Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination
CONTACT INFORMATION: Our office is open to visitors by appointment only. Please call or email from 8:00 a.m 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
- Carbon Neutral Counties Declaration
- Environmental Quality Advisory Council
- Fairfax Green Initiatives
- Green Building and Sustainable Development
- Joint Environmental Task Force
- Recycling and Trash
- Environmental Health
- Sustainability Initiatives Report
Going Solar in Fairfax County
Fairfax County encourages residents to invest in solar energy. By using renewable energy like solar instead of fossil fuels, you help reduce pollution and planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. And solar power can pay for itself in 10 to 20 years, so you’ll enjoy reduced energy bills, tax credits and other incentives, including extra protection from power loss during extreme weather when you invest in storage solutions.
This webpage provides resources for residents interested in installing solar panels in Fairfax County. For more information about the basics of solar energy, your solar options, and questions to ask solar professionals, refer to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Homeowner’s Guide to Going Solar.
Fairfax County residents are opting to install solar panels on their homes. Press play to hear from them how they made the switch and how it changed their lives for the better!
Solar energy uses a renewable energy source – the sun! In addition to reducing your electricity bill, using solar energy reduces your environmental impact and Fairfax County’s carbon footprint. You will also help reduce demand on the electricity grid during peak, sunny hours. Plus, installing solar panels can increase the value of your home. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, every dollar that a solar panel saves you on your electrical bills increases the value of your home by 20.
The first step in getting solar is assessing whether your home or building is a good candidate. A few questions to ask when considering going solar:
- Is your roof shaded by trees or other obstacles? Direct sunlight for six or more hours a day is ideal.
- Is your roof relatively new? Solar installations can last 20-25 years, so your roof should be less than five years old.
- What direction does your roof primarily face? Solar arrays can be configured in many different ways to allow for maximum exposure to sunlight throughout the day but ideally your roof should face south or west for the most exposure.
You can investigate your property’s solar potential by visiting the Northern Virginia Regional Commission’s NOVA Solar Map. You can also estimate the performance of potential solar projects using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PVWatts Calculator.
Finding a Contractor
Certified solar installers can be found through the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners®. Visit the county’s Consumer Services webpage for general tips about hiring a contractor.
By going through a solar co-op purchasing program, homeowners are granted access to a pre-qualified solar installer for a no-cost evaluation of their property and can take advantage of cost savings should they decide to pursue a solar installation. information on solar co-op purchasing programs can be found below.
BEWARE OF DOOR-TO-DOOR SALESMEN AND SCAMS
Fairfax County residents should be aware of their rights and the regulations surrounding door-to-door solicitation in the county. If a salesperson comes to your door with information about solar panels or installation, please ask to see their county-issued license before engaging with them. Never provide your personal information (birthdate, social security number, etc.) to a solicitor.
If you encounter an unlicensed solicitor, please contact the Fairfax County Police non-emergency line at 703-691-2131. information on door-to-door solicitation can be found here.
Cost and Financing
Your electricity bill is based on how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity you use. Most homes use between 800 kWh and 1,500 kWh each month depending on weather, home size, energy efficiency and how many electric appliances are used.
The price of solar electricity is typically expressed in terms of dollars per watt of installed power. Typical pricing for residential systems is in the range of 5000.50 to 4.00 per watt, depending on the size and market economics. A 5 kilowatt (5 kW) solar system will produce about 8,000 kWh of electricity per year. At 3 per watt, that system would cost about 15,000 to install.
By reducing electricity costs and taking advantage of tax incentives, the 15,000 investment can pay for itself in about 10-15 years.
Residential solar panels can be purchased outright or financed with a loan from a solar installer, bank, or other financial institution.
Solar Co-Op Purchasing Programs
Solar group purchasing programs make getting solar easier and less expensive by providing information and benefits to participants. These programs typically offer:
- A free assessment to find out whether your home is a good candidate for solar installation
- Bulk discounts on solar systems, ranging from 10 to 15 percent off
- Access to a qualified solar installer
- Discounted opportunities to bundle your solar system with electric vehicle charging stations and solar battery storage
Additionally, some programs offer participants a complimentary, virtual home energy assessment to help improve their home energy performance holistically. Those who decide to pursue solar through a co-op purchasing program typically receive a 10 to 15 percent discount off current consumer rates for solar arrays and systems.
Fairfax County offers a number of incentives to encourage residents and businesses to install solar panels. The county’s Land Development Services waives the permit fee for solar permit applications, and the county’s Department of Tax Administration provides a 5-year solar energy equipment tax exemption. To learn about the permitting and inspection process, refer to Land Development Services’ page about Residential Solar Permits.
Federal Tax Credits
The federal government currently offers a tax credit for solar PV system installation, to include the costs of the solar panels, contractor labor costs, balance-of-system equipment, and energy storage devices. Systems installed between 2022 and 2032 are eligible for a 30 percent tax credit. The credit will decrease to 26 percent for systems installed in 2033, to 22 percent for systems installed in 2034, and the credit will expire in 2035 unless renewed by Congress. The installation of the system must be complete during the tax year, and there is no maximum amount that can be claimed.
Under Virginia state law (§56-594), residential customers may install systems up to 20 kilowatts and non-residential customers may install systems up to 500 kilowatts. Electric utilities must credit solar panel owners for excess electricity generated through something called net metering. Your solar contractor should coordinate with your electric utility to replace your standard meter with a net meter after your panels are installed. The net meter is bi-directional, tracking electrons flowing both out of and into the grid.
How To Install Solar Panels on Roof: DIY Solar Panel Installation Guide
If you are working in construction or want to know how to install solar panels on roof yourself, know that it is not as complex as it seems.
Still, you will need the right tools and equipment and carefully follow the instructions since you are dealing with electrical wires.
The following are the nine steps in DIY solar panel installation (on shingles roof).
Step 1: Assemble Everything You Need
Preparing all the materials and tools you need is the first step to a successful project and helps save you a lot of time.
Since you will be up on the roof, you want to avoid climbing up and down to find missing items.
You will need the following:
- Solar panel
- PV wire
- Mounting brackets
- Drill and drill bit
- Tape measure
- Chalk line
- Anything else in your solar package and a tool belt 1
Related Reading : Types of Solar Panels
Step 2: Mark Locations
With your tools ready, the next step is to mark where the stanchions will be on the roof. These are vital to the installation because the sturdy metal structures carry the panels and must distribute their weight evenly across the rafters.
You should refer to your house’s blueprint to help connect them to the rafter on the roof. 2
While at it, ensure that the stanchions are in line (using the chalk line) before drilling and place them four feet from each other.
Step 3: Fix Stanchions
You should properly fix your stanchions since they will hold the panels in place.
First, pre drill holes in the rafters and secure them with steel bolts, checking that the distance between each stanchion is at least four feet.
Step 4: Install Flashing
Afterward, you should fix the flashing beneath the shingles and fasten it using a bolt on the rafters. This process keeps your roof safe from leaking after poking holes and keeps the roof waterproof.
How to install solar panels yourself on your roof. (It’s easier than you think)
Besides flashing, the bolts also have sealants to protect the roof from leakages.
Step 5: Affix the Rails
The rails are essential to installation because they securely hold the panels and attach to the stanchions. 3
First, screw and fasten the holes, and using bolts, connect the top and lower rails, preferably using your impact driver.
Remember to make them tight to secure them in place.
Step 6: Check That the Rails Are Parallel (Check for Square)
Any professional will tell you how crucial it is for the rails to be in line and parallel.
You can take the distance between them using your tape measure, checking that the diagonal distance is the same.
Using diagonals is the fastest way to check that they are square, and if not, you must adjust or, unfortunately, drill again.
Step 7: Fix the Inverters
All the steps above were merely preparations for installation; the steps from here involve how to wire solar panels, which need care and proper handling.
First, know which wires you need and how to attach the inverters beneath each panel.
Each micro-inverter should have six-gauge copper wires, and the connection goes into and out of the arrays.
Route the wires from the panels to a meter, then to a sub-panel. Next, run them to the inverters through the rails, and remember to turn off the powers before wiring.
It can be helpful to have a diagram of the wiring plan, as well as the placement of your panels before beginning.
Step 8: Panel Placement
When you are confident that the wiring is okay and the connections are working, the next step is to attach the panels to the stanchions you have already drilled.
What Are the Benefits of Installing Solar Panels on Roof?
Solar panel installation is booming, and stakeholders are encouraging more homeowners to adopt it as a better option than fossil fuels for electricity generation.
The panels use light from the sun, which is free and clean, making it an environmentally-friendly power source.
Other than reducing household carbon footprint, solar panel has more benefits. The following are reasons why installing solar panels on your roof is worth it.
- Low or no energy bills: Solar power is the most efficient and economical energy source. Its power comes from the sun for free, and you can use batteries to store the surplus or make net metered connections to offset electricity bills.
- Environmentally friendly: Installing solar panels on your roof reduces your house’s GHG emissions, unlike using fossil fuels.
- Home value increase: Besides saving on energy costs, solar panels help increase your house’s value if you have plans to resell. Homeowners are usually attracted to energy-efficient homes, and panels will be a significant selling point.
- Easy installation: While you can hire experts to set up the system, you will appreciate how easy it is to DIY the installation. You only need the solar panel kit, tools, and a step-by-step guide.
What To Consider During Solar Panel Installation
Before learning how to install solar panels on roof, you should first weigh out if it is even worth it for your home.
Several factors will guide you to determine whether solar panel installation is the way to go.
Where do you live? Do tall buildings overshadow your house? Are there towering trees that will block the sun? These questions will help you gauge whether solar panels are worth investing in.
It would be a bad idea if tall buildings and trees all around cast shadows on the panels because the setup would need more sunlight, leading to low power output.
The side of the roof you choose for the installation should point directly to sunlight for the better part of the day (Mostly the southern slope)
Panels harness the sun’s energy; therefore, how you angle them makes a huge difference. You should install them, making them more exposed to the sun and effortlessly receive the rays.
While most angles are at 30-45 degrees, the best tilt depends on your location and latitude, and you can use a solar panel calculator to find the best angle based on where you live.
The general rule is that the panels should face south if you are in the northern hemisphere and true north if you are in the south.
Before installation, it is crucial to check that your roof is perfect. The process requires a lot of drilling and hooking of equipment and will not work if you have an old roof.
Solar panels usually serve you for 25-30 years, meaning that your roof should be sturdy enough. It is best to fix damages, and if you have plans to change the roof, you want to do that before installing the panels.
Otherwise, you will have to take down the entire setup, change the roof, then reinstall it, which costs a lot of time and money.
Another crucial question is, will your roof handle the extra weight for all those years? Panels weigh about 2.5-2.7 pounds for a square foot and, in most cases, are not a danger to your roof or people living inside the house.
However, it is safer to call an engineer or an installation expert to confirm whether your roof is in perfect shape and if everything meets the requirements. 5,6
Related Reading : Size of Standard Solar Panel: Solar Sizing Calculator Finds How Many
Tips for Solar Panel Installation: Residential
Below are some tips for homeowners before installing solar panels.
The Truth About Replacing or Repairing a Roof After Installing Solar Panels
- Considering your roof warranty against your solar panels’ lifespan is essential. You don’t want to make costly roof repairs by removing the panels and reinstalling them.
- In some cases, the panels are too massive for the roof, making it crucial to check your roof’s size and shape before purchasing a kit. You should also know how many solar panels do I need and check whether your roof will accommodate them.
- Your roof’s slope also matters because the goal is to find the best location that captures more sunlight, leading to higher output.
- When installing solar panels, you should also consider how the water drains from the roof. The panels can interfere with the water’s direction, leading to leaks, which helps address these concerns before setting up the panels.
- If you plan to set net metering, it is best to confirm whether your state and local providers allow it. Otherwise, it will be impossible to subsidize your electricity usage when there is low solar power output.
- The most important decision regarding solar power is who will perform the installation. If you’re unsure, it’s always best to call professionals.
Questions to Ask About Free Solar
Don’t get us wrong; there is ample reason for every Arizona homeowner and business to save money by turning our abundant sunlight into clean, affordable energy. But it doesn’t have to be free or require a smoke-and-mirrors marketing gimmick to make solar a compelling case. A reputable installer will be completely transparent and share ALL the options with you upfront. Financing can be an excellent way to go solar, but it’s important to look past the slogans, ask questions, and understand the numbers for yourself.
We’ve listed a few important questions to ask below to help get you started.
What solar panels and inverters will be used?
Not all panels are created equal. Some produce less energy from the same footprint than a higher quality panel of the same size. A more efficient panel means that you don’t have to buy as many to make the same amount of power. This is particularly important for people with less roof space.
If the free solar offer you are entertaining is light on equipment details, be skeptical. Lower-grade panels may require you to purchase more panels than needed while also offsetting less of your energy bill overall. A reputable installer will provide options, take the time to show you the numbers, and help you explore the payback associated with each option. Just remember, if the offer starts with free, there’s a good chance that lower-grade panels and materials are being used. This results in a lower-wattage system that might not produce as much power or last as long as a system built with higher-quality components.
What will you give up if you lease?
Leases can be a great option if you don’t have a tax liability. However, when you lease a system, you’re giving up a couple of things compared to a system purchased with cash or traditional financing. The most notable loss is the federal solar tax credits and the eventual ownership of the system. The tax credits will go to the leasing company since they are the ones who actually own the system. Don’t give up those valuable tax credits to someone else if you pay taxes.
Leased systems can also create snags during a home sale. The new buyer must agree to take over the lease, and they must apply for the lease as if they’re a new buyer. This means a good credit score and willingness to assume the monthly payment. Some prospective buyers may find it off-putting to take over a solar lease, which could potentially kill the sale altogether. Owned solar does not have this issue. it transfers to the new owner as easily as a refrigerator or pool.
Who will help if something goes wrong?
As mentioned in the point above, your leasing company owns the system. If they go out of business, what will happen to the panels on your roof? While this might sound like a long shot, you might be surprised at how many companies actually go out of business after just a few years.
Benefits of Financing Your Solar System
If you’re looking to go solar, we usually recommend a partial for full cash purchase and financing the rest of the cost whenever possible, in place of leasing. In fact, at Sun Valley Solar Solutions, we don’t offer our customers a lease option anymore. We made this decision a couple of years ago because our financing options have better terms than leases in most cases, and it allows our customers to reap the tax benefits of going solar. Below are a few benefits of financing versus leasing.
You Own the System the Tax Credits
As opposed to leasing, where the leasing company gets the tax benefits, with financing you’re able to keep those for yourself. as long as you have a tax liability. The most lucrative ones are the 30% federal solar tax credit and the 450,000 state of Arizona tax credit. You’ll also be the one to own the system, which adds value to your home and can give you a competitive advantage over other homes on the market.
Quicker Return on Investment
Financing your solar energy system typically results in a quicker return on your investment. Depending on your electricity costs and the size of your system, most homeowners see a positive ROI in 7-10 years.
Solar Incentives Can Make Solar Affordable
As mentioned in the section above, there are some lucrative solar incentives that can make solar more affordable. The most notable is the 30% tax credit, which was refreshed in August 2022 when President Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act. With this important piece of legislation, the previous ramp down schedule was revised with the reinstated 30% tax credit and a 10-year extension for any residential installations through 2032.
Rebranded as the Residential Clean Energy Credit, the new rate is retroactive to any solar, or solar and battery system placed into service on or after January 1, 2022. Beginning in 2033 the tax credit will gradually phase out and be gone by the end of 2035. The state of Arizona also offers the 450,000 tax credit along with no sales tax on a solar energy system purchase. So although solar isn’t free, the current solar incentives are there to help make it more attainable.
Things to consider when getting solar panels
With so many thousands of dollars required upfront, going solar can be intimidating for many people, notes Vikram Aggarwal, CEO and founder of EnergySage.
Aggarwal urges comparison shopping and checking any claims — such as that your utility or the government will give you solar for free. EnergySage, he says, helps with this and connects consumers with reputable contractors. The site also has information about incentives offered by different states.
Another factor to consider is how your utility company credits you for the solar energy it gets from you, particularly if you don’t have a battery and are reliant on the utility to run your home when your panels aren’t collecting enough.
Michael Ware, a senior solar specialist with consulting firm EcoMotion, says there’s tension over how the utilities credit customers for solar power. The utilities want a discount, similar to how they pay for other forms of energy that they sell to consumers. But solar advocates want the utilities to credit customers the full amount they have to pay for their power, known as net metering.
Sherri Shields, director of communications and marketing for the Florida Solar Energy Center at the University of Central Florida, said people who install solar should check with their insurance companies about whether they cover the panels or whether you have to purchase extra insurance.
Other reasons to go solar
Saving money is just one reason people go solar, notes Robert Stoner, deputy director for Science and Technology of the MIT Energy Initiative. “I think most people who invest in residential rooftop solar simply want to be part of the transition, and to a lesser degree to be seen to be,” he says. “Nothing wrong with that…Some, like me, own homes — my weekend home is at the end of a five-mile-long barrier beach — that simply don’t have the option to have grid electricity.” Stoner says his solar system, which includes a bank of lead acid batteries, provides all of his electricity, “And it brings me a lot of joy! Some of that comes from the feeling of independence I get, and some of it from getting to experience the miracle of electricity being produced from the sun.”
Rotraut Bockstahler, 86, of Sarasota, Fla., with her husband, installed 26 solar panels and a Tesla battery in November 2016. Installing the solar panels cost just under 28,000, and they received a tax credit of about 8,400, leaving a net cost of about 19,600. Getting the battery cost about 8,400, and they received a tax credit of about 5000,500, for a net cost of about 5,900. “We feel strongly about climate change and wish to make a contribution to reverse that trend,” Bockstahler says. Going solar “was one of the most positive decisions we made for our living in Florida. We have saved money, made a contribution to fighting climate change and were fortunate enough to have electricity every time there was an outage in the electric grid.”
Going solar doesn’t always cut you off from the power company entirely. When the system was first installed, Bockstahler says, their need for electricity from the utility dropped significantly and their power bills went down to about 40 to 60 a month. With increasing energy costs, they’re now over 100 a month. But in addition to the power bill savings, she counts the money saved on food that didn’t spoil and hotel rooms they didn’t have to get when the power grid failed.
If they have any regrets, she says, it’s that they didn’t get a bigger system. “We feel that the decision we made about the number of panels we have, was maybe a little too conservative and should have included more circuits that could be powered by the battery,” she says.
Should you wait for new solar panel technology?
Another reason you might hesitate to go solar is that technology might advance to offer more efficient and/or less expensive options. And it’s true that different technologies continue to emerge. For instance, some companies are offering roof shingles that serve as solar collectors. Also, standard solar panels have become more efficient, less expensive and better looking.
If you wait, might you have a chance to get something better?
Aggarwal says solar panels do improve slightly each year, but not enough to justify waiting for a dramatic change. A decade ago, he said, the panels would each generate maybe 240 or 245 watts. Now, they each produce 400 or 420 watts of power. So this means, you can get more power from a system that covers the same amount of roof space. The panels, he says, used to be bright blue with silver around the edges. Now, they’re all black and “look beautiful,” he says. And they’re more durable.
Solar shingles, he says, so far haven’t turned out to be ready yet for broad use. Aggarwal says a roofing company plans to introduce “an interesting product” along those lines sometime this year. But solar shingles are still less efficient and more expensive than traditional solar panels. However, if you’re planning to replace your roof, he says, solar shingles may be worth considering.
Ware said he expects the price of batteries to come down in the next five or 10 years as companies explore different battery technologies. The currently most popular battery technology is lithium-ion, which may pose a fire hazard in some instances, leading some jurisdictions to require that they be mounted outdoors.
Is solar right for you?
Some homes are not suitable for solar:
- If you have an old roof that needs to be replaced in a few years, for example, it makes sense to wait because removing and reinstalling solar panels can cost thousands.
- If your roof faces north or is in the shade, you probably aren’t a good solar candidate.
- It’s also more complicated and expensive to install solar on roofs covered with clay tiles, Liberati says.
There is another option for people who can’t put solar collectors on their roofs.
Community solar involves an array of solar panels that people can purchase an interest in. People who participate in community solar generally receive credit from their utility company for power generated by their share of the project. You can find information about community solar projects in your area on the EnergySage website.
Note: This item first appeared in Kiplinger’s Retirement Report, our popular monthly periodical that covers key concerns of affluent older Americans who are retired or preparing for retirement. Subscribe here if you want retirement advice that’s right on the money.