. In this blog post, we have discussed how solar energy helps the environment. Reducing Carbon Emissions with Solar Energy One of the most significant benefits of using solar energy is that it helps reduce carbon emissions. Traditional energy sources like fossil fuels emit harmful gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide, which contribute to climate change. Solar energy, on the other hand, is a clean, renewable energy source that does not produce harmful emissions. By reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and shifting towards solar energy, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint and combat climate change. Conserving Natural Resources with Solar Energy Another significant benefit of using solar energy is that it helps conserve natural resources. Fossil fuels are finite resources that are not only expensive but also harmful to the environment. Solar energy, on the other hand, is a renewable resource that is freely available and can be harnessed without causing any harm to the environment. By harnessing solar energy, we can conserve natural resources and reduce our dependence on non-renewable sources of energy. Creating Jobs and Boosting the Economy with Solar Energy In addition to environmental benefits, solar energy also offers significant economic benefits. The growth of the solar industry has created numerous jobs in manufacturing, installation, and maintenance. The Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) reports that as of 2020, there were over 11,000 people employed in the solar industry in Canada. This includes people involved in the manufacturing, installation, and maintenance of solar panels, as well as those in related fields such as engineering, project management, and sales. CanSIA also reports that the solar industry has the potential to create many more jobs in Canada, especially as the country transitions to a low-carbon economy. The organization estimates that by 2030, the solar industry could employ over 50,000 people in Canada, with the potential for even more growth beyond that. The growth of the solar industry is also boosting local economies by creating new business opportunities and increasing tax revenues. Improving Energy Security with Solar Energy Solar energy also offers significant benefits in terms of energy security. Unlike fossil fuels, solar energy is not subject to supply disruptions or price fluctuations, making it a reliable source of energy. By investing in solar energy, countries can reduce their dependence on foreign oil and enhance their energy security. Enhancing Public Health with Solar Energy The use of solar energy can also have a positive impact on public health. Fossil fuel combustion releases harmful pollutants into the air, which can cause respiratory problems and other health issues. By reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and transitioning towards solar energy, we can improve air quality and enhance public health. Reducing the Need for Landfills with Solar Energy Solar energy also offers benefits in terms of waste reduction. The production and disposal of traditional batteries and electronic devices are significant sources of waste that end up in landfills. However, solar panels have a lifespan of over 20 years and can be recycled at the end of their useful life. By using solar energy, we can reduce the need for landfills and promote a more sustainable waste management system. Promoting Sustainable Development with Solar Energy Finally, solar energy plays a critical role in promoting sustainable development. The growth of the solar industry is helping to bring electricity to remote and underprivileged communities, enabling them to access education, healthcare, and other basic services. By harnessing solar energy, we can promote sustainable development, reduce poverty, and improve the standard of living for millions of people around the world. In conclusion, solar energy is a clean, renewable, and sustainable energy source that offers numerous benefits to the environment, economy, and society. By harnessing solar energy, we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate the effects of climate change.