ION Solar Blog

The Ultimate Guide to Solar Power for Homes

Solar power for homes has never been more viable, affordable or accessible as a means of saving on utility bills, achieving energy independence and lowering your carbon footprint. This guide will help you take the right steps toward making the switch to renewable energy through sun power.

  • What is Solar Power for Homes?
  • Why Should I Use Solar Power?
  • Will a Solar Power System Work for My House?
  • Are There Any Financial Incentives for Installing a Solar Home Energy System?
  • How Much Does a Solar Power System for My Home Cost?
  • Pros and Cons of Solar Power for Homes

What is Solar Power for Homes?

When considering solar power for homes, there are three main ways to capitalize on the sun’s energy: Passive solar, thermal for hot water, and photovoltaics. Each has its benefits for homeowners seeking to lessen their energy demands and lighten their carbon footprint.

Passive solar is the heating or cooling of a home using the direct heat of the sun’s energy. Think about your car parked in the sun on a hot day. Heat is generated by the sun and held or captured by the air, seats, dashboard, and virtually any mass object. To a certain degree, all homes use or are affected by passive solar energy.

Thermal refers to using the direct energy of the sun to heat our water and is then used on demand in the home or stored for later use. It’s like leaving a garden hose filled with water out in the sun. When you transfer this idea to roof panels, your water tank, and plumbing can be heated on a more permanent and accessible scale. Solar hot water is very cost effective, as heating water is the second largest use of energy in homes. The payback for a thermal system can be as low as two to five years.

Solar photovoltaics (PV) is the process most people think of when discussing solar energy. Sunlight is converted into electricity through thin silicon wafers arranged by panels in an array on your roof. The DC electricity travels through a wire to an inverter near your main panel, which then converts the current into usable AC electricity for your home. It requires a simple investment of roof space, solar panels, an inverter and some wire.

Why Should I Use Solar Power?

Investing in renewable energy is attractive from a lifestyle perspective because it’s a step toward energy independence. From a long-term financial perspective, it simply makes sense.

Through a solar power PV system, you can reduce your utility bills. Generating your own electricity lessens the amount you require from utility companies. This lowers your monthly utility bill, and in many cases, the utility will offer a credit on power generated above and beyond what the homeowner consumes.

Investing in a solar power home system can protect you against rising power costs. Conservative estimates place 25 years as a productive life for solar panels, though research suggests it’s even longer. Once your system is paid off, the panels continue to produce electricity, unaffected by rising utility rates, which have been estimated to increase at roughly 8% per year. As an added incentive, installing a home solar energy system will likely increase the appraised value of your home between $10,000 to $15,000.

From an environmental point of view, a home solar power system will reduce your carbon footprint. Solar systems create zero emissions! It’s estimated that a 5-kW solar energy system can reduce approximately 15,000 pounds of CO2 per year, which is roughly the amount a typical American household produces in the same amount of time. By generating your own electricity, you can avoid dependency on fuels subject to volatile price and availability fluctuations.

Will a Solar Power System Work for My House?

Before investing time and money into solar power for your home, there are factors to consider that will determine the success of a solar array.

First, where is your home located geographically? Referring to a US Solar Insolation map can help determine how much usable sunlight you can expect to collect on average. Once you establish what solar energy potential is available in your location, consider the orientation of your home. Ideally, your home’s roof should be south-facing, though east or west are also acceptable.

Optimally, your roof should be pitched at an angle equal to the latitude of your house location. Conventional wisdom holds that a slope between 30 and 45 degrees is acceptable. Next, check for obstructions— is your roof subject to shade from neighboring buildings, trees or other obstructions? If so, the amount of solar energy you can capitalize will be affected. Check your jurisdiction to see if you are subject to solar access codes.

Finally, measure the size of your available roof space. A 5-kW solar system requires roughly 400 square feet (20’ x 20’) of space. While considering roof space, remember to estimate the remaining life of your roof. A home solar power system is typically operational for at least 25 years.

Are There Financial Incentives for Installing a Solar Home Energy System?

The short and positive answer is yes. There are excellent financial incentives to help you invest in a home solar power system.

First and foremost, the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) allows you to claim 30% of the total cost of your renewable energy system as a personal tax credit. Beginning in 2020, the percentage will be decreasing incrementally, so now is the time to take advantage of the ITC.

In addition to the Federal ITC, check with your state and local jurisdictions. Many states offer tax credits or other incentives, depending on where you live. These same agencies and utilities may also offer cash rebates for solar equipment.

Finally, many utilities offer Power Purchasing Agreements (PPA) or performance payments when you produce more electricity than you use. The payment is in the form of a financial credit applied to your utility account.

How much will a solar power system for my home cost?

Determining how much a solar power system will cost for your home depends on many variables. That said, the bottom line cost of a solar power energy system for homes is a function of the following:

  • Size: How big is the solar array? How many solar panels will you need? What is the target generating capacity?
  • Quality of solar panels: There are a variety of options for solar power for homes, including thin film, monocrystalline and polycrystalline. The more efficient your solar panels are, the more expensive they will likely cost.
  • How much electricity does your household need? If your goal is to match all the energy needs of your house with solar-generated power, your solar system must be large enough to accommodate the demand.
  • Grid-Tie or Off-Grid? If you are interested in off-grid solar power, your costs will be affected by having to invest in a storage system, most commonly in the form of deep-cycle batteries suited for storing and releasing charges repeatedly. There are multiple battery options, and each varies by price and the ability to deliver over the life of the solar power system in your home.

Working with a Solar Contractor

When you pay for the services of a licensed installer to put in your solar power system, you are assured of many advantages. A solar professional is licensed and bonded, protecting you if anything goes wrong with the installation. Installers understand local jurisdictions, the permit process, and the paperwork to take advantage of all the available incentives that pertain to your region. Solar contractors have licensed electricians in-house or contract with electricians on a regular basis, virtually guaranteeing the job is done to code. The installer typically offers routine maintenance as part of the package, which is often a condition of PPA or warranty.

saving money for solar power

Pros and Cons of Solar Power Systems for Homes

The pros of solar power for homes revolve around achieving energy independence, on both micro and macro levels. A solar system in your home reduces the carbon footprint from zero-emission power production, requires minimal maintenance (there are no moving parts), increases home value, and offers long-term savings on electricity. Once your system is paid off–typically within five to nine years–it will continue producing electricity for a minimum of 15 more years, potentially more.

The cons of solar power for home energy systems include substantial upfront costs if purchasing the equipment, and roof space may be an issue depending on orientation and roof style. Though capable of producing electricity on cloudy days, solar panels require direct sun to produce power. Some dislike the aesthetics of solar panels and the panels may pose challenges when the roof needs replacing.

There has never been a better time to invest in a home solar power system. Solar systems today are more efficient and less expensive than previous models. Homeowners who install solar panels can receive financial assistance from the Federal Investment Tax Credit, energy rebates, state and local incentives, and net-metering options with local utilities.

Solar powered homes are efficient, emission-free, and financially attractive over the long term. By generating electricity from solar power, homeowners can achieve energy independence, reduce their carbon footprint, increase their home’s appraised value, and potentially earn valuable credits against their utility bills.

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