residential solar panels

2023 expert guide to solar panels for homes

Whether you’re looking to save thousands on electricity bills, are trying to lower your carbon footprint, or are hoping to become more independent from the electric gird, there are a number of reasons to install a home solar energy system. Today, going solar is an easy and popular way to boost your home’s value and your energy savings, while generating clean energy right at home. In this article, we’ll explain the key things you should know about going solar as a homeowner.

Key takeaways about home solar panels


  • The average home can save between $20,000 and $75,000 in avoided electricity costs over the lifetime of a solar panel system. 
  • In 2022, a home solar installation costs about $20,000 after taking into account the federal solar tax credit.
  • Financing a rooftop solar panel system is possible with solar loans, leases, and power purchase agreements. 
  • The average solar panel system lasts for about 25-30 years and increases the value of your property. 
  • Visit the EnergySage Marketplace to compare quotes from our network of pre-vetted solar installers.

What you’ll learn in this article

How much do residential solar panel systems cost?

In 2022, most homeowners pay between $16,870 and $23,170 after taking into account the federal solar tax credit. Home solar panels are a long-term investment and shoppers on the EnergySage Marketplace usually break even on their installations in about eight to nine years – however, your costs will ultimately depend on the incentives available in your state and your system’s size. Learn more about what solar panels cost in the U.S based on factors like state, manufacturer, and system size.

Are solar panels worth it?

In general, yes, solar panels are worth it – in fact, the average home can save between $20,000 and $75,000 in electricity over the lifetime of their solar panel system. Solar panels are usually most worth it if:

  • You own your property: renters or business owners who do not own their property should speak to the property owner prior to making any plans to install a solar system.
  • You pay a high price for electricity: the higher price your utility company is charging for your monthly electricity bill, the faster your solar system will save you money. These days, solar shoppers “break even” on their solar investment in seven to eight years.
  • You get a good price for solar: in 2022, an average 10 kilowatt (kW) solar panel system costs about $20,000 on the EnergySage Marketplace. Prices on EnergySage are usually lower than market prices, so you know you’re getting a good deal.

If you fit these criteria, solar panels are probably worth it! What’s more, even homes and businesses that don’t meet these points perfectly can benefit from solar with the right installation (or a community solar subscription).

What are the pros and cons of home solar panels?

At a high level, solar panels provide several benefits for homeowners: lowering energy bills, reducing your environmental impact, and increasing the value of your home, among others. As with any product, there are drawbacks to consider: high upfront costs, not every roof is right for solar, and finding an installer can be difficult.

The pros and cons of solar panels for your home

Pros of solar energyCons of solar energy
Lower your electric billDoesn't work for every roof type
Improve the value of your homeNot ideal if you're about to move
Reduce your carbon footprintBuying panels can be expensive
Protect yourself from inflationLow electricity costs = lower savings
Earn money on your investmentFinding local solar installers can be difficult
Solar is a versatile energy source
Gain independence from the electric grid

Do you live in a favorable area for solar? 

The cost of your solar energy system largely depends on the incentives available in your state. Here are some of the most favorable states for solar:

New york

Rhode Island

Iowa

Connecticut

Maryland

How do solar panels work for your home?

For most homes, solar panels are installed on your roof, generating electricity from the sun and helping you reduce your monthly spending on electricity. Solar panels work by converting light energy to usable electricity (this is known as the photovoltaic, or PV effect, and happens at individual solar cells in your panels). The energy production can then power our homes and appliances and save money over time by providing low-carbon, sustainable electricity.

How to calculate how many solar panels you need

The majority of homes will need 17 to 21 solar panels to cover their electricity use. In order to calculate how many panels you’ll need, find your system size, divide it by your area’s production ratio, and then again by your panel wattage. There are many different factors that impact how many solar panels you’ll need, including location, efficiency, and personal consumption habits.


Do solar panels really save money?

Solar panels do save money, but your exact savings depends on many factors. Direct hours of daily sunlight and the size and angle of your roof are both important, but local electricity rates play the biggest role in determining how much you can save with solar – the more you pay for electricity, the more you can offset by producing your own solar energy.

With so many trendy investment opportunities available today, it’s easy to be skeptical of new products that boast promises of “saving you tons of money” – but a home solar system is an investment that you should feel confident in. You’ll save thousands of dollars over the lifetime of your solar energy system, while increasing your home’s value. Read more in our article about how much solar panels actually save.

Are solar panels a good investment?

Solar panels are a good investment – in fact, solar energy systems typically provide an even higher return on investment (ROI) than many common types of investments like the S&P 500. Once you’ve paid off your solar system, you’ll be generating free, renewable energy right at home, protecting yourself from rising electricity rates by significantly lowering your utility bills. Ultimately, your solar payback period will depend on the amount of energy you use, the solar production from your system, and how much your local utility charges for electricity.  

To ensure your solar investment is as low-risk as possible, make sure to choose high quality modules with robust warranties. Remember: your solar panels will likely last 25-30 years and, according to a 2019 study by Zillow, could even increase the value of your home by about four percent.

What are solar inverters?


As part of your home solar PV system, you’ll also need inverters. Inverters work by converting the direct current (DC) electricity generated by your solar panels into alternating current (AC) electricity, which the appliances in your home use. There are a few different types of inverters, including microinverters, inverters + power optimizers, and string inverters. Learn more about these different types and the best solar inverters available.

Planning your home solar panel system: six steps

Home solar panels don’t just appear on your roof – there are many steps you’ll need to take to ensure you are a good fit for solar, understand your options, and eventually put panels on your property. At a high level, there are a few big steps to keep in mind (click any step to skip to it):

  1. Determine your solar potential
  2. Compare your solar options: rooftop vs. community solar
  3. Estimate your needs
  4. Get solar quotes
  5. Understand how to pay for solar
  6. Pick a quote and install

1. Determine your solar energy potential

There are a few things to consider when scoping out your home for rooftop solar. First, you’ll want to understand the direction and tilt of your roof – although this is not a hard and fast rule, rooftop solar panels perform best on south-facing roofs with a slope between 15 and 40 degrees. 

It’s also important to know how much sunlight your roof gets throughout the day. Solar panels need sunlight to produce electricity, so if your roof is shaded or otherwise obstructed by trees, chimneys, or anything else, that will impact how viable solar is for you. Try out our Solar Calculator to see your unique home’s potential for solar panel savings. Whether you live in California, Texas, New York, or anywhere in between, solar can work for you!

2. Compare your solar options: rooftop vs. community solar

Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of the residential solar energy sector is the list of options for homeowners who want to go solar but do not have a suitable roof. Ground mount solar installations and community solar subscriptions are two common ways to access power from the sun without actually installing solar panels and racking equipment on your rooftop. Community solar involves subscribing to a share of a large solar farm, while ground-mounted arrays are an easy way to own and install your own system while bypassing any roofing hurdles.

3. Find out how many solar panels you will need

Next, it’s time to roughly understand your solar needs, so you’re well-equipped to compare solar quotes. We estimate that a typical home needs about 17 to 21 solar panels to cover 100 percent of its electricity usage, but the actual number you’ll need to install depends on many factors. Location, panel efficiency, panel rated power, and your personal energy consumption habits all play a role in determining how many solar panels you need. Importantly, this number directly impacts the price you pay for solar.

What percentage of your home can you power with solar electricity?


Ideally, the answer to this question would be 100 percent. However, while a solar panel system can theoretically offset all of your energy use, it’s not realistic to expect that level of panel production every day of the week. Manufacturers and installers often recommend that homeowners factor in a 25 percent fluctuation in generation when calculating their target for solar panel offset.

The main reason for this is that solar panels can’t operate at maximum efficiency all the time – there will be certain days when grid connection is necessary to fully cover your power usage. However, the beauty of net metering is that you can benefit from surplus production days and never pay anything to your utility while still relying on the grid for backup storage.

4. Get solar quotes

Once you’re certain you’re a good fit for solar and understand your payment and financing options, it’s time to gather and compare competing quotes for solar. Historically, most solar shoppers only received a single solar quote from a company selling solar door-to-door in their neighborhood. But how can you be sure that you’re paying a fair price for the right system design without gathering multiple quotes to compare?

When you register for an account on EnergySage, we collect up to seven customized solar quotes from qualified, experienced installers near you. And, we help you save: solar shoppers receiving quotes on EnergySage generally pay 20 percent less for solar than solar shoppers who don’t.

5. Understand how to pay for solar

There are many options when it comes to financing a rooftop solar panel system purchase, including upfront cash payments, solar loans, and solar leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs). If you can afford it, paying in cash for your rooftop solar panel system is the best way to save money over the lifetime of your system. With full ownership of your panels and no interest to pay on a solar loan, you’ll usually see the highest return on a solar investment with a cash purchase. And remember – solar rebates and solar incentives are available at both the federal and state levels to lower your cost of going solar. At the very least, you’ll be able to take advantage of the investment tax credit for solar, which lowers the price of going solar by 30%.

6. Pick a quote and install

Once you’ve met with the installers and done all necessary site visits and planning, the actual installation of your home solar energy system will only take a few days of work. The exact time depends on a number of factors. For example, if you are setting up net metering, that process will tack on additional time until your panels are properly connected to the grid. Overall, while the decision process for solar panels can take some time, the installation timeframe is typically quick and fairly simple.

All in all, solar panels will be a smart money investment for most homeowners. Rooftop solar panels aren’t the perfect fit for everyone, but that’s okay: like any other home efficiency product, solar panels provide clear benefits to homeowners that are in need of energy upgrades and electricity bill reduction – and not everyone fits that description. To learn more, read our article breaking down these pros and cons of solar panels in more detail.

What are solar batteries?


The primary function of battery storage is to store energy produced by solar panels that can be drawn on at a later time. Storing energy for later provides many benefits, from financial savings to providing battery backup in the event of a grid outage. Most battery banks today use lithium-ion chemistry, providing safety and high power density.

The main advantage of installing a solar-plus-storage energy system is that it gives you the ability to use your solar electricity even when the sun isn’t shining. When you install a solar panel system without a home battery, the excess electricity that your system generates gets sent back to the grid. With solar energy storage, that backup power can be stored and drawn on when the sun goes down, and you’ll only need to draw and pay for energy from the grid when your battery is depleted. As part of your solar-plus-storage system, you’ll also need a solar charge controller – either a PWM or a MPPT controller – to regulate your battery so it doesn’t overcharge. Learn more about solar batteries.

How can you find a solar installer?

Choosing between different installers can be a daunting task, but EnergySage is here to help. We thoroughly vet the installers in our Marketplace, present installer-specific differentiators in the quotes you receive on EnergySage, and have created an installer-tiering badge system that helps you find the top solar installers in your area.

By doing the legwork for you, EnergySage makes it easy to find reputable solar installation companies in your area. We’ve already vetted all of our installer partners, and keep a close watch over their performance to ensure their installations and customer satisfaction are up to the levels that you–and we–expect. Get started receiving quotes from reputable installers in your area by creating a free account on the EnergySage Marketplace today.

Frequently asked questions about home solar panels

Residential solar panels are one of the best ways to save money in the long term and create a positive environmental impact. Before you go solar, make sure to read through our key points to keep in mind about home solar panels:

How much has the price of residential solar dropped in recent years?

Solar prices have increased slightly in recent years, primarily due to pandemic-related supply chain constraints and an increased emphasis on domestic manufacturing. However, overall, U.S. solar panel installation cost has dropped by around 70 percent over the past 10 years and will likely continue to drop as solar deployment keeps growing. There’s no question that solar energy has evolved from a clean tech commodity to a sensible home upgrade for millions of Americans.

What is the difference between solar for business and solar panels for home use?

A commercial solar project can power a town or a company’s operations. As a result, they vary dramatically in terms of scale and cost. By comparison, residential solar systems tend to hold a consistent size (between 6 and 12 kilowatts, on average). Thanks to their relatively small scale, rooftop solar panels for homes are a fairly easy energy upgrade that can generate serious electric bill savings for homeowners at any income level. Commercial solar, on the other hand, requires a major investment and a collective group of investors.

How much do solar panels cost for a 2,000 square foot house?

The average 2,000 sq. ft house has an estimated electricity need per year of about 9,420 kWh, which requires around 15 panels. The total cost of solar panels and the installation would be around $16,700. For more information, check out our article that breaks down how many solar panels you need for your home.

How long does it take to install solar panels?

Once the pre-installation steps are complete, the actual process to install solar panels onto your home will take between one and three days.

Can you go off-grid with solar panels?


Most home solar panels today are installed as grid-tied systems – meaning you can send excess electricity generated by your system to the grid and pull from the grid when your panels aren’t producing enough energy. However, if you’re looking to install an off-grid solar power system, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First of all, you’ll also need a solar battery or a solar generator to store excess energy for use when the sun isn’t shining. Also, off-grid home solar energy systems tend to be incredibly expensive – but, if you just want to power a smaller setup, like an RV or a boat, you may be able to install DIY solar panels using a solar panel kit, which can significantly reduce costs.

Are residential solar panels right for your home?

Whether you’re still doing your research, or are ready to contact a provider and schedule an installation, choosing to invest in residential solar panels can feel overwhelming. But, it’s important to remember that your investment will increase the value of your property and pay for itself in the long run. If you’re ready to go solar, start comparing quotes from solar companies by signing up for a free account on the EnergySage Marketplace.

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