solar panels for home

Residential solar panels: what to know about solar panels for home

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Over the past decade, rooftop solar use has exploded around the country as home solar becomes a very popular investment. Homes and businesses across the country are transitioning away from a fossil-fueled electricity grid towards a clean energy economy, driven by a need to reduce emissions in a time of global climate change. Amidst this period of energy reform, rooftop solar panel systems for houses are taking off at a remarkable rate. It’s time to give residential solar the credit it deserves. Learn everything there is to know about the booming residential solar industry in our list of home solar FAQs.


Key Takeaways


  • Solar installation costs have decreased by about 70% over the past decade, making them a sensible investment. 
  • If you want to be completely off-grid, you need energy storage capabilities, a large solar panel system, and backup power to cover outages or for cloudy days. 
  • 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 they increase the value of your property. 
  • Visit the EnergySage Marketplace to compare quotes from our pre-vetted network of solar installers

12 frequently asked questions about solar panel systems

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 12 key points to keep in mind about home solar panels:

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

If you’re an optimist looking for feel-good statistics, the cost of solar electricity in the past decade is a great place to start. U.S. solar installation cost has dropped by around 70 percent over the past 10 years. In the last year alone, the residential market saw a five percent decrease in cost. There’s no question that solar energy has evolved from a cleantech commodity to a sensible home upgrade that millions of Americans are considering. Getting solar panels on your roof is one of the smartest decisions you can make in today’s age.

However, if you’re still hesitant about making an upfront investment in solar panels, rest assured that there are warranties that can give you peace of mind and confidence that you’ll see significant savings come your way. Solar panels typically have two major types of warranties: a product warranty and a power warranty. Also known as a  materials warranty, a product warranty covers the integrity of the equipment itself and typically lasts at least 10 years, with top product warranties generally lasting 25 years. A power (also called performance) warranty will usually guarantee 97% production at 1 year and 80% at 25 years, with top power warranties guaranteeing at least 90% production at year 25. 

To learn more about solar panel warranties, check out this article breaking down some of the most important factors to consider. 

2. What do residential solar panel systems typically cost?

The answer to this question depends on state and system size. However, there is data that can help you estimate what solar panels cost in the U.S. The easiest way to calculate the cost of solar electricity across different system sizes is in dollars per watt ($/W), which indicates how many dollars solar will cost per watt of available electricity production. In 2021, homeowners are paying an average of $2.81/W. To put that figure in perspective, in 2008 the average cost of solar was just over $8/W. For an average 6kW system, a price of $2.81/W means you’ll pay approximately $16,860 before tax credits and rebates.

3. Will my solar panels be connected to the grid? What is net metering?

The vast majority of home solar systems will be connected to the grid. With grid-connected solar, net-metering serves as an efficient solution to the question “how will I power my solar home at night?” Net metering is a solar incentive where you receive bill credits when your solar system overproduces electricity. During times when your panels aren’t producing enough electricity, like when the sun isn’t shining, you can use those bill credits to cover the cost of your grid electricity use.

If you are off-grid, you won’t have access to electricity from your utility. This means that, in order to build a completely off-grid project, you will need energy storage capabilities, an extra-large solar panel system, and provisions for backup power to cover you when your panels don’t get enough sun.

4. Can I finance my rooftop solar panel purchase?

There are many options when it comes to financing a rooftop solar panel system purchase; the main three are a cash purchase, 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 most surefire 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.

Want to own your system from the get-go, but need assistance with that upfront cost? A solar loan might be right for you. Solar loans lower the up-front cost of your rooftop solar system to $0, so you can “buy” your system and then pay off your loan in monthly increments. For many solar shoppers, your monthly loan payments will be similar to your electric bill before solar.

Solar leases and PPAs require no money down, but the catch is that you do not own your solar system; you are only hosting it for a third party that sells you the electricity it produces for a fixed rate. Importantly, when you enter a solar lease agreement or PPA, you are not entitled to any tax incentives because you don’t own the system.

Take a more detailed look at solar financing to learn about which option is best for you.

5. How long does a residential rooftop solar system take to install?

Once you have 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 very quick and fairly simple.

6. How can I tell if my home qualifies for rooftop solar panels?

There are a few things to consider when scoping out your home for rooftop solar. One factor to consider is 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. 

Check out our article on solar panels and shade to learn more.

7. Can you get a solar panel system for your home if your roof doesn’t qualify?

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 anything on your rooftop. Community solar involves connecting with members of a group or your neighborhood to share a solar system, while ground-mounted arrays are an easy way to own and install your own system while bypassing any roofing hurdles.

8. What are the tax credits for residential home solar systems? Who qualifies?

There are two simple ways to think about tax credits for solar panels. The major tax credit associated with residential solar panels is the federal investment tax credit (ITC), more commonly known as the solar tax credit. The ITC gives you a tax credit equal to 26 percent of the total cost of your system, as long as you buy the system. The next option will be state solar tax credits, such as New York state’s tax credit that cuts an additional 25 percent off the price of the residential system. Depending on which state you live in, the opportunity for beneficial tax breaks and solar programs could be significant. Some states and municipalities also offer other more complex options that will be case-specific – do some research into SRECs and other location-specific solar rebate programs.

9. Does solar make sense if I don’t plan on being in my home for 25 years?

A common concern for homeowners who are considering solar is, “What happens if I move after installing solar panels?” A typical solar panel system lasts for 25 to 30 years. If you don’t plan on owning their house for that long, you may wonder if solar still makes sense. The good news is that solar increases the value of your property (by an average of 4.1 percent, according to a 2019 article by Zillow) and can actually expedite the process of selling the property when the time comes. The housing market is filled with buyers excited by the prospect of acquiring a solar home that comes with the benefit of zero utility bills. 

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

Ideally, the answer to this question would be 100 percent. However, although 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 cushion when calculating their target for solar panel offset. The main reason for this: solar panels cannot 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.

11. When will your home solar system reach the “break-even point”?

Many homeowners are very interested in calculating their solar panel payback period, which is the amount of time it will take for electric bill savings to offset the cost of solar panel installation. The expected breakeven point ranges across the country, but on average, U.S. homeowners break even on their system cost after about 8 years.

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

A commercial solar project might 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 an attainable energy upgrade that can generate serious electric bill savings for homeowners at any income level. Commercial solar, on the other hand, necessitates a major investment and a collective group of investors.

Figures like this illustrate why the residential sector might be the hottest in the solar energy industry. When solar panels are installed for home, the ROI is high and the payback period can be very short despite the upfront cost. If you’re looking for a personalized estimate for what solar would cost you, try our free Solar Calculator. Once you’re ready to start comparing quotes from local, pre-screened installers in your area, register your home on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace and let the bidding begin.

Three other common questions about residential solar panels

What are the two main disadvantages to solar energy?

The two main disadvantages of solar energy are its high upfront cost and intermittency. While installing residential solar panels does require a lot of money on the front end, it is reassuring to see that costs have dropped by 70% over the past 10 years, making solar more realistic to the average homeowner. Plus, solar panels do offer a great return on investment over time. As far as intermittency goes, it’s important to note that solar energy isn’t available 24/7—some days are cloudier than others and the sun doesn’t shine at night. These factors can disrupt your solar energy output. 

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 29 panels. The total cost of the panels plus installation would be around $16,000 and $18,000. For more information, check out our blog that breaks down how many solar panels you would need for your home. 

Why is my electric bill still high with solar panels?

Solar power systems can only produce a specific amount of energy consistent with the size of the system and the efficiency of the panels. So, if your panels are not producing enough energy to meet your needs, or if you have increased your energy usage since installation, your electric bill will increase. If you want to go completely off-grid and rely solely on solar energy, you will need energy storage capabilities, a large solar panel system, and means to generate backup power to cover any outages. 

EnergySage is here to help you find solar panels for home

Whether you’re still doing your research, or you’re ready to contact a provider and schedule installation, choosing to invest in residential solar panels can be a daunting task. But, it’s important to remember that your investment will increase the value of your property and pay dividends in the long run. If you’re considering the pros and cons of solar panels for your home, get the answer to your most asked question—is solar really worth it? And, if you’re ready to go solar, start comparing quotes by signing up for a free account on the EnergySage Marketplace.

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39 thoughts on “Residential solar panels: what to know about solar panels for home

  1. Bernadette DONNELLY

    We are going to buy a house with solar panels but we would like to build up so we can make a bigger bedroom and a deck up stairs how can we do that can tell me how we didn’t buy the house yet

    Reply
  2. Subodh VASHISTH

    I am running one room office. Where I used. 1 ceiling fan, 2 tubelight and 1 laptops with printer. How much solar panels required to generate electricity for their use.
    I’m from Jabalpur Madhya Pradesh India.

    Reply
    1. Snehal N Buch

      Tubelights and Laptop will consume very little power (about 200W total), the fan could be 300-500W so all together about 1000W would be sufficient. I guess u can do with 3 panels. U should try to find a local installer.

      Reply
  3. John mehki

    Hej boys, my house has solar. “IF,” the grid breaks down, will my house still be getting power from the panels, or will it not. John

    Reply
    1. Craig

      If you’re connected to the grid, your panels won’t be able to send power anywhere, including your home’s electrical system. This is because lineworkers performing repairs could get electrocuted as your system pushes excess generation into the otherwise depowered grid.
      Exceptions are if you have battery backup system or a special inverter that offers a simple circuit you can tap in an outage while the sun is shining. You can also go “off grid” but may be sitting in the dark much of the time without some type of backup.
      People I’ve talked to say it’s cheaper and maybe better to go with a backup generator?
      In CA’s planned outages, I just use flashlights, camp stove or BBQ, and an inverter on my car battery which gives not much power, but enough to run a house fan and charge computers and phones.

      Reply
  4. Robert Trostler

    Must California residential homes become Solar by a specific year?
    A solar sales person said Senate Bill 100 past and makes it mandatory for residential homes to be solar.

    Reply
  5. Cassandra Willis Bowman

    With Sunpower,leasing program 4 years VERY UNHAPPY, received no tax credits, bill started at $178 per mon now. 200+ to $430. I always use rpt pymt.Emailed, and call Acct dept only. resp late is chg

    Reply
  6. Guest User

    @Paul Garavito:

    You receive a credit for any energy your system produces that feeds to the grid; the power company doesn’t get it for free. That’s the whole point — you put up some $$ to generate your own solar, with the goal of reducing the amount of power you buy.

    Reply

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