Homeowner’s Guide to Going Solar (2024)

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Solar projects are making it easier for Americans to choose solar energy to power their homes.

Department of Energy

Since 2008, hundreds of thousands of solar panels have popped up across the country as an increasing number of Americans choose to power their daily lives with the sun’s energy. Thanks in part toSolar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) investments, the cost of going solar goes down every year. You may be considering the option of adding a solar energy system to your home’s roof or finding another way to harness the sun’s energy. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solar solution, here are some resources that can help you figure out what’s best for you. Consider these questions before you go solar.

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There are two primary technologies that can harness the sun’s power and turn it into electricity. The first is the one you’re likely most familiar with – photovoltaics, or PV. These are the panels you’ve seen on rooftops or in fields. When the sun shines onto a solar panel, photons from the sunlight are absorbed by the cells in the panel, which creates an electric field across the layers and causes electricity to flow.Learn more about how PV works.

The second technology is concentrating solar power, or CSP. It is used primarily in very large power plants and is not appropriate for residential use. This technology uses mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect solar energy and convert it to heat, which can then be used to produce electricity.Learn more about how CSP works.

Solar panels are built to work in all climates, but in some cases, rooftops may not be suitable for solar systems due to age or tree cover. If there are trees near your home that create excessive shade on your roof, rooftop panels may not be the most ideal option. The size, shape, and slope of your roof are also important factors to consider. Typically, solar panels perform best on south-facing roofs with a slope between 15 and 40 degrees, though other roofs may be suitable too. You should also consider the age of your roof and how long until it will need replacement.

If a solar professional determines that your roof is not suitable for solar, or you don’t own your home, you can still benefit from solar energy. Community solar allows multiple people to benefit from a single, shared solar array that can be installed on- or off-site. Costs associated with purchasing and installing a solar energy system are divided among all of the participants, who are able to buy into the shared system at a level that best fits their budget.Learn more about community solar.

Those interested in community solar can take advantage of a tool from SETO awardee EnergySage. The company'sCommunity Solar Marketplaceaggregates the many available options in one place and standardizes project information, allowing interested consumers to easily locate and compare multiple community solar projects in their area.

There are a number ofmapping servicesthat have been developed by SETO awardees that will help you determine if your roof is suitable for solar and can even provide you with quotes from pre-screened solar providers in your area. In addition to those resources, an internet search can help you find local companies that install solar panels. Because you will likely have many options to choose from, it’s important to thoroughly read reviews of solar companies to make sure you are selecting the best fit for you and your home.

Solar co-ops andSolarize campaignscan also help you start the process of going solar. These programs work by allowing groups of homeowners to work together to collectively negotiate rates, select an installer, and create additional community interest in solar through a limited-time offer to join the campaign. Ultimately, as the number of residents who participate in the program increase, the cost of the installations will decrease.

Right now, the best way to install solar is through a qualified professional who holds a certification to do so and works with high-quality solar panels. The industry-standard certification is awarded through the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) developed a tool calledPVWattsfor this purpose. It estimates the energy production and cost of energy of grid-connected PV energy systems for any address in the world. It allows homeowners, small building owners, installers, and manufacturers to easily develop estimates of the performance of potential PV installations, and can even compare solar’s cost to utility bills. These tools are great for getting started, but make sure to work with a solar installer for a custom estimate of how much power your solar energy system is likely to generate.

For its analyses, NREL uses an average system size of 7.15 kilowatts direct-current with a 3-11 kilowatt range. According to SETO awardee EnergySage, that’s enough power to meet all the energy needs for an average home in Austin, Texas.

The amount of money you can save with solar depends upon how much electricity you consume, the size of your solar energy system, if you choose to buy or lease your system, and how much power it is able to generate given the direction your roof faces and how much sunlight hits it. Your savings also depend on the electricity rates set by your utility and how much the utility will compensate you for the excess solar energy you send back to the grid. Check theNational Utility Rate Databaseto see current electricity rates in your area.

Insome cities around the country, solar is already cost competitive with the electricity sold by your local utility. The cost of going solar hasdropped every year since 2009, a trend researchers expect to continue. Not only are the prices of panels dropping, so are the costs associated with installation, such as permitting and inspection—also known as “soft costs.” All of SETO's funding programs are working toward improving the affordability of solar and making it easier for consumers to choose solar.

It should also be noted that energy efficiency upgrades complement solar energy economically. By usingEnergy Starappliances and other products in your home, you’ll need less solar energy to power your home.

Consumers have different financial options to select from when deciding to go solar. In general, a purchased solar system can be installed at a lower total cost than system installed using a solar loan, lease, or power purchase agreement (PPA).

If you prefer to buy your solar energy system, solar loans can lower the up-front costs of the system. In most cases, monthly loan payments are smaller than a typical energy bill, which will help you save money from the start. Solar loans function the same way as home improvement loans, and some jurisdictions will offer subsidized solar energy loans with below-market interest rates, making solar even more affordable. New homeowners can add solar as part of their mortgage with loans available through theFederal Housing AdministrationandFannie Mae, which allow borrowers to include financing for home improvements in the home’s purchase price. Buying a solar energy system makes you eligible for the Solar Investment Tax Credit, or ITC.In December 2020, Congress passed an extension of the ITC, which provides a 26% tax credit for systems installed in 2020-2022, and 22% for systems installed in 2023.The tax credit expires starting in 2024 unless Congress renews it.Learn more about the ITC.

Solar leases and PPAs allow consumers to host solar energy systems that are owned by solar companies and purchase back the electricity generated. Consumers enter into agreements that allow them to have lower electricity bills without monthly loan payments. In many cases, that means putting no money down to go solar. Solar leases entail fixed monthly payments that are calculated using the estimated amount of electricity the system will produce. With a solar PPA, consumers agree to purchase the power generated by the system at a set price per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced. With both of these options, though, you are not entitled to tax benefits since you don’t own the solar energy system.

Navigating the landscape of solar financing can be difficult. The Clean Energy States Alliance released a guide to help homeowners understand their options, explaining the advantages and disadvantages of each.Download the guide.

DOE created the Homeowner's Guide to the Federal Tax Credit for Solar Photovoltaics to providean overview of the federal investment tax credit for those interested in residential solar photovoltaics, or PV. It does not constitute professional tax advice or other professional financial guidance. And it should not be used as the only source of information when making purchasing decisions, investment decisions, or tax decisions, or when executing other binding agreements.

DSIREis the most comprehensive source of information on incentives and policies that support renewable energy in the United States. It is operated by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University and was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. By entering your zip code, DSIRE provides you with a comprehensive list of financial incentives and regulatory policies that apply to your home. Additionally, an experienced local installer should be able to assist you in claiming any state and local incentives, as well as the ITC.

If you want to learn more about state and federal solar policies regarding incentives and tax breaks, the Solar Power in Your Community guidebook (PDF) has a section—Appendix A on page 87—that explains it in detail.

Buying a solar energy system will likely increase your home’s value. Arecent studyfound that solar panels are viewed as upgrades, just like a renovated kitchen or a finished basem*nt, and home buyers across the country have been willing to pay a premium of about $15,000 for a home with an average-sized solar array. Additionally, there is evidence homes with solar panels sell faster than those without. In 2008, California homes with energy efficient features and PV were found to sell faster than homes that consume more energy. Keep in mind, these studies focused on homeowner-owned solar arrays.

When it comes to third-party owned (TPO) systems,data showsthat while they add some complexity to the real estate transaction, the overall impacts in terms of sales price, time on market, agreement transfers, and customer satisfaction are mostly neutral. In some cases, TPO systems can even add value.

ThePV Value®tool is helpful for both home sellers and homebuyers. It calculates the energy production value for a PV system and is compliant with Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice and has been endorsed by the Appraisal Institute for the income approach method. Make sure your appraiser uses this tool to get the most accurate estimate of your PV system’s value.

In most cases, yes, you can install solar panels on your home if it is governed by an HOA, though you will likely have to submit a request. Many states and territories have enacted solar access laws, which prevent HOAs from prohibiting or unreasonably restricting solar installations. Solar access laws vary by state, so if you’re planning to install solar and have an HOA, it’s important to know the laws that apply to you.Learn more about HOAs and solar energy.

Net metering is an arrangement between solar energy system owners and utilities in which the system owners are compensated for any solar power generation that is exported to the electricity grid. The name derives from the 1990s, when the electric meter simply ran backwards when power was being exported, but it is rarely that simple today. Whether or not your solar system qualifies for net metering payments depends on policies and practices in your state and electric utility. Your local electric utility would be a good place to source information on net metering in your service area. When researching net metering policies and practices in your service area, there are some basic questions to consider, such as availability in your service area, eligible system size and customer type, rates, and design of bill credits.

Yes! Building-integrated photovoltaics, or BIPV, allows homeowners to alter the appearance of their solar panels so they match their surroundings. SETO has funded projects that commercialized technology enabling homeowners to add a graphical layer to their solar panels so they blend in with the roof. Learn more about BIPV.

Storage refers to energy storage, most often in the form of batteries. Installing energy storage with a solar system can help utilize the power generated when it’s needed most, regardless of whether it’s sunny outside at the time. Storage allows you to save that energy and use it later in the day, like when you turn the heat on at night or run the dishwasher after dinner or even when the power goes out. Ask your solar installer if they offer battery storage options and learn more about storing solar energy.

Absolutely! All solar panels meet international inspection and testing standards, and a qualified installer will install them to meet local building, fire, and electrical codes. Also, your solar energy system will undergo a thorough inspection from a certified electrician as part of the installation process.

A working PV panel has a strong encapsulant that prevents chemicals from leaching, similar to how defroster elements are sealed in a car windshield. Occasionally, a solar panel may break due to weather or other events. According to the International Energy Agency Photovoltaic Power Systems Technology Collaboration Program, any lead and cadmium exposure from broken solar panels in residential, commercial, and utility-scale systems would be below the acceptable limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for soil, air, and groundwater.

Using solar power instead of conventional forms of energy reduces the amount of carbon and other pollutants that are emitted into the environment. Reducing the amount of carbon in our atmosphere translates into less pollution and cleaner air and water.

No one should feel they are being taken advantage of while pursuing clean energy. At the federal level, you can contact the Federal Trade Commission to report fraud, scams, and bad business practices. At the state level, laws vary depending on where you live. You can contact one of the consumer protection offices within your state or territory to see how they can help, too.

Residential Consumer Guide to Solar Power– In an effort to make going solar as effortless and streamlined as possible, the Solar Energy Industries Association developed this guide to inform potential solar customers about the financing options available, contracting terms to be aware of, and other useful tips.

A Homeowner’s Guide to Solar Financing: Leases, Loans and PPAs– This guide from the Clean Energy States Alliance helps homeowners navigate the complex landscape of residential solar system financing. It describes three popular residential solar financing choices and explains the advantages and disadvantages of each, as well as how they compare to a direct cash purchase.

Solar PV Project Financing: Regulatory and Legislative Challenges for Third-Party PPA System Owners– Third-party owned solar arrays allow a developer to build and own a PV system on a customer’s property and sell the power back to the customer. While this can eliminate many of the up-front costs of going solar, third-party electricity sales face regulatory and legislative challenges in some states and jurisdictions. This report details the challenges and explains alternatives.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Encouraging Solar Development through Community Association Policies and Processes– This guide, written for association boards of directors and architectural review committees, discusses the advantages of solar energy and examines the elements of state solar rights provisions designed to protect homeowner access to these benefits. It then presents a number of recommendations associations can use to help bring solar to their communities.

Selling into the Sun: Price Premium Analysis of a Multi-State Dataset of Solar Homes– This report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory finds that home buyers are consistently willing to pay premiums of approximately $15,000 for homes that have solar across various states, housing and PV markets, and home types.

SEIA Residential Lease Disclosure Form– This form for solar energy leasing companies will help consumers better understand the terms and costs of their solar leases. The form is also designed to help consumers choose among competitive providers.

Residential Solar-Adopter Income and Demographic Trends – This report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory finds that while solar adoption skews toward high-income households, low- and moderate-income households are also adopting, and that the rooftop solar market is becoming more equitable over time.

Learn more about thesolar office's accomplishments.

    Learn More About How to Go Solar

    Smart Shopping Tips for Solar

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    Homeowner’s Guide to the Federal Tax Credit for Solar Photovoltaics

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    Walk Me Through It: A Step-By-Step Guide for Consumers Going Solar

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    Money Matters: How to Finance Your Rooftop Solar Energy System

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    Decisions, Decisions: Choosing the Right Solar Installer

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    Replacing Your Roof? It’s a Great Time to Add Solar

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    Purchasing Power: Going Solar through Cooperatives

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    Should I Get Battery Storage for My Solar Energy System?

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    Where Do I Sign? Understanding Your Rooftop Solar Energy Contract

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    Busted: Common Solar Myths and Misconceptions

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    Read Stories from Solar Homeowners

    Summer of Solar Citizens: Meet Laura Morales

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    Summer of Solar Citizens: Meet Pablo Diaz-Gutierrez

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    Summer of Solar Citizens: Meet Sekar Veerappan

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    Summer of Solar Citizens: Meet Lakisha Harris

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    Summer of Solar Citizens: Meet Tionna Richardson

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    More on the Solar Office

    • Find more solar energy resourcesfrom SETO.
    • Visit our Solar Energy ResearchDatabase.
    • Learn more about SETO's solar energy research.
    Homeowner’s Guide to Going Solar (2024)


    How much is a solar system for a 2000 sq ft house? ›

    Although the amount of energy a household uses will influence how many solar panels it needs, it will likely cost between $15,000-$22,500 to install solar panels on a 2,000-square-foot home.

    How many solar panels does it take to run a house? ›

    The average American home typically needs between 15 and 20 solar panels. That is based on average electrical use of 10,716 kWh annually.

    How long can a house run on solar power alone? ›

    With a home battery alone, you could power your basic amenities for about a day or two in the event of a power outage. It really depends on how much energy you use in a day. It's possible for most households to limit their electrical consumption to around 5 or 6 kWh per day.

    How does the 30 percent solar tax credit work? ›

    The federal solar tax credit, commonly referred to as the investment tax credit or ITC, allows you to claim 30% of the cost of your solar energy system as a credit to your federal tax bill. If it costs $10,000 to install your solar panel system, you'll receive a $3,000 credit, which directly reduces your tax bill.

    How long does a solar panel last? ›

    The Life Span of Solar Panels

    Manufacturers design solar panels to last for decades. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), solar panels last between 20 and 30 years. Some well-made panels may even last up to 40 years.

    Can I run my AC on solar power? ›

    Solar energy is all the rage these days, and with good reason. With the promise of clean, renewable energy, homeowners are looking to reduce their carbon footprint while saving on energy bills. But can you run an AC unit with solar panels? The short answer is yes, you can!

    How many solar batteries are needed to power a house? ›

    If you use a battery to go off-grid

    Your solar panels produce electricity for an average of 5 hours a day, so you'll need enough stored electricity to last the remaining 19 hours. Based on the 6.3 kW electricity load above, you'll need about 120 kWh of battery capacity—or about 12 average solar batteries.

    Can 1 solar panels power a whole house? ›

    Can a House Run Completely on Solar Power? The short answer: Yes, you can use solar energy to power your entire house. In fact, some people have used expansive solar panel systems to go off the grid completely, turning their homes into self-sustaining ecosystems (at least as far as energy is concerned).

    What happens to solar power when batteries are full? ›

    When the battery is full, the excess power is directed back into the solar panels, resulting in a temporary increase in voltage. This method effectively reduces the overall efficiency of the system because the excess energy is essentially lost.

    How long do solar batteries last? ›

    How Long Will Solar Batteries Last? Most solar batteries on the market today will last somewhere between five to 15 years. While that is a significant amount of time, you'll likely need to replace them within your solar system's 25 to 30+ year lifespan.

    Can a house run 100% on solar? ›

    This is one of the most common questions we get from California homeowners who are thinking about going solar. The answer is yes; a house can run only on solar power, but there are a few factors to consider if you want to meet all of your home's power needs with solar energy.

    How many years can you claim the solar tax credit? ›

    You can claim the federal tax credit once for the year you install a solar system. However, if the credit is more than the taxes you owe, it will roll over to the next tax year for up to five years.

    Why am I not getting my full solar tax credit? ›

    In short, you must owe at least as much money in taxes as the amount of your credit in order to receive the full amount of that solar tax credit.

    Is a solar loan tax deductible? ›

    Secured solar loans require you to provide some sort of collateral, typically your house. Secured loans are less risky for the lender, so they generally have lower credit score requirements and lower interest rates. In most cases, the interest you pay on a secured loan is tax-deductible.

    How much does Tesla solar cost for a 2000 square foot house? ›

    FAQ About Tesla Solar Roofs

    A Tesla Solar Roof costs approximately $76,000 for a 2,000-square-foot home. Many factors can fluctuate this price, such as your roof complexity and how many batteries you need.

    How many kilowatts does it take to run a 2000 square foot house? ›

    Average kWh usage for a 2,000 square foot home: 1,325 kWh. Average kWh usage for a 3,000 square foot home: 1,840 kWh. Average kWh usage for a 4,000 square foot home: 2.200 kWh.

    How much does a 15kW solar system cost? ›

    The Cost of Going Solar

    A typical rooftop solar unit costs around $2.5 to $5 per watt without factoring in the universal federal tax credit and other solar rebates. This means you could end up spending $37,500 to $75,000 on a 15kW solar arrangement.

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