The cost of installing a home solar energy system has fallen rapidly over the past few years, and prices continue to decline. If you’re thinking about going solar, there’s no better time than during the design process for your new home. When you incorporate solar into your new home’s construction, you take advantage of solar’s environmental and financial benefits without having to retrofit your home with a solar installation later down the road.
Tips for builders designing a “solar ready” new home
A recent study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that installing solar at the same time as home construction can significantly cut costs. Whether you’re a builder working on designing a home that’s ready for solar, or a property owner in the midst of construction, there are “solar ready” design guidelines that can make the process easier for everyone.
When designing a home that is solar ready, pay attention to:
- Steepness and orientation of your roof. A south-facing roof that is angled at between 30 and 45 degrees is the most ideal for solar.
- The layout of roof vents, chimneys, dormers, etc. Will any of these things cause shading on your solar panels during the day? Shade can negatively impact electricity production.
- Roof load bearing specifications. Make sure that your roof can bear the additional weight of a solar panel system.
- Designated roof mounting points for your PV array. Integrating the mounting points can save time and money, and reduce the likelihood of damage to the roof during solar installation.
There are also important electrical considerations to take into account, including:
- Installation of electrical conduit from your main electrical panel location to roof. You’ll need to run a conduit between your solar panels and your electrical panel.
- Specification of main service panel and circuit breakers. Ensure that your setup can handle a solar panel array.
- Space near the main electrical panel for PV inverters and other equipment. While most of your solar panel system is on the roof, there are some components that need to be installed near your electrical panel.
You can learn more about each of the considerations above in greater detail from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office.
Why install solar at the time of new home construction?
If you choose to install solar when your home is being built, you can ensure that your home is designed with a solar PV system in mind. While your solar energy system doesn’t need to be at the center of all your home design decisions, anticipating and eliminating potential issues at the time of construction is a lot easier (and more cost effective) than trying to work around them later.
With that in mind, there are a few design considerations that can maximize your solar electricity production. The “ideal” solar home has a south-facing roof to capture as much sunlight as possible over the course of the day. The best roofs for solar aren’t shaded by trees, and they don’t have obstructions like chimneys or dormers that could cast shadows or otherwise get in the way of your system’s design.
Additionally, while most roof types are suitable for solar, there are a few materials that can be difficult for solar installers to work with. Slate tiles and cedar shingle roofs are fragile, which means that installing solar on them could require extra equipment (and result in additional costs).
If you decide to install solar on your new home before construction is complete, you can also explore building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) options like solar roof tiles. Because BIPV is installed as part of your home’s roof, rather than on top of it, the installation process is much simpler if it is undertaken when you are building (or replacing) your roof. BIPV was most recently in the news thanks to the reveal of Tesla’s solar roof, but there are other BIPV products like solar shingles that can be integrated into your roof.
You may also want to consider installing an electric furnace for your home, rather than a gas furnace, if your home has enough roof space to host a large solar panel system. While natural gas heating is less expensive than electric heating, an electric furnace could make it possible for you to eliminate all of your utility bills with the solar energy sourced from your home’s PV system.
Finally, if you view your new home as an investment, there’s one more benefit you may not have considered: installing solar on your new home will actually increase your property value. Research has shown that homes with solar panels sell for significantly more than similar homes without them. In fact, solar panels can add tens of thousands of dollars to your home’s value.
How to get started with solar for your new home
Once you’ve decided to include solar as part of your new home, there are a few steps you need to take. First, and most importantly, make sure your builder knows that you want your home solar-ready. Whether your home’s design has already been finalized or you’re still in the initial planning phase, informing your builder of your plans will help streamline the solar installation process.
Some homebuilders can also install solar panels as part of their construction process. If your builder is already familiar with solar, they may be able to install your solar panels when they are building your home. In most situations, however, you will need to hire an outside installer for your solar PV system. Your builder should provide them with plans for the site, including the roof.
If you need to hire a solar installer, look for a company that has some experience working with new construction. You can receive competitive bids from qualified installers in your area on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace – simply indicate during registration that your home is a new build and that you can provide the blueprints for the site.